Chess Armageddon in Sochi

Wednesday, July 13th, 2021 – Most of the round two matches were decided yesterday in the classical games. Nonetheless, 60 players (44 in the open section and 16 in the women’s section) returned to the playing hall of the Galaxy Centre to fight it out over the board for a spot in the third round of the World Cup.

The tiebreaks in this event are a nerve-racking issue, only suitable for the fittest players. Two rapid games - 25 minutes base time + 10 seconds increment – to start off with, followed by two more rapid games (10/10) and finally two blitz 5/3 games if there is no winner. The “Armageddon” decisive game format is left for the end: 5 minutes vs 4 on the clock but the draw favours the player who chooses Black.

Two of the thirty matches ended up in the “sudden death” blitz match, one of most exciting chess related topics that has been seen in quite a while. In the open group, Bulgarian GM Ivan Cheparinov (2667) defeated German GM Rasmus Svane (2615) in the last game with the Black pieces, with both players blitzing out their last moves to avoid losing on time. The final 5-4 score (9 games!) just gives us an idea of what might come further down the line.

In the women’s group, Spanish WGM Ana Matnadze (2421) lost a heart-breaking “Armageddon” blitz game against WGM Olga Badelka (2418) from Belarus, losing on time in a winning position and only two seconds left for her opponent. The total score of this match was also 5-4.

After taking a well-deserved break, Ana found time to graciously give her thoughts in the post-game interview (in Spanish).

However, the most amazing surprise of the round was GM Alireza Firouzja’s (2759) loss to 16-year-old GM Javokhir Sindarov (2558), from Uzbekistan.

Four solid draws in the classical and 25-minute rapid games were followed by a very lively King’s Indian defence, in which Sindarov played a very nice positional pawn sacrifice with 22…f3! Followed by …Nh5-f4, taking over the initiative and eventually winning the decisive game. Representing France for the first time, the elimination of Firouzja is a huge blow for his fans from all over the world.

The other big surprise was the early departure of former Cuban (now USA) GM Lenier Dominguez Perez (2758), rated number 13 in the world’s best player list. But rapid matches can go either way, and it was GM Jakhongir Vakhidov (2534, Uzbekistan) who will now face Pavel Ponkratov in the third round.

The key moment of the first rapid game occurred on move twenty when Lenier, in a difficult position, tried to defend his knight with 20…Rd5 (instead 20…Nc6 gives up the exchange for a pawn but there is still a game). After 21.e4 Rb5 maybe Dominguez missed 22.a4! in his previous calculations, and he had to give up material in worse conditions. In a must-win situation, he over-pressed in his next game and Vakhidov ended the rapid match with a clear 2-0.

However, the afternoon was going to bring us even more mishaps. Another huge upset was the defeat of Iran’s best player, GM Parham Maghsoodloo (2698) against 55-year old GM Kiril Georgiev (2594), rated more than 100 points behind. Both of the classic games ended in solid draws, which theoretically might have favoured Maghsoodloo, who won the León rapid two years ago.

However, it was the veteran player who took down the first rapid game. Parham, with White, went for an interesting sacrifice with 27.Nxg7 but Georgiev defended tenaciously and the knight was eventually trapped.

All tomorrow’s third-round matchups are very interesting but our suggestion is to keep an eye on the games between Norway’s one and two Magnus Carlsen and Aryan Tari, Daniil Dubov against Vladimir Malakhov (both from Russia) and the all-Indian match between Santosh Gujrathi Vidit and Baskaran Adhiban.

One of the most exciting matches of the second round in the women’s group was the 4-game encounter between seventeen-year-old IM Carissa Yip (2430) from USA, against the strong Ukrainian WGM Nataliya Buksa (2413).

After tying 1-1 in the classical games, Carissa got the best of her opponent in the first rapid game.

Even so, she had to bring all her defensive skills to play in the second rapid game, in which Buksa threw all her pieces against Yip’s king in an open Sicilian. Although White had enjoyed a much better position in the opening, the key moment was the blunder 32.e5? (instead, 32.Rxc8 Rxc8 33.Qd1 and the position is more or less equal) after which Yip won a piece with 32…Qxb5 and converted in good fashion. Yip will face experienced Georgian GM Nana Dzagnidze (2523) in the third round.

Carissa shared her thoughts with us after the game in a brief interview.

Top German female player WGM Elisabeth Paehtz (2466) also qualified to the third round, albeit not without difficulty. She had to resort to winning the blitz games against her opponent, Bulgarian WGM Nurgyul Salimova (2395), who proved to be very resourceful during the whole match.

Even though she was visibly exhausted after the gruelling match, Paehtz kindly gave us her thoughts on her performance.

Several third-round encounters will prove to be tremendously exciting. Our bet would be to follow the all-Russian matchups between Alina Kashlinskaya and Alisa Galliamova – they have played some really amazing games recently -, and young guns Polina Shuvalova and Leya Garifullina.

The other exciting match might be the Ukrainian battle between former World Champion Anna Ushenina and Mariya Muzychuk, who boasts a 2550 rating and is one of the favourites to win the tournament.

Pairings of the third round, live games and PGN files can be found on the World Cup website alongside a great amount of other interesting information such as daily videos, a complete photo collection and other useful data.

About the tournament:

Scheduled to take place from July12th (Round 1) to August 6th (finals), the 2021 FIDE World Cup will gather together in Sochi (Russia) 309 of the world’s best chess players, with 206 of them playing in the Open World Cup (and 103 participants in the first ever Women’s World Cup.

The top two finishers in the tournament, aside from World Champion Magnus Carlsen who is also participating, will qualify for the 2022 Candidates Tournament, in addition to winning the 110.000 USD first prize (80.000 USD for the runner-up).

Organisers: International Chess Federation (FIDE), Chess Federation of Russia, Russian Ministry of Sports, and Government of Krasnodar Krai.

Gazprom– general partner
Nornickel– general partner
PhosAgro– general partner
Chessable– event’s partner
Rosatom– event’s partner
Aeroflot– CFR’s partner
Educational centre “Sirius”