A tough day at the World Cup in Baku as another group of strong players were eliminated, including the chess power couple and three-time World Blitz Champions, Alexander Grischuk and Kateryna Lagno
Despite their strong reputation, the duo found themselves ousted by opponents rated lower than them.
Lagno was eliminated in the first rapid match of the playoff after losing the second game to more than 200 points lower-rated Mary Ann Gomes. Grischuk’s fate was sealed after a gruelling six-hour battle across four playoff rounds, ultimately succumbing in the final game against Iranian Bardiya Daneshvar after missing a winning move.
Among the favourites in the Open, Nakamura, So, and Giri are through after winning their rapid tiebreaks. In the Women’s tournament, the World Champion Ju Wenjun, as well as the 2021 World Cup winner (and former World Champion) Alexandra Kosteniuk, are through after winning their rapid tiebreaks.
The Open tournament highlights:
Alexander Grischuk’s day turned tragic as he navigated through four stages of tiebreaks, only to be eliminated in the final blitz game while playing as White.
Iran’s 2577-rated Bardiya Daneshvar proved to be a formidable adversary to Grischuk. The two drew both of their classical games in the second round. Then came the first rapid match: After drawing both classical games in the second round, the first rapid match saw Daneshvar clinching a win after losing the initial game in the playoffs. The second rapid match saw the same thing happen again. Then came the Blitz – where Grischuk was the favourite as the three-time World Champion in this category. The first game ended in a draw, but in the second, Grischuk had a lucky escape in the endgame where Daneshvar did not find the best continuation due to time trouble, despite winning.
In the final tiebreak match Armageddon game Grischuk was leading the white pieces and grabbed the initiative early on. At some point, Alexander was one move away from victory. However, he misplayed and allowed Black to escape a mating threat, while at the same time advancing his runners on the queenside.
A tragic end for Grischuk and a heroic victory for the 17-year-old Iranian chess champion. He will be facing Salem Saleh in round three.
Among other favourites, Hikaru Nakamura qualified for the third round after clinching victory in the second rapid game against India’s Venkataraman Karthik after their draw in the first one. The 2565-rated Indian GM was winning as White before he, first, dropped the advantage, and then got into trouble where he had to give up an exchange, ending up in a lost position.
Speaking after the match, Nakamura said that it was „very tough“ for him. Nakamura, who is currently the world’s second highest-rated player, complemented his opponent by noting that „Karthik defended ridiculously well, like a 2700 player“ in game one. „It’s very clear he’s under-rated“ Nakamura added.
Wesley So’s luck continued as he overcame a seemingly lost position in the first rapid game against Emre Can due to the time trouble-induced errors. With a draw in game two, So was through to round three.
Super GM Anish Giri, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Andrey Esipenko, Vladimir Fedoseev, and Amin Bassem were also through after the first rapid playoffs.
In a big surprise, Azerbaijan’s Abdulla Gadimbayli (rated 2483) knocked out Spain’s 2691-rated GM David GM Anton. Following two draws in the classical part of round two, Gadimbayli won the first rapid game. Despite being lost in the middlegame in the second encounter, the Azeri GM put on stiff resistance and managed to take over the initiative from David Anton in time trouble and win. The second game ended in a draw.
Andrei Volokitin was knocked out after two crushing defeats in the endgame at the hands of Italian GM Daniele Vocaturo.
One of India’s top players, Vidit Santos Gujrathi, had to go through three rounds of the tiebreaker. Vidit was evenly matched by the Greek GM Dimitrios Mastrovasilis, as all of their classical and rapid games ended in a draw. In the Blitz Mastrovasilis finally broke: after a mistake in the middlegame, he allowed Vidit to get his rooks to the seventh rank and then create a passer on the b-file, which secured White the victory. The Greek GM could not make a comeback in the second blitz game, which ended in a draw.
Ukraine’s Vasyl Ivanchuk qualified after finally defeating Chile’s Cristobal Henriquez Villagra in the second round of the rapid with 2:0 (finishing the second rapid game with an effective rook sacrifice). India’s Arjun Erigaisi is also through but only after the second round of the rapid.
The Women’s Tournament:
In the Women’s Tournament, the biggest upset of the day is the elimination of Kateryna Lagno – one of the strongest women players in the world (three-time world blitz and one-time world rapid champion, and two-time world champion candidate). After a draw in the first rapid game with Mary Ann Gomes, Lagno had a slightly better position in the second. However, she blundered in the middlegame, trapping her queen, and was completely lost. The knockout comes as a shock, given that Lagno was seen as one of the favourites for winning the World Cup.
The Women’s World Champion Ju Wenjun is through after her opponent Eva Repkova blundered a piece in an even position in the first game. The second rapid game ended in a draw which sent Ju to the next round.
The 2021 World Cup Winner and former Women’s World Champion, Alexandra Kosteniuk, is also through, having dominated Yan Tianqi in the first rapid game and finishing the second with a comfortable draw.
Bibisara Assaubayeva won her rapid match against Qianyun Gong. In game one, despite dominating from the start, the Women’s World Rapid champion blundered in the endgame, entering an even position. Luckily for her, Gong also blundered soon after, ending a rook down. Bibisara also won the second rapid, despite being weaker in the first part of that game.
Irina Krush and Dejsi Kori qualified after the first rapid.
Nana Dzagnidze failed to qualify. After a draw in the first rapid game, she got checkmated in the second game by the 180 points lower rated IM Klaudia Kulon from Poland. Irina Bulmaga was knocked out by Estonia’s Mai Narva in the second round of the rapid.
The full list of the results from the tiebreaks and pairings of round three can be found here: https://worldcup2023.fide.com/tree.
Here follows a closer look at some of the games from the round two tiebreaks:
Anish Giri was having a tough time against 226 points lower-rated Arseniy Nesterov who held him to a draw in the first two games. In the first tiebreak game, playing the Grünfeld, Giri managed to get an edge which was further helped by a blunder from Nesterov.
Black had just played his bishop to f5, threatening to get the rook on b2 and force White’s queen to b1, further pacifying his position. Nesterov was hoping that active play would yield more chances and went for 27.Qb5, attacking the e8-rook. However…
27…Rxe3!! 28.fxe3 Bxb1 29.Qe8 Bf8 30.Nc3 Rc2 31.Nxb1 Qa2! 32.Qe4 Qxc4 33.Qxc4 Rxc4 and Black is a pawn up, his queenside pawns are running down the files and there’s nothing White can do to stop them.
Giri drew in the next game, which was enough for him for to advance into Round 3.
Wesley So’s luck helped him again in the tiebreak duel against – according to the ratings – a notably weaker opponent, Turkish GM Emre Can.
In the Catalan, White (Can) got an initiative early on and by move 24 was significantly better.
So just played his bishop to b7, a seemingly normal move. However, White wins a pawn with 23.Nxa7! (in case of 23…Qxa7 24.Qс7!). The best move for So was 23….b3, instead he played 23…Bf8? After 23.Nb5 Bc6 24.a5 White was significantly ahead.
In the following play So posed complications which Can found difficult to solve. Gradually, White’s advantage evaporated. In an even position, Can was the one to make the first crucial error.
52.Qa5? And White is now lost. 52.Kf1 was the best move.
Now, So allowed Can twice to equalise, but he blundered it all in time trouble.
52…Qc6 53.Kd1 Qc3? (a mistake, So should have played Bxf2 first) 54.Qxd5 Qf3?? And now it’s even again!
55.Kc1 Qxf2 56.Qxe4 Be3+ 57.Kb2 Qg1 58.Bd3? Black is again winning with 58…Qc1. Instead 58…Qc2+ and it’s equal again!
After a series of mutual mistakes, White was the last to err.
Instead of getting the king out with 63.Kc1 (Kc2), White played 63.Qf1+ but after Qh2! 64.Bc2 Qd2 63.Qh1 (Qf3 was better) Qc3 and there was no escape from checkmate.
A tragic end to what was a great effort by Emre Can, being on the brink of victory in at least two games against So.
The dramatic battle Grishuk – Daneshvar culminated in the final blitz game in which Alexander, playing with White, stumbled one move away from a victory.
After, 42.Qf8! threatening with Qh8# and protecting the f2-pawn, Black is doomed. Indeed after 42…g5 (the only reasonable move) 43.hxg5 Kxg5 44. Qxg7 White emerges with an extra piece.
However, Alexander played 42. Bg2? and after 42…Qxf2 Bardiya’s queenside pawns decided the game in his favour. 0-1, 59 moves
The Women’s World Champion Ju Wenjun did not impress much in her rapid games. As in the classical part of the second round, she played a mostly calm, even position.
Approaching the endgame of the first rapid encounter, she managed to gain a slight edge. That was when her opponent Repkova made a mistake which handed over the victory to Ju.
Ju just played 24…d5, while pushing the b-pawn was considered a stronger option. Now, White should have proceeded with Nh5, ultimately getting her knight on g3. Instead, Repkova played 25.Qd3??, blundering a piece. After 25…Rxf4, White resigned. Repkova did not manage to make a comeback in round two and was eliminated.
Bibisara Assaubayeva won both rapid games against Singapore’s Qianyun Gong. Game one of the rapid was critical. Despite having a better position out of the opening, in the endgame Bibisara blundered in time trouble and allowed Black to equalise.
Here Bibisara played 61.g3?? allowing Black to get her queen activated, pick up a pawn and enter a drawn endgame.
61….Rf6 62.Qg5 Qf2+ 63.Rg2 Qf3 Black captures one pawn back and can hold a draw. To Bibisara’s credit, she continued posting problems for her opponents and eventually made her commit a fatal error.
After 70…Re6! (the only move) Gong could have held a draw. However, Gong played a natural 70…Rf6? but after 71.Rc8+ Kf7 72.Qh5+ Rg6 73.Rc7+ White won the rook and soon the game.
Mary Ann Gomes knocked out the favourites Kateryna Lagno in their second rapid game. In the Four Knights Variation of the Sicilian, Lagno – playing as White – had a good position but she made a fatal blunder in the middlegame, being lost in just one move.
Here Lagno took the pawn on d5, trapping her queen.
26.Qxd5?? Rc5! Now Lagno either loses her queen or sacrifices a piece. She went for the latter but it did not help: 27.Ne6+ Qxe6 28.Qxe6 fxe6 29.Rxe6 Nf7. 0-1, 61 moves
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