Reports Sep 5, 2017 | 8:52 AMby Colin McGourty

Tbilisi World Cup, 1.2: Revenge of the favourites

Wei Yi, Harikrishna and Vladimir Fedoseev all showed that ratings don’t lie as they won on demand with the white pieces to join 41 more players in Tuesday’s tiebreaks! 42 players are already out of the 2017 FIDE World Cup, with Pavel Eljanov the top casualty after his must-win game against Alex Lenderman ended in defeat. Fellow Ukrainian GM Ruslan Ponomariov also fell at the first hurdle after losing to India's Sethuraman. We already know 15 of the 32 Round 2 pairings, including Aronian-Hou Yifan and Carlsen-Dreev.

Pavel Eljanov has been the one big casualty so far, losing 2:0 to Alex Lenderman | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

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:

Why not go Premium during the World Cup? If you take out a 1-year subscription you can pick a "World Cup hero" and gain up to 7 months free depending on how he or she does! For full details, see here


At this stage the World Cup is all about statistics, with the 128 players already down to 86 after two days of action. Let’s take a look at the matches based on how they’ve gone so far:

LOSS + WIN - 5 matches: The comeback kids!

Only five matches so far have witnessed two decisive results, but unsurprisingly they’ve been the ones to watch. All three of the 2700+ stars who lost with Black on Day 1 managed to hit back with White and force tiebreaks. Harikrishna simply outclassed Yuri Gonzalez in a Ruy Lopez, while the aggressive styles of Vladimir Fedoseev and Wei Yi came to their rescue.

Daniil Dubov and Vladimir Fedoseev now both face tiebreaks on Tuesday - so far none of the 20 Russians in the World Cup have been knocked out! | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

Fedoseev first temporarily sacrificed a knight on d5 and then went for a real exchange sac:


19.Rxd5! Bh2+ 20.Kxh2 Qxd5 and now 21.Nc4! Kb8 22.Bf4+! left Yusnel Bacallao with the toughest of positions to defend. He soon cracked and Fedoseev made no mistake to take the match to tiebreaks.

Wei Yi was down on time and a move or two away from a hopeless situation, but his fighting spirit finally paid off | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

Wei Yi – Sambuev, meanwhile, was an epic encounter. At first Bator Sambuev seemed to do everything right in a French Defence, with a healthy position both on the board and the clock. Wei Yi used every ounce of ingenuity he could muster, though, and eventually it was enough to bamboozle his opponent.

35.f4!? blew the position wide open. 35…Qg6?! (35…Nxf4! looks to have no refutation) was the glimmer of light Wei Yi needed, and after 36.f5! exf5 37.Qd1! the board was on fire:


Here 37…fxe4? was the losing mistake (37…Nc3! still left hope of saving the game), since after 38.Qxd5+! Wei Yi could finally showcase all his tactical brilliance in an assault on the black king.

Bator Sambuev now has to try and shrug off the loss and prepare for tiebreaks | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

Elsewhere Anton Demchenko came back to win with the white pieces against Alexander Areshchenko in one of the most topsy-turvy matches of the World Cup so far. The winner will play Vladimir Kramnik. Paco Vallejo was also surprisingly taken to tiebreaks by Indian Champion Karthikeyan Murali, who played an impressive game on the white side of the Sicilian.

DRAW + DRAW – 17 matches

Ian Nepomniachtchi wasted no time heading for tiebreaks | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

The less spectacular way to reach tiebreaks was of course to draw both games, as 34 of the players did. Many star names were clearly happy to save their energy for tiebreaks, with Palac-Nepomniachtchi ending drawn in only 9 moves. Other quick finishes included Bacrot-Fier (16 moves), Ivanchuk-Kazhgaleyev (21), Andreikin-Goganov (19), Yu Yangyi-Purramezanali (23), Salgado-Jobava (24), Adams-Batchuluun (22) and Karjakin-Smirnov (21) – yes, the youngest player in the event has held the World Championship challenger to two Elo-draining draws in a row. 

Anton Smirnov hasn't been overawed by the defending champion so far | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

Defeating the reigning World Blitz Champion in speed chess isn’t going to be a walk in the park, but whatever happens Australia's Anton Smirnov can hold his head up high.

Of course not all the draws were lifeless. Tari-Howell saw David Howell once again flirt with time trouble disaster, Evgeny Tomashevsky pushed hard to beat former World Junior Champion Mikhail Antipov and 16-year-old Sam Sevian had German Champion Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu well and truly on the ropes.

16-year-old Sam Sevian came very close to reaching the 2nd round without the need for tiebreaks | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

The most dramatic moment came, however, when Egypt’s Bassem Amin seemed destined to qualify to play Peter Svidler in Round 2 before he fell for a famous trick when he played 67…a3??


68.Rxa3! was blitzed out by Hungary’s Viktor Erdos. After 3 minutes of bitter reflection Bassem decided to demonstrate the point: 68…Rh3+ 69.Ke4 Rxa3 Stalemate! If Bassem had won the game he would have become the first African player to enter the 2700 club.

WIN + WIN – 14 matches

Once again Oluwafemi Balogun showed he was fit to sit down at the same table as Magnus Carlsen, but once again the World Champion slowly but surely outplayed the Nigerian. 

Magnus Carlsen's start hasn't been spectacular, but with Aleksey Dreev in Round 2 and perhaps Bu Xiangzhi in Round 3 he may feel he doesn't need to be firing on all cylinders just yet | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

Other top players also showed their class, with Hikaru Nakamura, Levon Aronian, Fabiano Caruana, Alexander Grischuk, David Navara, Richard Rapport and Peter Svidler among the players with a perfect score. 

If Wei Yi gets through tiebreaks Richard Rapport awaits in Round 2! | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

Svidler revealed that Jakhongir Vakhidov had rejected a draw in their first game, while he also talked about his latest injury in an interview with Anastasia Karlovich:

The most significant whitewash, however, was US grandmaster Aleksandr Lenderman’s 2:0 victory over Pavel Eljanov. The Ukrainian grandmaster had reached the semifinals in 2015 in Baku and been nicknamed “Elojanov” for his winning run there. It couldn’t have been more different this time round, with the defeat accompanied by a 14.4 point drop in rating.  

Aleksandr Lenderman made no mistake in the second game | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

The second game was something of a damp squib as Eljanov’s attempt to win on demand with the black pieces merely saw him jettison two pawns for no real compensation. He explained afterwards on his Facebook page that it was the fault of his concentration slipping in a won position in the first game:

People are weak and, often, they begin to rest on their laurels before it’s time (that doesn’t, of course, only apply to chess). During the first game at a certain moment I’d already chalked up a point and was beginning to wonder what opening to play in the second.

Friends, learn from other people’s mistakes before you fall victim to your own!

Many thanks to everyone who supported me – I got dozens of messages before the tournament and yesterday. More people are rooting for me than I objectively deserve – I’ll try to give something to cheer about in one of the upcoming tournaments (the next is the Isle of Man, September 23).

Let’s turn from experience to youth, since we have a new member of the 2700 club - Vladislav Artemiev. The 19-year-old Russian grandmaster finally reached exactly 2700 after two resounding victories over Benjamin Bok. He perhaps hasn’t climbed to the top quite as fast as was expected, but he has a chance to change that in the World Cup. Teimour Radjabov is up next, though, so it’s not going to be easy.

Vladislav Artemiev - this is how you dress to enter the 2700 club! | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

Fellow 19-year-old Jan-Krzysztof Duda from Poland entered the 2700 club sooner and has kept his lead by winning both games against local hero Levan Pantsulaia. The second game ended with a nice touch:


35.Bf6! and, with the threat of mate on g6 or g8 if the bishop is captured, Black resigned.

JK Duda prefers his Poland shirt - as a former European Rapid Champion and Blitz silver medalist he has the skillset needed to go far in Tbilisi | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

WIN + DRAW – 16 matches

16 players took the traditional knockout approach of winning the first game and drawing the second. In some cases the favourites had no problem sacrificing some rating points for progression in the tournament, with Radek Wojtaszek taking a 24-move draw against El Debs and Anish Giri drawing in 22 moves against Nana Dzagnidze. 

Balancing his chances of qualifying for the Candidates by rating with doing well in Tbilisi is already proving a tricky juggling act for Kramnik | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

Vladimir Kramnik found himself a pawn down again as he tried to avoid a draw against Dai Changren, but this time there was no miracle and he had to accept a 4.1 point rating loss that saw him plummet from world no. 2 to no. 5 and out of the 2800 club. 

Wesley So moved into Round 2 with a minimum of fuss as he attempts to get back on track after his disastrous Sinquefield Cup | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

Wesley So clearly considered going for more in this position as he thought for 10 minutes against Colombia's Joshua Ruiz:


24.Rxb7! Rxb7 25.Bxd5! Rc7 26.Bxe6+ was playable and good, but perhaps understandably Wesley decided he had no need of such sharp lines and simply drew quickly after playing 24.Rdc1.

Boris Gelfand was careful not to repeat his early exit in 2015, taking a draw against Kirill Stupak in a position where he could have played on for a win.

Of course a lower-rated opponent isn’t always content to go quietly, and 18-year-old Malaysian International Master Li Tian Yeoh made Vishy Anand fight every inch of the way to avoid tiebreaks. It must have been a thrill to get to play this against the former World Champion:


53…Rxh3! 54.Rh1 (54.Kxh3 Rh6+ 55.Kg2 Rh2+ and the knight on c2 falls) 54…Rxh1 55.Rxh1 and here 55…Rb6! immediately is very strong, since 56.b4 runs into 56…axb4 57.axb4 Ra6! and White is helpless against the rook pinning and winning the c2-knight. Instead Yeoh’s 55…Bxe5?! gave Vishy the one tempo he needed to get his king closer to the knight. Vishy went on to play very fast as Yeoh struggled with his clock until a draw was eventually reached on move 71.

Li TIan Yeoh gained a lot of new fans, but his World Cup is over | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

The last game of the day to finish was also one of the most exciting, as England’s Gawain Jones did everything in his power to level the score against Peru’s Jorge Cori. It wasn’t clear if he could still have won, but one mistake was all it took for his tournament to be over:


81.Rf8? ran into 81...Rxc7! and the chance had gone.

It’s a brutal event:

One minute you're dreaming of how far you can go, and then you're on the way home:

DRAW + WIN – 12 matches

The day’s most amusing game, by some margin, was Caissa coming back to bite Muhammad Khusenkhojaev for not playing on with an extra pawn in the first game against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. 

Teimour Radjabov had also come in for some criticism for taking an early draw with White in Game 1, but he explained he’d simply stumbled into a line where White needed to play accurately to draw. In Game 2 he rejected a tacit draw offer from Helgi Dam Ziska of the Faroe Islands and went on to play a beautiful attack, with the final position hinting at a beautiful mate:


33.Rxf1 gxf1=N# would have been nice, but Ziska instead chose to resign.

Teimour Radjabov was in fine form on and off the board. Asked afterwards if he was excited about playing chess he said yes, but not as much as he used to be - only World War III or another financial crisis might see him keep playing at 80 like Viktor Korchnoi! | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

In other notable games Alexander Motylev managed to beat World Junior Champion Jeffery Xiong’s Berlin, Le Quang Liem sacrificed his queen for two minor pieces against Vitaly Kunin, Li Chao got another queen and pawn ending against Leandro Krysa and finally converted, while Hou Yifan suddenly managed to break through against Polish Champion Kacper Piorun. 

Hou Yifan has made the second round for the second time in five World Cups | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

One mistake, 36…Nb4? (the knight needed to go to c1 with the threat of jumping to e2 next), was all it took:


37.g4!, not only hitting the rook but giving the king a vital escape route, left Black’s defences in tatters. 37…Rf4 was hit by 38.Bxg7+! and the game ended swiftly: 38…Kxg7 39.Qe5+ Rf6 40.Nd4 Qg6 41.g5 Bc5 42.Kh1 Black resigns.

The day’s other big shock after the loss of Pavel Eljanov was that his countryman Ruslan Ponomariov joined him in leaving the competition. Ruslan is a knockout specialist, having won the World Championship title as an 18-year-old in 2002 and then finished as the losing finalist in 2005 and 2009. This time, though, after drawing the first game he was blown away in the second by India’s Sethuraman… or at least he should have been. Ruslan’s position was soon hopeless out of the opening and it just looked like a question of when he’d resign. This was the situation after 38…Rxa2:


39.Qe3! or 39.Be4! are the moves here, while after Sethuraman’s 39.Nh6+ Rxc2 the game went on. We saw some of Ruslan’s famed tenacity as he managed to hold on and almost even equalise, but it wasn’t to be. His opponent finally reeled in the full point on move 58.

Although we’re still waiting for 22 places to be decided for Round 2, we already know 15 of the 32 matches:

  • Carlsen-Dreev
  • Wojtaszek-Onischuk
  • Grischuk-Cori
  • Navara-Cheparinov
  • Giri-Motylev
  • Aronian-Hou Yifan
  • Radjabov-Artemiev
  • So-Bluebaum
  • Nakamura-Bruzon
  • Anand-Kovalyov
  • Vitiugov-Najer
  • Mamedyarov-Kuzubov
  • Gelfand-Wang Hao
  • Ding Liren-Kravtsiv
  • Le Quang Liem-Vidit

Giri is one of those players with a rest day, before he meets Alexander Motylev in Round 2

We also have a clear leader in our predictions contest, with “Boor’s way” the only one of over 1400 predictions to have scored as many as 40 points out of a potential 42, with only the shock losses for Eljanov and Ponomariov preventing a 100% score. Note that there you can also see the predictions for individual matches e.g. 81% thought Hou Yifan would get through to play Levon Aronian in Round 2, but only 3% of those think she’ll win:


Before Round 2, however, we have no less than 22 tiebreak matches to look forward to! The action starts at the same time, with two games of rapid chess at a time control of 25 minutes for all moves and a 10-second increment per move from move 1. Only if the match is still tied do we get two more 10+10 games, then if needed two 5+3 and then finally Armageddon! White has 5 minutes to Black’s 4, but if the game is drawn the player with Black goes through to Round 2.

Can Baadur Jobava delight local fans by reaching Round 2? | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

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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