No. 3 seed Fabiano Caruana suffered the ignominy of blundering mate-in-1 as his World Cup hopes were crushed by Evgeny Najer in Round 3 tiebreaks. Ian Nepomniachtchi and Li Chao also lost to lower-rated opponents, though you couldn’t call those results sensations and overall it was a better day for the star names. Levon Aronian, Anish Giri, Ding Liren, Alexander Grischuk and MVL all made it to Round 4, with those last two players meeting on Tuesday in the only pairing that’s gone with the pre-tournament seedings. Just seven of the expected last 16 have made it this far.
You can play through all the games from the tournament using the selector below. Click on a result to open that game with computer analysis, or hover over a player’s name to see all his or her results:
IM Sopiko Guramishvili recaps Round 3, in which her husband Anish Giri just about survived!
The players were fast out of the blocks on Monday, with five
of the eight matches ending after the two 25-minute rapid games.
With Magnus Carlsen, Vladimir Kramnik and Hikaru Nakamura knocked out in the classical games of Round 3 it wasn’t out of the question that we could end the round with only Wesley So and Peter Svidler surviving from the world’s top 15 players. That doomsday scenario never came to pass, but the day did begin with another major star biting the dust.
The match between 40-year-old Russian Grandmaster Evgeniy Najer and Fabiano Caruana had started with two draws, in only 18 and 22 moves, and that filled Najer with confidence. As he explained to Anastasia Karlovich (all the interviews can be found in the live show here):
In rapid chess I thought that I had some chances, because sometimes Fabiano played in rapid chess of course very strongly, but sometimes not so strongly.
The first rapid game where Najer had White was an uneventful draw, but the second, in which Fabi was clearly out to score a win, was anything but. Evgeniy felt his opponent made “maybe too many aggressive moves”, allowing him to start a counterattack with 17…f5!
I liked my position the moment when I played f5, because I felt that Fabiano had a problem with his king on g1. Maybe this position wasn’t too bad, but it’s very unpleasant to play, especially in rapid chess.
Soon White was a pawn down and in a hopeless situation and... when it rains, it pours! Fabi’s 41.Bc1 was an attempt to cover the b2-square…
It had the drawback, or perhaps virtue, of instantly ending the game. Najer even had a choice of mate-in-1s and picked 41…Qf1#
The third seed was out, but at least he had the consolation of knowing that he should still qualify for the 2018 Candidates Tournament – announced to take place in an undisclosed location in Berlin from March 10-28 – due to his high average rating over the course of the year. It was worse news, in fact, for Vladimir Kramnik, who would have liked nothing better than for Caruana to get to the final and open up a rating spot for someone else. Now Kramnik can only root for Wesley So.
That was an unexpected end to a game that it was already clear Caruana was going to lose, but there was a much more gut-wrenching moment in the Nepomniachtchi-Jobava match. In the first rapid game Nepo was two doubled-pawns up in a rook and bishop ending, but it was no surprise when the game ended in a draw. Then in the second Baadur Jobava was on top but seemed to have nothing special until Ian decided to double rooks with 32…Rcd4??
33.Qxd4! and, just like that, Nepo’s tournament was over. Of course 33…Rxd4 34.Ne8+ picks up the queen and leaves White a whole rook up. Nepo, who had won just two of his 14 games in Tbilisi, took to Twitter to sum things up:
Nepomniachtchi: "As they say, better a horrible end, than horror without end #EnoughIsEnough"
It was good news for local fans, though, with Georgian no. 1 Jobava pulling off back-to-back upsets before he now faces the top remaining seed, Wesley So, in Round 4.
The other upset was 21-year-old Richard Rapport’s win over Li Chao, though it was only formally an upset, since the unpredictable Hungarian’s peak rating (2752) is higher than Chao’s current rating. The match was decided in the first game, when Li Chao’s aggressive play with Black ultimately backfired. Richard seized the initiative and kept it with some fine play. For instance:
35.Be6! A move made possible, of course, due to 35…fxe6 36.Qf8#
From then on Richard was disappointed not to find a mate and described his technique in the ending as, “sort of horrible, but still good enough!”
He eventually won in 115 moves. In the second game, meanwhile, Rapport built up a beautiful pawn structure and a completely winning position:
He offered a draw here simply to get things over with. Asked how he’d managed to knock out two Chinese players in a row (first Wei Yi), he commented, “mostly luck, I presume!” He faces Najer next.
Two favourites also made it through into the next round after 1.5:0.5 wins. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave played a bold and interesting game with Black against Alex Lenderman, but only ultimately won when the US player needlessly let his knight get pinned in the ending. Ding Liren ended the tournament of young Indian star Vidit, with 19.d5! signalling deep trouble:
The threat of Bxf6 and Qxh7# can’t be parried and Vidit instead took a pawn for the piece with 19…cxd5 20.Bxf6 g6. Black had some practical chances, but Ding Liren made no mistake as he converted his advantage, ending with a mating attack.
After Anish Giri’s near-death experience in the second classical game he must have thought his struggles were over when Sethuraman went astray in the first rapid game and allowed him to simplify to an easily won ending.
It wasn’t going to be so easy, though, since after an opening gone wrong Giri then committed a fatal blunder in the second with 29…h5?
After 30.Bh3! it turned out the black king was defenceless. Play continued 30…Bxh3 31.Qxh3 Qe5 32.Rf5 Qxe4 33.Rxh5 and one spite check later Giri resigned. He bounced back again, though, to win the first 10-minute game. He already had a winning advantage when his opponent decided to push the same pawn to the same square on almost the same move: 31…h5?
Again it was an instantly losing blunder. 32.Be4! Nxe4 33.Rh8+! ended all resistance. Sethuraman had to win again to stay in the match, but this time he went down without a fight and in completely bizarre fashion – with 10 minutes and increments on the clock, he only spent more than a minute on one move in the game, when he was long since lost. Giri mirrored his time usage, no doubt not wanting to upset his opponent’s rhythm!
Giri gave an entertaining interview where he explained that you never know what’s going to happen in the event, citing how Vladimir Kramnik had been so relaxed and cool in his shades, joking about his opponents fearing him, and now after one bad move he was out. He summed up:
Alexander Grischuk, meanwhile, wasn’t willing to put things down to luck, though after beating David Navara he did comment in his familiar dead-pan style, “In the 1st rapid game I guess somewhere, a queen down, I should be losing!”
He confessed to having missed Navara’s 22…g5!
Suddenly White is in deep trouble, since 23.Qxg5 runs into 23…Rxb2! 24.Rxb2 Nf7!, or 23.Qd4 is met by 23…Nxf3! The curious thing, though, is that after he sacrificed his queen for two pieces with 23.Qxe5 Bxe5 24.Bxe5 it really wasn’t as simple as you would have imagined to win, though there were, of course, moments:
Both sides had chances in the next two draws before Grischuk finally played a good game to overcome Navara. This time it was the black queen that found itself in the firing line!
As in Round 2, only one match went all the way to blitz:
The match of the round, and in Grischuk’s opinion the tournament, was between Maxim Matlakov and Levon Aronian:
We’ve already seen in previous reports that they exchanged attacking masterpieces in the classical games. In the 25-minute games Levon was on top and should in particular have won with the black pieces in the second, but they ended up drawn.
The 10-minute games are where the fun started again.
First Matlakov missed a trick in a rook ending and suddenly found himself lost.
Aronian was playing well and had taken the lead – surely it was finally over?
No! In the next game Aronian played passively with the black pieces and found himself blown away, again:
It’s too late for Black to do anything e.g. 27.Kf8 Nxf6! just loses the bishop on h7. Aronian tried 27…Rxd5, but after 28.Rxd5 Bc2 29.Re1+ Kf8 30.Rd7 he resigned, with heavy material losses inevitable.
Levon took that as a sign from above that he had to change his approach and played the Benoni with Black in the first 5-minute game:
At one moment I said, ok, enough draws, I have to fight with Black, and I succeeded. I think the change of strategy was unexpected by my opponent, maybe – he couldn’t cope with it.
As usual in the Benoni the computer really liked White... until it didn't. Aronian finally crashed through with 27…g4!
This time Matlakov had to win on demand with Black, and although he adopted a similar strategy to Aronian it all came to nothing. Levon was through to the next round and we still haven’t had an Armageddon game in this year’s event!
We’re down to 16 players, and as we mentioned at the beginning, only 7 of them (in bold) are those who were expected to reach Round 4. Here are the actual pairings and what we might have got:
As you can see, in only MVL-Grischuk did both seeds survive, while Fedoseev-Rodshtein and Najer-Rapport feature only underdogs.
Finally, a quick update on the saga over Canadian GM Anton Kovalyov quitting the tournament after a run-in with organiser Zurab Azmaiparashvili. Kovalyov gives some more details on his Facebook page, including explaining that he was challenged by the arbiter about his shorts only 10 minutes before Round 3 began and then confronted by Azmaiparashvili with 5 minutes to go:
Azmaiparashvili has also released an official statement that seems almost a textbook example of how not to handle such a PR disaster. Instead of briefly explaining how he saw the incident, apologising to the player and promising to pay out the prize money in full (the sensible approach even if he truly thinks he's in the right), he talks about being “ready to apologise”, “if…”, but doesn’t actually apologise:
If I said some words, during a minute of an emotional conversation which followed, that insulted Mr. Kovalyov, I am ready to apologize and I would do it here as well as, in front of him if he were here in his position, playing his games, as he was supposed to do. I have always been ready in my life to correct any mistake and I have no problem to do it in this case as well.
But the truth is that nobody told that he should be forfeited, nobody told him that he could not play and nobody told him to leave the tournament. This was only his intention which he revealed one day earlier.
As for intentions, it’s enough to point out that Kovalyov was sitting at his board ready to play the first game of Round 3. Azmaiparashvili in fact demands that Kovalyov apologies and goes on the attack, claiming the player had done “big damage to chess” before the incident. The reality is that he’d been an underdog hero, enhancing the event for spectators, and his attire had attracted no attention whatsoever.
Ivanchuk in the playing hall during the playoffs
You can read the full statement here.
There’s no time to focus on such issues, though, since the unrelenting schedule of the World Cup means Round 4 starts on Tuesday. Watch all the action here on chess24 from 13:00 CEST onwards! You can also follow the games in our free mobile apps:
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