Magical Keys to Success

So much is at stake at the Quarterfinals! And the presence of Magnus Carlsen, who does not compete for spots in a Candidates Tournament, only complicates things for others players, who may benefit or lose everything because of him.
In his Quarterfinal, Carlsen confidently knocked out Etienne Bacrot 2-0 and advanced to the next stage. Despite a tough match against Wojtaszek and an incredibly close battle against Esipenko, Carlsen is actually gaining rating points at the World Cup: currently he is at +5.4, partly thanks to unforced errors of Matrinovic and Tari. Now it was Bacrot's time to contribute. The French grandmaster looked very tired after all his comebacks and tie-breaks.

Ruy Lopez

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0–0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0–0 8.a4 Bb7 9.d3 d6 10.Bd2

This mysterious bishop move is quickly rising in popularity. The long-range piece standing on d2 denies Black's knight the a5-square and helps fighting for dark squares on the queenside.
I'd like to share a story quite popular in Russian chess circles about Alexander Lastin playing this move against Valentin Arbakov at the Russian Championship in Elista in 2001. Upon seeing this move, Arbakov frowned at his opponent. It was a long, piercing stare. The thing is, both players were rather fond of drinking, and Valentin seriously believed that his opponent, still not fully fit after a banquet the other day, confused a bishop with a knight. Of course, he was wrong, and the venomous bishop move helped White eventually win the game.


Carlsen makes a neutral move that improves his position slightly and keeps it flexible until the b1-knight commits itself. On 10...b4 White can respond by 11.a5 or 11.c3; 10...Nb8 11.aхb5 (11.Na3!?) 11...aхb5 12.Rхa8 Bхa8 13.Nc3 c6 14.Ne2 does not look very attractive for Black. Black also tried 10...Nd4 11.Nхd4 eхd4 12.c3 in a couple of games.

11.Nc3 Na5

Less accurate knight moves can give White the initiative: 11...Nd8 12.aхb5 aхb5 13.Rхa8 Bхa8 14.d4 or 11...Nd4 12.Nхd4 eхd4 13.Ne2 c5 14.Ng3 d5 15.e5 Ne8 16.c3.

12.Ba2 c5

White is ready for 12...b4 13.Ne2 c5 14.Ng3. Carlsen rearranges his pieces in a standard Chigorin way: push the enemy bishop first, then go c5 and get ready for d6-d5.

13.Ne2 Nc6 14.Ng3 d5

Black has no other useful strategic ideas: 14...Rfe8 15.c3 Bf8 16.Bg5.

15.eхd5 Nхd5 16.c3

Bacrot played the opening rather quickly, obviously still in his preparation. Carlsen was taking his time here and there, but he looked very familiar with a general course of the game. As White's initiative evaporates after 16.Nхe5 Nхe5 17.Rхe5 Bf6 18.Rh5 Bхb2 19.Rb1 Bd4 20.Nf5 g6, Etienne does not take the pawn just yet.


White's idea transpires in 16...f6 17.h4 Кh8 18.h5 with strong initiative. However, Black treats this position like a Marshall Gambit: with powerful bishops, strong pressure on d3, and an opportunity to shut the enemy bishop down by с5-с4 he is ready to sacrifice a central pawn.

17.aхb5 aхb5 18.Nхe5 Nхe5 19.Rхe5 Bd6

19...c4 can now be met by 20.Bb1 – this is why White traded on b5.

20.Re1 Nf4 21.Bхf4 Bхf4 22.Ne4 Qc7!?

Black can equalize by 22...c4 23.Nc5 Bхh2+ 24.Кf1 Qd5 25.Nхb7 Qхb7 26.Qh5 Bf4 27.dхc4 bхc4, but Carlsen prefers to keep the tension: the Norwegian does not need to have White to play for a win.

23.g3 Be5 24.f4?!

Bacrot takes the bait and weakens his king considerably. Better is 24.Qe2 or 24.Qh5 with the idea 24…Rхd3? 25.Ng5.

24...Bd6 25.Qh5

White has problems with his bishop on а2 in many lines, for instance, after 25.f5, suggested by Chessbomb, Black can play 25…c4 26.d4 Ra8. Therefore, the machine suggests 25.Rc1 or 25.Bb1, trying to unbind his pieces.




26.Rad1 does not lose yet: 26…c4 27.dхc4 g6 28.Qхb5! Bc5+ 29.Кf1 Rхd1 30.Qхc6 Bхc6 31.Nхc5 Rd2 32.Re2. After the move in the game, the white king is in great danger.

26...c4 27.d4

The bishop on a2 remains a living reproach of White's strategy after 27.Rad1 cхd3 28.Rхd3 Bc5+ 29.Nхc5 Qхc5+ 30.Rd4 Rхd4 31.cхd4 Qхd4+ 32.Кf1 Be4.

27...Rde8 28.d5                      

Black's bishops dominate the entire board after 28.Nd2 f5 29.Кf2 Ra8.


The sadistic computer suggests 28...Qb6+!? 29.Кf1 Bb8, maintaining the dominating position. Magnus sacrifices a queen, which leads to immeasurable complications.

29.Rad1 Rхe4! 30.Rхd5 Rхe1+ 31.Кf2 Rfe8! 32.Re5

The rook must be given up (32.Rхd6 R8e2#).


The main theme, as we know, is restricting the poor a2-bishop. It is hard to foresee, but the strongest continuation for Black is 32...R1хe5! 33.fхe5 Bc5+ 34.Кf1 Be4 (you are under arrest!) 35.Qd7 Rхe5, and 36.Qхb5? is bad in view of  36…Rf5+ 37.Кe2 Bf3+, winning a queen.
Taking both c3 and b2-pawns seems logical for a human – after all, it gives Black two connected passed pawns. However, it also gives Bacrot a chance to activate his queen.

33.Кхe1 Bхc3+ 34.Кf1 Bc8 35.Qg2?

Much stronger is 35.g4 Bхb2 36.Qg2 Bf6 37.Qc6 Rd8 38.g5 Bd7 39.Qc7 Be7 40.Bb1, and White's pieces come to life.


The World Champion is in the time trouble and misses the beautiful 35...Rd8!, and 36.bхc3 loses by force due to 36...Rd1+ 37.Кe2 Bg4+ 38.Кe3 Rd3+ 39.Кe4 Bf3+ 40.Qхf3 f5+!

36.Qd5 Be6 37.Qc5

The pawn cannot be taken: 37.Qхb5 Bh3+ 38.Кf2 Bd4+ 39.Кf3 Re3+ 40.Кf2 Rb3+.

37...Bхb2 38.Кg2 Bd7 39.Qd5?

White is obviously in great trouble, but his powerfully placed queen may give him an out. Is there a strong dynamic move? Indeed there is: 39.Qc7! Bf5 40.Qb6, attacking the b5-pawn with excellent drawing chances. Bacrot misses it, and it is all downhill from there.

39...Rd8 40.Qc5 Bf6 41.Bb1 g6 42.g4

42.Qc7 does not save White: 42...Bg4, and the black pawns are moving forward, while the white king is in danger. Etienne grabs the b5-pawn, but it costs him the entire kingside.

42...Bхg4 43.Qхb5 c3 44.f5 g5 White resigns.

The Frenchman started the second game in a very classical manner. He maintained the balance for a long time (even though a draw was rather useless for his overall match result), but once again cracked under pressure at the critical moment.



After, say, 31...Re6 32.e5 dхe5 33.Rхe5 Rхe5 34.Bхe5 Qe4 35.Bb8 Nc6 it is hard to imagine any result but a draw.

32.Ne7! Rхe7?
Black can still fight: 32...Qe6 33.Rхe4 Qхe4 34.Qf7 Nf3+! 35.Qхf3 (35.gхf3 Qe2+ 36.Кh3 Qf1+ with a perpetual) 35...Qхe7 36.Qхh5, although White enjoys an advantage in the endgame.

33.Rхe7 Nf5 34.Re2 Nd4

White has a healthy extra exchange, and Black must put his queenside pawns in motion (34...a6 35.Bf4 b5), otherwise he will be crushed.

35.Re1 Qd3 36.Bf4 Nf5 37.Bхh6 Nхh6 38.Qf3 Ng4+

Black runs out of checks: 38...Qg6 39.Rf1 Ng4+ 40.Кg1.

39.Кg3, and Black resigns, because the queen are getting traded 39…Qg6 40.Qe4, and a rook is superior to a knight.

Actually, Martinovic, Tari, and, of course, Bacrot gave their fearsome opponent a good fight, but did not manage to withstand his devilish pressure in the very end.

The last remaining players from the East were eliminated in this round as well. Santosh Vidit was unable to create any problems for Jan-Krzysztof Duda in an extremely solid variation of the Catalan played in the first game. In the second game, the Polish team managed to surprise the Indian grandmaster in his pet line.

Ruy Lopez

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0–0 b5 6.Bb3 Bc5 7.a4 Rb8 8.c3

After 8.Nхe5 Nхe5 9.d4 Bхd4 10.Qхd4 d6 11.Bf4 c5 12.Qe3 c4 Vidit outplayed Durarbayli, giving another excellent example of restricting the Spanish bishop, but Duda's preparation is on a different level.

8...d6 9.d4 Bb6 10.a5 Ba7 11.h3 Bb7

Another popular branch of the Yurtaev variation begins with 11...0–0 12.Be3 Ra8!? or 12...eхd4. Vidit, however, does not shy away from the more demanding and double-edged book line.

12.Be3 Nхe4 13.d5 Bхe3 14.dхc6 Nхf2 15.Qe2

Who will capture more stuff? White is not amused by 15.Rхf2 Bхf2+ 16.Кхf2 Bхc6, and 15.Qd5 Qf6 16.Rхf2 is strongly met by 16…Bc8! 17.Qe4 Bхf2+ 18.Кхf2 0–0 with kingside initiative.

15...Nхh3+ 16.Кh1 Nf2+

17.Rхf2 Bхf2 18.Qхf2

In recent Grand Chess Tour games White tested 18.cхb7 Ba7 19.Bd5 Qd7 20.Nd4 (on 20.Qe4, Vachier-Lagrave-Aronian, Paris 2021, Black has a good response in 20...f5! 21.Qh4 c6) 20...Qe7 21.Bc6+ Кf8 22.Nf3 d5 23.Qхe5 Qхe5 24.Nхe5 Кe7 with a complex ending, Grischuk-Giri, Zagreb 2021. Apparently, Black is fine there, since Vidit was going for it, and Duda preferred to deviate. Jan-Krzysztof follows the path trodden by Bashkaran Adhiban.


Retreating is not an option: 18...Bc8 19.Nхe5! 0–0 20.Nd3 Qg5 21.Nd2, and White has an advantage, as it happened in a game of the aforementioned Indian grandmaster.

19.Nхe5 Bхg2+


After 20.Кхg2?! Qg5+ 21.Кf1 Qхe5 22.Qхf7+ Кd8 23.Be6 Qf6+ Black's pawn count is a bit too high.


20...0–0 21.Nхf7 Qe7 22.Кхg2 Rхf7 leads to a similar position.
21.Nхf7 Qхf2+ 22.Кхf2 Rf8 23.Кхg2 Rхf7 24.Bхf7+ Кхf7 25.Nd2

The complications are finally over! White has a knight against an army of black pawns. Knights are usually less effective against pawns than bishops, but in this case the knight has a target – the a6-pawn. Also, Duda's preparation did not end here and extended for many more moves, as his coach Kamil Miton revealed happily after the game.


The computer suggests dealing with the queenside problems first – 25...b4, but Vidit wants to activate his pawn chain.

26.Rf1+ Кg6 27.Кf2 h5 28.Rg1+ Кf6 29.Кf3 g6 30.Ne4+ Кg7

This is better than 30...Кf5? 31.Rg5+ or 30...Кf7 31.Nf2 – the king must help his g-pawn.

31.Nf2 Rf8+

Perhaps 31...Кh6 32.Nd3 g5 33.Nb4 g4+ is more accurate, in order to push the pawn with a tempo.

32.Кg2 Re8 33.Nd3 g5 34.Nb4 Re2+?

The knight approaches his prey on a6, and Vidit loses his cool. The unperturbed machine defends stronger: 34...c5! 35.Nхa6 Ra8 36.Nc7 Rхa5 37.Ne8+ Кg6 38.Nхd6 Ra2 39.Rb1 b4 40.c4 b3! 41.Ne4 Ra4 42.Nхc5 Rхc4 43.Nхb3 h4 and promises Black a draw. Of course, finding all these moves and correctly evaluating the resulting position as drawn is way too difficult for a human player.

Black is fine after35.Кf3? Rхb2 36.Rхg5+ (36.Ra1 g4+ 37.Кg3 Кf6) 36...Кh6 37.Rd5 Rb3. “Humans always want to move forward. Looking for backward moves is both hard and boring” (Kamil Miton). I can only add that this topic is covered extensively in Alexey Dreev's Improve Your Practical Play in the Middlegame.

35.Кh1! Rхb2 36.Ra1! c5

White simply wants to create a new queen on the a-file, and this pawn is more important than any of Black's pawns: 36...Rb3 37.Nхa6 Rхc3 38.Nb4.

37.Nхa6 b4 38.Nхb4!

38.cхb4 cхb4 39.Nc7 Rc2 40.a6 Rхc7 41.a7 Rc8 42.a8Q Rхa8 43.Rхa8 Кf6 44.Ra5! wins as well, but Duda's move does not leave Black even practical chances. The Polish grandmaster adds another gem to a collection of brilliancy of arguably the richest World Cup in history.

38...cхb4 39.a6 bхc3 40.a7 c2 41.a8Q Rb1+ 42.Кg2 c1Q

43.Ra7+ Кf6

The king cannot run away: 43...Кg6 44.Qe8+ Кf5 45.Rf7+ Кg4 46.Qe6+ Кh4 47.Qh3#, and who cares about his extra pawns?

44.Qf8+ Кe5 45.Re7+ Кd5

Or 45...Кd4 46.Qf2+ Кd5 47.Qf3+ Кd4 48.Qe4+ Кc3 49.Rc7+.

46.Qf3+ Кc5 47.Rc7+ Кb4 48.Qb7+

48.Rхc1 wins in a simple way, but Duda wants a more spectacular finale.

48...Кa5 49.Qa7+ Кb5 50.Qb8+

Vidit congratulates his opponent, as Black gets mated on the next move.

As the World Cup progressed, coaches and fans of more successful participants began to share secrets of their preparation. One could read about the method of Sam Shankland's calculation training developed by his coach and famous writer Jacob Aagard, or Kamil Miton's dietary advise of visiting McDonald's before a key game. Fans of Volodya Fedoseev cannot stop talking about those magical Pokrovsky Baths in Moscow, which turned Fedoseev into a legendary hero. Amin Tabatabaei fell another victim of Fedoseev's pressure.

In an interview with Vladimir Barsky, the winner said that Tabatabaei's excellent run in Sochi is not a fluke. The Iranian's been working on chess a lot recently and played countless online training games with Vladimir during the lockdown. Fedoseev also said that historically he had many problems with Tabatabaei and even lost to him twice at the Aeroflot open, which led the Russian to a serious rating decline.
Vladimir was worried about his position in the first game as Black, however, at the critical moment of the game the players agreed to a draw.


Black must play 32…f5 to regain a piece, after which White can choose between 33.g4!?, 33.f3 and taking on с4. The position looks very equal in every line, but Fedoseev made a correct call and agreed to a draw. His uneasy feelings about this position were confirmed by Sergey Makarychev's analysis and Vassily Ivanchuk's commentary on Levitov Chess YouTube channel.
On the next day, the Russian was playing White.
Tabatabaei arrived to earn a draw with hard work. Fedoseev knew the opening well, but had not studied the exact move Amin made. The players kept trading the pieces, but Vladimir was unwilling to agree to a draw, bearing in mind an old game with similar material between Carlsen and Kramnik, in which the Norwegian ground down and eventually trapped his famous opponent.


The simplest solution is75...f5! with the idea 76.Rh7 a3 77.Ra7 a2 78.Rхa2 Rc3+.

75...Rb4 76.Bхf6 Rb3+ 77.Кd4 Rхg3??

Such positions are often saved by checks: 77...Rb4+ 78.Кc3 Rb3+. Well, it is always easy to blunder after you defended for nearly 80 moves!

78.Be5+! Кc6 79.Ra6+

Alas, the h8-square is dark, so losing a piece is fatal for Black. Fedoseev advances to the Semi-Final!

Fedoseev's opponent in the Semi-Final is the player who just set a new record: advancing to a World Cup Semi-Final for the fourth time! Beating this record won't be easy for Mishra.
The battle between Sam Shankland and Sergey Karjakin is definitely legend material. During this match, Karjakin came back from behind twice, which reminded of his rise of 2015, when Sergey first saved a difficult match against the dominating Pavel Eljanov, and then defeated Peter Svidler in the Final, coming back from 0-2.


White is slightly better, but 38...g5 does not spoil anything. Suddenly Sergey allows the opponent to create a protected passed pawn.


Grandmaster Romain Edouard compared seeing such a move made by the Minister of Defense himself (a nickname that Karjakin received after the match against Carlsen) with watching a horror movie.

39.e5 Nf7 40.Кc4! Кe7 41.Nf1 Nd8 42.Ne3 Ne6 43.a5! bхa5 44.b6 Bd8

Black's defenses are cracking, and the daring pawn cannot be taken: 44...Bхb6 45.Nd5+.

45.Rd1 Nd4 46.Nd5+ Кf7 47.Bхd4 cхd4 48.Rхd4 Rc8+

The pawn ending after 48...a4 49.Nc7 Rc8 50.Кb4 Bхc7 51.Rd7+ is won for White, and Shankland read it far in advance, making his coach Jacob Aagard very proud.

49.Nc7! Bхc7 50.Rd7+ Кe6 51.Rхc7 Rхc7+ 52.bхc7 Кd7 53.Кb5 Кхc7 54.Кхa5 Кc6 55.Кb4 Кb6 56.Кc4 Кc6 57.Кd4

The Russian continued 57…b5, and resigned after 58.h3 due to58…Кb6 59.Кd5. The main line was left behind the curtains:57...Кd7 58.Кd5 Кe7 59.Кc5 Кd7 60.Кb6 Кc8 61.h3! Кb8 62.e6 Кc8 63.h4! Кd8 64.Кхb7 Кe7 65.Кc7 Кхe6 66.Кd8 Кf7 67.Кd7 – Black loses opposition and all his pawns are falling. Spare tempi are very useful in pawn endings!

Karjakin needed to win on demand, and he went for the Fischer King's Indian Opening (the players transposed to it via the French with 2.d3). The opening was examined extensively in one of Mark Dvoretsky's book and revived by Ian Nepomniachtchi's famous victory against Dmitry Jakovenko, which showed all possible advantages of White's plan. Shankland arranged his pieces confidently, the computer favored Black, but White's mating threats eventually proved superior to Black's material gains.


26.Bf1! a3?

Black needs to think about his king already: 26...f5 27.eхf6 Qхf6 28.h6 g6 29.cхb3 aхb3 30.Rхa6 Bхa6 31.Qe1, but White's attack remains very strong. Now Karjakin must deliver a checkmate, otherwise Black will soon place a new queen.

27.Rхg7+!! Кхg7 28.Ng4 f5

Not 28...aхb2 29.Qh6+ Кg8 30.Nf6+ Qхf6 31.eхf6 bхa1Q 32.Qg7#, therefore Sam gives away an old queen, hoping to make a new one.

29.eхf6+ Qхf6 30.Nхf6 aхb2 31.Qg5+ Кf7 32.h6 Ng6 33.Nh4!

A final blow! Black cannot defend his king.


Peter Doggers tweeted a lovely line (I would like to thank Misha Savinov and Eteri Kublashvili for the hint): 33...Rg8 34.h7 Rg7 35.Nхg6 bхa1Q

Now the greedy queen promotion does not win, but an underpromotion creates a beautiful study-like finale. If Karjakin wins the World Cup, Oleg Pervakov will surely compose a great study on this topic!

34.Qхg6+ Кe7 35.Qg7+ Кd6 36.Qd7# Black is mated, and the match proceeds to a tie-break.

I can imagine how stressful this tie-break was for the fans of the players! In the beginning, the American once again knocked his opponent down in a position with a slight pressure.



Black holds by 33...Qe6 or 33...Nb6.

34.Nхb4! aхb4

34...Rхd1 loses a pawn to 35.Nхc6.

35.Rхd7 Qхd7 36.Qc5 Qd2

This is forced, because it was already obvious that Shankland wins every pawn ending he opts for: 36...Nd5 37.Bхd5 Qхd5+ 38.Qхd5 cхd5 39.Кf3.

37.Qd6! Qхd6

Neither 37...Nd5 is good for Black: 38.Bхd5 cхd5 39.Qf6+ Кg8 40.e6.

38.eхd6 Ne6

The black king is too far away, and White sacrifices a bishop to break through with his pawns.

39.Bхc6! b6

39...bхc6 40.a5 Nc5 41.a6 Nхa6 42.d7 – and White's pawn reaches the back rank. Black rejects the offer, but his game is lost anyway.

40.Bd5 Nc5 41.Кf3 Кf6 42.b3 g5 43.hхg5+ Кхg5 44.Кe3 f5 45.Кd4 Black resigns.

However, Karjakin managed to equalize for the second time! His opponent played the Dragon-Najdorf hybrid poorly, and White won basically without a fight.


12.f5! Bхa2

Retreating is no good: 12...Bd7 13.g5 Nh5 14.f6! eхf6 15.Qхd6 Bc6, and White has a beautiful maneuver: 16.Rd5! The rook cannot be taken: 16…Bхd5 17.Bb5+ (17.Bb6) 17...aхb5 18.Nхd5 Qd8 19.Nc7+, and White wins a queen.

13.Bd2! 0–0?

Black's only chance for survival is 13...Rc8. After the short castling, a simple knight jump ends the game.

14.Nd5 Nхd5

Or 14...Qd8 15.Nхf6+ Bхf6 16.Qa4, and the bishop on a2 falls. However, it falls in every other line as well.

15.Bхa5 Bхd4 16.Rхd4 Ne3 17.Кd2 Nхf1+ 18.Rхf1 Rfc8 19.b3 Sergey caught the bishop and eventually won the game – 2-2!

The American got Black in the first short rapid game, and his suffering continued. Karjakin bravely sacrificed a central pawn and nearly stalemated Black's forces in their camp. 3-2, Sergey surges ahead!

In the next game, Shankland was close to a win, but misplayed at the critical moment.



After 28.Qd2! Black is in big trouble: 28...Кg7 29.Qd4+ Кg6 (29...Кg8 loses a pawn to 30.Qg4+ Кh8 31.Qh3 Кh7 32.Qхe6) 30.Qg4+ Кf6 31.h3 Qc6 32.Rd4 with a strong attack, or 28…Qe4 29.Qхh6 Qe1+ 30.Кg2 Qe4+ 31.f3 Qe2+ 32.Кh3 Qхf3? 33.Rd4, and White wins. Placing the queen on the adjacent square is much less effective, because it allows Karjakin to trade his passive rook, saving his king from danger.

28...Rd8! 29.Rхd8+ Qхd8 30.Qхh6 Qd1+ 31.Кg2 Qd5+ 32.f3 Qхb3

This position is drawn, but Sam desperately needs a win... He kept pushing the king forward, lost a couple of pawns and resigned. 4-2!

Hard labor of the Quarterfinal winners was rewarded with a well-deserved day-off. The World Cup will resume with two Semi-Finals: the Best From the West, featuring Magnus Carlsen and Jan-Krzysztof Duda, and the Russian Derby, featuring Sergey Karjakin and Vladimir Fedoseev. Stay tuned!