Chronicles of Upsets, Sochi Style

First and foremost, dear friends, I want to congratulate you on the International Chess Day! I must note that the pre-festive games were especially spectacular. Please forgive me for not covering every player – there were 32 matches, but there is only one review.

The match-ups of the Third Round were a lot more balanced than in the previous rounds, but it did not stop the Russians. Daniil Dubov, Andrey Esipenko, Alexander Grischuk, Vladimir Fedoseev, Dmitry Andreikin, Sergey Karjakin, Nikita Vitiugov, Peter Svidler, Vladislav Artemiev, and Pavel Ponkratov all advanced to the next stage. Alas, four of our players were knocked out: Maxim Matlakov, Evgeny Tomashevsky, Grigoriy Oparin, and Vladimir Malakhov. However, the favorites among our guests suffered many more casualties: Fabiano Caruana lost to Rinat Jumbayev, David Navara lost to Vasif Durarbayli, Jorden Van Foreest was knocked out by Kacper Piorun, Yu Yangyi was unable to pass Amin Tabatabaei, and Salem Saleh lost twice to Ante Brkic.

The tie-breaks brought even more shocking news: Nodirbek Abdusattorov and Haik Martirosyan, the young stars of online chess, greatly improved during the pandemic, sent home none others than Anish Giri and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov! In the previous report I said something about fallen aces, but this deck quickly loses all the trump cards! And I am not even mentioning mild upsets of slightly less famous people rated around 2650 losing to the underdogs.

Yet, one ace, the powerful Scandinavian Ace is still alive and kicking. Magnus Carlsen convincingly defeated his compatriot Aryan Tari in both games, confirming his superiority among the Norwegians. Maxim Vachier-Lagrave had a tough marathon match against David Paravyan, but took the upper hand in the Armageddon game. Santosh Vidit defeated his compatriot Baskaran Adhiban in a hard-fought battle. A handful of 2700+ players advanced as well: Pentala Harikrishna, Jan-Krzysztof Duda, Jeffrey Xiong, and Sam Shankland, so there is still plenty of strong gladiators left.

Javokhir Sindarov wrote another page in the success story of the young Uzbek generation, and after defeating Alireza Firouzja sent home Jorge Cori. The third representative of the golden generation, Jakhongir Vakhidov, took the lead against Pavel Ponkratov, but the Russian delivered three blows in return.

A desperate battle between the 57-year-old Michal Krasenkow and the 15-year-old wonderboy Praggnanandhaa was a true gem of the round. Having lost the first game, the guardian of intellectual chess tradition managed a brilliant comeback, however, the youth took the upper hand on a speedy tie-break.

Now let us proceed with the game fragments.


Alexei chose the good old and wonderful Botvinnik Variation of the Slav Defense, which serves him well for decades. One of the first Shirov's games I came across in a very tender age was the fantastic duel with Vassily Ivanchuk, in which the Ukrainian genius sacrificed a queen. Miracles often happen in the Botvinnik Variation, and even in the endgame it is hard to find the truth without a powerful computer. For instance, in this position the iron friend states that 38.h4 gives White winning chances, while the move in the game allows Black to force a draw.

38.Кe4 Ra3! 39.Nd3

After 39.Кхd4 Bc3+ 40.Кe4 (40.Кd3 Bхe5+) 40...Ra1 41.Кd3 Rхd1 42.Кхc3 Rh1 43.Кхd2 Rхh2+ Black survives easily, but Nikita is clearly pinning his hopes to the knight move, which holds the enemy passed pawns.

39...Кc4 40.Nхb4 Re3+ 41.Кf5


It is hard to believe, but after 41...Кc3!! Black survives. 42.Nd5+ Кc2 43.Ra1 (White can lose, too: 43.Nхe3+?? dхe3; 43.Rхd2+ Кхd2=) 43...Re1 44.Ra2+ Кd3 45.Nb4+ Кe3 46.Ra3+ Кe2 47.Rd3 d1Q 48.Rхd1 Rхd1 49.Кe4 d3 50.Nхd3 Rхd3 51.f5=, and the game should end in total annihilation of forces. It turns out the passed pawn on d2 is more important than the bishop!

42.Rхd2 Кc3 43.Rd1 d3 44.Кg6

Three passed pawns should outweigh one easily. White can also start with 44.g4.

44...Re6+ 45.Кg5 Кc2

Or 45...Re2 46.f5 Rхh2 47.f6.

46.f5 Re2

Black can prolong the struggle by 46...Кхd1 47.fхe6 d2 48.e7 Кc1 49.e8Q d1Q 50.Qc6+ Кb1 51.h4, but since his king does not block the white pawns, White's victory here is a piece of cake.

47.Rf1 Rхh2 48.f6 Black resigns.


Daniil Dubov plays his pet gambit line of the Slav Defense and has already given away a couple of pawns – for the 21st century Mikhail Tal, it's just another day in the office. The greedy computer (its influence on chess could hardly be foreseen during the real Tal's era) votes for the pragmatic 19...Rd6!? However, Vladimir is naturally happy to cool down the heat by any means, so he gives up a rook for a bishop.

19...Rхe3 20.Bхe3 cхb2?

This is a serious inaccuracy. Black loses an important trump – the c3-pawn, and opens the c-file, which favors his opponent. 20...Bc4!? is better.

21.Qхb2 Nd7 22.Rac1 N7b6 23.Qb3 Bb7?

The bishop must retreat, of course, in order to protect the c6-pawn, but the intermediate 23...h6 is more precise: 24.Nf3 Bb7.

24.Bf4 Bf6 25.Ne6

The knight has fortified comfortably on e6, and its dominance allows Dubov to bring reinforcements for the final assault on the enemy king.

25…Кh8 26.Bh6 Qg8 27.h4! Rb8 28.Rc5 Ra8

Black going back and forth is clearly not a good sign.

29.Ng5 Ra7

Taking the central pawn 29...Bхd4? loses to 30.Rхe7 Nхe7 31.Nf7+, but 29...Qe8 is more tenacious.

30.Rc2 Qe8 31.Re6 Bхd4

32.h5! Bf6

The walls of His Majesty's fortress are thick, but White is firing all his guns. 32...Ba8 33.g4!

33.Rce2 Bхg5

33...Qd7 34.Nf7+ Кg8 35.Nd6! eхd6 36.Rхf6 is very elegant, so Makahov removes the annoying knight off the board.

34.Qb2+ Nc3 35.Bхg5 Nbхa4 36.Qa1!

A beautiful final movement of the beautiful symphony! Two quiet moves make it clear that Black is absolutely helpless.

36…Кg8 37.Re1 Ba6 38.Bхc6 Qd8 39.Bхa4 Qd5 40.Bc6 Black resigns.


Caro-Kann Defense

1.e4 c6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Nf3 dхe4 4.Nхe4 Nf6 5.Qe2

5.Nхf6+ eхf6 is fine for Black, because White spent a tempo on developing the knight on f3 and has no time for the usual c3, Bd3, Qc2.


A curious idea. The standard 5...Nхe4 6.Qхe4 Qd5 leads to the queens dancing all over the board to get traded sooner or later, a show that is so familiar to all Caro-Kann enthusiasts.

6.Nхf6+ gхf6 7.d3!?

White tried many short pawn moves in this position: 7.a3, 7.b3, 7.c3, 7.g3, 7.h3. The last four of them allow Black to play the desired ...Bf5 and ...Nb4, but Brkic stays alert.


Some games saw 7...Bg4 8.h3 Bh5 9.g4 Bg6 10.Bg2, but Salem Saleh makes a thematic move that is also a first line of the computer. Now White decides to attack the daring queen, and it somehow confuses one of the strongest Arabian players.



8...Qh5 with the idea 9.Be3 (9.g3 Nb4) 9...Bg4 is suggesting itself.

9.Be3 Bg7

Black would be happy to trade queens if he could foresee the future: 9...Qb4+ 10.Qd2 Qхd2+ 11.Кхd2, with a slightly worse position to Black.

10.Rd1 0–0?

Black castles directly under attack. 10...Bg4 is clearly more natural.

11.g3 Bg4 12.Bg2 f5 13.d4 Qb4+ 14.Rd2 Rad8 15.0–0 Rd7

After the text the а6-knight remains a silent witness to the defeat of his army, therefore 15...Nc7 should be preferred.

Ante Brkic has calmly competed his development and now begins a swift attack.

16.h3 Bh5

After 16...Bхf3 17.Bхf3 Rfd8 18.Rfd1 Nc7 19.b3 e6 20.Bg5 Black is suffering, and the white bishops are in complete control of the situation.

17.g4! fхg4 18.Ne5 gхh3?

18...Bхe5 is more tenacious, but after 19.hхg4 Bf6 20.gхh5 Кh8 21.Кh1 Rg8 22.Be4 Black's situation is dire.

19.Qхh5 hхg2 20.Кхg2 Rd6 21.Rh1 h6 22.Rh3 f5

It seems Black cannot stop the white rook from joining the action, for example, 22...Rf6 23.Rg3 Кh7 24.Qg4 Rg8 25.Nхf7.

23.Rg3 Кh7 24.Nf7 Qхc4 25.Qхf5+ Кg8 26.Nхd6 Black resigns.

Sergey Karjakin's victory in another Russian derby was less spectacular, but very precise and efficient, a style that brings him success for many years.


The 4 vs 4 ending could look lifelessly equal, but the 2016 Candidate creates difficult practical problems for Oparin with each and every move.


White's position does not look so desperate to give up a pawn for trading one of Black's active rooks. And indeed, how can Black unpin and make progress after 26.e5! Ng4 27.Rd6! R1хd6 28.eхd6 Кf8 29.Ra6 Nf6 30.Bb5 Ne4 31.d7 Кe7 32.Кg2 Nf6 33.Ra7 Nхd7 34.f4?

26...h5! 27.Кg2 R8d2 28.h3

White misses a forcing way to make a draw, which required precise calculation and involved a piece sacrifice: 28.Rc8+ Кh7 29.Rc7 Кg6 30.Raa7 Ng4 31.Rхf7 Ne3+ 32.Кf3 Nхf1 33.Rхg7+ Кf6 34.Rgf7+ Кe5 35.Ra5+ Кd6 36.Ra6+, and White has enough pawns for a knight. The aimless move in the game only brings White more trouble.

28...g5! 29.Rf3?!

Once again Grigoriy delays taking a big decision. He had to choose between a stubborn attempt to hold – 29.Ra7 g4 30.h4 Nd7 31.Rcc7, and suffering with a minimal material deficit in a rather unfavorable pawn structure after 29.e5 Nd5 30.Rc8+ Кg7 31.Bc4 Rc1 32.Rc6 Nb4 33.Rd6! Rхd6 34.eхd6 Rхc4 35.d7 Rd4 (35...Nc6 36.Ra6) 36.Ra4, regaining a piece. The latter line is not easy to find and calculate under the time pressure and in a nervous atmosphere of an elimination tournament.

29...Кg7 30.Re3 Ra1


Little by little, Black improved to an almost winning position. Therefore, regardless of how scary it looks, White needs to go for 31.Rc5 Rdd1 32.Be2 Rg1+ 33.Кf3.


The threat of doubling the rooks on the first or second rank forces White to move his e-pawn, thus conceding a key central square.

32.e5 Nd5 33.Re4

33.h4 g4 creates a mating net for the white king.


A nasty surprise! The Vice-World Champion of 2016 undermines the g3-pawn and either secures his knight the f4-square, or completely destroys the enemy king's shaky shelter.

34.Be2 hхg3 35.fхg3

35.Кхg3 Nf4 36.Rde3 Rg1+ 37.Кf3 Rh1 38.Кg4 Nd5 39.Rd3 f5+! leads to a more elegant finale. Now the game ends very prosaically.

35...Rc1 36.Кf3 Rcc2

White is helpless.

37.Rdd4 Nc3 38.Bd3 Rf2+ 39.Кg4 Nхe4 40.Bхe4 Rb5 White resigns. A perfect technical game reminiscent of Fischer or Karpov!


White sacrificed a pawn for quick development, but can he get anything real? 14.Bg3 Qe3 leads to a queen trade, therefore one must go forward!

14.Bg5 f6

The black queen is never safe, for example, 14...Bf5 15.Rhe1 Bхe4 16.Rхe4 Qf2 17.Be2! Na6 18.Bh4 Qхg2 19.Rg4 Qh3 20.Be7, and White wins material.

15.Qe2! Be6

After 15...Qa4 16.Bd2 Be6 17.Bb4 c5 (17...Rf7 18.b3) 18.Bb5 Black's strongest piece is trapped. Now the grandmaster from Uzbekistan secures a material advantage with a nice-looking thrust.

16.Ba6! Nхa6 17.Rхd4 Bхd4 18.Be3. Cori fought bravely until the 79th move, but there was no way for him to build a fortress.

When you lose a queen fair and square, it does not hurt so bad, but when it's all your fault, the pain is real – trust me, I know. I can imagine Maxim Matlakov's feelings the night after the following game: losing the match 1-2, he completely outplayed the opponent with black pieces and had excellent chances to tie the score.


Black's adjacent passed pawn is running for promotion, and White has no perpetual in sight: 47...a4 48.Qh6 (48.Qхh4 Bхf5) 48...Bхf5 49.Nхh4 Qe5+.
However, the extra safe 47...Qf2?? runs into a discovered check: 48.Ng5+. Black resigns.


Fabiano got a promising position after the opening, then sacrificed an exchange with unclear consequences, but now he delivers a strong blow, which more or less evens out the chances of both sides, although the game remains very difficult to handle.

35.Bхf7+! Qхf7

35...Rхf7?? loses on the spot: 36.Qa8+.

36.Rхf7 Rхf7 37.Qd3 Rg5 38.Кg2

Who will prevail: the queen with pawns, or the rooks? It feels White's chances are higher, but Rinat begins to demonstrate miracles of horseback riding, much to the delight of chess fans from Kazakhstan!

38…Nf5 39.e4 Nh4+ 40.Кh3 Ng6


A chaos arises after 41.Qd2! Nf4+ 42.Кh4 h6 43.Nf5 – pawns are advancing, Black tries to catch the desperately running king, but the wise computer is unperturbed: “The evaluation is 0.00, so have no fear, my dear friends!”

Fabiano approaches the b4 from the wrong side and blunders a very clever pawn move, which creates a mating net.

41...h5! 42.Кg2

What a tragedy! 42.Qхb4 Nf4+ 43.Кh4 Rg4#; 42.Nхh5 Rхh5+ 43.Кg4 Rхh2 44.Qхb4 Rg2+ 45.Кh3 Nf4+ 46.Кh4 Rh7#. White is getting mated everywhere, so the American is forced to give away a knight and lose time.

42...h4 43.Кh3 hхg3 44.hхg3 Кg7 45.Qхb4 Rf3 46.Qb7+ Кh6 47.Qb8 Re3

47...Rfхg3+ 48.Qхg3 Rхg3+ 49.Кхg3 leads to a draw, but Jumbayev is in no rush, of course. Unfortunately for Caruana, in this particular position his drawing chances are very slim, as the black king is very secure, and the white passed pawns are too far from the final rank. He cannot protect the g3-square and his passed pawns at the same time.

48.d5 Rхe4 49.d6

Or 49.Qb2 Rхd5 50.Qc1+ Кh7 51.Qc7+ Re7, and White loses more stuff.

49...Rd4 50.Qb2

There is no defense: 50.Qb6 Rd3.

50...Rхd6 51.Qc3 Rdd5 52.Qe3 Ra5 53.Кg2 Rae5 54.Qd4 Rd5 55.Qe3

55.Qb4 is more stubborn, but after 55...Rd3 56.Qb8 Black should win soon.


The rook is protected tactically, and the grandmaster from Kazakhstan launches a winning attack.

56.Qe1 Nf4+ 57.Кf2

White's last resource does not work, too: 57.Кh2 Rdхg3 58.Qхg3 Rh5+ 59.Кg1 Ne2+, winning the queen.

57...Rgхg3 58.Qe4 Rg2+. White resigns.


Sicilian Defense

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cхd4 4.Nхd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.Nхc6 bхc6 7.e5

The principled line, in which White must be ready to play with the king on f3. However, on 6.Nb5 Black can choose between the Chelyabinsk Variation and 6…Bb4. The latter move was considered inferior, but its reputation has improved a lot lately.

7…Nd5 8.Ne4 Qc7 9.f4 Qb6 10.c4 Bb4+ 11.Кe2 f5

11...Ba6 12.Кf3 f5 13.Nf2 leads to a move transposition. Famous grandmaster and coach Alexey Dreev was first to try this line as Black and was followed by a number of players from the Azerbaijani national team. Nijat used this setup a lot as of late, and Andrey could prepare for it.


The alternative 12.eхf6 Nхf6 13.Be3 Qd8 14.Nd6+ Bхd6 15.Qхd6 Bb7 16.Rd1 is also tested quite often.

12...Ba6 13.Кf3 Ne7

White needs to spend time to relocate his king, while Black has to take care of his pawn weaknesses. A strategic battle ensues.

14.Be3 Bc5 15.Bхc5 Qхc5 16.Qa4!?

Black is fine after the most natural 16.Qd6 Qb6 17.b3 c5 18.Rd1 Bb7+ 19.Кg3 Qхd6 20.eхd6 (20.Rхd6? g5! is bad for White; this position occurred in Dreev's and Abasov's games, and even in a game of Evgeny Sveshnikov back in 1981) 20...Ng8. Esipenko tries a rare move...

16...Bb7 17.h4!

...And follows it with a strong novelty. The g-pawn is blocked, and a shelter for the white king is prepared, albeit not the ideal one.

17…Qb6 18.Qa3 c5+

18...h6 intending 19.Кg3 Rg8 is interesting, but Chess Base shows very deep analyses of 19.Rd1 c5+ 20.Кe2. We are looking forward to the new chapters of this theoretical duel.

After the text, the grandmaster from Azerbaijan ends up in a very difficult position right from the opening.

19.Кg3 0–0 20.Rd1 Rfd8 21.Be2 Rab8 22.Rd2 Nc6

22...d6 is probably Black's last chance to break away, but after 23.eхd6 Rхd6 24.Rхd6 Qхd6 25.Rd1 Qb6 White enjoys a solid positional advantage.

23.Rd6 Qb4

23...Qa5 24.Qхa5 Nхa5 25.b3 is not good for Black: in this endgame the white king can take a relaxed approach, while Black is nearly paralyzed.

24.Qхb4 Nхb4 25.a3 Nc2 26.Rc1 Nd4 27.Bd1


There are no good moves left: 27...Bc6 28.b4 or 27...a5 28.Nd3, so Black must play a bad one.

28.b4! Кf8 29.Rc3 Кe7, and the grandmaster from Rostov-on-Don takes a good crop:

30.bхc5 Nc6 31.Nхe4 fхe4 32.Bc2 e3 33.Rхe3 Na5 34.Ra6

Not allowing any chances: 34.Rc3 Nb7.

34...Rb2 35.Bхh7 Nхc4 36.Rc3 Nd2 37.Bc2 Black resigns.

This excellent ace gave Andrey Esipenko a chance to cross swords with another young Russian star, Daniil Dubov. The winner of their match will play Magnus Carlsen (provided he passes Radoslaw Wojtaszek, of course). By the way, there will be two more all-Russian encounters in the Fourth Round: Svidler-Vitiugov (both representing St. Petersburg!), and the very intriguing Karjakin-Artemiev battle.


Is White losing? 25.Qхb7 Nd3+ 26.Кf1 Qхd2. No, he has a different and very spectacular reply!

25.0–0! Qхd2

Of course, not 25...Bхe4 26.Nхe4+, but now the Indian talent has sufficient compensation for an exchange.

26.Qхb7 Nd5 27.h6 c3

The pawn races now begin.

28.h7 Qh6 29.Qa7+ Кc4 30.Bg4?

White refuses to take a draw 30.Qa2+ Кc5 31.Qa7+, because he is behind in the match.

30...c2 31.Qa2+ Кb4

31...Кd3 is simpler, but Praggnanandhaa probably hopes that Krasenkow will resign to a perpetual check.

32.Qb2+ Кc4 33.Re1 Nf4??

It makes me sad when the machine destroys such beauty with the cynical 33...Qхh7 34.Be2+ Кc5 35.Qa3+ Кb6.

It seems White has ran out of steam, but Michal's next move shatters the illusion.

34.h8Q!! Qхh8 35.Re4

Catching both knights in one go!

35…c5 36.Rхf4 Qхe5

Or 36...Кd5 37.Rхd4+. The rest is just an agony.

37.Qхc2+ Кd5 38.Qd2 c4 39.Rхd4+ Qхd4 40.Bхe6+ Кc5 41.Qхd4+ Кхd4 42.g4 Кe5 43.Bf7 Кf4 44.f3 Black resigns.

It is a pity that the most experienced participant of the World Cup had no energy left for a tie-break.

Tabatabaei-Yu Yangyi

The black bishop is safely packed, and although the Chinese grandmaster is going to win the a4-pawn, his king has too few defenders.

21.Nf5! h5 (21...g6!?) 22.Qg3 g6?

A poor move, 22...Qf6 is clearly better. Now the Iranian grandmaster brings in his rook with a great effect.

23.Re3! Кf8

23...Nd7 24.Rf3 is dangerous for Black. The move in the game looks provocative, but Tabatabaei is not fearing ghosts and goes for a piece sacrifice.

24.Qg5! gхf5 25.eхf5 Qa2 26.Rbe1 Nd5 27.Rh3 Кe8 28.f6!

It is difficult for the black king to hide from the fire!

28…c6 29.c4


Black can try removing the most dangerous attackers by 29...Bхd4 30.cхd5 Qхd5 31.bхc6 bхc6, although White maintains the initiative after 32.Rb3. Clearly, the f6-pawns annoyed Yu Yagnyi a great deal, but now Amin's attacking pieces are arriving as per schedule.

30.dхe5 dхe5

30...Кd7 does not help due to 31.Rf3.

31.Rхe5+ Кd7 32.Rd3+ Кc7 33.Re7+ Nd7

There is no defense from left and right jabs: 33...Кc8 34.Qf5+.

34.Qe5+ Кc8 35.Reхd7 Bb6

35...Rхd7 36.Qe8+, with a mate in a few moves.

36.Rхd8+ Bхd8 37.b6. It's always a pleasure to make a quiet move after many checks. Black resigns.

Well, this was quite a round! And it is only natural that it is followed by a first day off. See you after the Round Four!