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Alireza Firouzja, Anish Giri, Levon Aronian, Anton Shevchenko and Dmitrij Kollars were the star performers in the ChessKid Cup Play-In and will now join Hikaru Nakamura, Fabiano Caruana and Nodirbek Abdusattorov in the top division of the main event that runs May 22-26. The ChessKid Cup is the 3rd tournament on the $2 million 2023 Champions Chess Tour.
Magnus Carlsen will not be playing in the ChessKid Cup, which meant there were five rather than four places in Division I up for grabs during the gruelling Play-In on May 1st.
Once again there was a big 9-round 10+2 Swiss, open to all grandmasters and other qualifiers, before the top finishers played two-game matches to decide the spots in the main event. The most ambitious goal was to finish in the top 10 and get the chance to play for a place in Division I.
The players who managed were the following, with Alireza Firouzja, Jules Moussard, Aleksandr Shimanov and Jorden van Foreest scoring 7/9, while the remaining players scored 6.5/9. Georg Meier, Raunak Sadhwani, Pavel Eljanov and Tuan Minh Le also scored 6.5/9, but were unlucky to miss out on tiebreaks.
The twist in these Play-Ins is that the top five players get to choose, in order, who they want to play out of the players who finished 6th to 10th. That didn’t work out so well, as three of the five players lost their matches.
Let’s take a look at how players qualified for Division I of the ChessKid Cup, starting with the established stars.
Alireza Firouzja is still just 19, but the world no. 4 has long been established as one of the greatest natural talents the game has ever seen. He hasn’t, perhaps surprisingly, been such a force in online chess, but this time, from the moment his first round opponent Rudik Makarian blundered with 33…Ng4?, he didn’t look back.
34.Rg8+! Kf6 35.Rxg4 was the kind of tactic Alireza wasn’t going to miss, and Black resigned rather playing on a piece down after 35…fxg4 36.Kxe4.
Alireza went on to rack up a 5.5/6 score before easing off with three draws and still taking first place.
The win over David Anton was a 24-move miniature which would be doubly significant. First, it came against a 27-year-old Spaniard who had just played a phenomenal game of his own.
18…Bxh3! was the start of a brutal attack that would culminate in checkmate, two rooks down, ten moves later.
The second reason Firouzja’s win over Anton was important was that Alireza then chose for them to play again in the match play. That could have backfired, as Anton had some pressure in the first two games, but then Alireza dominated the Armageddon. With three minutes less on the clock and needing only a draw with the black pieces, he went on to win easily. David Anton qualifies for Division II.
Anish Giri made the infamous 14-move Berlin draw against Alireza Firouzja in the final round of the Swiss, but it would be hard to hold that against him, since it was his only draw all day!
Anish finished 6th, so that it was his Dutch compatriot Jorden van Foreest who chose to play him in a match, while Dmitry Andreikin was the other option. Maybe Jorden recalled beating Anish in tiebreaks to win the 2021 Tata Steel Masters, or perhaps it was just trolling, but in any case, it didn’t work out well.
In the first game Anish got to sacrifice a knight and two rooks in a crushing attack with the black pieces, while the second game was over in just 21 moves.
Jorden has just defended against Nxf6 and Qxh6, but only to set up another win. 21.Nxf6+! and Jorden resigned rather than see 21…gxf6 22.Qe4+, forking the king and a8-rook, on the board. Anish had a convincing reason for why he’d qualified for the event.
Levon Aronian bounced back from being knocked out of the Chessable Masters by Magnus Carlsen to qualify again. His Swiss performance was smooth, until he lost to Aleksandr Shimanov, but he bounced straight back by beating one of his great rivals, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, in the very next round.
Levon had also taken down Dmitry Andreikin, so that he can’t have been too disappointed when he was left playing the same opponent again (as the fifth-placed player, Levon didn’t get a choice in the matter). The curiosity was that the game in the Swiss and the first game of the match play followed the same theme — Dmitry lost a piece after taking a poisoned pawn on e5.
That happened on move 15 in the first game, while he did the same a move later in the match play, with 16…Bxe5?
This was much trickier, but after 17.Rfe1! f6?! 18.Rxe5! fxe5 19.Ng6 Rg8 20.Nxe5 Qd5 21.Nxc4 Levon had a completely winning position.
In the second game, Levon comfortably achieved the draw he needed to clinch the match.
The remaining two matches featured less well-known players.
20-year-old Ukrainian Grandmaster Kirill Shevchenko, who now represents Romania, began the Swiss with a loss to Peruvian IM Renato Terry, but a later run of five wins in a row saw him squeeze into the Division I matches in 10th place.
His opponent, Aleksandr Shimanov, was a revelation in the Swiss, beating Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Anish Giri and Levon Aronian.
In the first game of the match he was a whisker away from another big win. The position after 72.Nxd3 is winning for White…
…though it’s one of those positions that with best play can’t be won in the 50 moves you have before a draw is declared. Perfect play is impossible in a rapid game, but in any case the game was declared drawn on move 122, with the same pieces on the board and a win still far in the distance.
The 2nd game also featured a big chance for Shimanov after an en-passant capture gone wrong, but that might not have mattered as Aleksandr again had plenty of winning chances in the Armageddon game. In the end it came down to finding a winning Qg8+ resource… which Kirill finally spotted, at the 3rd time of asking!
The least well-known player to qualify for Division I is 23-year-old German Grandmaster Dmitrij Kollars.
Dmitrij Kollars was one of just three players to end the day unbeaten — the others were Alireza Firouzja and Vladimir Fedoseev, though Vladimir only qualified for Division II. Dmitrij scored just four wins in the Swiss, but one of them was against Liem Le.
French GM Jules Moussard predictably did things more dramatically, as he scored six wins, and one loss, to take second place. Jules was then on the verge of beating Dmitrij in their first game, before missing one detail.
49.gxf4! wins a vital pawn, since the black rook can’t stop defending the bishop on c6, while after 49.Rxf6?! Kollars had the zwischenzug 49…fxg3+! before capturing the rook. It still looked as though White might triumph, but Dmitrij was able to hold a study-like position by giving up his bishop for one of the white queenside pawns.
Then Dmitrij clinched the match with the white pieces in a sharp Sicilian battle that ultimately ended in checkmate.
So we now have the full line-up for Division I of the ChessKid Cup that runs May 22-26 (the seedings are based on the Swiss standings, apart from the top three, who qualified from the Chessable Masters).
As always in such events, there were star names who missed out, including the likes of Arjun Erigaisi, Vincent Keymer and Leinier Dominguez.
One notable storyline was that of Sam Sevian, who missed the first three rounds before powering to 6/6 and a playoff for a spot in Division II. When he then made it a 7th win in a row by beating none other than Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, he looked to be having a stunning day.
As you can see, however, Shakh hit back, first delivering a surprise checkmate in what had seemed a technical endgame a pawn up, before then winning on demand with the white pieces in the Armageddon.
The ChessKid Cup starts at 17:00 CEST on May 22nd.
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