Reports Sep 4, 2017 | 8:45 AMby Colin McGourty

Tbilisi World Cup, 1.1: Wei Yi shocker

Wei Yi was crushed in only 24 moves by Canadian GM Bator Sambuev as the 2017 FIDE World Cup in Tbilisi got off to a spectacular start. Harikrishna, Vladimir Fedoseev and Pavel Eljanov were the other 2700 casualties and join 31 more players who need a win in Monday’s Game 2 to force tiebreaks on Tuesday. Magnus Carlsen overcame stiff resistance from Nigeria’s Oluwafemi Balogun to get off to a winning start as only Maxime Vachier-Lagrave among the world’s Top 10 was held to a draw in the opening game.

Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana were among the stars who got off to a winning start in the Tbilisi World Cup | photo: Eteri Kublashvili, Russian Chess Federation

You can play through all the games from Tbilisi using the selector below – simply click on a result to open the game with computer analysis, or hover over it to see the final position:

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The one game that needs a non-chess explanation is Zherebukh-Onischuk, where Alexander Onischuk was given a 42nd birthday gift of a walkover win. Yaroslav Zherebukh didn’t travel to Tbilisi since he needs to remain resident in the US to receive a green card – in fact he’s playing other events at the same time as the World Cup.

Onischuk will go straight through to the 2nd round against Wojtaszek or El Debs and earn a guaranteed $10,000, while Zherebukh may struggle to receive the $6,000 for 1st round losers and could theoretically be excluded from the next World Championship cycle. The failure to give his place to someone else was of course a kick in the teeth to all those who missed out.

Four big upsets

How did Day 1 of the 2017 World Cup go for the star names?

The small gains are wins for the top players against weaker opposition, the small rating losses are from draws, while big losses of course mean defeats (only Topalov above doesn't play). The first star we come across to have suffered such a setback is Wei Yi, who lost 7.8 rating points.

Wei Yi and the Chinese team at the opening ceremony | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

“You never know where the danger is coming from” was Anish Giri’s take on the World Cup knockout system, and it’s unlikely the Chinese prodigy, a popular dark horse to win the whole event, woke up on Sunday morning with any thought that he’d soon be staring a first-round exit in the face. He lost in just 24 moves to a player he outrated by over 200 points, Bator Sambuev, a 36-year-old Siberian-born grandmaster who emigrated to Canada a decade ago and is the current Canadian Champion.

Bator might be in some demand as a second, since he seems to have found something the world chess elite will be puzzling over in the coming years – Wei Yi’s kryptonite! He commented afterwards:

The conventional wisdom is that it’s best to drag the 18-year-old into dull endings, but that may already be out of date. What Bator had clearly noticed is that in the last two classical games that Wei Yi had lost, against Tran Tuan Minh (2537) on May 17 and Viacheslav Diu (2421) on March 12, he’d been utterly crushed with Black by direct attacks in the centre and on the kingside.


Whether Wei Yi really does have an Achilles’ heel, or those games simply served as inspiration, there were strong echoes as the Chinese player’s position simply collapsed until he resigned on move 24 with Bator’s rook ready to swing to h4 and end Black’s resistance:


The bad news for Sambuev may be that after both of those previous losses Wei Yi won his next three games, though he did do it against weaker opposition in open tournaments.

Yusnel Bacallao picked up the scalp of Vladimir Fedoseev | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

Cuba may be missing Leinier Dominguez at the World Cup, but his colleagues had a dream first day of the event. Lazaro Bruzon beat David Anton, while two more Cuban grandmasters created two of the round’s big upsets. Harikrishna’s 20…Rxf2 looked good at a glance:


21.Rxf2 would of course lose to 21…Qxd1+, but it turned out that after 21.Bxc6! bxc6 22.cxd6 cxd6 23.Rxd6 Black’s position was simply in ruins, with Yuri Gonzalez (2547) going on to demonstrate wonderful precision on the way to a remarkably easy win. Yusnel Bacallao (2573) also punished the dangerous young Russian Grandmaster Vladimir Fedoseev for lashing out in the opening with the black pieces. Soon things had fallen apart and Fedoseev was made to look almost like a coffeehouse player as he desperately looked to complicate the game.

Everything was going right for Eljanov... until it all went wrong | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

While Wei Yi, Harikrishna and Fedoseev lost with Black and will now have the white pieces to recover on Monday, Pavel Eljanov suffered the bitterest of defeats with White. His executioner was Aleksandr Lenderman, though he didn't look that way when he was simply two pawns down in an endgame. He described what happened next:

It's obviously just a miracle. Anything happens in chess, it proves!

Lenderman’s theory was that Eljanov’s 53.e7, eventually played after 6 minutes’ thought, was connected with “a visualisation error” – he’d overlooked that 53…Kf7 was possible now the pawn was no longer covering that square from e6. That seems unlikely, but Pavel was low on time and must have been rattled when he then played the blunder of the day: 54.Rd2??


54...Rxd4! picked up a whole piece, since 55.Rxd4 of course would run into the 55…Nc2+ fork. Pavel staggered on with 55.Rb2, but when Lenderman stopped the b-pawn it was time to resign. If Eljanov is going to repeat his fantastic World Cup in Baku in 2015 he has to win with the black pieces on Monday.

The ones who got away

There could have been more shocks with, for instance, Frenchman Etienne Bacrot (2728) looking dead lost from move 16 of his game against Brazil’s Alexandr Fier (2569). The critical moment perhaps came on move 23:


24.Be5+! is a killer, with the h8-rook skewered and g5 the big threat to win any piece that appears on f6. 24…Bf6 runs into 25.Qg3!, renewing all the threats. Instead after 24.a5?! Bxg3! White was still much better, but one more inaccuracy was enough for the game to peter out into a draw.

World Cup specialist Dmitry Andreikin, who lost in the final to Vladimir Kramnik in 2013 and then knocked out the same player in 2015, was also seemingly in a hopeless position against Aleksey Goganov but managed to wriggle out of an ending two pawns down and even create mating threats at the end. 

Time trouble, meanwhile, helped out two more Russian stars. Croatia’s Mladen Palac (2535) had been defending the whole game but might have forced Ian Nepomniachtchi to play on a pawn down in the final position if he hadn’t been far behind on the clock. The same applied in more dramatic fashion in the game between Estonia’s Kaido Kulaots (2571) and Nikita Vitiugov. 

Vitiugov was pushing for a win for most of the game but slipped at the end | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

It ended in a repetition with Kaido playing on increments, but if he’d had time to stop and think he might have spotted that 33 or 35.Bxe5! was a winning move. 35…Qxe5 runs into 36.Qg4!, while 35…dxe5 loses to the even more beautiful 36.Rh8+ Kd7 37.Nb3+ Qd6 38.Nc5+!! – without spotting that last move in advance, however, you can't go for this, as you're just a piece down.


Surprise draws

People adopt different tactics for knockout tournaments, with some preferring to take the contest to the rapid tiebreaks, while a draw with Black is often considered a perfectly fine result against even clearly inferior opposition. 

Vassily Ivanchuk was somewhat worse when a draw was agreed | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

Short draws included Ivanchuk-Kazhgaleyev (16 moves), Xiong-Motylev (15), Ponomariov-Sethuraman (16), Antipov-Tomashevsky (15), Nguyen-Adhiban (15) and Jobava-Salgado (20), while Teimour Radjabov’s 15-move draw with White against Helgi Dam Ziska from the Faroe Islands garnered particular attention. It finished in the following unclear – to put it mildly – position!


This had been reached five times in games among top opposition, with three draws and two wins for Black. Radjabov himself had played it with Black against Levon Aronian in 2014, and it seems he was so reluctant to play it on the other side of the board that he sacrificed the advantage of the white pieces by offering a draw. 

We'll only be able to assess Radjabov's decision after we see who makes it through to Round 2 | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

Anish Giri felt it was down to nerves:

I think everyone who follows this tournament really enjoys following it and they think it’s also fun to play it. I think they don’t really get the point - it’s only fun to follow! Playing is heart-breaking and nerve-racking. You already saw today Teimour Radjabov just couldn’t handle the nerves and offered a draw at the beginning. Many players are doubting already in the first round.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, meanwhile, drew in only 22 moves after playing 22…Bf5, but in this case the mystery relates to his opponent, since White was a pawn up with a healthy pawn structure. It’s clear Maxime had the dynamic play he enjoys, but it’s hard to imagine what more 2455-rated Muhammad Khusenkhojaev from Tajikistan could hope for against the world no. 2!

Other top players were held to draws, with the youngest player in the event, 16-year-old Anton Smirnov, giving back an extra pawn for a 30-move draw against defending champion Sergey Karjakin. He said he’d had “about a week” to prepare after doing his other homework!  

Other games saw more of a fight, with Adams-Batchuluun reaching move 57, Pourramezanali-Yu Yangyi move 71 and Li Chao-Krysa move 113! In that longest game of the day Li Chao retained some hopes to the end, but he could have made his day much shorter and more pleasant on move 54:


54.b5! is a study-like win, since after 54…bxa5 White plays 55.e4! Rb6 56.f3! and the mating threat of e5+ and Rf7# is decisive.

Wins for the favourites

Magnus may have got his fans' nerves jangling for a while, but eventually he got off to a smooth win | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

There’s pressure on everyone at the World Cup, as Anish Giri explained after eventually converting a long-term edge against Nana Dzagnidze into a win:

If you really play for a result it’s very nerve-racking. Maybe Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin are going to be able to be playing more relaxed… On the other hand, Magnus has probably more pressure than anybody. People expect him to win, he expects himself to win. He said he would like the World Championship to look this way, so he hints that this is kind of the World Championship to him as well, so his fake title is at stake here, in a way! He’s also under a lot of pressure.

Giri said of his own chances:

If you follow the cliché you’d say that I’m solid and if you’re solid it’s good, but it’s really not the case. It’s enough to have one bad day against anybody. I got knocked out so far, to be honest, with all respect to Peter Svidler, out of all the players there I didn’t expect that would be the person I’d fear the most in the semi-final.  The year before it was very funny as I was following the match Leko against Julio Granda as one of them would be my opponent, and when Leko lost I thought it’s fantastic, I’m getting Julio Granda now, and then he beats me like a baby! You never even know where the danger is coming from. Last time I beat Vachier-Lagrave and I lost to Peter Svidler, who is a great player, but if you see his play the day before he beat me, he played awful, and the next day he beat me and that was it for me. There are traps every day here. For spectators it’s great, but I think Magnus Carlsen will next year just go back home and spectate!

Anish has support from his Georgian family in Tbilisi, although he did add, "when you're sitting at the board every country looks the same to you!"

You can watch that interview, and the whole day’s commentary with Ivan Sokolov, below:

If Magnus was under pressure in his game against 2255-rated FM Oluwafemi Balogun from Nigeria it won’t have helped that his opponent played good chess for a long time. He responded 1…d6 to Carlsen’s 1.e4, though the curiosity is that in games in the database that’s his most common move in the position. It can’t have surprised Magnus, therefore, though the World Champion was soon taking his time and seemingly running real strategic risks. When he swapped off queens, though, the danger was over, and sure enough after 31.a5 Balogun finally blinked:


31…b5?! (31…bxa5!) was a mistake and it was amazing how fast things fell apart after Carlsen played the c4-break and Bc3.

Vishy Anand had too much experience for Li Tian Yeoh | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

All but MVL of the world’s Top 10 managed to win, one way or another, though there were few walkovers. Caruana, Nakamura and Aronian all eventually won in style, for instance, but probably with more excitement than they’d hoped for, while Grischuk, So and Anand all ground out long victories.

Vladimir Kramnik’s game stood out, since he avoided a 3-fold repetition as the time control approached only by sacrificing a pawn against Dai Changren from China. 

A fighting win for Kramnik against a tricky first-round opponent | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

Ivan Sokolov summed up that decision by saying Kramnik was “fighting for a draw”, but when his opponent’s knights got carried away on the queenside the elusive counterplay suddenly materialised on the kingside:


It should be said of Changren’s blunder here that it was suddenly very far from easy. He needed to play 44.Kh1! and meet 44…Bxh3 with the ice-cool only move 45.f3!, then after 45…Bd7 again 46.Nxd6! is an only move. Instead he played the most natural move in the world, 44.g3?, but after 44…Bxh3! there was suddenly no longer a defence. 45.gxf4 Qg4 is mate next move, but after 45.Nxd6 hxg3+ 46.fxg3 Qg4! White’s prospects were no brighter. Kramnik showed lethal precision to bring home the full point.

Sadly Kramnik didn't wear his sunglasses to the first round... | photo: official website

That win took Big Vlad back up to 2nd spot on the live ratings after MVL’s slip, and it should be interesting to see how fiercely he plays for a win with White in the next game - for rating purposes - when he knows a draw is enough to reach the 2nd round. Other favourites with one foot in the 2nd round after winning with Black are So, Anand, Mamedyarov, Artemiev, Matlakov, Duda, Navara and Peter Svidler, who won a strategically impressive 30-move game against Jakhongir Vakhidov.

2011 World Cup finalists Grischuk and Svidler both got off to winning starts | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

With so many players now needing to win on demand Day 2 of the World Cup promises to be unmissable. Remember, if the games end tied at 1-1 the players will return on Tuesday for up to 7 more games of rapid and blitz chess. 64 players must be eliminated before Round 2 starts on Wednesday!

Watch all the action, with the option of watching 5 commentary streams in 4 languages, here on chess24 from 15:00 CEST onwards!

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