The First Test

The qualifying round of the FIDE World Cup in Sochi is over. The main favorites, including the World Champion Magnus Carlsen, are not joining the action until the next round, and some participants from distant countries were unable to make it to Russia, nevertheless we enjoyed tense and exciting fight in many matches. On some occasions, experienced professionals had hard time against the players from countries of barely emerging chess tradition.

Mwali – Martirosyan

Haik won the first game easily, but in the second game the Zambian player created a perfect storm! White has a strong bishop pair, but both kings seem to be in danger. Who will take over?

30. Rc5! Qb4

Running away with the queen is not great: 30...Qd7 31.Be5 0-0 32.Qd4, and White establishes central dominance. Therefore, for his counterplay Martirosyan relies on his queen's activity.


The machine recommends either the brutal 31.Rf1 Rxd6 32.Rg5 or the tricky 31.Bg2 Rxd6 32.Qa1!? The logical attempt to enter the juicy 7th rank can actually be refuted.


Both players missed 31...Qxd6 32.Rxg7 Rd7!, and Black removes the unpleasant pawn nail on d6 thanks to various pins, and trades White's active rook in process.


Another queen's zigzag 32.Qb1! is stronger: make a trade, or I will invade the g6-square!


Tigran Vartanovich Petrosian would be very disappointed to see the Armenian player abstaining from an exchange sacrifice. After 32...Rxh1+! 33.Kxh1 Bc6+ 34.Rxc6 Qe4+ 35.Kg1 bxc6 Black's position is just fine, and he should advance to the next round without extra trouble.


A decisive mistake. After 33...Qe5 Black is still in the game.

34.Re2 Qf6
Apparently, the grandmaster blundered that 34...Qe5 is calmly met by 35.Qd4! Qxd4 36.exd4, winning a piece. The following desperate attempt to muddy the waters brings no fruit.

35.Bxe4 Bg4 36.Qa4+ b5 37.Bc6+ Kf8 38.Qxg4 Qa1+ 39.Kf2 Rh2+ 40.Bg2 Black resigns.

Although the favorite won both tie-break games, Chitumbo Mwali comes back home as a hero. Can you name another African player except for the Egyptians, who would defeat a 2600+ opponent in such a crushing style?

Pavel Ponkratov, the winner of the Russian Higher League, also had his share of trouble. His Portuguese opponent played very energetically in the first game and came very close to defeating the favorite.


The black rook in attacked, and it seems the game will be over soon. 18...Rfe8 can be met not only by 19.Qh5, but also by 19.Bxh6! gh 20.Qh5 Qd7 21.d5, and the queen together with the pair of knights are rushing forward to take care of the black king. If Black goes for 18...Rfd8, then 19.Bxh6 gh 20.Qh5 is even stronger. However, the Portuguese Andrea Ventura calmly leaves His Majesty's favorite heavy guard under attack.

18...Qd7! 19.Nxf8 Rxf8 20.a4 b4 21.Re1 b3

21...Na5!? is also interesting. Turns out that Black's minor pieces are completely in control of the center, and getting rid of their dominance is quite tricky. Tigran Vartanovich would approve.

22.Nh5 Bc4 23.a5 Ne7 24.f3 c5!

A powerful blow! Black's dark-squared bishop enters the action, and White's central positions are cracking.

At this point of the game, the mutual time-trouble begins to play a role.

25.fe fe 26.Be3 Nf5 27.Qg4 Qf7?

After Bd3 Black is better. The move in the game gives Pavel a chance to turn the tables.


The return exchange sacrifice could revert the situation: 28.Rf1! Bxf1 29.Rxf1 g6 30.Ng3. White threatens to take on f5 or e4, making Black suffer for not including the trade on d4.

Instead of his, Ponkratov blunders a piece.

28...Qxh5! 29.Qxh5 Ng3+ 30.Kg1 Nxh5 31.dc Ng3 32.Ra4 Bd3 33.Rb4 Ne2+

The final step in the hardest. After 33...Nf5 34.Bf2 e3 Black wins easily, however, with only a few seconds left on the clock, Andrea Ventura Sousa decides to force a draw.

34.Kh1 Ng3+ 35.Kg1 Ne2+ Draw.

On the next day the Russian, playing Black, seized the initiative and won the game and the match. A good reminder for young players: normally you cannot win by accepting a draw or making a threefold repetition.

Grigoriy Oparin started his game against a player from Sri Lanka with 1.b2-b3 and later told about it on his Facebook page. I liked some of the replies: someone suggested pushing the pawn one square further, another one wrote: “Grandmaster, you would have won even after 1.f3!” Actually, I am not so sure about the last one, as Oparin's opponent resisted very resourcefully and was outplayed only in the following textbook ending.


Only 15 moves were made after the last capture, and Black already makes a decisive mistake. After 81...Kh8 or 81...Rh6 he could still survive, but 81...Rg7? gives White a forced win.

82.Rf5+! Kh7

82...Kh8 does not help either: 83.Bf7 Rh7 84.Kf6 Rh1 85.Bg6 Rh3 86.Rc5 Rf3+ 87.Bf5 Rg3 88.Rc4 Rg1 89.Rh4+ Kg8 90.Be6+, and the black king is in the mating net.

83.Bf7! Rg4 84.Kf6 Rh4 85.Bg6+ Kh6

There is no way out of a bearish embrace: 85...Kg8 86.Rc5 Rf4+ 87.Bf5.

86.Rg5 Rf4+ 87.Bf5 Rc4 88.Rg8 Rc6+ 89.Be6 Rc7. Here is a final simple puzzle for White, and every chess players needs to know it. White wins after 90.Rg6+ Kh5 91.Rg3. Black resigns.

Oparin won the second game and swept the match 2-0.

The performance of the world's youngest grandmaster Abhimanyu Mishra was highly anticipated. The player created a lot of stir both at the board and on social media. Saying that the 12-year-old American gave the famous Georgian grandmaster Baadur Jobava a hard time would be an exaggeration, but he played decent chess and forced the favorite to make an effort to advance.


Can White survive with the help of the powerful queen+knight duo? In such positions, one cannot rely solely on playing with checks, and obligatory quiet moves sometimes look mysterious. After 46.Qh4! Kg7 (the pawn cannot move: 46...c3 47.Qd8+ Kg7 48.Qc7+) 47.Qg5+ Kh7 48.Qd8 Qg8 49.Qc7+ Qg7 50.Qc6 with the idea 50…Bf5 51.Qxd5 White has a chance to survive.

46.Qf4+? Qf5 47.Qh6+ Kg8 48.Kg2 Be2 49.Kg3 Bf1

Now the black bishop helps the queen, and it is important to understand that 50.e4 does not work: 50...Qh3+ 51.Kf4 Qh4+ 52.Kf5 Bh3+ 53.Kg6 Qxe4+ 54.Kxh5 Qh7, and trading the queens allows Jobava's passed pawn an easy promotion.

50.Qc6 Qg5+ 51.Kf3 Qf5+

It is extremely hard to calculate over the board that 51...Qg2+ wins: 52.Kf4 Qe4+ 53.Kg5 Qxe3+ 54.Kxh5 Be2+ 55.Kg6 Qg3+ 56.Kf5 Qh3+ 57.Kf4 (White cannot go forward: 57.Kf6 Qh6+ 58.Ng6 Qg7+ 59.Kg5 Kh7 – Baadur utilized this winning idea in the game) 57...Qh4+ 58.Ke3 Qe4+ 59.Kf2 Qxd4+ 60.Kxe2 Qxe5+ with extra pawns in the queen ending, although the resulting position still requires some precision.

The Georgian grandmaster got carried away by another tempting idea.

52.Kg3 h4+? 53.Kxh4 Qh3+ 54.Kg5 Qxe3+

Retreating is the best strategy! After 55.Kh4! Qxd4+ 56.Ng4 White is two pawns down, but he threatens numerous checks and should be able to force a draw. Instead, Mishra chose an active move, but it was flawed and lost him a knight.

55.Kf6?? Qh6+ 56.Ng6 Qg7+ 57.Kg5 Kh7

Sadly, there is no way to save the g6-knight.

58.Qxd5 Qxg6+ 59.Kf4 Qh6+ 60.Kg3 Qe3+ 61.Kg4 Be2+ 62.Kf5 Qf3+. White resigns.

Baadur played the second game in a very respectful manner, exchanged everything and made a draw, which secured him a match victory with the slightest of margins.

Other talented young players also gave the favorites a good fight. The beloved Russian Under 21 champion and social media hero Rudik Makarian fought desperately against the experienced Pole Kacper Piorun. Mind you, at some point there were four queens on the board!


Whose pawns are more dangerous? All we can see is that the white queen is more active. Makarian decides to create a passed pawn and is ready to give up some material in process.

48...b3! 49.ab3 a3 50.Qxf5+ Kg8 51.Qe6+ Kh7?

“Oh no, not here, Rudik! To the corner!” – exclaimed Russian fans. 51...Kh8! 52.b4 d3 secures Black a draw.

52.b4 Qa7

The young player missed that after 52...d3 53.Qd5! the pawn on d3 is hanging with a check, which helps the white queen stop both passed pawns.

The a3-pawn now becomes a queen, but Piorun has his own cards to play.

53.Qf5+ Kg7 54.Qf6+ Kh7 55.e6! a2 56.e7 a1Q 57.Qf7+ Kh6 58.Qf6+ Kh7 59.Qf7+ Kh6 60.Qe6+ Kg7 61.Qe5+ Kh7

The grandmaster from Poland gained some thinking time by giving a lot of checks, and now establishes his own second queen.



A picturesque position. Black moves first, but it is not as useful and he would like: 62...Qb2+ 63.Kg3.

63.Qe2 Qxe2+ 64.Qxe2 Qc3

Black's last chance is his passed pawn, but White manages to deal with it.

65.c6! d3

After 65...Qxc6 66.Qe4+ Qxe4 67.fxe4 the pawn ending is won for White.

66.Qe7+ Kg6 67.c7 Qd4+

After 67...d2 68.Qe6+ Kg7 69.c8Q Qxc8 70.Qxc8 d1Q 71.Qc3+ White slowly but surely converts his two extra pawns.

68.Kg2 Qb2+ 69.Kg3 Qc1

Once again the grandamster makes a few of checks and then promotes another queen at the right time.

70.Qd6+ Kh5 71.Qd5+ Kh6 72.Qe6+ Kg5 73.Qg8+ Kf6 74.Qd8+ Ke5 75.c8Q Qf4+ 76.Kg2 Qd2+ 77.Kh3. Black resigns.

In the second game, Kacper Piorun made a draw from the position of strength and advanced to the next round.

The openings these days are developed so deeply that forgetting a single move could lose you a game! This is what happened in the following spectacular duel.


Slav Defense

1.Nf3 d5 2.e3 Nf6 3.c4 c6 4.Nc3 e6 5.b3 Bd6 6.d4 0–0 7.Qc2 Nbd7 8.Be2 b6 9.0–0 Bb7 10.Bb2 Qe7 11.Rad1 Rad8

A well-known base position of the Anti-Meran, which frequently occurred in the elite games. The Dane Mads Andersen carries out a classic plan – improves the position of his light-squared bishop. The Chilean Pablo Salinas opts for the central activity, which is also nothing new.

12.Rfe1 Rfe8 13.Bf1 c5 ed 15.g3 Rc8 16.Bh3 cd 17.Nxd4 Bb4

In both live and correspondence games White always covered the e4-square by 18.f3! Mads chose poorly and immediately faced a strong attack.

18.Nde2? Ne4?!

18...Ne5! is likely even stronger. 19.Bg2 (or 19.Bxc8 Nf3+ 20.Kf1 Rxc8 with a devastating attack) 19...Ne4. The move in the game gives Andersen a chance to buy off by giving away a queen.


A decisive mistake. After 19.Qxe4! dxe4 20.Rxd7 White has certain compensation for the strongest piece.

19...Nxf2! 20.axb4

20.Kxf2 is just too bad: 20...Qxe3+ 21.Kg2 (21.Kf1 Qf3+ 22.Kg1 Bc5+) 21...d4+, but the move in the game does not save White, too.

20...Nxh3+ 21.Kf1 Qxe3 22.Qf5 Nf6 23.Bc1 Ng4! 24.Rd3

Not 24.Bxe3 Nxe3#. Kudos to Pablo Salinas for finishing the game in a spectacular manner!

24...d4 25.Red1

25…Qg1+!! 26.Nxg1 Nxh2# Black finds the way to the next round and to all puzzle collections!

As always, each knock-out tournament brings new examples of endgame tragicomedies, a genre beloved by the late Mark Dvoretsky, brilliant chess trainer and writer.


All rook endings are draw, right? The simplest draw is 46.d5 Rh5 47.d6 Kf7 48.Re4!, cutting away the enemy king.

46.f4?! h3 47.Kf3?

The way to survive is already a bit more complicated: 47.Rc8+! Rf8 (47...Kh7 48.Kf3 Rh5 49.Rc5 Rh6 50.Rc1 h2 51.Kg2, and the black king is one step farther from the b2-pawn, which is critically important) 48.Rc5.

The move in the game loses.

47...Rh5 48.Rc1

The problem is that 48.Rc5 is not working: 48...Rxc5 49.dc Kf7 50.Kg3 Ke6 51.Kxh3 Kd5 52.Kg4 Kxc5 53.Kg5 Kd5 54.f5 Ke5 55.Kg4 Ke4, and the black king forces the exchange of the kingside pawns, and then wins the b2-pawn: 56.Kg5 Kf3 57.Kh5 Kf4 58.Kg6 Kg4 59.f6 gf 60.Kxf6 Kf4 61.Ke6 Ke4 62.Kd6 Kd3, and Black wins.

48...Kf7 49.Kg4 Rh6 50.Kg3 h2 51.Kg2

Ante Brkic calculates everything to a detail, queens his pawn, and advances to the Seond Round of the World Cup.

51…h1Q+! 52.Rxh1 Rxh1 53.Kxh1 Ke6 54.Kg2 Kd5 55.Kf3 Kxd4 56.Kg4

A motif we already learned: 56.f5 Ke5 57.Kg4 Ke4 58.Kg5 Kf3, and Black wins.

56...Kd3 57.Kh5 Ke3 58.Kg4 g6 59.Kg3 Ke2 60.Kg2 Kd2 61.Kf3 Kc2 62.Kg4 Kxb2 63.Kg5 Kc3 White resigns.

El Gindy-Svane

In theory, one should not be able to win from this position. For example, 68.Rxf7+ Ke5 69.Ra7 Rxg3 70.Kf2 Rg4 71.Ra5+ Kf6 72.Ra6+ Kg7 73.Be6 Rxh4 74.Bxf5 leads to a draw. However, a single inaccuracy by the Egyptian player, and the black pieces acquire the incredible harmony.

68.Bd5?Rxg3 69.Rxf7+ Ke5 70.Kf2

After 70.e4 Nxh4 Black has two connected passed paws.

70...Rxe3, and transposing to a pawn ending does not bring White joy.

71.Rxf5+ gxf5 72.Kxe3 Kxd5 73.Kf4 Ke6 74.Kg5 Ke5 75.Kxh5 Kf6! White resigns. It is a bit pity that Black also wins by 75...f4 76.Kg4 Ke4 77.h5 f3 78.h6 f2 79.h7 f1Q 80.h8Q Qg2+ 81.Kh5 Qh2+.

Several matches continued on tie-break. The young Russian hope Volodar Murzin faced the classic of the Moldovan chess school Viorel Iordachescu. Their match was very close, and the score remained equal for a long time, but in the end the youth prevailed.


It seems White loses after 49.Qxb4+ ab 50.Nf1 Bc2, but he could give the opponent a tricky test: 51.Nd2 d3 52.Kg2 Nd4 53.Bd5 b3 54.Nc4, and winning this position with second on the clock is a formidable exercise. After the mistake in the game, Volodar delivered a mate in the center of the board.

49.Qd1? Nc3! 50.Qd2 Qb1! 51.Qxd4 Qh1+ 52.Kg4 Bf3+ 53.Kf5 Qxh5#.

Murzin's opponent in the Second Round in Vladislav Artemiev. A very interesting match for me, as I happened to know both players since they were little kids...

Not a single match advanced to the Armageddon stage, giving arbiters a much-needed break. Only Delgado Ramirez and Niaz Murshed played an eight-game match and determined a winner in blitz games.


20.Ndb5! cb 21.Nxb5 Qb6 22.Nxd6+ Kf8 23.Qd5! The last nail in the coffin of the First Round! Black resigns.

The rigorous qualification of the First Round is in the books. The most deserving once advanced, and the most exciting battles are ahead. We are looking forward to the big guns!