IT’S NOT TOO LATE TO SIGN UP FOR FALL 2019!

John Henderson
By John Henderson

It’s the end of the road for the heroic FIDE World Cup run in Khanty-Mansiysk for the 18-year-old rising star of US chess, Jeffery Xiong, who – after a brace of crowd-pleasing back-to-back victories over second seed Anish Giri and Jan-Kyrysztof Duda – was knocked out of the competition by Teimour Radjabov, as the Azeri edged out the Texas teen in their quarterfinal match-up to now go forward to the semifinals.

After easily holding a draw in game 1 of their quarterfinal, Xiong found himself under pressure straight from the opening in game 2, as he defended a sharp Grünfeld Exchange. And after burning up a lot of his time on the clock in doing so, Xoing was outplayed by the Azeri, who converted his advantage to win the match. Xiong now says goodbye to the World Cup after his memorable run, but this was a major breakthrough performance for the teen, and it looks as if he’s about to say a big “hello” to the world elite.

Top seed Ding Liren is also into the semis. After a somewhat easier time of it than was anticipated in his match with Alexander Grischuk, he outplayed the notoriously tough Russian in game 2, to also win 1½-½, making the in-form Chineses star the first player to make it to the semis of the $1.6m knockout competition. He’ll now meet his fellow countryman Yu Yangyi for a place in the final, after Yu’s match with Russia’s Nikita Vitiugov went right to the wire of a very nervous final Armageddon showdown, with the Chinese player leaving his opponent stunned at the end, as he somehow managed to win from a bad position to claim the match.

Also in the semis is French star Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who beat Levon Aronian 2½-1½ after the first tie-break match. And the relentless march to the semifinals of top seed Ding – and also MVL – could come as welcomed news for Anish Giri. The Dutchman, who was the second seed in the World Cup, was sensationally knocked out in round 2 by Xiong – as he could possibly now have a vital lifeline into the 2020 Candidates Tournament in Ekaterinburg, Russia.

Currently, Ding leads the year-long race for the rating place into the candidates (based on the average rating over the period October 2019 to January 2020, with the numbers crunched by leading stats guru, Martin Bennedik) with an unassailable lead, way ahead of Giri and MVL. If Ding beats Yu to go forward to the World Cup final, then this will take preference as his automatic access into the candidates, and Giri will then move into pole position for the rating qualifying spot. And in the event of a Ding-MVL World Cup final, with both finalists qualifying for the candidates, Giri’s place in Ekaterinburg will all but be a certainty.

Quarter-final results:

Grischuk ½-1½ Ding
Vitiugov 4-5 Yu
Xiong ½-1½ Radjabov
Aronian 1½-2½ MVL

Semi-final (latest scores):

Ding ½-½ Yu
MVL ½-½ Radjabov

GM Ding Liren – GM Alexander Grischuk
FIDE World Cup (Quarterfinal), (1)
English Opening
1.c4 The English opening has a distinguished English pedigree: named because it was introduced into regular praxis by Howard Staunton (1810-1874), the English (unofficial) World Champion. 1…e5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 More usual in the English is 2.Nc3 followed by g3 and Bg2 – but this was the recommended set-up endorsed by English GM Tony Kosten, avoiding the …Bb4 pins, in his wonderful 1999 book, The Dynamic English. 3…Bc5 4.d3 “There are many ways to play for both sides. I went for the most simple way,” explained Ding in his post-game presser. The Kosten method would have been 4.Nc3 Nc6 5.a3! and then follow-up with e3 and Nge2 blunting the power of the bishop on the a7-g1 diagonal. 4…d5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.Nc3 Nb6 7.Nf3 Nc6 8.0-0 0-0 9.a3 a5 10.Na4 Nxa4 11.Qxa4 Nd4!?N An interesting new idea from Grischuk. More standard up to now has been the obvious 11…Bd7 12.Qc2 Bb6 with a balanced game. 12.Nxd4 Bxd4 13.Bd2 c6 14.e3 Bb6 15.Bc3 Re8 16.Rfd1 Bd7 A bit too passive now, according to Ding. He was thinking 16…Bf5!? 17.Rac1 h6 followed by ….Qd7. 17.Rac1 h6 18.h3 The pawn just becomes a target later so, on reflection, Ding thought he should have simply played the immediate 18.Rd2. 18…Rb8 19.Rd2 Bc7 20.d4 c5 21.Qc2 exd4 The alternative 21…cxd4 22.exd4 e4 23.Bxe4 Bxh3 24.Bh7+ Kh8 25.Bf5 Bxf5 26.Qxf5 f6 27.d5 Bd6 28.Kg2 with Rh1 coming next, which Ding thought was also marginally better for White. 22.exd4 c4 23.a4 Bd6 24.Rdd1 b6 25.Re1 Rxe1+ More of a challenge looked 25…Qg5!? according to Ding – and that looks spot on. 26.Rxe1 Qc7 Not the sort of move you would consider here, but Ding thought that the computer-like idea with 26…Qf8!?, which at least defends f7 (we’ll soon see why), and looking to follow-up with …Re8 to trade rooks was also a possibility. 27.h4 Re8 The start of a bad plan, as Grischuk underestimated the strength of Ding’s next move. 28.Bd5 Rxe1+ 29.Bxe1 Be6? Grischuk’s position was beginning to wander a little – and with this move, he rapidly goes downhill now. 30.Bxe6 fxe6 31.Qe4! After this very precise move from Ding, Grischuk’s position now goes from bad to worse. 31…Kf7 In an ideal world, Grischuk would like to play 31…Qd7 but that backfires to 32.d5! and White’s very much on top. 32.Bc3 Also possible was 32.d5 but either way, the game is opening up – and not to Black’s advantage. 32…Bf8 33.d5! [see diagram] Grischuk’s king is not only being exposed but with it, his queenside pawns now are all looking vulnerable. 33…Qd6 34.dxe6+ Qxe6 35.Qb7+ Kg8 36.Bd4! It’s amazing how, from a seemingly innocuous position a few moves ago, Grischuk’s position is now hanging by a thread – if one of the queenside pawns fall, Black’s game will collapse with it. 36…Qf5 37.Kh2 One of Ding’s virtues is that he’s a very patient player.  And with the queenside pawns going nowhere, he just takes a more safety-first path to victory. However there was nothing to fear, and the ‘clinical kill’ was 37.Qxb6! Qd7 38.Bc3 Qxa4 39.Qe6+ Kh7 40.Qf7! and no way to save the bishop with a mate on g7 also threatened. 37…Qc2 38.Qd5+! The route to f7 kills the game. 38…Kh7 39.Qf7 Grischuk’s position has been stretched to its limits, and something now has to give. 39…Qd3 40.Bc3 Also good and winning was 40.Bxb6! – but Ding prefers instead to keep up the ‘Chinese Torture’ on Grischuk with his queen and bishop. 40…Qd6 41.Qxc4 Qg6 42.Bd4 1-0 Some thought Grischuk’s resignation here was somewhat premature, but with Kg2, Qd5, h5 and/or Qc6 coming, there’s no hope, and the win will not be that far off anyway.

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