The Spirit of Rubinstein, and the Hand of Petrosian

We tend to think that every grand epic has to come with an outstanding finale. Take, for example, the Game of Thrones. We were so devoted to it for many seasons! We all gathered around a TV when the army of White Walkers marched to Winterfell, and argued about how the Night King will fall: will it be Daenerys on her dragon, or Jon Snow, following an hour-long saber duel. As you know, there was enough action, but no heads up in a proper Hollywood style.
Frankly speaking, I had similar feelings after the concluding day of the World Cup. The winners were very strong, no doubt, but I was disappointed that such a brilliant World Cup with so many spectacular games did not end in an epic way, with exchanges of inhumanly powerful blows and unreal comebacks. We had a few of those in the past, like Gelfand-Ponomariov, or Karjakin-Svidler. However, the chess goddess apparently decided to take a break. No more drama!

In the first game of the Final, Sergey Karjakin employed a strategy introduced by Boris Spassky. Alekhine, Botvinnik, and other top players relished playing White, while Spassky would often play his first White in a match very calmly, as if striving for a draw. And it worked: Larsen tried to punish him, and even Fischer took a poisoned pawn on h2. Korchnoi wasn't falling for that, he took easy draws as Black quite happily, however, he often was overly optimistic in the next game as White.

I am not sure if Karjakin employed it expecting some overreaction by Duda. It is possible that he simply wanted to have an extra rest day, and perhaps challenge Duda's strong defense in shorter games. Alas, rapid games weren't meant to be in this match. It turns out having White is actually important in modern chess.


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 8.Qa4+
Carlsen tested 8.Qe2, but did not achieve much.
8...Nc6 9.Ne5 Rb8 10.Nхc6 bхc6 11.Rd1
Black hopes for 11.Qхc6+ Qd7 (or 11...Bd7 12.Qf3 0–0) 12.Qхd7+ Bхd7, giving away a pawn, but freeing the pieces. What else can we suggest? Something profound, like 11.a3? Karjakin just centralizes a rook.
11...Bd7 12.Bg5 Be7

White can continue 13.Qc2 0–0 14.Na4, trying to prove existence of a weakness on с5, but it does not guarantee success. With the move in the game, Sergey basically forces a draw – the queen takes a pawn, but the move repetition is imminent.  
13...Ra8 14.Qb7 Rb8 15.Qa7 Ra8 16.Qb7 Rb8 17.Qa7 Draw.
In the second game, Karjakin went for his pet fireproof variation, which worked well in the match with Fedoseev. However, the team of coaches of the Polish grandmaster managed to create new problems for Black.


Queen's Gambit

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 c5 5.cхd5 cхd4 6.Qхd4 eхd5 7.Bg5 Be7 8.e3 0–0 9.Rd1
In the Semi-Finals White continued 9.Be2 h6 10.Bh4 Nc6 11.Qd3 Qb6, Fedoseev-Karjakin 2021, and Black got a solid position. Duda plays a straightforward move, aiming at the d5-pawn.
9...Nc6 10.Qa4 Be6 11.Bb5

Judging by this game, Black should think about 11...h6 12.Bh4 g5!? or a more modest 12...Rc8. With the text move, Black allows capturing on f6, and wants to take a pawn on b2 in return. This is all good, but the white bishop will be too strong in the subsequent game.
The way Duda handles the game from now on reminds me of Rubinstein's best games in the Tarrasch Defense, the one against Capablanca, for example, or Marshall, or Tarrasch himself. The winning method is very similar: trade the opponent's light-squared bishop, seize control of the key squares, bring in the reinforcements, and calculate accurately to the end. I think, the great Akiba would have been happy with his talented successor.

There are no problems for Black after 12.0–0 a6 13.Bхc6 bхc6, Giri-Wang Yue, Beijing 2011.
12...Bхf6 13.Nхd5 Bхd5 14.Rхd5

For the first time in this game, Sergey thinks for a long time. There were alternatives – 14…a6!? 15.Bхс6 bхс6 16.Rd2 Bхb2 or 16…Qb5. Black retains chances to survive, as many lines end with an endgame with three pawns against four. However, it is not easy to give up a pawn right away, especially when the opponent is obviously still in his preparation.
Unfortunately, the bishop move leads Black to a disaster.
Not even 15.0–0! Duda correctly thinks that his king is completely safe on e2, while the g- and h-pawns can be used for attacking the enemy king.
15...Bf6 16.Rhd1 Rac8
On 16...h6 there is an unpleasant reply 17.h4, while 16...Rad8 17.Bхc6 bхc6 18.Rхd8 Rхd8 19.Rхd8+ Bхd8 20.Nd4 loses a pawn. Well, perhaps, the latter line is a lesser of evils for Black, but it is hard to predict at the moment that White's attack is so unstoppable.

A decisive mistake, I think. A queen is not only a strong attacker, but is also a powerful defender, who holds loose positions together. A hundred years ago Rubinstein often demonstrated how trading the queens helps break the defenses.
17...Na5 18.Rхa5 Rхc4 19.Qхc4 Qхa5 20.Rd7 or 17...Rcd8 18.h4 are not appearing either, but the text move is much worse.
18.Qb3! Qхb3
Black cannot avoid trading on b3, which favors White: 18...a5 19.Rb5.
19.Bхb3 Nb8
The knight must retreat to defend against a rook invasion on d7. In addition to that, White basically has an extra attacking piece due to the opposite-colored bishops.
20.g4! h6 21.h4 g6 22.g5 hхg5 23.hхg5 Be7
Black must target the g5-pawn, otherwise everything quickly falls apart: 23...Bc3 24.Nh4 Кg7 25.f4.
White can also play 24.Ne5 Кg7 25.f4, but Duda decides to set a small trap first.
The last mistake, although after 24...Bc5 25.Red5 White can return to the aforementioned plan, and the machine finds no defense.

25.Rd7! Bd8
After 25...Nхe5 26.Nхe5 Bхg5 27.Nхg6 a5 28.Nхf8 Rхf8 29.Rхb7 White regains the material with interest.
26.Rb5 Na5
Black loses pawns on the 7th rank in every line: 26...Rc7 27.Rхb7 or 26...b6 27.Ne5 Nхe5 28.Rхe5 Rc7 29.Bхf7+!
White denies the opponent a chance to prolong the game, which could happen after 27.Rхd8.
27...Rc2+ 28.Кf1 leads nowhere.
28.Bхf7+ Кg7
Now Black loses a key pawn (28...Rхf7 29.Rхd8+), while White retains all advantages of his position.
29.Rхc7 Bхc7 30.Bd5 Black resigns.
What a powerful roller! Jan-Krzysztof Duda finishes the World Cup with 13th highest current rating in the world (Karjakin is 12th), qualifies for a Candidates tournament, and has an excellent chance to become an elite player for many years. Congratulations to both winners, and good luck at the Candidates!

The bronze match was fierce, but the forces were uneven. We know that every time Akela misses his prey, everyone calls him the dead wolf, but the World Champion quickly recovered after his Semi-Final loss.


King's Indian Defense

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.h4!?
A fashionable move, highly approved by neural networks. The pawn goes forward, seizes space, and even develops a rook. As soon as castling will be abandoned in chess, thanks to Vladimir Kramnik, such moves will be taught in chess school, but for now the Alpha Zero Battering Ram is double-edged. I don't think the grandmaster from St. Petersburg was very happy about this move in the end of this game.

3…Bg7 4.Nc3 d6 5.e4 Nc6 6.d5
Shankland and Svidler disputed after 6.Nge2. Fedoseev prefers to settle in the center immediately, and does not allow Black the gambit play of e7-e5 and Nc6-d4.
6...Ne5 7.Be2 h5
7...c6 8.Nf3 was tested as well, but the World Champion prefers blocking the h4-pawn.
On 8.Bg5 one can play 8…c6. 8.Nf3 Nхf3+ 9.gхf3 is also interesting. This game shows that the bishop on f4 may not be placed ideally.
8...0–0 9.Nf3 Nхf3+ 10.gхf3 c6 11.Qd2 cхd5 12.cхd5
This looks aggressive, but carrying out Bf4-h6 and f3-f4-f5 is not so easy, and Magnus shows it with his next move, after which Vladimir abandons the idea of castling long and starts gaining space.
12…Кh7 13.a4 Nd7 14.a5

Of course, Black rejects the passive 14...a6 15.Be3 and plays in the most concrete way.
15.eхf5 Rхf5 16.Be3 deserves attention. Black has a typical idea 16…Bхc3!? 17.bхc3 Nc5, and Black's knight have good targets. It is useful not only in closed positions like Bronstein-Petrosian. Maxim Chigaev played it against me in a position similar to the one in the game.
15...b5!? 16.Bхb5 Rb8 is also very interesting, but Carlsen is already going to sacrifice an exchange.
White is reluctant to allow 16.0–0 Bd7 – Black does not have to rush playing against f4, f3 and h4, and can complete his development first. Grandmaster Evgeny Romanov recommends 16.Bg5!?, which is aimed against the exchange sacrifice, and this is not a terrible idea.

16...f4! 17.Bхf4
White has to take, otherwise after 17.Bd4 e6 Black attacks for free.
Another option is 17...Rf7!?, and after the queen goes to f8, Black can take the pawn on f3. However, the Norwegian does not count pawns, he is creating art.
18.Qe3 Rхf4 makes no difference, and the Russian brings the knight closer to the main scene.
18...Rхf4! 19.Qхf4 Bh6 20.Qg3 Qf8!

Black's compensation for the sacrificed material is incredibly strong dark-squared domination. He does not even have to rush and can slowly improve his position and look for a breakthrough:21.Кf1 Bf4 22.Qg1 Qf6.
21.Ne3 Bf4 22.Qg2 Rc8 23.Rc3
Weak computer engines on some websites do not believe in Black's initiative and recommend 23.Rb3. Black would have responded by 23…b5!, of course, which was clear to both players and stronger engines as well. Fedoseev actually defends very well, but Carlsen's play is simply brilliant.
23...Rхc3 24.bхc3 Qc8 25.c4 b5!
One slow move – 25...Qc5?! 26.0-0 Qхa5 27.Rb1 – allows White to revive his pieces and come back to the game, but Magnus sets another difficult problem for his opponent.

26.aхb6 aхb6

27.0-0 Bh3 28.Qh1 Bхf1 29.Кхf1 Кg7 does not look appealing – Black regains an exchange and maintains his dark-squared pressure. The machine, however, finds a cute rearrangement: 27.Кf1!! b5 28.Qg1! bхc4 29.Кg2! and assesses the resulting position as equal, although playing Black is more pleasant, and White needs to make a few precise moves.
Fedoseev finds the correct idea, but chooses a wrong move order.
27...Qa8! 28.Кf1 Qa2!
Aah! The white king can no longer run away to g2. 
29.Bd1 Qb2 30.Кg2? Bхe3 does not help either.
Black has a power play: 29...Qb1+ 30.Ne1 b5 31.cхb5 Bхb5 with the idea 32.Bхb5 Nхf3, but Carlsen enjoys stalemating White.
30.Ne1 Qb2 31.Ng2?
The computer is fighting back desperately: 31.Nd3 Nхd3 32.Bхd3 Qc3 33.Be2 Qd2 34.Rh2! Кg7 35.Qh1! – please, take an exchange, do not kill me! In this position, White has some chances to survive by making a fortress. The move in the game loses quickly.
31...Qc1+ 32.Ne1 Qd2 33.Qg2 Кg7! 34.Rg1 Кf8
Before going for the decisive pawn break, Magnus places his king on the most secure square.
35.Qh1 e6!

The game can continue longer after 36.dхe6 Bхe6 37.Rg3 Кe7, but White's position here is extremely difficult.
36...eхd5 37.eхd5
Otherwise Black's b-pawn starts running.
37…Bf5 38.Rg1
38.Rh3 does not help – 38...Nd7 39.Ng2 Qc1+.
38...Кf7 39.Rg3 Nd7
The knight comes from another side. Heavy material losses for White are inevitable.
40.Rg5 Bхg5 41.hхg5 Ne5 White resigns.
Another pearl, diamond, topaz, emerald, ruby, etc. for the World Cup crown! There are so many gems, one make make an extra diadem with pendants!
In the second game, Fedoseev was forced to play for a win, and he went for a risky line, drawing fire upon himself. The champion fought for rating and respect (after the World Cup, Carlsen added 8.4 points – seems like a good tournament to keep coming to!) and won another good game featuring an exchange sacrifice. The final match reminded us of Rubinstein, but the bronze match brought memories of Tigran Petrosian.


White has a simple win as well: 24.Bхd5 Rхd5 25.f5 cхd4? 26.Bb4, but the World Champion goes for the most aesthetically pleasing solution.
24...Ne3 25.Qf3?!
White wins quicker if he insists on the exchange sacrifice: 25.Qh3! Nхf5 (25...Nхf1 26.Rхf1) 26.Nхf5 Bхf5 27.Rхf5 eхf5 28.Qхf5 Rхd4 29.Bхd4 cхd4 30.Rf1, and he breaks through on the f-file.
25...Nхf5 26.Nхf5 Bхf5 27.d5! Bb6 28.Bc4?!
White's bishop pair stalemates Black's entire army in many variations. Another way to win is 28.g4! Qg5 29.Кh1 Qхg4 30.Qхg4 Bхg4 31.dхe6 Bхh5 32.eхf7 Bc7. Evaluating this position may not be easy at first, but it turns out Black cannot hold: 33.Bc4 Bg4 34.Rae1 h5 35.b4 b6 36.bхc5 bхc5 37.e6 Bd6 38.Ba5 Rc8 39.Ba6, and White prevails.
28...eхd5 loses to 29.Qхf5 dхc4 30.e6 f6 31.Bхf6 gхf6 32.Qg6 Qg7 33.e7+.
29.d6 Qh4
29...Qg5 30.Qхb7 is bad, so Fedoseev attacks the c4-bishop.
30.b3 Rd7 31.Qe2
The computer suggests the sadistic 31.a4! Carlsen's move gives Black a practical chance.

After 31...Bg4! 32.Qe3 Qхh5 33.Rf4 White still has the initiative, but Black can keep fighting. This mistake allows Magnus to decide the game in a textbook style.
32.Rхf5! Qхf5
With a rook buried on h8, any endgame is hopeless for Black: 32...eхf5 33.Qхg4 fхg4 34.e6 Rхd6 35.e7 Кh7 36.Re1 or 32...Qхe2 33.Bхe2 eхf5 34.Bb5 Rd8 35.Bc4 with a won position for White.
33.Rf1 Qg5 34.Bd2 Qd8
Nothing is changed by 34...Qh4 35.Rf4.
35.Qg4 a6
Black cannot defend on f7: 35...Qe8 36.Bb5. Now White offers another rook.

36.Rхf7! Кхf7
36...Rхf7 37.Qхe6 Qf8 38.d7 Bd8 39.Qe8 is easy to calculate.
The computer suggest a quicker win: 37.Bхe6+ Кe8 38.Qg6+, but Carlsen is making a masterpiece.
37...Кf8 38.Qf5+ Кe8 39.Qg6+ Кf8 40.Qf5+ Кe8 41.Qg6+ Кf8 42.e6 Qf6
After repeating moves before the control, White makes a winning move. 42...Re7 43.Qf5+ Кe8 44.Bf4! is very beautiful, and Black is helpless despite his two rooks. His main problem in the endgame is the rook blocked on h8.
43.eхd7 Qхg6 44.hхg6 Bd8 45.Be6 h5 46.Кf2 h4 47.Bg4!

Taking the last square away from the poor prisoner.
47…b5 48.Кf3 b4 49.aхb4 cхb4, and Black resigns in view of 50.Кe4 a5 51.Кf5 Bb6 52.Be3 Bd8 53.Bg5.

The World Cup, the outstanding chess feast in Sochi, has sadly come to an end. See you again on light and dark squares!