Magnus Carlsen was knocked out of the 2017 FIDE World Cup by Bu Xiangzhi on Sunday as a brutal day’s action also saw Vladimir Kramnik beaten by Vassily Ivanchuk and Hikaru Nakamura fall to a crushing attack from Vladimir Fedoseev. Maxim Matlakov matched Levon Aronian’s brilliance of the day before to force tiebreaks, while Anish Giri needed an escape of epic proportions to reach tiebreaks against Sethuraman. Of the world’s Top 15 only Wesley So and Peter Svidler are already through to Round 4.
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Magnus Carlsen, the World Champion, world no. 1 and strong favourite to win the 2017 FIDE World Cup, has been knocked out in Round 3. He went into Sunday’s game against Bu Xiangzhi knowing he had to win with the black pieces to force tiebreaks. Against any strong grandmaster that’s an uphill struggle, and Bu Xiangzhi is known for being tough to beat with White, but on the other hand, this was Magnus!
Teimour Radjabov revealed he’d also been using some reverse
psychology when he claimed Bu had a 95% chance of getting through:
In the end, though, Magnus suffered the same fate as Vishy Anand in the previous round. Xiangzhi played the game perfectly, retaining control at all times, exchanging pieces when the opportunity allowed, and finally calculating he could force perpetual check:
31.Rxg7+! Kxg7 32.Qc7+ (of course not 32.Qxb8 Qxe2+) 32…Kg6 33.Qg3+ and there’s no escape from the checks. It was an almost perfectly match by China’s Bu Xiangzhi, who is now live-rated 2728.8 and world no. 29.
For Magnus, the dream of showing he’s the best in any format and legitimising the knockout system as a means of choosing a champion is over, ended by one brave or perhaps rash decision not to take a draw in the first classical game against Bu. Alas, chess fans never got to see Magnus in tiebreaks or in matches against his key rivals.
His consolation, however, is that knockout tactics and failures have hit the ratings of almost all the world elite, meaning he suddenly finds himself as the world’s only member of the 2800 club:
He also has companions in misery…
Vladimir Kramnik beat Vassily Ivanchuk in Round 4 on the way to winning the 2013 World Cup, but the more memorable clash that year saw Ivanchuk beat Kramnik in the final round of the 2013 Candidates Tournament, when it later turned out a draw would have been enough to make Kramnik not Carlsen Anand’s World Championship challenger. In Tbilisi on Sunday Ivanchuk was again in the business of crushing dreams.
Kramnik had pushed hard for a win with the black pieces and it was no surprise when he did the same with White, but that proved to be his downfall. By move 27 his overextended position had resulted only in his going a pawn down:
Kramnik is one of the world’s best defenders of technical positions, but when on form there’s arguably no-one better at winning them than Vassily Ivanchuk. The 48-year-old’s conversion was all but flawless, and for the next 44 moves Vladimir waited for a mistake in vain.
At times his best hope seemed to be carefully avoiding any glance at the clock and hoping Ivanchuk would lose on time, but that never really came close to happening. Vassily has navigated 12 games at this year’s World Cup without defeat.
58…e5! was perhaps the moment at which the game’s outcome was no longer in doubt, while the play that followed allowed Ivanchuk to demonstrate some more virtuosity. It also featured some picturesque positions:
He’d earned all the attention!
Kramnik’s loss was bad news for his Candidates Tournament qualification hopes both because he can no longer qualify from the World Cup and because of the rating loss:
On the other hand, Wesley So and Fabiano Caruana are still in play and if either reaches the World Cup final they’ll drop out of the rating list race and almost guarantee Kramnik a place in the Candidates. They’re slated to play a semi-final against each other, and if they did Vladimir could already rest easy.
While Kramnik was getting ground into dust, Hikaru Nakamura was simply blown away by Vladimir Fedoseev. The US grandmaster hesitated over playing the rare 6…c6 (6…d6 is much more common) and then spent 25 minutes agonising over 7…0-0?!. Subsequent events made that simply look like a blunder:
Fedoseev didn’t need to be asked twice and went for 8.Nxf7! Rxf7 9.Bxf7+ Kxf7 10.Be3 Ne6?! (another dubious move played after a long think) 11.Bxc5 Nxc5 12.e5 and soon White had a pawn steamroller motoring down the centre of the board towards Black’s exposed king. Hikaru did well to stay in the game for as long as he did, but when queens were exchanged his other pawns started dropping like flies until in the final position White had no less than five extra pawns:
It was refreshing afterwards to see Vladimir Fedoseev again not hiding his self-confidence when he talked to Anastasia Karlovich. He’s gone from “nowhere” (around 2650) to the edge of the Top 20 (2737.2) in the space of under a year:
For Hikaru, meanwhile, barring an organiser’s nomination (Rex?), his chances of qualifying for the 2018 Candidates Tournament and a shot at Magnus Carlsen’s title have gone. Still, there are more important things in life:
Talking of which:
That wasn’t the end of the violence on Sunday, with English Grandmaster Danny Gormally tweeting:
Dynasties had fallen…
…and much loved characters were suddenly at risk of getting killed off.
Levon Aronian, for instance, had been in absolutely superb form in his victory over Maxim Matlakov in the first game of their match, so much so that Maxim said afterwards that it was hard to feel too upset about the result. On Sunday, though, the roles were completely reversed when Maxim got to play the kind of game we all dream about in chess. As in the Nakamura game he was allowed to lure the black king to f7 and soon a massacre began:
20.Bxh7! Qe5 (20…Nxh7 21.Qe6+ Kf8 22.Ba3+! Be7 23.Rbc1 is no fun for Black, but it was better than what happened in the game!) 21.Rxb7+ Bd7 22.Qg4!
The kind of position to put on a T-shirt! Black is lost, and Levon decided to go down in more flames with 22…Qxd4 23.Rxd7+ Nxd7 24.Qxd7+ Be7, when 25.Bb2 would have been pretty, but 25.Re1 got the job done just as fast!
The tiebreak between these two should be fun!
While Aronian’s first game win meant he was never in danger of getting knocked out on Sunday, Anish Giri’s tournament for a long time looked to be all but over. First he gave up a pawn and then he opened up routes to his king for India’s Sethuraman, which was perhaps not a wise decision against a man who had just comprehensively knocked out Harikrishna:
25.Rxg6+! blew Black’s kingside wide open, and after 25…Kh8, the only hope of staying in the game, 26.Rxd6 left nothing in the path of White’s queenside pawns. Giri’s World Cup survival rested on rustling up some attacking chances on the kingside and the fact that his opponent ended up low on time at critical moments. Still, it seemed it wasn’t going to be Anish’s day when he passed up the first chance to save himself:
With 8 minutes on his clock Giri missed 39…Rexf3! 40.Rxf3 Rxg4+! and wherever the white king goes the black queen starts giving perpetual check from a1 or b2. That condemned Anish to another 40 moves of suffering, but it was worth it in the end as he somehow lived to fight another day in Monday’s tiebreaks.
The description of the mayhem wouldn’t be complete without a look at Dubov-Artemiev, which exploded into life on move 13:
Daniil Dubov gave a wonderfully animated interview afterwards in which he cheerfully explained:
You can check out the full interview below:
Dubov notes that 19-year-old Vladislav Artemiev plays almost flawlessly in technical positions, so he instead wanted to unbalance things as soon as possible. Plus, after a history of finding great novelties that included outpreparing Sergey Karjakin in the previous round, Dubov had built up a reputation. He noted the old saying, “First you need to work to build your reputation and then from some point your reputation will work for you”.
He admitted his 13.Bb5 wasn’t fully prepared and that the sideline with 13…g4 14.Qe2 e5 15.Nf5 and only then taking the piece was unknown to him, but he was pleased to force himself to go all-in:
It’s the bravest bluff in my life and so on… the only thing I was afraid of this game was to be afraid, to feel some fear. After 13.Bb5 I will have to attack anyway because I’ll be a piece down, so I won’t think about any cheeky stuff like how to make a draw!
It ultimately worked, but not before Artemiev had built up a close to winning position that only finally slipped away on move 28:
28…Ne2+? was a big blunder, since after 29.Kb1 Qc4 30.Rxe8+ Kxe8 31.Qb8+ (essential to stop mate on a2) 31…Bc8 White could pick up the rook on h2 and suddenly Dubov was winning. Artemiev tried to give perpetual check, but in vain. Instead after 28…Qc4! immediately the same line gives White nothing as the knight remains on g3 and can give its life to save the h2-rook.
Dubov has now knocked out two higher-seeded players and faces the winner of the Aronian-Matlakov tiebreak in Round 4. In the interview he commented:
Life is funny! Ten days ago I was in St. Petersburg and just chilling out with my friend Matlakov and we said it would be nice to make it to Round 4, but it will never happen.
Dubov has done his bit by getting past Karjakin and now Matlakov “only” needs to beat Aronian!
A few of the other matches were less dramatic. Wesley So comfortably held off the attempts of Paco Vallejo to recover after his first game loss and now plays the winner of the Nepomniachtchi-Jobava playoff in Round 4. With Magnus gone Wesley is now the highest seed remaining (seedings were based on the August rating list) and is unbeaten in his 10 games so far.
Peter Svidler is also through after more or less smoothly outplaying Alexander Onischuk on the white side of a Ruy Lopez.
They first played in
1996 1990 in the Soviet Union Junior Championship (correction via Svidler, who notes the game didn't make it into any databases) but what Peter didn’t mention is that his record against Alexander
was 4 classical wins to 0. That score increased on Sunday in Tbilisi, when Peter
methodically picked up a queenside pawn and then used it to force a winning
50.a7! A simple move, but it’s always fun to sacrifice your queen! 50…Nxc2 51.a8=Q+ Kh7 52.Qxe4+. Svidler carefully marshalled his extra piece to victory on move 64.
Before the tournament reaching Round 4 looked likely to be the “thou shalt not pass” stage for Svidler, or at least, despite his positive score against Magnus Carlsen, it was likely to take some heroics to oust the World Champion. Instead Svidler faces Bu Xiangzhi, who he has a 3:0 record against going back to 2004. He was under no illusions that it was going to be easy, but commented:
It's difficult to be unhappy about this, frankly. Playing Magnus is interesting, but also difficult!
The final man through is dark horse Wang Hao, who ultimately managed to prove that a piece is worth more than three pawns against Yuriy Kuzbuov.
Round 3 could yet prove to be the graveyard for the complete world Top 5, but that’s all going to depend on what happens in the tiebreaks. Half of the 16 matches have gone to tiebreaks, some by curious routes:
The line-up for Monday is:
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