Reports Sep 7, 2017 | 8:07 AMby Colin McGourty

Tbilisi World Cup 2.1: Anand brilliancy backfires

Vishy Anand lost to Anton Kovalyov after going for a stunning but flawed piece sacrifice and now faces elimination from the 2017 World Cup unless he can win with the black pieces on Thursday. Avoiding such a predicament perhaps explains why no less than 25 of the 32 matches ended in draws, but Magnus Carlsen is on the brink of Round 3 after easing to a win with Black against Aleksey Dreev. There were also wins for Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Vladimir Kramnik, David Navara, Vladimir Fedoseev and Vidit.

Vishy Anand's desire to win led him astray against Anton Kovalyov | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

In case you missed it, Tbilisi resident IM Sopiko Guramishvili recapped how 128 players were cut to 64 in Round 1 of the FIDE World Cup:

The survivors met in Game 1 of Round 2 on Wednesday, and you can replay all the games using the selector below – click on a result to open the game with computer analysis, while if you hover over a player’s name you’ll see all his or her results so far:

Vishy Anand tumbles

The one sensation on the first day of Round 2 was Vishy Anand falling to a player rated 145 points below him – 25-year-old Ukrainian born Canadian GM Anton Kovalyov. Anton, who is studying in Texas, would later describe himself as “not a professional chess player” and “not a very ambitious player”, and it was clear Vishy hoped to play for a win with the white pieces. 

The most successful player ever in chess knockouts will need to show why on Thursday, or his hopes of playing in the 2018 Candidates Tournament will have gone (except in the unlikely event that India hosts the event) | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

He was prepared for Anton’s Najdorf Sicilian, taking the classic approach of heading for a position his opponent had won in the past despite the opening. Kovalyov foresaw the danger and dodged any preparation with 8…h5, but still ended up under serious pressure until the game suddenly took an unexpected turn:

23.Nc5?!! was a move that Kovalyov summed up with:

He made a sacrifice that if it would have worked I think it would be the game of the year, but it didn’t work, hopefully for me.

It was a pure piece sacrifice gaining only one pawn, though after 23…dxc5 24.d6+ Kf6 25.Bf3 White had secured the monster on b7, Black’s dark-squared bishop had no squares and Ra8 was a looming threat:

25…Kf5! seems to have been what Vishy missed, though, threatening e4 and providing the f6-square for the bishop. After 26.Bd5 e4 27.Re1 Bf6 28.Bxe4+ Vishy had two pawns for the piece, but Black was fully coordinated and it proved to be insufficient compensation. Anand eventually resigned on move 43.

Anton talked to Anastasia Karlovich after the game, putting his success so far – he knocked out Varuzhan Akobian in Round 1 – mainly down to luck (we may choose not to believe him!):

The Top 3 waste no time

Wins were few and far between on Wednesday, but they showcased the best qualities of some of the players. 

Easy does it for Magnus Carlsen | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

Magnus Carlsen now has three wins in three after overcoming Aleksey Dreev with the black pieces with astonishing ease. He played a provocative idea championed by his second Jon Ludvig Hammer earlier in the year and when Dreev failed to choose the most ambitious response he pounced:

16…d4! 17.exd4 cxb3 created a passed pawn on b3 and allowed Black to seize the c-file. A couple of moves later Magnus forced an exchange of queens and his conversion went like clockwork for a victory in only 32 moves.

Maxime seemed in the mood to have some fun | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

The world nos 2 and 3 had White and also lost no time. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave’s aggressive intentions were clear when he went for 4.e5 and 5.e6 against the Sicilian, an approach never tried by a player rated 2600 or above:

Russian GM Boris Grachev was obliged to accept the sacrifice but seemed to have gone astray on move 9 immediately after returning the pawn. Black’s structure was in ruins, but just when it seemed he’d managed to reach an ending that would at least pose technical issues for White, MVL whipped up an attack that threatened mate and eventually won a piece.

Vladimir Kramnik moved back into the 2800 club, but making it to Round 3 is what matters for now | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

Vladimir Kramnik also bamboozled his compatriot Anton Demchenko in the opening, reaching a completely unknown position by move 9. Demchenko’s aggressive 19…f5?! didn’t work out well, with Vladimir soon getting to unleash a piece sacrifice we’re more used to seeing in the Sicilian:

23.Nd5! After 23…cxd5 24.cxd5 Qe7 25.dxe6 Nxe6 26.exf5 gxf5 27.Qb5! Kramnik already had an overwhelming position and his conversion was a display of ruthless precision.

Vladimir Fedoseev continued his comeback after a Day 1 loss to win his fourth game on the trot, doing some Dragon slaying against Ernesto Inarkiev in a game that was memorable for the lengths that the white queen had to go to find safety after grabbing a pawn.

Vladimir Fedoseev said afterwards that he'd got over his first-day nerves | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

David Navara also won a third game in a row to beat Ivan Cheparinov, though he commented, “I played two good games in the first round but I’m not particularly proud of this game.” It was certainly wild, and some moves had not only David puzzled:

Cheparinov was still doing fine until near the very end, though, when 30…Ba4, trying to hold on to an extra piece, was a mistake (30…Bxg5!), allowing 31.Re7!

Even here there’s no knockout blow. Much to Navara’s surprise, after 31…Rg8 32.Bf4 Qd8 33.Be5 Qf8 White has nothing better than a tricky ending with a rook against the bishop pair. It didn't matter, since Cheparinov fell on his sword with 31…Bxf2+?, when simply 32.Kh1 was enough to provoke resignation. The same defence as above fails without the bishop on h4 to capture on g5 or in some cases e7.

You can watch David discuss the game below:

The final win of the day may have improved Indian spirits since 22-year-old Vidit, now up to 2710.1, showed impressive endgame technique to grind out a win with the black pieces against 2739-rated Vietnamese no. 1 Le Quang Liem.

Vidit followed the example of the World Champion to smoothly outplay his opponent with the black pieces | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

A sea of draws

Fabiano Caruana drew with Black against against Luka Lenic in 24 moves | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

There were 25 draws in the first games of Round 2 and, frankly speaking, most of them merit little mention. The sheer number was perhaps a surprise, but it’s well-known that the two-game match system encourages caution – it’s a tough ask to win on demand against another strong player. Add in the fatigue of an event without rest days until after the quarterfinals and the choice to end things quickly, if you haven’t clearly won the opening battle, is understandable.

When you're in trouble in the opening you can always be sure your friends will take an interest :) | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

That didn’t apply to all the games, though! Adhiban went straight for Ian Nepomniachtchi’s throat, sacrificing a bishop against his Najdorf on move 9. By move 12 a critical moment was reached:

When Nepo sank into thought here it seemed as though he might be headed for another opening debacle such as the one he recently suffered against Levon Aronian in the Sinquefield Cup, especially as this was a known position reached 19 times according to the chess24 database. Black’s usual approach was to blunder with 12…Qe3+ and get cut down in tactical complications, but after 19 minutes of thought Nepo found the only move 12…Nb8!

After the game Adhiban confessed that the move got him thinking on his own, as he’d only been recalling old analysis. After 28 minutes Adhiban played the computer’s first line with 13.Nxf8 and a forced sequence ensued that saw the game peter out into a draw. White may have missed some nuances, but it was a logical outcome.

Hou Yifan gave as good as she got against Levon Aronian | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

Hou Yifan-Aronian followed that same trajectory, with Levon Aronian playing a sharp almost novelty in the Italian. Hou Yifan went for the most principled response and we got a spectacular position, but an hour behind on the clock she decided against calling her opponent's bluff (if that's was it was...):

20.Bxh6!? is the computer's choice, but to hold on to an advantage requires real precision. Instead the women's no. 1 played 20.Qxh4, when a draw was agreed without the players feeling the need to demonstrate 20…Rf1+ 21.Kh2 Bg1+ 22.Kh1 and e.g. 21...Bb6+, with a repetition, on the board.

Gelfand-Wang Hao is one of the many heavyweight battles in Round 2 | photo: Anastasia Karlovich, official website

A flood of uneventful draws followed, though there were also some heroics. Boris Gelfand spent 72 moves to draw a pawn down against Wang Hao, while Nikita Vitiugov pulled off the same trick against Evgeniy Najer in a game that came down to bare kings on move 66, after an opening surprise:

So Vishy Anand leads a group of seven players who must win on Thursday to stay in Tbilisi and play tiebreaks on Friday. For the remaining 50 players we’ll see how keen they are to avoid tiebreaks – you can bet on some very early draws, but also some surprises!

Watch all the action, with the option of watching 5 commentary streams in 4 languages, here on chess24 from 15:00 CEST onwards! You can also follow the games in our free mobile apps:


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