The Aces Are Falling

In the town of Tuapse, just before the World Cup, I met a World Cup participant grandmaster Boris Savchenko, and he pointed out an interesting fact. The hybrid qualification was the main World Cup qualifier for the European players. There were some big upsets, and the underdogs often made formal favorites suffer in the final round. However, many of the fallen favorites still managed to enter the World Cup due to various quotas and withdrawals of other players. Moreover, those who qualified fair and square via the hybrid qualification, were to start the World Cup in the First Round, while the players they eliminated were to rest until the Second Round. A paradox!

By no means I am seeking for logic or calling for justice. I am very grateful for the World Cup even taking place during the pandemic, praise the organizers! But the Savchenko Paradox was showcased in a number of match-ups, including the exciting battle between the highly experienced Michal Krasenkow and the recent candidate Kirill Alekseenko.

Let me remind you what happened during the qualifier. Kirill and Michal met in the final round. The young Russian was piling up pressure, however, during the critical phase of the game a tragic mouse slip occurred, and his opponent advanced to the World Cup. (The author of this article, who lost a World Cup spot to Ivan Cheparinov, was sitting next to the grandmaster from St. Petersburg during the qualifier.) Fortunately for Kirill Alekseenko, the organizing country has its wild card privileges, so this mouse slip did not affect him as dramatically as some other players. The winner, Krasenkow, started the World Cup from the very first round, while the loser, Alekseenko, joined the action in the second one. The opposites, they were bound to meet in a fight – water and stone, poetry and prose, to quote Pushkin, and checked and unchecked move confirmation box, to add some modern flavor.


Catalan Opening

1.Nf3 d5 2.d4 Nf6 3.c4 e6 4.g3 Bb4+ 5.Bd2 Be7 6.Bg2 0–0 7.0–0 Nbd7 8.Qc2 c6 9.Rc1
A smart move, preparing to utilize the c-file after 9...b6 10.cхd5 cхd5 11.Bf4 or to retreat the bishop without cutting off the rook after 9...Ne4 10.Be1 f5 11.b4.


Black prevents White's pawn expansion.


I read the following comment on a broadcasting website: “Gelfand invented all this in 2018!” I think it needs some correction. Boris Gelfand obviously invented all modern ideas in the Catalan Opening, but it clearly happened much earlier than 2018!


A rather unsubtle move: Black wants to play e6-e5, equalize the position, and proceed to a tie-break stage (the first game of the match ended in a draw). Another book move 10...Ne4 leads to a more complicated game after 11.Ne1 or 11.Be1 f5.

11.Na3 Bd6 12.Bf4 e5

12...Bхf4 13.gхf4 b6 is unfavorable for Black, as White has an unpleasant pull after 14.cхd5 cхd5 15.Ne5, and his dreams of seizing control over the open file or establishing dark-squared dominance could come true.

13.dхe5 Nхe5 14.Bхe5 Bхe5 15.cхd5 Nхd5 16.Nхe5 Rхe5

Black's position is solid, and he is about to develop the c8-bishop, however, the Polish grandmaster can now occupy the d6-square with his knight.  

17.Nc4 Re8 18.Rd1 Be6 19.e4 Nb4 20.Qc3 Qc7 21.Nd6 Re7 22.e5 Qb6 23.Rd2 Nd5


According to Tartakower, the main advantage of having a bishop is that it can be traded to a knight at the right time. Therefore, one can call 24.Bхd5!? a classical move, and it definitely deserved attention here. After 24...Bхd5 (24...cхd5 25.Rc1) 25.Rхd5 cхd5 26.Nc8 Qc7 27.Nхe7+ Qхe7 28.Rc1 or 28.Rd1 White stands better in an ending with heavy pieces, but I guess he decided against simplifying the game too early.

24...Rd7 25.Rad1 Rad8

How do we break Black's position? One way is to rearrange the bishop by 26.Bf1 h6 27.Bc4, in order to immobilize the d5-knight and then slowly prepare a kingside offense. Krasenkow chooses a more direct approach that involves a rook sacrifice!

26.Rd4 Nb4 27.Qc1 h6 28.Rh4?!

The last chance to revert tothe aforementioned plan is 28.Bf1.


Black escalates the conflict. Meanwhile, he had a useful move 28...c5!, and the sacrifice onh6 does not work yet: 29.Rхh6? gхh6 30.Qхh6 Rхd6 – Black defends successfully and keeps the extra material.

29.Rхh6! gхh6 30.Qхh6 Qc7 31.Qхf6 Bb3

I wonder why Kirill rejected 31...Rхd6 32.eхd6 Rхd6 33.Qg5+ Кf8 (33...Кf7 34.Qh5+) 34.Rхd6 Qхd6 35.Qхa5. The ending with three pawns for a piece is objectively equal, and Black is clearly not getting mated. The move he made is not bad, of course, but playing this wild, Tal-inspired position as White is surely more enjoyable.

32.Bh3 Rf8 33.Be6+ Bхe6 34.Qхe6+ Кh8 35.Qh6+ Кg8 36.Rd4

Rejecting the meek 36.Qe6+ with a draw.

With five moves to the control and being quite short on time, the young grandmaster commits a grave mistake.


36...Rh7 37.Rg4+ Rg7 38.Qe6+ Кh8 39.Ne8 also looks very dangerous, but Black can survive the storm: 39…Qf7! 40.Nf6 (40.Nхg7?? Qхf2+ 41.Кh1 Qf1#) 40...Rh7! 41.Qf5 Nd5 42.Qхh7+ Qхh7 43.Nхh7 Кхh7 44.Кg2 with another complex ending, in which three passed pawns are fighting against a minor piece (a knight this time). Kirill brings the knight back, but misses the enemy cavalry's break to the rim.

37.Qe6+ Кh8 38.Ne8! Qd8

There is already no defense: 38...Rхe8 39.Qхe8+ Кh7 40.Rh4+.

39.Qh6+ Кg8 40.Rg4+ Кf7 41.Nd6+, andBlack resigns due to 41…Rхd6 42.Rg7+ Кe8 43.Qh5+.

Mikhail Botvinnik, the 6th World Champion, made a list of the most important qualities of a strong player: talent, working capacity, mental toughness, etc. Today the one thing that trumps all others is a negative test result. Or simply not coughing and sneezing... The entire Indonesian team is out. To a great regret of all chess fans, Levon Aronian is out as well. Hopefully there will be no additions to this list, and we'll be able to enjoy some excellent chess.

Great chess players like to test their less versed opponent in the endgame. And they are very strict teachers, you know – not everyone can pass their exams.


A prospective student is interviewed by a famous professor. The question looks easy, even innocent, but could there more to it?

I wonder how this position is even winnable! But Carlsen is a true endgame wizard.

52.c4 Bf8

Black's main problem is having many good drawing strategies combined with the time trouble. For example, there is 52...Bc7 53.Nc5+ Кd6 54.Nхb7+ Кc6 55.Nc5 Bхa5 56.Nхa6 Bхb4 57.Nхb4+ Кc5. Having a one and only way to live is often better, because humans are amazingly capable of screwing up when they have multiple options.

53.c5 Bh6

Black defends easily by 53...Bg7 54.c6 bхc6 55.Nc5+ Кd6 56.Nхa6 Bh6 57.Nc5 Кc7 58.Кхe5 Bd2. I think I should add that Carlsen already won the game one, so the match outcome is basically sealed.


Martinovic wasn't giving away his central pawn for nothing: 54.Nхe5 Bd2 55.Nd3 Bc3 56.Nf4+ Кd7 57.Nd5 Be1. Carlsen sees through it and invents an excellent practical attempt.

Having a few second on the clock makes it hard to calculate stuff like 54...Кd7! 55.Nхe5+ Кc8 56.b6 (56.bхa6 bхa6 with an easy draw) 56...Bd2 57.Nc4 Bb4 58.Кd5 Кb8 59.c6 bхc6+ 60.Кхc6 Bc3 61.b7 Be1, and 62.Кb6 is met by the brilliant 62…Bхa5+!! 63.Nхa5 (63.Кхa5 Кхb7) – a stalemate!

54...aхb5? 55.c6 Кd6

After 55...bхc6 56.a6 the pawn is unstoppable.

56.cхb7 Кc7 57.a6 Bf8

57...Кb8 58.Nхe5 also doesn't work.

58.Nхe5 Bd6 59.Nd7??

The most improbable episode of the game. Have you ever seen the World Champion making endgame errors of such kind? He had more than enough time on the clock, too. 59.Кd5 was winning easily.

59...Кc6! 60.Кd4

Sadly, there is no win anymore: 60.b8QBхb8 61.Nхb8+ Кb6 62.Кd4 Кa7, so Magnus must wait for a mistake of his exhausted opponent.

60...Bc7 61.Кd3 Bd6 62.Кe4 Bc7 63.Кf5


And there it is!The bishop must control theb8-square, otherwise Black's king cannot approach the White's pawns: 63...Bd6=.

64.Ne5+! Кc7 65.Кe4 b4

65...Bf2 66.Nc6 does not help either. Now the Norwegian wins with ease.

66.Nd7! Кc6 67.Кd3 Bc7 68.Кc4 Bd6 69.Кb3 Bc7

69...Кхd7 70.a7+-.

70.Кхb4 Bd6+ 71.Кc4 Bc7 72.Кd3 Bd6 73.Кe4 Bc7 74.Кf5 Bd6 75.Ne5+ Кc7 76.Кe6 Bc5 77.Nc6 Black resigns.


White has an extra pawn, but if he carelessly trades the rooks it would be a dead draw.


66.b5! is a nice way to win: 66...Bхb5 (66...aхb5 67.a6) 67.Rc7+ Кe8 68.g5 fхg5 69.f6 Rf8 70.Re7+ Кd8 71.Bхg5 Bd7 72.f7 with domination so typical for positions with opposite-colored bishops.
The first game of this match ended in a draw, so this mistake of the Russian grandmaster prolonged the struggle for dozens of moves until he finally broke the resistance of the tenacious Argentinian.

66...Rd8 67.Rc3 Re8

Once again Perez refuses to take the right defensive standing – 67...Bb5, transferring the bishop to c6 (“Is your bishop protected by a pawn?” – M.Botvinnik) to support the rook invasion to d3. Alexander shuffles his forces back and forth for a while (the no rush principle!), and then begins the final assault.

68.Bc5 Re1 69.Rd3 Re5 70.Rd6 Rd5 71.Re6 Rd7 72.Кh4 Bd5 73.Re3 Ba2 74.Re1 Bc4 75.Кg3 Bd3 76.Кf4 Bc2 77.Rh1 Кg7 78.Rc1 Bd3 79.Кe3 Bb5 80.Bd4 Re7+ 81.Кf4


Retreating with the king immediately was much better – 81...Кf7, defending againstg4-g5. Black's idea to keep an eye on the f5-pawn turns out to be flawed, because the bishop is very insecure on d3.

82.Кg3 (82.Ba1!) 82...Rd7 83.Ba1 Re7

It is too late for 83...Кf7 84.Rh1, and thef6-pawn is lost.

84.Rd1 Re3+ 85.Кf4 Re4+ 86.Кf3 Bc2 87.Rd7+ Кg8 88.Rхb7, and the endgame torture ends in White's favor.

In the next fragment, Black despised the very idea of trading the queens, and paid dearly for it.


White is better thanks to his bishop and an adjacent passed pawn, but the material is very limited, and the Black's rook on the 2nd rank is very strong. It goes without saying that the Icelander needed to speculate on exchanging the queens: 27...Qb6! 28.Qa3+ Qb4.

27...Rd2 28.Be4 Rd6

And again 28...Qd6! deserved attention.

29.Qe2 Qe5 30.Qc2 Qb5

And again – 30...Qc5!

31.Rc1! Qg5

And again – 31...Qb4 32.Bf3 Qd2!

32.Rf1 Nc5?

This was the last time when 32...Qd2! was available.Now it turns out that Maxim's king is more secure, and his pieces are coordinated more harmoniously.  

33.Bf3 Nd3

After 33...Rd2 34.Qb1 Nd3 35.Qb7+ the black king falls first.

34.a4! Qc5 35.Qe2 Rd4 36.Be4 Ne5 37.Qf2 Nd7 38.Qf7+ Кd6 39.Bf3 Qg5

Black can take a pawn: 39...Rхa4, but then White takes two in return by 40.Qхg7 and wins easily.

40.Bg4 Qe7 41.Qf2 e5

With such an unfortunate king Black's scarce forces cannot leave the center: 41...Rхa4 42.Qg3+ e5 43.Rd1+.

42.Qc2 Nc5 43.Rc1 Rd5

The pawn is still immune: 43...Nхa4 44.Qc6#.

44.Qg6+! Qf6 45.Qe8 Qe7 46.Qa8 e4 47.a5 h5 48.a6! hхg4 49.a7 Qg5 50.Qb8+ Кe7

Naturally, White takes over after51.Rf1 Rd8 52.Qхd8+ Кхd8 53.a8Q+ as well, but Matlakov wants to utilize his main trump card. We always knew how strong a bishop pair is, now have a look at this ravaging pair of queens!

51.a8Q!Qхc1+ 52.Кh2 Nd7 53.Qd8+ Кd6 54.Qab8+ Кe6 55.Qg8+ Кe7 56.Qхg7+ Кe6 57.Qe8+ Black resigns.The moral of the story: if you don't trade the enemy queen while you still can, it will reproduce!

I apologize if my selection gave you an impression that all the World Cup matches were decided in the endgame. Here is a couple of short movies.


The American grandmaster lost the first game and was forced to go all-in in the second one. 13...gхf4 14.eхf4 (14.Ng6 Rh6) leads to a complicated and interesting game, however, Onischuk makes a rushed move and blunders badly.

13...g4? 14.hхg4 Nхg4

Sometimes I envy the people who make such blunders and do not lose on the spot. After 14...Bхe5 15.fхe5 Nхg4 Black is getting pulverized: 16.Qхg4! fхg4 17.Bg6+ Кe7 18.Rf7+ Кe8 19.Rh7+, neither 14...h3 is satisfactory: 15.gхf5 hхg2 16.Кхg2. The move in the game is clearly the lesser of evils, but Black ends up short on material, and his king is bad.

15.Nхg4 fхg4 16.Bg6+ Кf8

16...Кe7 is even worse – 17.Qхg4 Nf6 18.Bхh4.

17.Qхg4 Qf6 18.f5 e5

Alexander manages to consolidate, but here comes another blow.

19.Nb5 Ba6 20.a4 c6

Black escalates the crisis, because 20...Rh6 21.Rf3 looks too dim.

21.Nхd6 Qхd6

21...Bхf1 can be met by 22.Nf7.

22.dхe5 Nхe5

We mentioned the bishop pair earlier, now look how well David Paravyan manages them to seal the deal.  

23.Qf4! Bхf1 24.Bc3 Nf7 25.Qхd6+ Nхd6 26.Bхh8 Be2 27.Re1 Bg4 28.Rf1 Кe7

28...Кg8 is a bit more tenacious but changes nothing: 29.Bc3 Rf8 30.f6.

29.Bg7 Black resigns.


Nimzo-Indian Defense

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.f3 d5 5.a3 Bхc3+ 6.bхc3 c6

A rare line, but the Indian player demonstrates impressive level of preparation.

7.e4 dхe4 8.fхe4 e5 9.Nf3 Qa5 10.Bd2 Nхe4 11.Bd3 Nхd2 12.Qхd2

Paul Keres taught us that in all gambits you always grab those pawns to return them at the right time. I guess the right time is now:12...Be6! 13.Nхe5 Nd7. Unfortunately, Black gets greedy, and it leads to an opening loss!

12….eхd4? 13.0–0 0–0 14.Ng5 f5

If 14...g6, White simply gathers his forces and shakes Black's fortress a little: 15.Rae1 dхc3 16.Qf4 f6 17.Nхh7!

15.c5! Кh8

The game after 15...Qхc5 16.Qa2+ would be too dull for our review.

16.Qe2 Nd7

Brilliancy is everywhere thanks to Black's lonely king, and is very easy to spot: 16...Qхc5 17.Qh5 dхc3+ 18.Кh1 h6 19.Rae1 Bd7 20.Re6! Bхe6 21.Nхe6 Qe7 22.Nхf8 Qхf8 23.Rхf5 Qd8 24.Qg6 Nd7 25.Rf7, and wins.

17.Nхh7! dхc3

Or 17...Кхh7 18.Qh5+ Кg8 19.Bc4+.

18.Qh5 Qхc5+ 19.Кh1 Кg8 20.Bхf5 Qd5

20...Rхf5 21.Rхf5+-.

21.Ng5 Nf6

21...Rхf5 22.Qh7+ is also an easy win.

22.Qh7+! A beautiful final chord! Black resigns in view of a forced mate. Baskaran Adhiban sweeps the match 2-0.

Compared to the First Round, the Second Round naturally featured closer match-ups, and many matches were decided on a tie-break. Young-and-coming players from Uzbekistan were particularly noticeable, as they produced two big upsets: Lenier Dominguez lost two rapid games to Jakhongir Vakhidov, and Alireza Firouzja lost to Javokhir Sindarov.

Only a miracle helped Vladislav Kovalev, playing under the flag of FIDE, to defeat the young Russian.



White wins by 61.Rb4! Bc3 (after 61...Bхf2 62.Rхa4+ Кb1 63.Rb4+ Кa2 64.Rb2+ he takes almost all Black's pieces) 62.Rхa4+ Кb3 63.Rхa1 Bхa1 64.Кe2 Bd4 (or 64...Кc4 65.Кe3 Кd5 66.Кf4, and the king marches to the h5-pawn) 65.f3 eхf3+ 66.Кхf3 Кc4 67.Кe4, and the rest is easy.

61...a3 62.Ra8 Rхc1+! 63.Кхc1 Кb3 64.Rb8+ Кc3 65.Кb1??

There is no win anymore, but losing is optional – 65.Ra8 is clearly better.

65...Bхf2 66.Rh8 e3 67.Rхh5 Bхg3??

67...e2 wins easily, but the nervous atmosphere and time trouble take their toll.


The Russian grandmaster could survive by 68.Rg5! Bхh4 (68...Bf4 69.Rg2) 69.Re5 with a draw.

68...Кb3 69.Rb5+ Кc4 70.Rb7 e2 71.Re7 e1Q+ 72.Rхe1 Bхe1 73.Кa2 Кb4 White resigns.

In the return game Alexey achieved an ending with a rook and a bishop against a rook, but Vlad had studied his share of endgame theory well, so he defended accurately and advanced to the Third Round.


After repeating the moves for a while 45...Кg7 46.Rh5 Кg6 47.Rh8 Кg7 48.Rh5 Кg6 49.Rh8 Кg7, White suddenly sidestepped with his rook: 50.Rc8??, and the American grandmaster simply promoted a new queen: 50…h3 51.Rc1

After 51.b6 h2 52.b7 h1QBlack gives mate first.

51...h2 52.Rh1

52.b6 Ng1+.

52...Rg1 53.Rхh2 Nхh2 54.b6 Rb1 55.a5 Кf6 56.Кd4 Кe6 57.Кc5 Кd7 58.a6 Кc8 59.Кc6 Rc1+ 60.Кb5 Кb8 White resigns.

What was that, a blackout? Not really, as Sevian was ahead 3-2, and there was no difference between a draw and a loss for his opponent. Yet 50.Rc8 clearly looks suicidal.

The main sensations of the Second Round must not be ignored, so let's take a look at one of the wins of the young Uzbek stars.


Apparently, the powerful Cuban, who plays under stars and stripes, underestimated his dangerous opponent. Black's opening was provocative at best, and he got severely punished.

15.b4! cхb4

Perhaps Black planned 15...g5, but it does not quite work: 16.b5 Ne5 17.e4! Qхd3 18.Rb3 Qc4 19.Qхc4 Nхc4 20.Rc1 with a large advantage to White in the endgame.

16.Be3 Кb8 17.Rfc1 Qa5

White enjoys the initiative after 17...Bd4 18.Rхc6 Bхe3 19.Rc4 Bb6 20.Qхb4.

18.Qхa5 Nхa5 19.Bf4+ Кa8 20.Bc7 Rd5?
After 20...Nc6 21.Bхd8 Rхd8 Black has certain compensation for an exchange, and White needs to demonstrate good technique. However, Lenier is still unaware of a sneaky pawn push that is coming.

21.e4 Rb5

22.a4! Rb6 23.Bхb6 aхb6 24.Rхb4, and White won quickly.

The match between Cheparinov and Svane advanced to 4-4, and its outcome was decided in an Armageddon game. I guess for some of you it was not a proper sudden death game, as there was no comparison to the perfect storm of Badelko-Matnadze with pieces flying all over the place, the time doing down to zero on both clocks, and a shocked arbiter sitting next to the board, unable to do anything without a whistle and a red card. But...


The German grandmaster took the lead in classical games, but Ivan came back. Svane took the lead in rapid games, but his opponent came back once again. The ultimate game proved that Cheparinov has nerves of steel indeed.

29.Rхd7! Rхd7 30.Rd1 Кb8 31.Rхd7 Qf8 32.Qf4. Rasmus fought until the bitter end, but to no avail.

The Third Round should bring us many entertaining encounters, although the grid is a bit weakened due to a technical loss of one of the powerhouses. However, the main aces remain in the deck, and it is very curious to see them battling the young stars and dark horses of the World Cup.