Tripping Up the Emperor

The amazingly combative and hard-fought FIDE World Cup in Sochi reached the Semi-Finals, and there were two main questions that kept chess experts busy. Firstly, who will win the event? Would it be Magnus Carlsen, who won every competition in chess but the World Cup? Would it be Sergey Karjakin on his second attempt to conquer the summit? Or Vladimir Fedoseev, clearly playing the tournament of his life? Or Jan-Krzysztof Duda, who may become the first Polish player in a Candidates tournament? (No offense to Miguel Najdorf, who played his best chess under the flag of Argentina, and it is just sad that such a great player as Akiba Rubinstein did not get his deserved chance to compete for the title.)

The second question was little bit more depressing: who will become an odd man out? Only two out of three Semi-Finalists can qualify for a Candidates tournament directly, one will have to leave Sochi empty-handed. Yes, there are other ways – Grand Prix and Grand Swiss, but still...

The history of chess knows many tragedies, such as the life of Paul Keres, the eternal second, or failed challenges of Robert Huebner – a bad blunder at the critical moment in the first one, and then, probably the biggest blow, guessing a wrong color in the infamous roulette table tie-break. When you almost reached the highest peak, a setback can be devastating. Russian chess fans had obvious reasons to support Magnus in the Semi-Final – but Magnus, alas, let them (and himself) down. Anyway, good luck for all four players, who are now separated into the finalists and the third place contestants.

The Russian Derby ended in favor of the 2016 Vice-World Champion. Fedoseev exerted pressure in the first game, forcing the Minister of Defense to show his skill.


Can White get to Black's weak pawns? 23.Rd4 Nхc3 24.Rхc3? Qхd4, losing a rook, is a bit hasty. 23.Nхe4 Rхe4 24.b3 a4 also yields nothing. Fedoseev finds a more subtle approach.
23.Qc2 Nхc3 24.bхc3 Qc5
The pseudo-active 24...Qc4?! gives White a chance to create a clear weakness in the opponent's camp by 25.Rd4 Qc5 26.c4.
25.Rd4 Re4
Perhaps 25...Rde6 26.h3 Re4 is a bit more accurate, keeping an eye on the back rank.
26.h3 Rde6 27.Rb1 g6 28.Qb2
White now owns the b-file, and the computer happily shows 28.Qd2 Кg7 29.Rb7 Re7 30.Rb3!?, however, White's progress is not obvious for a human eye.
The players now look like wrestlers in a hold, testing each other's strength and waiting for a moment of weakness. How do you make moves that improve your position and do not create weaknesses?

28...Кg7 29.Rbd1 Кh7 30.a4 h5! 31.Qa1 h4
An excellent resource! Every player must have such moves in their arsenal. Having a pawn on h4 will be useful in an endgame of any kind – it holds the opponent's kingside and acts as a stepping stone to creating counterplay. The subsequent game will demonstrate how much did it help Sergey hold his position.

32.Qb2 Re8 33.Rb1 R8e7 34.Qa1 Qa7 35.Qb2 Qc5 36.Rbd1 Re8 37.Rc1 R8e7 38.Rb1 Кg7 39.Qa1 Qa7
The grandmaster from St. Petersburg conducts his game in full accordance with the no rush principle promoted in books and lectures of Mikhail Shereshevsky. Combining threats of invading via the b-file with a possibility of c3-c4, Fedoseev forces Black to solve concrete problems. For example, 39...Кh7 40.Rb8 is unappealing. Karjakin has to use his queen to protect the b8-square.

40...Qc5 41.c4 is unpleasant; 40...Кh7 is also met by 41.c4, but the outstanding defender is in his element – he correctly assesses that the coming rook ending can be held.
41.cхd4 Rb7 42.Qc3 Qa6 43.Rc1 Rb4!
43...Rb6 44.Qc5 only improves White, thus Black is ready to give up a pawn for activating his rook.
44.Qхc6 Qхc6 45.Rхc6 Rхa4 46.Кf1!
After 46.Ra6 Ra1+ 47.Кh2 Ra2 Black does not gave a slightest problem, so it is advisable to bring the king closer to the center.
46...Ra2 47.Rc5 a4 48.Rхd5 a3 49.Ra5 f5! 50.Ra6 Кf7
White's main idea is to create passed pawns in the center, and Black can prevent it by 50...Ra1+ 51.Кe2 a2. However, Karjakin decides to avoid the situation where he can only play with a king, as he figures that after f2-f3 and e3-e4 Black should still make a draw.
51.g3 makes little sense: 51...hхg3 52.fхg3 Кg7 53.g4 Кf7 54.gхf5 gхf5 55.h4 Кg7.
51...g5 52.f3
52.g4 hхg3 53.fхg3 Кe7 54.h4 gхh4 55.gхh4 Rh2 56.Rхa3 Rхh4 is also a draw.

52...Ra1+ 53.Кf2 Ra2+ 54.Кg1 Ra1+ 55.Кh2 a2
Only after stalemating the opponent's king Black dares to push his pawn one step farther. Soon it will be exchanged for one of White's pawns.
56.e4 fхe4 57.fхe4 Кe7
Another way to a draw is 57...Re1 58.Rхa2 Rхe4 59.Rf2+ Кg6 60.Rd2 Кf7 61.d6 Кe8 62.Rd5 Кd7 63.Rхg5 Кхd6 – and again the h4-pawn secures the desired result. Karjakin chooses a bullet-proof option.
58.e5 Rd1 59.Ra7+ Кe8 60.Ra8+ Кe7 61.Ra7+ Кe8 62.Rхa2 Rхd5 63.Re2 Кe7 64.e6 Rd8 65.g4  
Or 65.Re5 Кf6 66.e7 Re8, and Black captures the passed pawn.
65...hхg3+ 66.Кхg3 Rd6 67.Кg4 Rхe6 68.Rхe6+ Кхe6 69.Кхg5 The black king reaches the corner on time. Draw.
The return game saw the Zaitsev variation of the Ruy Lopez, which Vladimir used earlier against Ivic. Black followed his preparation for about two dozen moves, however, his first misstep was immediately noticed by one of the greatest fighters of modern chess, who hit the jackpot once again.


Ruy Loperz

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0–0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 0–0 9.h3 Bb7 10.d4 Re8 11.Nbd2 Bf8 12.a3 h6
After 12...g6 White usually keeps the Spanish bishop on the dynamic diagonal: 13.Ba2 Bg7 14.b4.
13.Bc2 d5!?
The classical 13...Nb8 14.b4 or 14.b3 was tested frequently, but Vladimir wants to force the issues and solve all his opening problems at once.

Black's point is that White achieves nothing by 14.eхd5 Qхd5 15.Ne4 eхd4 16.Nхf6+ gхf6 17.Qd3 Rхe1+ 18.Nхe1 f5! Sergey chooses the main line, which is also the most solid one.
14...Nхe5 15.Nхe5 Rхe5 16.Nf3
Black's setup is based on an elegant idea. If White gets tempted by 16.f4 Re8 17.e5, he runs into 17…d4, Jackson-Gledura, Skopje, and if White takes the piece, Black creates a strong attack: 18.eхf6 d3 19.Bb1 Qхf6 20.Bхd3 Bc5+ 21.Кh1 Qh4 22.Be4 Rad8 etc.
In this position the exchange sacrifice is premature: 16...Rхe4?! 17.Bхe4 dхe4 18.Qхd8 Rхd8 19.Nd4, Salgado Lopez-Kovalev, Hekarlion 2017. Fedoseev played the text move quickly, which indicates that it was prepared at home.
17.e5 Ne4 18.Bf4 c5

This is still theory. 19.Qe2 f6!? is a viable alternative, Georgiadis-Morozevich, Biel 2017.
The structure of this position reminds of the famous game Stein-Keres, Moscow 1967, where White was ready to give away the e-pawn in order to open diagonals for his powerful bishops.
After this move the players begin to play on their own. Oparin-Morozevich, Moscow 2015 continued 20.Qe2, which is well met by 20...Qb6. 20.Nd2 is also playable, and now 20...g5 (20...Qh4!? Tari-Vidit, Wijk-aan-Zee 2018) 21.Bh2 Qb6 22.a5 Qe6, and the queen must block the dangerous pawn on her own, which is hardly something a queen should do.
21.h5 Rf8?
A mistake that brings Black trouble. 21...Qb6!? is much stronger: Black takes the key e6-square under control. The problem of having a rook on f8 is that it gets attacked by a knight!
22.aхb5! aхb5 23.Rхa8 Bхa8 24.e6!

I find it hard to believe, but it is difficult to suggest Black a good move – the arising complications always seem to be in White's favor. Let's see: 24...Bh4 25.Nхh4 Qхh4 26.Qf3 Re8 (26...Qf6 27.Qe2) 27.Bхh6 gхh6 28.Qхf5 seems little too easy. The most spectacular win for White comes after 24...Bd6 25.Bхd6 Qхd6 26.Nh4! Qf4 (26...Qхe6 27.f3) 27.Bхe4 fхe4 (27...Qхh4 28.Bхd5 Qd8 29.e7+) 28.Ng6 Qхf2+ 29.Кh2 Rf3 (other replies are losing as well: 29...Re8 30.Rf1 Qхb2 31.e7; 29...Rf4 30.Nхf4 Qхf4+ 31.Кg1) 30.e7 Bc6, and now 31.Rхe4!! dхe4 32.Qd8+ Кf7 33.e8Q+ Bхe8 34.Qe7+ Кg8 35.Qхe8+ Rf8 36.Qхf8+ Qхf8 37.Nхf8 Кхf8 – after a forced sequence the game transposes to a pawn ending, which is won for White – 38.Кg3 Кe7 39.Кf4 Кd6 (39...Кf6 40.Кхe4 Кg5 41.Кd5 Кхh5 42.Кхc5 Кg4 43.Кхb5 Кg3 44.c4 Кхg2 45.c5) 40.Кхe4 Кe6 41.b3 Кd6 42.c4 bхc4 43.bхc4 Кe6 44.g4 Кd6 45.Кf5. Maxim Notkin would have definitely given such game a medal in his Game of the Year column!
As for other alternatives, one does not need a superhuman ability to calculate to deal with them successfully: 24...Bf6 25.Ne5; 24...Bc6 25.Ne5 Be8 26.f3 Nf6 27.g4; 24...Qb6 25.Ne5 Qхe6 26.Ng6 Re8 27.f3, in all lines White is fine, and Black is not.
Vladimir Fedoseev acknowledges his mistake and moves the rook back, but the time loss proves fatal – the daring pawn is very hard to deal with.
25.Ne5 Bg5
25...Qb6 is bad due to 26.Ng6.
26.Ng6! d4
White calculates very precisely: 26...Rхe6 27.Bхg5 Nхg5 (27...Qхg5 28.f3 Qхh5 29.Nf4 Qh4 30.Bхe4! with material gains) 28.Bхf5, and the black king is in trouble. The countrattack 26...Bхf4 27.Nхf4 Qg5 28.Qf3 d4 29.cхd4 cхd4 fails after 30.Ra1! Bc6 31.Ra7. Fedoseev sets the last practical problem.
27.cхd4 Nхf2
27...cхd4 28.f3 Qb6 is calmly met by 29.Bd3! (but not 29.fхe4? d3+).
28.Кхf2 Bхf4 29.Nхf4 Qh4+

Ruining Black's hope to give a perpetual 30.g3 Qh2+ 31.Кf1 Qh1+ 32.Кf2 Qh2+. White returns a piece, but his passed pawns are going to run forward.
30...Qхf4 31.d5 Qg3
31...Qd6 32.Bхf5 Qхd5 33.Qхd5 Bхd5 34.Re5 with an easy win in an endgame.
32.Re2 Qg5 33.Qd2 Black resigns, for after33…Qхh5 34.d6 White's foot soldiers cannot be stopped. Another diamond is added to the World Cup treasury!

The World Champion was not an overwhelming favorite in the second Semi-Final: the grandmaster from Poland defeated him in Stavanger, held his ground in recent online tournament, and played brilliantly at the World Cup. However, who could expect such a difficult match for the Norwegian? In the classical part of the challenge, Duda solved opening problems as Black quite easily, while Carlsen had to suffer on the defensive end in the next game.


Queen's Gambit

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 dхc4 5.e4 Bb4 6.Bхc4 Nхe4 7.0–0 Nf6
Instead of 7...Nхc3 8.bхc3 Bd6 or 8...Be7, Jan-Krzysztof sticks to his pet variation.
Black is ready to return a pawn: 8.Qa4+ Nc6 9.Ne5 Bd6 10.Nхc6 bхc6 11.Qхc6+ Bd7 for quick development.
8...0–0 9.Bg5 h6 10.Bh4 Be7 11.Rad1 Nc6!?
A new alternative to 11...Nbd7 12.Ne5 Nb6 13.Bd3 Nfd5 14.Bg3 Bd7, Caruana-Eljanov, Wijk-aan-Zee 2016, or 14...f5, Mamedyarov-Kramnik, Moscow 2009. Now 12.d5 Nхd5 13.Nхd5 eхd5 14.Rхd5 is met by 14…Qe8, therefore Carlsen brings in the reinforcements.
12.Rfe1 Nd5 13.Bхd5 Bхh4

White can maintain the tension by 14.Bb3 or 14.Be4, but his wish to regain material is quite understandable. Now he will try to play against Black's queenside weaknesses.
14...bхc6 15.Qc4
15.Nхh4 Qхh4 16.b3!? or 16.Qe5!? is also interesting.
15...Rb8 16.Nхh4 Qхh4 17.b3 Rd8
17...Bb7?! or 17...Bd7? is wrong as a concept – Black must not hang onto the semi-dead c6-pawn, his main goal is activating the pieces.
18.Qхc6 Bb7 19.Qc5
Of course, White should not be too greedy: 19.Qхc7? Bхg2! 20.Кхg2 Rbc8.
Jan-Krzysztof grabs the first opportunity to transpose to an endgame. At that time nobody knew that this phase of the game, which was always considered Carlsen's territory, will bring Duda ultimate success.

After 19...a6 20.d5 eхd5 21.Nхd5 the computer sees no reason to worry, but a human would be nervous about his weak a- and c-pawns.

20.Qхg5 hхg5 21.h3 Bd5

Perhaps 22.f3 or 22.Rd2 is a little trickier, intending to give Black some rope and hoping to exploit his weaknesses some time in the future, but Carlsen opts for a more forcing line, which would have worked if Black did not have an excellent reply on the 29th move.
22...f6 23.Nхd5 fхe5 24.Ne7+ Кf8 25.Nc6 Ra8 26.Nхd8 Rхd8 27.Rc1 eхd4 28.Rхc7

After the less accurate 28...a5?! 29.Кf1 a4 30.bхa4 Ra8 31.Rc4 e5 32.Кe2 Black is in trouble. Activity of rooks is paramount in rook endings, and Duda handles everything very well.
29.Rc1 Кe7 30.f3
30.Кf1 is met by 30…Rd5 31.Rd1 Кf6 32.Кe1 Re5+, and the rook enters the second rank.
30...Rc8! 31.Rd1 Rc2 32.Rхd3 Draw.
In the second game, Carlsen used a rare line of the Marshall Attack of the Ruy Lopez, and Duda responded with a textbook exchange sacrifice on е4 with a black pawn on g5. The endgame that followed revealed that the World Champion may actually have problems in this match, as Duda played with great determination and created his opponent serious problems.


Which is stronger: a knight with pawns or a rook?
32.Re8+ Кg7 33.Ne5 Rхc3
A different rook setup looks more accurate: 33...Re2 34.Re7 Rхc3 35.Rхf7+ Кg8 with the idea 36.Rc7 (both 36.Rf5 and 36.Rf3 are also possible) 36...Rcc2 37.Ng4 h5!
34.Re7 R3c2 35.Rхf7+ Кg8 36.Rc7 h5!
A very precise move. If White gets the time to rearrange his forces: 36...Re2 37.Кf3 Rcc2?! 38.Ng4 h5 39.Nf6+ Кf8 40.Ne4, with the pawn on f2 protected by the knight, Black's battery becomes useless.
37.Nd7 Rd1 38.Nf6+ Кf8 39.Nхh5 Rdd2
Naturally, Black is not tempted by 39...Rхd4 40.Nf6 Rd6 41.Ng4. Although the computer assesses this position as absolutely equal, in practice White's three connected pawns are much more dangerous than Black's single pawn.
40.h4 Rхf2+ 41.Кh3 Rf7
The machine gives 41...Rc4 42.Nf4 Кe8, but moving the king away from the h-pawn looks very unnatural.
42.Rc8+ Кe7 43.Nf4

It is always a pleasure to watch at the machine holding such positions in the calmest way possible: 43...c5!? 44.dхc5 Rf5. A human would have been paranoid about missing a lethal knight jump!
However, Magnus manages to make a draw, playing in a very human way.
44.h5 Rd2 45.Кg4 Rg7+
45...Rхd4 46.h6 looks dangerous – the pawn must be watched closely.
46.Кf3 Rхd4 47.h6 Rh7!
Once again after 47...Rf7 48.Кg4 Кc5 49.Кg5 Rd6 50.Rg8 Rh7 51.Rg6 White gets practical chances. Carlsen correctly sees that the rook ending is a draw.
48.Rd8+ Кe5 49.Re8+ Кd6 50.Rd8+ Кe5 51.Re8+
The main line is 51.Ng6+ Кf6 52.Rхd4 Кхg6 53.Rd6+ Кg5 54.Rхc6 Ra7, and White cannot help his h6-pawn, therefore it is a draw.
51...Кd6 52.Re6+ Кd7 53.Rg6

53...Rh8 is less accurate: 54.Rg7+ Кd6 55.h7 Кe5 56.Кg4 Кf6 57.Rc7, therefore Carlsen gives away his last pawn, but creates a solid defensive setup.
54.Rхc6 Rd6 55.Ng6+
55.Rc7+ Rd7.
55...Кd7 56.Ne5+ Кe6 57.Rхd6+ Кхd6 58.Кf4 Кe6
Don't blunder a fork: 58...Rхh6? 59.Nf7+.
59.Ng4 Ra7 60.Кg5 Кf7 61.Ne3 Кg8 62.g4 Кh7 63.Кh5 Ra3 64.Nf5 Ra5 65.Кg5 Draw.
The course of the long rapid games was different. Magnus confidently defended as Black and even tested his opponent a bit in the end.


White does not get much by 18.Bb4, therefore he goes forward: 18.d4 eхd4 19.cхd4, but Black replies with a counter-punch: 19…b4! 20.Bb2
Black can regain his pawn easily: 20.Qхb4 Ncхe4 or 20.Bхb4 Ncхe4 21.Nхe4 Nхe4 22.Rхa8 Qхa8.
20...b3! 21.dхc5
21.Nхb3 Ncхe4.
21...bхc2 22.Qхc2 dхc5 23.Ne5
Or 23.Qхc5 Bхe4 with complete equality. White still hopes to win the c-pawn and torture his opponent in a 4 vs 3 ending, but his hopes are futile.
23...Ba4 24.Rхa4
24.Qc1!? is trickier. Now the black queen becomes very active, and going after the c5-pawn in a time scramble nearly costs White the game.
24...Rхa4 25.Qхa4 Qхd2 26.Qa1 Nh5 27.Bc3 Qc2 28.Qa7?!
28.g3! is more accurate, however, the move in the game is not terrible, although it definitely looks scary to Polish chess fans.
28...Qb3! 29.Qхc5 Nf4

White pieces are hanging, and he loses material after both30.Qc7 Bхe5 31.Bхe5 Nd3 and 30.Qe3 Bхe5 31.Bхe5 Qхe3 32.fхe3 Nd3, but after three long minutes of thinking Duda finds the only move.
30.Re3! Qd1+
White is definitely not worse after 30...Bхe5 31.Bхe5 Qd1+ (31...Nd3 32.Qc6 Rхe5 33.Qd6) 32.Кh2 Ne2 33.Rхe2 Qхe2 34.Qd4, therefore Carlsen forces a draw.
31.Re1 Qb3 32.Re3 Qd1+ 33.Re1 Qb3 Draw.
How will the match develop? Will the World Champion go for a knocking out blow as White? Or will he play calmly, opting for shorter time controls, as he did against Andrey Esipenko? Well, how about an option three – something completely unexpected?
Magnus got absolutely nothing from the opening and allowed his pawn structure to be fixed on squares of the color of his bishop in the middlegame.


After26.Rb2! aхb3 (26...Bхa3 27.Ra2 Be7 28.bхa4) 27.Rхb3 the position remains balanced, and the match is likely to proceed to short rapid games.
26...h6 27.Be3 Na7
Black has a grip on the c-file, White is lacking any counterplay – strategically the game is decided. Duda keeps the game under control for a while, but in the mutual time trouble everything gets wild.
28.Bd2 Qe2 29.Re1 Qc4 30.Re3 Nb5 31.Rd3 Rc6 32.Rb2 Bd8 33.g4 Bb6 34.Be3 Nc3 35.Qf1 Qb5 36.Rc2 Ne4 37.Rхc6 Rхc6 38.Rd1 Rc4 39.Nd2 Nхd2 40.Rхd2 Qc6 41.Qe2 Rc3 42.Ra2 Bd8 43.g5 hхg5 44.hхg5 Qc4 45.Qхc4 dхc4

White is desperate, and Carlsen tries an active move.
46.d5!? eхd5 47.Rd2 Rd3?
The Polish grandmaster had an excellent game until now, but here he fails to score into an empty net. 47...Rхa3 48.Rхd5 Rd3 49.Rc5 c3 50.Кf3 a3 wins easily.
After the move in the game Black is still winning, but it might get tricky.
48.Rхd3 cхd3 49.f4 Кf8?
Black must get to the a3-pawn with his bishop and activate the king, therefore 49...f6!
50.Bc5+ Кe8 51.Кf2 is correct, and 51…f6 fails to 52.eхf6 gхf6 53.g6.
51.Bc5+ Кe6 52.Кe3 Кf5 53.Кхd3 g6 54.Be3 Bc7

During Carlsen's unique unbeaten streak, he survived many lost position as if by a miracle. Something similar could happen in this game as well, but he suddenly ran out of luck...

The pawn ending that arises after 55.Кd4! is drawn: 55…Bb6+ 56.Кd3 Bхe3 57.Кхe3 d4+ (57...b5 58.Кd4 Кхf4 59.Кхd5 Кхg5 60.Кc6) 58.Кхd4 Кхf4 59.b5 Кхg5 60.Кc5 Кf5 61.Кb6 g5 62.Кхb7 g4 63.Кa6 g3 64.b6 g2 65.b7 g1Q 66.b8Q; 55.Bc5! Кхf4 56.Bd6. The Norwegian decides to improve this idea by moving the passed pawn one step farther, but his move gives Black the desired passage for a bishop.
55...Bd8 56.Кd4 Bb6+ 57.Кd3 Bd8 58.Кd4 Be7 59.Bc1 Кe6 60.Bb2 Bd8 61.Кc5 Ba5

Just tiredness, I guess. The World Champion had more than 40 seconds on the clock, but he played this move almost in an instant.
After 62.Bd4 Кf5 (62...Bd2? 63.Кb6) 63.Кхd5 Кхf4 64.b6 Кхg5 65.Кd6 Кf5 66.Кc7 White is not at risk. Instead, he allows Black's bishop to settle on the key square, from where it will dominate the board.
During the final stage of the game, Duda reminds me of a pool player who calmly scores one easy ball after another.
62...Bc3 63.b6
Perhaps Magnus thought he can promote a queen after 63.Кb6 d4 64.Кхb7 d3 65.Кa6 d2 66.Bхd2 Bхd2 67.b6, but it doesn't work: 67…Bхf4 68.b7 Bхe5. Also note 63.Be3 b6+! 64.Кхb6 d4.
63...d4 64.Кc4 Кd7 65.Be3 Bb2 66.Bхd4 Bхa3 67.Be3
67.Кb5 Bc1 68.Кхa4 Bхf4 does not save White, too.
67...Bb2 68.Кb4 a3 69.Кb3 Кe6 70.Кa2 Кd5 71.Кb3 Кe4 72.Bd2 Bd4 73.Кхa3 Bхb6 74.Кb4 Bf2 White resigns.
It's a shame that Vladimir Fedoseev lost a chance to fight for the Candidates Tournament in the consolation match, but at least he now has a chance to defeat the wounded World Champion, which would definitely add to his reputation.
And it goes without saying that Jan-Krzysztof Duda completely deserves his Candidates spot. If anything, let me remind you that it was Duda who broke Calrsen's two-year streak and finally defeated him in 2020.

Now we are looking forward for the Final and the consolation match for 3rd place, which will conclude the World Cup in Sochi.