Breaking…GM Sergey Karjakin survived a hard-fought playoff Tuesday with Ukrainian GM Pavel Eljanov to set up an all-Russian final in the FIDE World Cup in Baku, Azerbaijan. Karjakin joins GM Peter Svidler as the last two players standing in the knockout event and will play a four-game classical match for the title starting Thursday. Both players are also automatically seeded into next year’s Candidates Tournament for a right to play for the world championship.
The knockout format has its drawbacks, but it can make for the kind of drama that the traditional round-robin and Swiss formats can’t provide.
In knockout events, top-seeded grandmasters are forced to face far lower-rated players with nothing to lose, the kind of games that the elite players typically go out of their way to avoid. Best friends — or even better, arch-enemies — can find themselves facing each other, with only one player destined to advance. An unheralded player can get on a hot streak, forging a string of upsets on the way to a major payday and maybe a shot at the world championship.
All of those virtues have been on display at the 128-player FIDE World Cup, now nearing the finish line in Baku, Azerbaijan. Already through to the four-game final is veteran Russian GM Peter Svidler, who eliminated Dutch star GM Anish Giri on Monday, while fellow Russian Sergey Karjakin and surprise semifinalist Pavel Eljanov of Ukraine begin a rapid playoff Tuesday for the other slot.
Svidler is already a big winner in one sense: The two finalists are guaranteed a spot in the field for next year’s Candidates Tournament for the right to challenge world champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway.
One of the highlight matches in Baku was an all-Chinese affair, with GM Ding Liren and 16-year-old rising star GM Wei Yi trading haymakers in their Elite Eight round pairing. Ding broke on top, winning the first game at classical time controls, after a tense and complicated fight. Wei bounced back with a win in the second game, then finally won the fourth game of the rapid playoff to advance.
That first game featured a huge number of fascinating variations, as Black sacrifices the exchange after the queen trade with 14. Bf4 Qxd4 15. cxd4 Nc6! 16. Nf7 (White’s pawns are pretty ugly after 15…Rxd4 16. Bxe5 fxe5) Nxd4 17. Rc1 e5 18. Rh4 exf4, when Ding could have played 19. Rxg4 f3 (another fascinating might-have-been line here was 19…Nxe2?! 20. Bxb7+! Kxb7 21. Nxd8+ Rxd8 22. Kxe2, and White is winning) 20. Bf1! Rhe8 21. Nxd8 Nxe2 22. Bxe2 Rxe2+ 23. Kf1 Kxd8 24. Rf4, with an edge for White.
By 21. Bxf3 Re8+ 22. Kd2, Wei is down the exchange, but Ding’s knight is stuck far behind enemy lines. Black misses a key shot with 23…Re2+! (instead of the game’s 23…Bc6?!) 24. Kd3 Re7 25. Nd6+ Kd8 26. Nb5 Be2+, picking off the wayward knight.
The White knight is lost but Ding obtains critical compensation in his advanced h-pawn after 28. Re7! Nd5 29. Nd6+! cxd6 30. Rxh7, and a subtle Black lapse decides the game: 33…Nxb4? (overlooking White’s 35th move; 33…Kb8 was tougher) 34. Rh8+ Kc7 35. Rd4! (hitting the knight and, more important, the pawn on g4) Nd5 36. h7 Rh6 37. Rxg4 Ne7 38. Rg7 Kd7 39. Kf8, and Black resigned as he will lose material stopping the h-pawn. A fascinating struggle.
Another great moment from the two Chinese stars came in the fifth game of the match (see today’s diagram), when Wei as White appears to be busted after just 11 moves — his queen is under attack, his bishop is pinned, and 12. Qf3 Qxe5 just loses a piece. But White found 12. Qg3!!, when, amazingly, Black is mated after 12…Nxg3?? 13. Ng6+! hxg6 14. hxg3+. Black instead played 12…Rxf7 13. Nxf7+ Qxf7, and had to fight hard for a 31-move draw. Wei would win the very next game to advance.
Ding-Wei, FIDE World Cup, Baku, Azerbaijan, September 2015
1. Nf3 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. cxd5 Nxd5 5. h4 Bg7 6. h5 Nc6 7. g3 Bg4 8. h6 Bxc3 9. dxc3 Qd6 10. Bg2 O-O-O 11. Ng5 Ne5 12. Qa4 Nb6 13. Qd4 f6 14. Bf4 Qxd4 15. cxd4 Nc6 16. Nf7 Nxd4 17. Rc1 e5 18. Rh4 exf4 19. Nxd8 f3 20. exf3 Nxf3+ 21. Bxf3 Re8+ 22. Kd2 Bxf3 23. Nf7 Bc6 24. b4 a6 25. a4 Nxa4 26. Re1 Nb6 27. Rg4 Rg8 28. Re7 Nd5 29. Nd6+ cxd6 30. Rxh7 g5 31. Re4 Rg6 32. Re6 g4 33. Rxd6 Nxb4 34. Rh8+ Kc7 35. Rd4 Nd5 36. h7 Rh6 37. Rxg4 Ne7 38. Rg7 Kd7 39. Rf8 Black resigns.
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