Round 1 – Game 1. "Galactic" Chess Games in Sochi

GM Pablo Salinas plays arguably the best game of the year.

Monday, July 12th, 2021 – The first day of the World Cup was held this afternoon at the Galaxy Entertainment And Leisure Complex. The principal arbiter, Laurent Freyd from France, opened the round at 3:00 pm sharp and all the clocks were started for White. Due to tournament-specific rules, on this occasion the traditional handshake greeting was replaced by a simple facial friendship recognition.

Of the 309 qualified players in the Open and Women’s groups, there was only 8 justified nonappearances, essentially due to travel-related problems. However, the open group will have 50 new players joining in on the second round while the women's group will be expanded with 25 players, all of them qualified directly by ranking.

As is customary in knockout-format tournaments, where chess players of unequal level face off in the early rounds, there have been quite a few striking surprises.

Perhaps the most remarkable result in the open group was International Master (IM) Ravi Haria’s (2440) win over experienced Russian Grand Master (GM) Vadim Zvaginsev (2608). After an early exchange of queens in a very solid variation of the French defence, Haria gradually increased his advantage with good technique, finally taking down his opponent in a precise rook ending. An excellent technical game.

However, most of the media attention was focused on the performance of the USA wonderkid Abhimanyu Mishra (2485), recently crowned the youngest GM in history, at the very early age of 12 years old. He fought tenaciously against the experienced Georgian GM Baadur Jobava (2603) but in the end he had to concede, not before making it very clear to his opponent that tomorrow’s rematch will be very tough indeed.

The other young Russian rising star, IM Volodar Murzin (2502), came very close to defeating his opponent, veteran Moldovan GM Viorel Iordachescu (2589), in an ending with an clear extra pawn. But he will have to wait until tomorrow to try to seal the deal, after his opponent’s precise defence in the game.

But the best game of the day must go to Chilean GM Pablo Salinas (2514), for his magnificent win over Danish GM Mads Andersen (2579) a true work of art, worthy of any collection of best games.

After a more than correct Semi-Slav defense, Salinas, with Black, began to create pressure on the c-file by pinning the queen on c2 with his rook in addition to the bishop on b4 hitting the pinned knight.
Under pressure both on the board and on the clock, Andersen blundered with 19.a3? (the unbelievable 19.Qxe4, sacrificing the queen, is the engine’s recommendation), and Salinas executed the thematic sacrifice 19… Nxf2! destroying White's castled king.
With very little time left, the Dane found the remarkable defensive resource 22.Qf5! - which Salinas acknowledged took him by surprise - but the Chilean player kept his calm and continued the attack with 22… Nf6! with the brilliant idea 23… Ng4!, a real bombshell that unleashed a series of different lines with queen sacrifices, ending in all sorts of fantastic checkmates.

After 24.Rd3 the killer move 24…d4! opened up the long diagonal, incorporating Black’s only inactive piece into the attack. The final combination with 25… Qg1!! followed by 26… Nxh2 mate is perhaps one of the most beautiful finishes of the year, maybe even the century?.

The same pattern was repeated in the women’s group, where the pre-match rating favourites prevailed in most of the encounters. Still, two results stood out above the rest. The women International Master (WIM) Tilsia Varela La Madrid (2072) representing Venezuela, clearly defeated French IM Pauline Guichard (2413), although the main surprise of the day was the defeat of the 2012 World Champion, Ukrainian Grand Master (GM) Anna Ushenina against Egyptian WIM Ayah Moaataz (rated only 2015).

Despite having a huge material advantage, Ushenina allowed a decisive lightning kingside attack - instead of 36… Ng7?, the combination 36… Rxe3! 37.dxe3 Qf1! + 38.Kxf1 Nxe3+ would have allowed the Ukrainian player to take home the point.

However, even with the favourable score, tomorrow's game (White plays Black and vice versa) will determine, together with the tiebreaks, who will advance to the second round of the World Cup.

The full pairings tree and day-by-day results can be found on the World Cup website.

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”