Maxime Vachier-Lagrave overcame Alexander Grischuk in the longest and toughest of the Round 4 tiebreaks on Thursday. That set up a quarterfinal match with Peter Svidler, who scored the day’s most convincing win, over Carlsen-killer Bu Xiangzhi. The other winners were Wesley So (vs. Baadur Jobava), Vladimir Fedoseev (Maxim Rodshtein) and Richard Rapport (Evgeniy Najer) in a round where the sequence of stunning upsets at the 2017 World Cup finally came to an end.
You can play through all the games 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:
International Master Sopiko Guramishvili recapped a round in which one of the biggest casualties was her husband, Anish Giri, who fell victim to the legendary Vassily Ivanchuk:
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Let’s take a look at the action in order of the quarterfinal
Peter Svidler was up against the man who beat Magnus Carlsen, China’s Bu Xiangzhi, and got off to the perfect start by winning the first rapid game with Black. That was despite a somewhat shaky opening, where Svidler admitted he’d struggled to remember his preparation. He took the practical decision to brush that aside and keep playing fast, which may have spooked his opponent into taking a long think over a dubious decision on move 15. Soon Black was on top and had won the exchange for a pawn, and while Peter’s conversion may not have been perfect his advantage on the clock allowed him to decide the game with a cunning decision:
At some point I think I won because he burned so much time that I took a practical decision. Basically I tried to list in my mind what moves he’s considered in that position and what moves he hasn’t, and I tried to make a move he probably hasn’t considered in order to make it very difficult for him to find the reply in 15 seconds - and it worked!
The obvious move, or at least the chess24 engine’s first choice, is 39…Rb4+, but then White’s reply would be the automatic 40.Re4 and soon an ending would arise where Black might win in the end, but it wouldn’t be fast, and Bu could build up time with some quick moves and the increment. Instead Svidler came up with 39…Rd3!, which has as its obvious idea the tactical trick of giving a rook check on f1 and then taking on e3 when the king moves to e4. As Peter put it:
The move is not bad - it’s not as if I made a bad move on purpose just to make him twitch. I felt the move might even be the best in the position, but I also felt it was very important to surprise him at that point, and it worked!
Bu got the rook out of that tactical situation we mentioned, but 40.Ra5? lost on the spot to 40…Ra3!, pinning and winning the bishop. It only got worse from there for Bu, who at least tried to stop Rb4 coming with check with 41.e4, missing that 41…Rf1# was an elegant checkmate (perhaps just the superfluous e6-pawn should be removed for our aesthetic pleasure!).
That put Svidler in a great match situation, particularly
against this opponent:
Winning the first one with Black makes the second one a lot simpler, because the onus is on your opponent to create something and it’s a lot harder, obviously, in that situation, in particular for someone like Bu, I believe, because he’s an extremely strong classical-style player. Not just the classical time control, but his forte is playing correctly, putting pieces on good squares and doing the basics very, very well, but when you have to play for a win with Black he had to mix it up from a very early stage, and he missed some tactical shot very early.
Bu met 1.Nf3 with 1…f5 and we got a game that could, as Russian commentator Sergey Shipov noted, have come from the 18th century never mind the 19th. What Svidler felt Bu overlooked was 7.Neg5!
7…e4 doesn’t win that knight due to 8.Ne5 Bxg5 9.Qh5+! g6 10.Qxg5 and instead there’s the ending that Peter described afterwards (7...h6 8.Nf7!! might get you in a textbook):
In order not to lose he basically has to enter some kind of a very unpleasant endgame with zero winning chances, which considering the match situation was completely unacceptable for him. The game was more or less decided after 6…d5 7.Neg5, because in order not to give me a very safe draw he has to consider worsening his position, so to speak. I just needed to keep my nerve there.
After thinking for almost five minutes Bu went for 7…exd4, but after 8.Bd3 Qd6 9.Nxd4 c5?! 10.Nb5! White was completely winning, with a picturesque position after 10…Qe5+ 11.Be3:
You need to watch Svidler’s interview to see the facial
expression that accompanied this comment about Alexander Grischuk taking a look
at the position:
At some point Sasha Grischuk came by my board and he looked at the position, did a spit-take and went on his merry way!
Only a meltdown of epic proportions could stop Svidler reaching the quarterfinals, but nothing of the kind happened and Bu Xiangzhi was out. Svidler’s next opponent will be world no. 2 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, with Peter commenting when asked if he’d prefer MVL or Grischuk:
Can I please move to the other side of the bracket? Please. I don’t like this side of the bracket! I really, really dislike this side of the bracket. It’s going to be a really tough match, whoever wins today.
MVL has historically been a tough opponent for Svidler, with Maxime in particular winning their 2016 match in Biel convincingly. The French no. 1 shares Svidler’s love of complex tactical positions, sacrificing material for dynamic compensation, and the Grünfeld Defence, though if he has one weakness it’s a somewhat narrow opening repertoire. If Svidler does make it through it’s not going to get easier, since he then faces Aronian or Ivanchuk in the semi-finals, though he did note one factor that may work in his favour after he won the World Cup in 2011 and dramatically lost in the final in 2015:
The stakes are rising with every round. One thing I have going for me, if I have something going for me, is that I’ve been here before. I’ve had this experience before, and maybe I can manage it reasonably well.
So how did Maxime reach the quarterfinals? Well, he faced Alexander Grischuk in the only Round 4 match to feature the players expected before the tournament, and it lived up to its heavyweight billing. The first game saw Grischuk with an advantage in a tricky endgame/late middlegame until Maxime rustled up enough pressure on the white king to force a draw. One computer suggestion there is perhaps worth a mention. Instead of the bold pawn sacrifice 41.b4!? Grischuk could have played 41.Qh5 Qd7:
And now the computer suggests the fearless king march 42.Ka3! Qe6 (what else? Black is in zugzwang!) 43.Ka4! Nd7 44.Kxa5! and after 44…Ne5 White can start to march his pawns with b4. The computer’s second suggestion is 44…Nxc5, sacrificing a piece to eliminate the pawns, which tells you how tough Black’s situation is.
Back in the real world, though, the game was a draw and in the second 25-minute game MVL played the Italian and a draw by repetition was reached on move 26. The match, uniquely for the Round 4 tiebreaks, went to 10-minute games, and that’s where MVL pounced, explaining afterwards:
In the first one my preparation went well. I finally managed to put really huge pressure on Sasha. I didn’t play the most accurate moves, but still his position was difficult, and after I managed to exchange queens and push my pawns in the centre I felt like I should win.
Things flowed perfectly for Maxime:
33.f4! Nh7 34.f5! Re7 35.c4! Nc7 (35…Nb4 would have been a better try, since the c7-square is later needed for the rook) 36.e6! fxe6 37.Ng6! Rd7 38.fxe6 Rdd8 39.Ne7+! Kf8:
40.Nxc6! and now if 40…bxc6 then 41.e7+! is the crowning glory of the pawn storm, but after 40…Rxd6 41.Nxb8 it was also hopeless for Black.
That meant Alexander Grischuk now had to win on demand with the white pieces to force 5-minute games, and he came incredibly close. Maxime was determined not to play passively, though things risked getting out of hand:
I was trying to put him under pressure. After I sacked the exchange I thought it was the natural thing to do. I didn’t really have any regrets, even though the score in the match should tell me to be a little more cautious!
Objectively his play was justified, but then…
I blundered something and got in real trouble and made this draw by a miracle and got a fortress I probably shouldn’t have got.
For the second time in two days we got a rook vs. bishop ending that was hard for humans to fathom but within the range of the all-knowing tablebases. At the moment it arose it was mate-in-49 for Grischuk, but what was surprising was how long it continued to be won even though it seemed Alexander had blown his chances. This seemed to be a critical position (once again using this site):
He shouldn’t have let me play g4-g3, after which it’s very likely to be a fortress, but he could play h3 himself.
Other commentators such as Sergey Shipov were also advocating 44.h3 live and, as you can see, that is indeed the quickest path to a win for White, while the move chosen by Grischuk, 44.Kh6, is the slowest. It is still a win, though, and even after 44…Bf4 45.Ra2 g4+ White was mathematically winning. In fact the win had only finally gone on move 64!
That’s all according to the tablebases, though, and no human will ever be able to play perfect chess. In the battle of two brilliant and highly stressed minds a pure rook vs. bishop endgame arose on move 84 and Grischuk conceded the match was over on move 94.
Maxime commented on the experience:
The intensity of the match really felt like we were playing the final match. I know there are three very difficult steps ahead of me, but if I keep this level of intensity I think I could go well, but of course there was so much at stake and all the moves were very costly. I think we played to really high standards of rapid chess.
He added that he needed a drink!
One (hugely anticipated) quarterfinal match, Ivanchuk-Aronian, was determined in classical chess, which means we can skip to:
Wesley So had stared defeat in the face in the second classical game against local hero Baadur Jobava, and commented after finally winning the encounter:
It proved to be a very tough match. Actually before this match I wasn’t sure who I would like to play, either Nepomniachtchi or Baadur, but Baadur proved to be very inspired. He really wanted to bounce back and also he’s at home, he feels he’s got the home court advantage, he’s got a lot of fans rooting for him. And it proved to be very close because yesterday I had a very suspicious position, but I’m very glad to be able to save yesterday and then today it went better, and I’d like to thank the Lord for helping me win the match.
In the first game with White Wesley had built up a great position by combining the skilful manoeuvring of his bishop pair with some clever pawn pushes. Nevertheless, it looked as though Jobava had managed to erect a fortress until he gave one careless check on move 64:
That drove the king to where it wanted to go, 65.Kg6, and the threats of mate and taking on g7 left Black powerless to alter the course of the game. 65…Rg1+ was simply blocked by 66.Bg3 and it was game over.
Needing only a draw Wesley now played the Petroff Defence and had soon won an exchange. In the final position White had a lot of pawns for that exchange, but the black rooks should have no trouble forcing a draw:
Jobava in fact wanted to play on, but Wesley claimed a draw and after some intense consultation the arbiters agreed with him. It was nowhere near as dramatic, but still a distant echo of how Sergey Karjakin claimed a 3-fold repetition in a losing position in the 2015 World Cup semifinal against Pavel Eljanov. Karjakin would of course go on to win the event.
Wesley So is the top seed remaining, though it’s worth noting that’s based on the August FIDE rating list, where he was 2nd and MVL 8th, and not the September list where they’d already swapped places! Wesley commented that this is “the longest I’ve reached so far in the World Cup after five times of playing”. Up next is the dangerous and unpredictable Vladimir Fedoseev.
Vladimir credited his coach Alexander Khalifman, the winner of the 100-player World Championship knockout in Las Vegas in 1999, for finding a good idea in the Anti-Berlin that worked perfectly in his first tiebreak game with White against Maxim Rodshtein. After the middlegame came an ending, however, and there were technical tasks to solve in an opposite-coloured bishop position as well as the distraction of his opponent managing to make an illegal move and be punished with a 2-minute time penalty. He ultimately broke through, with Maxim’s 69…Kf7 a misstep:
70.Rf8+! Kg7 71.Rf6 Bd7 72.Bf8+ Kg8 73.Bxh6 picked up a crucial pawn, with another to follow, and though Maxim swapped off rooks he soon realised the opposite-coloured bishops wouldn’t be enough to draw and resigned.
Once again Fedoseev was faced with the task of needing only a draw to win the match. The day before he’d lost with White in the same situation, and drew some conclusions:
After yesterday I understand that it’s not for me to play for a draw in such situations. I must play for a win every game, because if I change my style I got a problem immediately.
It was an interesting theory, but not one entirely backed up by events, since Vladimir also described his second rapid game against Rodshtein as follows:
Then the second game was completely crazy. You can study from this game how to play as bad as possible when you must make a draw! But then I was better in the dynamic chess and won this game.
Vladimir also “credited” his coach with “not so good preparation” for the game, and indeed it was hard to know what to say about the position that arose. As a snapshot, here’s the situation after Fedoseev played 17…Rh5 in this must-at-least-draw game:
Even before his incredible year, though, Fedoseev had a reputation for being a brilliant tactician, and he eventually overwhelmed his opponent. It all ended, fittingly, with a queen sacrifice: 43…a2!
When asked about the next round Fedoseev noted that, as was also the case with Nakamura, he’d only played Wesley So in internet blitz games, adding, “I will not talk about the scores!”
Evgeniy Najer and Richard Rapport had traded tactical blows for the first two classical games, and nothing changed in rapid!
With White in the first game Najer went for the bold 23.Bxh6!?
The point is that 23…Bxh6 24.Nxe5! wins on the spot, since there’s nowhere the queen can go to cover the rook. The computer spots the counterblow 23…Rxf3! 24.Bxg7 Kxg7 25.gxf3 Ng5 when Black has great attacking compensation for the exchange, but instead Rapport blitzed out the more pragmatic 23…Qxc5. He experienced some tricky moments as Najer was soon two pawns up, but the game fizzled out into a draw.
The second game featured if anything more mayhem, with Rapport rejecting a draw by repetition when he played 25.f3:
As Sergey Shipov commented, who could look at this position and imagine that we’d now see White’s b5-pawn exchanged for Black’s f7-pawn, but that’s essentially what happened! 25…Rxb5! 26.Bd5 Qd6 27.Bxf7 Rb7. Later Rapport won an exchange, but Najer may have been playing for a win when he blundered 46.Re2! and then the clincher 47.f5!
After 47…Rxe2 48.fxg6+ Kg7 49.Kxe2 it had all fallen apart for Najer. Black was going to win a piece with a bishop check on f6 in any case, so the final moves 49…Nc1+ 50.Bxc1 were irrelevant.
That was Najer’s first and last loss in Tbilisi, while Rapport is unbeaten and continues to play excellent chess. The 21-year-old’s rating had fallen and he’d slipped off the World Championship contender radar lately, but he has a chance to put that right. As someone who’s explained in the past that he gets almost no financial support for his chess career it also can’t hurt that he’s already guaranteed at least $35,000, while he knows what he has to do next… beat yet another Chinese grandmaster! He’s so far knocked out Wei Yi and Li Chao and now faces Ding Liren, who he beat in their last game at the Sharjah Grand Prix.
The full quarterfinal pairings are as follows:
Despite the loss of the likes of Carlsen and Karjakin the top half does look tougher, as Svidler noted, especially with MVL and Aronian now world no. 2 and no. 4. Part of the explanation, though, is of course that the likes of Nakamura, Caruana and Mamedyarov were all knocked out from the 2nd half of the bracket.
The other curiosity is the age of the participants. At 26 MVL is the youngster of the top half, alongside Svidler (41), Ivanchuk (48) and Aronian (34). In the second half Ding Liren is the elder statesman at 24, alongside Rapport (21), So (23) and Fedoseev (22).
There is finally a rest day after the quarterfinals, but not before, so the action starts again at 13:00 on Friday and you can catch it all here on chess24 from 13:00 CEST onwards! You can also follow the games in our free mobile apps: