FIDE World Cup unfolds

LET’S PLAY CHESS - Edgar De Castro - The Philippine Star

The $1.9 million FIDE World Cup, which chooses qualifiers for next year’s Candidates Tournament, gets underway July 12-Aug. 6 in Russia’s largest resort city of Sochi.

A total of 206 players will see action in the classical knockout, filtered by the following exacting requirements: (a) current world champion; (b) FIDE ratings; (c) 2019 junior world champion; (d) top four players in the 2019 World Cup; (e) players qualifying from Continental tournaments; (f) FIDE federation nominees; (g) FIDE president nominees; and (h) organizers’ nominees.

Format will be two knockout matches to be followed by tie-break playoffs, if necessary. Time control will be 90+30 and 30 seconds increment. The top two finishers will qualify for the 2022 Candidates Tournament.

The big names this year are Magnus Carlsen (NOR), Fabiano Caruana (USA), Levon Aronian (ARM), Anish Giri (NED), Alexander Grischuk (RUS), Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (AZE) and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (FRA). In the 103-player women’s event, the favorites are Aleksandra Goryachkina (RUS), Katerina Lagno (RUS), Anna and Mariya Muzychuk (UKR), and Nana Dzagnidze (GEO).

Prize fund is $677,000 with the top three winners qualifying for the next women’s Candidates Tournament. Matches can be seen live with commentaries starting at 8 a.m. EST.

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Meanwhile, Ian Nepomniachtchi held on to a half-point lead after nine rounds of rapid play at the Grand Chess Tour in Zagreb, Croatia.

The top-seeded Russian had 5.5 points in the 10-player, $150,000 rapid and blitz over-the-board competitions.

Chasing the leader with five points apiece were Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (FRA), Anish Giri (NED), Jan-Krzysztof Duda (POL) and the Croatian tandem of Ivan Saric (rapid) and Garry Kasparov (blitz).

The rest of the standings read Vishy Anand (IND), Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (AZE) at 4.5 apiece, Alexander Grischuk (RUS) 4.0, Anton Korobov (UKR) 3.5 and Jorden van Foreest (NED) 3.0.

The double-round robin blitz portion is underway and can be followed live starting at 1500 CEST.

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In the following game, white’s pieces looked totally passive, but they rapidly exploded. A fine performance by the Russian world title challenger.

2021 Grand Chess Tour

Croatia Rapid & Blitz Rd. 1

W) I. Nepomniachtchi (RUS)

B) A. Korobov (UKR)

French Defense

1. e4   e6; 2. d4   d5; 3. Nc3  Nf6; 4. e5   Nfd7; 5. f4 c5; 6. Nf3   Nc6; 7. Be3  Be7; 8. Qd2  O-O; 9. Bd3?!  ....

Seems a dubious idea. After 9. dxc5 Nxc5 10. 0-0-0 b6 11. h4 Bb7 12. Qe1 Qe8 13. h5, white has a slight edge (1-0=44), Anand-Korobov, Rd. 5, same tournament.

9.... c4!

This refutes white’s last move, gaining an important tempo for an early queenside offensive.

10. Bf1  b5; 11. Ne2  f5

The immediate 11....b4 is best, according to the engine, e.g., 12. c3 a5 13. g3 a4 14. a3 bxa3 15. bxa3 Na5 16. Qc2 Rb8 17. Bh3 Qb6 18. 0-0 Qb2, and black has seized the initiative.

12. h3   b4; 13. c3   Rb8; 14. g4   bxc3

The engine suggests 14....Qa5, adding more problems to white’s queenside.

15. bxc3  Ba3; 16. Bg2  Rb2; 17. Qd1  Qa5; 18. O-O  Nb6; 19. Bd2  Bd7; 20. gxf5  Rxf5; 21. Ng3  Rf8; 22. Ng5  h6?

Not a good idea, as it allows white’s planned counterplay. Better is 22....Nxd4!

23. Nxe6! ....

The thematic sacrifice in which white based his entire strategy. Now starts a complex tactical battle.

23.... Bxe6; 24. f5 Nxd4

There are other possibilities, but 24....Bc8 is accurate, according to the engine. E.g., 25. Be1 Nd7 26. f5 Ndxf5 27. dxe5 Nxe5 28. Qxd5ch Qxde5 29. Bxd5ch Kh7 30. Bf2 Rxf6, with a fairly even game. The text leads to exchanges which weakens black’s kingside defenses.

25. fxe6  Rxf1ch; 26. Nxf1  Nxe6; 27. Qg4  Kf7?!

27....Qc5ch 28. Kh1 Qe7 is a better line of defense. The text proves harder for Black to handle.

28. Kh1  Ke7; 29. Be1  Qb5; 30. Rd1  d4; 31. Ng3  d3

32. Nf5ch Kf7?

The losing move. 32....Kf8 is called for, with probably chances to hold out.

33. Bh4!  ....

This quiet move, which threatens 34....Nxh6ch, brings down the curtains.

33....  Rxg2; 34. Nxh6ch!  1-0

If 34....gxh6 35. Rf1ch ends the game, or 34....Kf8 35. Qf5ch and mate follows.

Solution to last week’s Puzzle:

Black to play and win.

White=Kh1, Qg3, Re1, Rg1, Pa2, Pd5, Pe5, Ph2

Black=Kg8, Qf5, Rf2, Rh5, Pa7, Pb6, Pe7, Pg5, Ph7

1....   Qf3ch!; 2. Rg2 ....

If 2. Qxf3 Rhxh2 mate.

2. Qxg3  0-1

If 2. Rxg3 Rfxh2ch 3. Kg1 Rh1ch 4. Kf2 R5h2ch 5. Rg2 Rxg2ch

6. Kxg2 Rxe1 and wins.

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