Reports Sep 25, 2019 | 5:57 AMby Colin McGourty

FIDE World Cup QF: Ding & Radjabov reach semis

Top seed Ding Liren is through to the FIDE World Cup semi-finals after beating Alexander Grischuk in a game that left the Russian wondering where it had all gone wrong. Ding is joined by Teimour Radjabov, who was richly rewarded for his decision to play on when the position slipped out of his control against 18-year-old sensation Jeffery Xiong. MVL-Aronian and Yu Yangyi-Vitiugov have gone to tiebreaks, for which Jan Gustafsson and Laurent Fressinet will be back to commentate.

Ding Liren showed his win over Grischuk to Anna Rudolf afterwards | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

You can replay all the games from the 2019 FIDE Chess World Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk using the selector below:

And here’s the day’s live commentary from Evgeny Miroshnichenko and Anna Rudolf:

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Will Levon Aronian and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave's tiebreak go to Armageddon again as it did two years ago? | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

The blockbuster pairing of the quarterfinals, MVL-Aronian, has yet to catch fire, with their second game ending in 31 moves and just 45 minutes:

“It was a perfect game!” said Levon Aronian afterwards, as he noted the material balance at the end – he let the perfect symmetry go unspoken. Maxime had gone for the Giri/Jorden van Foreest Giuoco Piano line that he used to beat Dmitry Jakovenko on demand in Round 3, but with the twist of this time playing 15.Ne4 instead of offering a queen trade with 15.Qe4. In his own words the game was essentially over when he played 19.Bg5?! on move 19:

It’s very simple. I played 19.Bg5 too quickly and I realised after 19…h6 there was nothing more to be done, so I don’t know, I’ll have to recheck what I actually was intending there.

It might be that he was supposed to play Bg5 a move earlier instead of the strange 18.Kf1!?, but it’s true that after h6 appeared on the board there was nothing better than to take on e7 (20.Bh4? g5! and Black is better), and with 20.Bxe7 Nxe7 21.Nf6+ Maxime quickly liquidated into a draw, ably assisted by Levon. Watch them talk about their brief encounter afterwards:

The other draw was much richer, with Nikita Vitiugov sacrificing a pawn with Black but feeling he always had enough compensation in the form of Yu Yangyi’s exposed king and undeveloped bishop:

Precision was required at all times, with 21…Qh2! an important move here. Some of the hidden dynamics of the position can be seen if White tried to hold onto the h4-pawn with 22.g3?, when 22…Bb3! suddenly creates the lethal threat of Rd1+. In the game both sides went on to pick up pawns before a draw was reached in 40 moves.

Yu Yangyi or Vitiugov will be Ding Liren's next opponent | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

Those four players therefore go to tiebreaks, but the other two semifinalists have already been decided. Ding Liren continues to take full advantage of the fact that he doesn’t need to stress about Candidates Tournament qualification. The first day of his quarterfinal had seen a wild clash against Alexander Grischuk after 14.Qf3!?   

The reference to Giri-Carlsen in the tweet was perhaps a bit stretched, though in both games Black seemed about to get a ferocious attack by pushing the h-pawn supported by an uncastled rook on h8. It would turn out, however, that there were more similarities to a Carlsen-Giri game in the second game of the match, as Giri himself pointed out!

Ding Liren later said he’d played the structure in the simplest way possible, and while Magnus suddenly got a kingside attack with 17.f4! exf4 18.gxf4!? and the sacrifice of the e3-pawn, Ding Liren would instead go on to push d4. There were countless subtleties that he explained in his post-game interview with Anna Rudolf…

…but despite all Ding’s suggestions the question of where Grischuk went wrong had two clear answers. The first is that it all came in the space of two moves after 28.Bd5!

The equalising move here was 28…Rd8!, which not only avoids an exchange of rooks but targets the d5-bishop and any other piece that might end up the d-file – for instance, 29.Bd2 Bc6 30.Qxc4? Bxd5 31.Qxd5 and 31…Bb4! is the best discovered attack. Instead Grischuk played 28…Rxe1+?!, which was connected with a bad plan to protect the c4-pawn: 29.Bxe1 Be6?. After 30.Bxe6 fxe6 31.Qe4! Black was already in deep trouble. That was clearest on the time control move:

Material is equal, but Black can’t defend both the f8-bishop and the c4-pawn, so 40…Qd6 41.Qxc4 followed. Grischuk’s resignation after 41…Qg6 42.Bd4 looks a little premature given the match situation, but Ding Liren described the position as easily winning. White has improving moves such as b3, Kg2, Qc6 and h5, while Black is just hanging on.

Alexander Grischuk is out of the 2019 FIDE World Cup | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

The other place where Grischuk went wrong, however, was the familiar one that we’ve already hinted at: he played 28…Rxe1+ with under 4 minutes on his clock, and was down to under a minute for 29…Be6. Ding summed up:

Of course I’m happy about the result but maybe he didn’t play so well and he made many mistakes in time trouble. He played well and I think the position is more or less equal, but I was the one who was pushing for an advantage and then he maybe played too passively in time trouble.

Ding will now play the winner of Yu Yangyi-Vitiugov in the semi-final, with Anish Giri, the player with the next best average rating for 2019, hoping that the Chinese no. 1 will gain a Candidates spot by making the final and therefore open up the rating spot. The dream scenario for Anish would be for MVL also to make it to the final, since Maxime is currently his closest rival after Ding.

Radjabov-Xiong was a thriller, with both players going all-out to win | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

That leaves Radjabov-Xiong, which went like a dream for Teimour Radjabov… up to a point. 18-year-old Jeffery Xiong seemed unprepared for the 7.Bb5+ sideline of the Grünfeld (with 9…e5 he varied from Peter Svidler’s suggestion of 9…c5). He fell into Teimour’s web, and it turned out the tempting 14…Rd8? was a serious blunder:

The obvious threat is 15…c5, exploiting the pin on the d-file, but Radjabov here unleashed 15.f5!, with the point that 15…c5 is met by 16.f6! It tells you something about the position that Black is probably no worse off there than in the game, where after 15…Bxd4+ 16.cxd4 c5 Teimour’s 17.Qd2!? was a first misstep:

He said afterwards:

This is the Bakunian School of Chess - we see the king there, the bishop is absent from g7, everything is coming, f6, Qh6. So I played 17.Qd2 like in my childhood, and wanted to play just Qh6, Ng3-h5 and f6 and mate.

Spoiler alert: that’s almost what happened, but it was a very bumpy ride along the way! First there came 17…Nc4!, which Teimour had missed. The immediate 18.Qh6 can be met by the spectacular 18…Bxf5!?, so Radjabov went for 18.Qd3, when Jeffery hinted at a repetition with 18…Ne5!? 19.Qa3 Nc4. Teimour memorably explained his reasoning for continuing:

There was a way to take the draw, which would be the same thing more or less, just trying your luck in rapids or classical games - there is no huge difference. Somewhere you will lose or win, so why not today? Also it’s not so easy to play the tiebreaks against younger players. I’m not that old still, but compared to 18-year-old guys, super-motivated and quite tricky, I thought it’s better to play this position, especially as I’m slightly better probably.

Xiong made a real fight of a difficult position but couldn't quite hold on | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

In fact the players disagreed about the evaluation of the position, and in a way they were both right, since it seemed the advantage briefly swung in Xiong’s favour before Radjabov found some powerful manoeuvres and took over again. In the post-game interview he repeated again and again that he was afraid to give his own thoughts on the game and get contradicted by the computer. He even explained how he’d enjoyed the experience in recent years of watching chess as a fan on sites like chess24!

I had a good experience of not playing there and it was the best time of my life, because I was having all these coffees and stuff, all the snacks, completely relaxed, watching on the screen, saying “why is this guy blundering?”

In fact it seems Teimour’s evaluation during the game was close to spot on, for instance after 30…Ba6!?

Over the board is very different, it’s completely different, my winning position, probably after Ba6 I can just take 31.Qxa6, I guess, but I couldn’t find to the end when he played Ba6. I don’t know if it’s a tricky move or not, but if I take 31.Qxa6 he wanted 31…Rh3! and ok, it should be winning, but I don’t know, 32.Qc4 Qh2+ 33.Kf2 Rb8 and I started to have my doubts. It was a lot of checks and everything is hanging so I went 31.Qf4, which was maybe a good practical decision, I don’t know.

In the line Radjabov gave 34.Bb5! looks to be winning, but it was undoubtedly a practical decision to play the strong 31.Qf4! instead, when the last critical moment came after 31…Rd8 32.Rce1 Qc5+ 33.Rf2 Rc3 34.Re7!? (an inaccuracy, but one which led to a quick win!):

White has blocked the black queen’s path to f8, making Qh6 a lethal threat, but here, as Ding Liren spotted almost instantly in the commentary booth, Black has 34…Rc2!, tying down the white pieces. By this stage both players were in deep mutual time trouble, however, and the losing 34…Rc1+ was played with 8 seconds on Jeffery’s clock. After 35.Kh2 Rc3 (nothing else helps either) 36.Qh6! Black resigned.

Radjabov and Xiong analysed together afterwards | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

Watch Teimour talk about the game and chess life in the age of computers:

That meant we were deprived of another chance to see Jeffery Xiong repeat his tiebreak heroics against Anish Giri and Jan-Krzysztof Duda, but the young American star has made a lot of new fans in Khanty-Mansiysk. For Teimour Radjabov it means a rest day before he’ll play either Levon Aronian or Maxime Vachier-Lagrave for a place in the final and the 2020 Candidates Tournament.

Wednesday will be a chance for chess fans everywhere to enjoy some more high-stakes tiebreaks as we watch Aronian-MVL and Vitiugov-Yu Yangyi. Jan Gustafsson and Laurent Fressinet will be commentating live on chess24, with one or two special guests likely to join the show! Don’t miss all the action live here on chess24 from 12:00 CEST.

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