The FIDE World Cup in Tbilisi, Georgia, has a huge prize-fund of $1.6m and two Candidates qualifying spots up for grabs, but its format of two-game mini-matches and nail-biting speed tiebreaks gives it the reputation of being something of a lottery. But with so many elite players in the mix of the massive 128-player starting field, there’s never a dull moment with lots of thrills ’n’ spills and the possibility of some shock early exits.
Yet while the format might not do much for the nerves of the players involved, many fans love the excitement and unpredictability of the knockout format. And this attitude was best summed up perhaps by the top Dutch top chess photographer, Lennart Ootes, who declared that the players simply have to “Go big or go home”!
As Magnus Carlsen went big with yet another brace of comfortable wins in round two, heading home without making it to the tiebreaks was the shock exit of the world champion’s last two title challengers: Out went India’s Vishy Anand, the five-time former world champion, and out also went Russia’s Sergey Karjakin, the 2015 World Cup winner, as their relatively unknown young opponents, the Ukrainian-born Canadian Anton Kovalyov, and Russian future prospect Daniil Dubov, respectively chose their moment to go big!
And also heading home now after a series of nerve-jangling tiebreaks earlier today is another cadre of top seeds: Out went Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Wei Yi, Pentala Harikrishna, Teimour Radjabov and Radoslaw Wojtaszek. But while the seeds topple, there are still five players left flying the stars and stripes in the next round of 32: Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, Wesley So, Alexander Onischuk and Aleks Lenderman.
(Photo) Anton Kovalyov opts to go big! | © Lennart Ootes
The pairing tree for Saturday’s round 3 can be viewed by clicking here.
GM Vishy Anand – GM Anton Kovalyov
FIDE World Cup, (2.1)
Sicilian Najdorf, Adams Attack
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.h3 The Adams Attack is named after the early 20th century US master Weaver Adams (1901-63), and was a big favourite of the young Bobby Fischer. Nowadays, it’s become a big favourite of Anand’s, and also in Magnus Carlsen’s arsenal. 6…e5 7.Nb3 Also an option here is 7.Nde2 that worked well recently for Anand when he used it to good effect to beat Ian Nepomniachtchi in last month’s Sinquefield Cup. But perhaps fearing an improvement, Anand switches back to the more standard knight retreat to b3. 7…Be6 8.Be3 Something of a surprise, as more usual here is 8.f4 with the idea of pushing to f5. But with Anand playing 8.Be3, we can only assume he has a trick up his sleeve – and we didn’t need to wait long to see what it was. 8…h5 Kovalyov wants to stop Anand expanding on the kingside with g4 and possibly also following up with Bg2 and a big bind on the d5 square. 9.Be2 Nbd7 10.0-0 Rc8 11.Qd2N And here’s Anand’s novelty – what he has in mind is the new idea of Rfd1, Bf3 and then the knight tour of Nc1-d3-b4 and total domination of the d5 square. And if Kovalyov doesn’t react energetically to this, he’s going to forever on the back-foot and defending a very difficult position. 11…b5 12.Rfd1 Nb6 Black goes for standard Sicilian counterplay – if the knight gets to c4, then Black will have dynamic equalising chances. 13.Bxb6 Everything is going to revolve around control of the d5 square – even if that means Anand has to surrender the bishop-pair. 13…Qxb6 14.a4 b4 15.Nd5 Nxd5 16.exd5 Bd7 This retreat is perhaps best, as after 16…Bf5 17.a5 Qb7 18.Qe3! the Black position is beginning to feel the strain. If 18…Be7 (Not 18…Bxc2?! – Also 18…Rxc2?? loses on the spot to 19.Nd4! – 19.Rdc1 Bxb3 20.Rxc8+ Qxc8 21.Qxb3 and Black’s queenside is on the verge of collapse, and White’s a-pawn will be a game-winner.) 19.Qb6! leaves Black defending a very difficult endgame with the queens coming off and his queenside pawns weak and vulnerable. 17.a5 Qb7 18.Qe3! Anand is ready to strike on the queenside before Kovalyov is ready for it, still having to develop his kingside bishop and connect his rooks. 18…Be7 19.Qb6 Qxb6 20.axb6 Rb8 21.Rxa6 Black looks to be holding OK after 21.Bxa6 Rxb6 22.Bd3 0-0 23.Ra7 Rd8 24.Na5 Bf8. 21…Bd8 22.b7 Ke7 23.Nc5? Anand seems to get a rush of blood to his head trying to turn his b7-pawn into a big game-winner. And it came as a bolt from the blue for everyone watching, and also Kovalyov, who after the game commented: “If this would work it would be the game of the year”. Fortunately for Kovalyov, it doesn’t work – but I have to ask myself what Anand was thinking here, as he rejected the plain and simple 23.Rda1! Rxb7 24.Ra8 Rf8 25.R1a7 Rc7 26.Na5 which looked very promising for long-term endgame pressure. 23…dxc5 There’s no choice really under such circumstances, because if you don’t go big, then you go home! 24.d6+ Kf6 The king has to come forwards and not backwards, as he has to connect his rooks. 25.Bf3 Kf5! (see diagram) Arguably, this could well be what Anand had missed with his back-firing knight sacrifice. With the king voluntarily moving further forward, he threatens …e4 blocking out the crucial bishop supporting the b7 pawn, and at the same time, he frees his dark-squared bishop to unravel his position and connect his rooks. And with this very accurate and brave move, Anand is now doomed. 26.Bd5 e4 27.Re1 Another point behind …e4 is that it prevented White from playing 27.Ra8 as after 27…Bf6 28.Rda1 Be5! and when d6 falls shortly, then White’s position will soon collapse in the wake. I would imagine that, in playing the knight sacrifice, Anand had imagined such a scenario in his head, but had overlooked the possibility that Kovalyov had the simple plan to unravel his position with 25…Kf5! 27…Bf6 Also good and strong was the main alternative of 27…Re8!? 28.Ra8 Bf6 29.Rxe4 Be5! and again, White’s position will soon collapse with the fall of the d6 pawn. 28.Bxe4+ Kg5 29.Ra5 Bxb2 30.Rxc5+ Kf6 31.Re3 Anand is trying to ‘big-up’ his threats by activating his rooks – but it comes to nothing with a little accurate play from Kovalyov. 31…g6! Anand’s fate is now sealed, as Kovalyov very calmly and correctly deprives the White bishop of the f5 square that will safeguard his king. 32.Rf3+ Ke6 33.Rd3 Rhd8 34.Ra5 f5 Black now has everything under control, and the extra piece comes into its own. 35.Bf3 Bc3 36.h4 Kf6 37.g3 f4! It’s all falling apart rapidly for Anand, with Kovalyov’s threat of …Bf5 now forcing the exchange of bishops – and with it, Black mops-up the loose pawns for an easy win. 38.Be4 Bf5 39.Bxf5 gxf5 40.Rb5 Ke6 41.Kf1 Rd7 42.gxf4 Rbxb7 43.Re3+ Kf6 0-1