Reports Sep 23, 2019 | 9:08 AMby Colin McGourty

FIDE World Cup R4 Tiebreaks: Xiong wins thriller

18-year-old Jeffery Xiong is two match wins away from the Candidates Tournament after winning on demand twice to edge out Jan-Krzysztof Duda in an 8-game match that featured only one draw. Also through to the quarterfinals are the finalists from the last World Cup: Ding Liren, who beat Kirill Alekseenko, and Levon Aronian, who lived dangerously against Le Quang Liem. Teimour Radjabov won the all-Azerbaijan battle against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, while 9th seed Alexander Grischuk beat 8th seed Leinier Dominguez.  

18-year-old Jeffery Xiong is the tiebreak hero and lowest rated player left in the tournament after winning an amazing match against Jan-Krzysztof Duda | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

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

And here’s the day’s live commentary from Evgeny Miroshnichenko and Daniil Yuffa:

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Five matches is more crowded than the venue will now be until the World Cup ends | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

The five tiebreak matches on Sunday were played for places in the quarterfinals of the 2019 World Cup, so let’s take a look at them one quarterfinal match-up at a time:

Ding Liren vs. Alexander Grischuk


Both Ding Liren and Alexander Grischuk got the job done quickly, with the extremely hard-fought Alekseenko-Ding Liren match-up suddenly turning when Kirill took just two seconds to play 15…Ne5?


It’s a very tricky position, and if Ding was to play 16.f4? immediately White has nothing after 16…Bxe2! It turns out, however, that after 16.Bxf6! White is simply winning in all lines. 16…Bxf6 17.f4! and if Black tries to avoid losing material he gets mated on g7. In the game Alekseenko went for 16…Bxe2 17.Bxg7! Bxf1 18.Qh6! and was put to the sword in 24 moves.

Kirill Alekseenko had a wonderful event, but one mistake in the first rapid game condemned him to defeat | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

The following game was a return to the tense, closely-fought battles that characterised the rest of the match, but although Kirill had some chances after Ding Liren sacrificed the exchange it was never quite enough.

Top seed Ding Liren will now play Alexander Grischuk in the quarterfinals. In an interview after getting through, Grischuk conceded that Leinier Dominguez had won “a brilliant game” to level the scores in classical chess, but said there was nothing difficult for him about playing again afterwards: “It’s not the first game in my life I lost, so I’m used to it!”

Alexander Grischuk is up next for Ding Liren | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

Leinier had applied some pressure in the first rapid game before it ended in a 39-move draw by repetition, while Grischuk felt the second turned on his opponent’s decision to try and liquidate on move 24:


24…c5?! 25.Rb3 cxd4 26.Rxb6 dxe3 27.Rxb7 Nxe5 28.Rxe7 Rxd1 29.Rxe8 Nd3:


Black is on the verge of a draw, since 30.fxe3 would be met by 30…Ne1+ 31.Kf2 Nd3+ and repeating the position, but there was a sting in the tale that Alexander felt his opponent had missed: 30.Nc3! After that move White was able to consolidate a piece up, and despite nervy mutual time trouble Grischuk went on to claim the quarterfinal place.

The winner of the Ding Liren-Grischuk quarterfinal will be a favourite to reach the final and therefore the Candidates Tournament, since their semi-final opponent will be one of the surprise quarterfinalists Nikita Vitiugov or Yu Yangyi. Those players knocked out the higher seeded Wesley So and Ian Nepomniachtchi.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave vs. Levon Aronian


MVL vs. Aronian is the one quarterfinal that was seeded to happen before the tournament began, and in fact it’s a repeat of the semifinal in 2017, when Levon eventually won in Armageddon to deny his friend Maxime a place in the Candidates Tournament. This time round MVL will have the advantage of being rested, since after beating Peter Svidler in classical chess he could simply watch while Levon Aronian was made to struggle by Vietnamese no. 1 Le Quang Liem.

As expected, Levon came armed with one of his famous shirts for the tiebreaks | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

The first rapid game saw Levon get little with the white pieces, while in the second the reigning champion found himself staring into the abyss. He commented afterwards:

I didn’t prepare in a good way before the game, so it’s something I was lucky to survive and it’s some kind of a lesson for the future rounds.

14…Nd7?! was inviting trouble:


Le Quang Liem obliged with 15.Nc6 Nf6!? 16.Nxd8 Nxh5 17.e5!


The three minutes Aronian spent here suggest he may only have reckoned with 17.Nc6, when Black is doing well after 17…Nf6. After 17.e5 the issue is not just the attack on the a8-rook but that the knight on h5 has no squares after Bf3. From this point onwards, however, Levon looked utterly focused as he took advantage of some inaccuracies from his opponent to rescue the game.

That proved the boost Levon needed and he went on to win the first 10-minute with the black pieces, with the elegant 52…Bd5! ensuring the black a-pawn would queen:

2-time World Cup winner Aronian used all his experience to get the draw he needed in the second game to make it through to the quarterfinals, where the winner of Aronian vs. MVL will be the favourite to reach the final via a match against either Teimour Radjabov or Jeffery Xiong.

Jeffery Xiong vs. Teimour Radjabov


Let’s start with the all-Azerbaijan clash, which on the face of it might look as though the quick draws from the first two classical games had continued. Instead all the tiebreak games of what Teimour Radjabov called “the most annoying pairing” were fiercely contested, with Shakhriyar Mamedyarov coming close to winning the first game:


This wasn’t the last but was perhaps the clearest moment. 43…Qh1+! is crushing, but seeing, for instance, that the best response to 44.Bg1 is 44…Rh3!! 45.gxh3 gxf3! is anything but trivial. Instead after 43…Qh5 White later managed to exchange off queens and hold a draw.

The match neither player wanted to play eventually went into Radjabov's favour | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

Mamedyarov also had chances in the next game, but ultimately the match was decided in the second 10-minute clash. Teimour correctly criticised Shakh’s 35.Nxf7!?, but a couple of moves after that Mamedyarov could still have won the match:


Radjabov was afraid of 38.h6+! with good reason. If the king goes back White will soon give mate, so 38…Kxh6 is forced, when after the only move 39.gxh7! (in some lines the pawn later queens) the white queen is ready to enter the fray. Objectively it seems the black king is too weak, though anything could have happened in time trouble.

In the game after 38.gxh7? Qg3! Black was winning, with Teimour meeting 39.Rf3 Qh4+ 40.Rh3 with the crisp finish 40…Rxe4! and the black bishop giving check from d4 means White is losing material. Radjabov talked about the match afterwards:

Last but in absolutely no way least we have 21-year-old Pole Jan-Krzysztof Duda against 18-year-old American Jeffery Xiong:

The players had traded wins with the white pieces in the classical games, and that continued into rapid when Duda went astray in what should have been a drawn rook ending.

Duda found himself in the situation of having played just one tiebreak game in Khanty-Mansiysk but having lost it, and now he needed to win on demand with the white pieces. So what did he do? Play 1.a3!

As you can see, it worked, though there was plenty of mayhem in between. That was nothing, however, compared to the next game, when Duda switched back to 1.e4 and continued the sequence of White winning despite having found himself in dire straits in the middle of the game:

Instead of 28…Ng3+! Xiong played 28…Re8?, only to later go for the unsound knight sacrifice 32…Nxg2?


White has just one good move here, but it wins the game: 33.Bxb6!, and after 33…Nxf4 34.Bxa7+! (again an only move) 34…Kc8 35.Qc4+! it was easy for Duda.

It was hard to improve on the excitement of Xiong's tiebreak win over Anish Giri, but Jeffery managed, ably assisted by Duda! | photo: Kirill Merkuryev, official website

Could Duda become the first player to hold with Black and therefore win the match? Almost. At various stages of the game Black was very comfortable, but Xiong took the game into a tricky knight and pawn ending and was utterly ruthless when Duda made one fatal mistake. The final stages were nicely calculated:


Duda has queened his pawn, but the knight and queen give mate: 70.Nd2+ Ka2 (every white move is forced, unless he just wants to give up his queen) 71.Qa4+ Kb2 72.Nc4+ Kb1 73.Qd1+ and Duda resigned with mate-in-2 on the board.

The sequence was finally broken in the first 5-minute game, when Xiong took a draw with Black from a position of strength after setting up a blockade across the whole board. That meant that to reach an Armageddon game Duda had to score his first draw with the black pieces in the match. His choice of opening? 1.e4 Nf6!? - Alekhine’s Defence! Whatever the wisdom of that decision the position out of the opening was decent, until 15…Bg4? was met almost instantly by 16.Ne4!


Black’s aim in playing Bg4 was to threaten to exchange on f3, when the d4-pawn would be weak, but now it’s White threatening to take on f6 and then hit all the black heavy pieces with Bg5. Duda was forced into desperate defence with 16…h6 17.Qg3 Bf5 and looked doomed, but soon afterwards it seemed he might save himself with tactics again. The final turning point of the match came after 24.Bxh6:


24…Qc5+! is close to equal, with 25.Be3 met by 25…Rd1+ 26.Kf2 Qf8+! 27.Nf3 Bd3!!, both attacking the rook and threatening mate-in-1. That was anything but trivial, but after the immediate 24…Rd1+? 25.Kf2 Qf8+ 26.Nf3 Duda had nothing better than 26…Rd7, giving up the bishop on e2. A piece up and with a huge attack, Xiong didn’t let his chance slip.

You can replay the final game below:

Sadly Jan-Krzysztof Duda was out of the tournament, despite having enhanced his reputation for brave, inventive chess still further:

It was no surprise when Jeffery answered the question of how he felt:

Simply exhausted, that’s all I can say!

He’ll have to rely on his youthful powers of recovery, since there’s no time to regroup before the quarterfinals - he faces Radjabov from the usual time of 12:00 CEST on Monday. All the players have now secured at least $35,000 in prize money, but they’re also all just two match wins away from a place in the 2020 Candidates Tournament to decide who faces Magnus Carlsen in a match next year.

Don’t miss all the action live here on chess24 from 12:00 CEST!

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