April 14, 2024

FIDE World Cup 2023 Round 1 Tiebreaks: A lot of drama and a few upsets

The tiebreaks of round one of the World Cup saw a lot of drama, particularly in the Open tournament. While the favourites mostly won, a few notable surprises made it to the second round of the World Cup

After six hours of play, four rounds of tiebreaks in the Open and two in the Women’s tournament, the full list of qualifiers for the second stage of the 2023 FIDE World Cup in both the Open and the Women’s tournament was determined.

Altogether – 24 boards in the Open and 9 in the Women’s World Cup played the round one tiebreaks.

While all the top favourites qualified, there have been a few upsets, such as Azerbaijan’s GM Gadimbayli and Argentinean IM Pablo Acosta, who knocked out significantly higher-rated opponents. In the women’s tournament, all the favourites moved to round two, with just one match (Guichard vs Serikbay) entering the second tiebreaker.

The first move in today’s tiebreaks was made by Romeo Mikautadze, Deputy Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia.

The rapid playoffs

The regulations for both the Open and the Women’s World Cup stipulate that if the score is level after the two regular games, after a new drawing of colours done immediately after Game 2, two tiebreak games shall be played with the time control of 25 minutes for each player + 10 seconds increment per move, starting from move one.

The first to qualify in the Open section was Indian GM Adhiban who, after two draws in the regular part of round one, won both rapid games against GM Lance Henderson de La Fuente from Andorra. Adhiban will play against Daniil Dubov in Round 2.

In a notable surprise, Abdulla Gadimbayli of Azerbaijan managed to defeat the over 100-points higher rated Uzbek GM Shamsiddin Vokhidov in the rapid playoff and qualify for round two.

Some of the top grandmasters who faced upsets in the first games made strong comebacks: Serbian GM Velimir Ivic won both of his rapid games against the 14-year-old Ediz Gurel from Turkey. (Gurel stunned Ivic in the first game of round one with a quick victory.) The Serbian will face Spain’s Vallejo Pons in round two. Azeri GM Eltaj Safarli came strong against IM Roberto Carlos Sanchez Alvarez from Panama, winning both games in the tiebreak rapid. He will be facing Andrey Esipenko in Round 2. Hungarian GM Ferenc Berkes also qualified, having won in the first and drawn in the second tiebreak game against Iranian Darini Pouria. Berkes will now have a tough challenge in round two, facing former World Champion Candidate, Boris Gelfand. After drawing both games with 2369-rated Kareim Wageih, Austrian GM Markus Ragger (2624) won by 1.5:0.5 in the rapid and qualified.

Playing Magnus Carlsen in the second round will be Georgian GM Levan Pantsulaia, who bested Indian Bharathakoti Harsha by 1.5:0.5.

The other players who qualified for round two after the first tiebreaker were: Mchedlishvili (Georgia), Supi (Brazil), Can (Turkey), Iskandarov (Azerbaijan), Janik (Poland), Asadli (Azerbaijan), Albornoz (Cuba), Bartel (Poland), and Iturrizaga Bonelli (Spain).

Among the notable qualifiers in the Women’s section, IM Salome Melia from Georgia (rated 2377) won her rapid tiebreaker against Brazilian 2182-rated Kathie Librelato, with 1.5:0.5. In the first rapid game, Librelato made a basic mistake as early as move eight and was completely lost.

The great Peruvian hope, Deysi Cori, qualified after defeating Brazilian Julia Albaredo in the second rapid game. The same applies to Indian Nutakki Priyanka who eliminated Italian IM Marina Brunello. Priyanka will be playing compatriot Humpy Koneru in the second round.

The other qualifiers from the first rapid cycle in the women’s event were: Cyfka (Poland), Rudzinska (Poland), Francisco Guecamburu (Argentina), Munguntuul (Mongolia) and Rakhmangulova (Ukraine).

The second rapid tiebreaker

Players who were still levelled after the first rapid played a second rapid match, but the time control was further shortened to 10 minutes for each player + 10 seconds increment per move, starting from move one.

IM Pablo Acosta qualified after defeating the 100-points higher rated GM Kacper Piorun from Poland in the final game. In an even position in the endgame, Kacper misplayed, which cost him a place in the next round. GM Rinat Jumabayev outplayed Luka Paichadze, winning 1.5:0.5. Emre Can from Turkey won the final game against Queseda to qualify after the Cuban made a huge blunder entering a lost position.

Ilia Smirin was struggling: In the Sicilian, Santiago Avila Pavas (playing as White) got an extra pawn after an oversight by Smirin and was significantly better, ending with a victory. In the second game, Smirin staged an impressive comeback and won, forcing a third tiebreaker of the day.

Three more pairs in the Open section moved to the next stage of tiebreaks.

The only pair to go to the second rapid in the Women’s Cup were Pauline Guichard from France (2384) and Assel Serikbay (2139) from Kazakhstan. In the regular part of round one, both sides won a game each, while in the first rapid – both games ended in a draw.

Guichard won game five. She was then dominating in the sixth game but in the end, misplayed and entered a drawn opposite-coloured bishops endgame which finished in a draw. In the second round, she will be playing against Vaishali Rameshbabu.

The blitz tiebreaks

Eight players ended in the third tiebreak. In this tiebreak, the players had five minutes each plus a three-second increment from move one, and they played a mini-match of two games.

In the first blitz game, Ilia Smirin scored a victory in just 30 moves, finishing the game with an effective rook sacrifice leading to checkmate. Smirin also won the second game and punched his ticket to the next round, where he will be playing Kirill Shevchenko.

Turkey’s Vahap Sanal beat Croatia’s Zdrenko Kozul in both Blitz games to reach the second round. The rapid and the blitz playoffs might prove to be a good training experience for Sanal as in Round 2 he will be playing the 2021 World Rapid champion, Nodirbek Abdusattorov.

Croatia’s Ante Brkic managed to qualify after winning a nerve-racking second blitz game against Carlos Matamoros Franco. Although he was dominating, towards the end, Brkic made an error in time trouble, handing the advantage to Black. However, in just one move, Matamoros Franco threw it all away and surrendered.

The fourth (and final) tiebreaker: A victory after nine draws

There was just one pair of players who got to this stage. Aydin Suleymanli of Azerbaijan (rated 2586) and Xu Yinglun of China (rated 2531) had drawn all the previous eight games! In none of those games did either side gain a more significant advantage, suggesting that the two were evenly matched.

In the fourth tiebreaker, each side had three minutes plus a two-second increment from move one.

Even their first game under this time control was a draw! Finally, in their tenth encounter, Suleymanli won. Again the position was even until the endgame, but then in time trouble Xu misplayed and ended up lost.

It was a tough day for Suleymanli, who managed to qualify for the second round. Still, he will have little time to rest as his opponent on Wednesday will be none other than the 2018 World Junior Champion Parham Maghsoodloo, from Iran.

Round two will be played on Wednesday, 2nd of August at 3 PM.

The round will mark the entry of the 50 best players in the world competing in the World Cup, including World number one Magnus Carlsen. The Women’s tournament will see 25 players join the race, including the current women’s world champion Ju Wenjun.

Here follows a closer look at some of the games from round one tiebreaks: 

Santiago Avila Pavas and Ilia Smirin had a long and gruelling battle, having to play three tiebreak matches. In game one of the tiebreaks, the two played a sharp line in the English Opening. In the middlegame, Pavas made an error:

After 21…Bc5 Ilya started fireworks with 22.Re6 Qxe6 23.b4 Bxd4 24.Ba2. Black had to give up his queen but got more than sufficient compensation for the most powerful piece. 

24…Kh8 25.Bxe6 Rxe6 26.gxf5 Rc6 Black has two rooks for a queen and after 27.Bd2 by Smirin, a more promising position. By the end, Pavas was winning until he made a mistake, and White equalised. In the end, the two reached the following position in which Black can’t make any progress:

The game lasted for another 16 moves before the two agreed on a draw.

The two had other tense battles where whenever one side took the initiative, the other managed to strike back. In the third (and final) tiebreak, in the Blitz, Smirin emerged significantly better and ended the game with a spectacular sacrifice.

30.Rg6!! And there is no defence for Black. 1-0

The diversity of the players appearing at the World Cup means a lot of creativity but also some unusual mistakes on the board. In the first game of the rapid tiebreak between IM Salome Melia – WIM Kathie Goulart Liveralato, Black made a rookie error as early as move seven: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 d6 5.0-0 Bg4 6.h3 h5 7.c4 (d4 is the main line) Qf6 8.Qb3 b5?? (instead of theoretical move 8…0-0-0). 

And after 9.cxb5 White was completely winning.

In the second game of the first blitz tiebreak, GM Dimitrios Mastrovasilis from Greece missed a chance to punish his 2522-point rated opponent GM Felix Blohberger after a huge oversight in the opening: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 a6 5.Bf4??

Instead of playing 5…e5 and winning a piece – as 6.Bxe5 fails to Qa5+, Black proceeded with 5…b5, and they moved on. In the end, however, Mastrovasilis won the game and qualified.

In a nerve-wracking Blitz tiebreaker, Croatian Ante Brkic defeated Carlos Matamoros Franco of Ecuador. Justice was fair on Brkic in this game, winning despite making a fatal error in a dominating position.

White is notably better. Instead of 34.Rxe5 with the idea of 34…Rxe5 35.Qf4! securing his advantage, Brkic misplayed with the immediate 34.Qf4? allowing Black to get a winning position with simple 34…Rc4. However, Matamoros Franco blundered in a single move with 34…Nc4?? and after 35.Qd4+ had to resign.

Text: Milan Dinic

Photo: Stev Bonhage, Anna Shtourman and Maria Emelianova (chess.com)

About the event

The FIDE World Cup 2023 is taking place from 29 July to 25 August 2023 in Baku, Azerbaijan.

In the Open tournament, 206 players were eligible to take part and 103 in the Women’s event.

There will be eight rounds in the Open and seven in the Women’s tournament. Each round will be played under a knock-out system, consisting of a 2-game match. In the case of a tie, the players will play a rapid and, if necessary, a blitz tiebreak until the winner is determined.

The winners of the top-three places in both sections will qualify for the 2024 Candidates tournament.

In both events, the time control for each game is 90 minutes for the first 40 moves, followed by 30 minutes for the rest of the game with an increment of 30 seconds per move starting from move 1.

The prize fund for the entire event is 2,5 million US Dollars, with $1,834,000 in the Open and $676,250 in the Women’s tournament. The 2023 FIDE World Cup has the largest prize fund for any chess tournament ever played.

More information about the event: worldcup2023.fide.com/


Open tournament: handbook.fide.com/files/handbook/WorldCup2023Regulations.pdf 

Women’s event: handbook.fide.com/files/handbook/WWorldCup2023Regulations.pdf

Schedule: worldcup2023.fide.com/schedule