With just one bewildering move from Magnus Carlsen, he proved that he’s “only” human after all. It was a very bizarre slip-up for the World Champion, especially as he had his opponent at his mercy in the fourth round of the $1.9m FIDE World Cup at Sochi on Friday afternoon, and one that spoiled what was shaping up to be an almost perfect game from the last remaining top seed left in the knockout competition.
And with so many big names already falling by the wayside in Sochi, Carlsen’s spectacular oversight could well come back to haunt the Norwegian, especially as his match with the Polish #2, Radoslaw Wojtaszek now goes to a nerve-wracking speed tiebreak on Saturday, after ending tied at 1-1.
Today’s diagram is one that destined to be tagged “Can you do better than World Champion Magnus Carlsen?” in all the newspaper chess columns and periodicals. After flawless building up an impressive mating attack, Carlsen has Wojtaszek all but dead and buried, yet somehow at the critical moment, he inexplicably missed the obvious winning rook move, instead opting for 25.Bc2? allowing his flabbergasted opponent to play 25…Qf2 to salvage a seemingly unlikely draw.
But nobody could quite believe that Carlsen – especially after playing an almost model attacking game – had missed the stone-cold killer 25.Rxh7! that forces 25…fxg6 (Black no longer has the saving 25…Qf2 resource, as now comes 26.Rh8+!! Kxh8 27.Qh3+ with mate to follow.) 26.Qxg6 and Black can’t defend his …Rf5 nor the threat of Ne7+ mating, leaving only 26…Rxd5 27.Rf1! and now comes the stunning double-rook sacrifice mate after 27…Rg5 28.Qf7+!! Kxh7 29.Bc2+ Kh6 30.Rf6+!! gxf6 31.Qh7# – a spectacular finish that, had it been executed over the board, would surely have been a leading candidate for Game of the Year!
With top US junior Jeffery Xiong being knocked out of the competition, American hopes now rest with Sam Shankland who goes forward to the final 16, with the 2018 US champion scoring a big stars and stripes retribution victory over Kazakh hopeful Rinat Jumbayev, the shock underdog vanquisher of US world #2 Fabiano Caruana in the previous round.
Also progressing to the next round will be Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, with the back-on-form again Frenchman beating the potentially dangerous top Indian teenage prodigy R. Praggnanandhaa, in what proved to be one of the most entertaining games of the day.
To see who will join the others in the final 16, you can follow the speed tiebreaks that start at 15:00 local time (08:00 EST | 05:00 PST) on Saturday, with commentary by former world championship challenger Nigel Short, at the official FIDE World Cup site.
GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave – GM R. Praggnanandhaa
FIDE World Cup 2021, (4.2)
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 Currently a very fashionable line of the Sicilian, and one that Pragg specially prepared for MVL. 6.Nxc6 bxc6 7.e5 Nd5 8.Ne4 Qc7 9.f4 Qb6 10.c4 Bb4+ 11.Ke2! You got to love the cojones of a super-GM brazenly playing a king move like this in the opening, but the point is that 11.Bd2? Qe3+! 12.Qe2 Bxd2+ 13.Nxd2 Qxe2+ 14.Bxe2 Nxf4 simply wins a pawn, therefore this radical step has to be taken. 11…f5 12.exf6 Nxf6 13.Be3 On the bright side, from e2 the king at least helps Whites development! 13…Qd8 14.Nd6+ Bxd6 15.Qxd6 Bb7 16.Kd1 And this is a further radical step with the king, looking to allow the light-squared bishop to develop. I would have thought that the logical move here was 16.Rd1!? with an interesting tussle ahead for both sides. 16…c5 17.Qxc5 MVL may well have been tempted by the alternative 17.Bd3!? Rc8 (Bad is 17…Ne4?! 18.Bxe4 Bxe4 19.Bxc5 Kf7 20.Re1 and Black is in trouble.) 18.Bxc5 but now 18…Be4 19.b4 Rc6 20.Qd4 Bxd3 21.Qxd3 Qc7 but it does look as if Black has more than enough resources here. 17…Be4 I think we can safely say that ultimately king safety is going to be the deciding factor in this game! 18.Be2 d6 19.Qd4 The engines didn’t much fancy MVL’s choice, instead preferring 19.Qb5+ Kf7 20.Qg5 Rf8 and the strange sequence 21.Ke1 Kg8 22.Kf2 Bf5 23.Bf3 where I suppose any three results could be possible. 19…0-0 20.Kc1 Qc7 It’s a brave player that wants to play the crucial move here against MVL, namely 20…Bxg2!? that the engines all seem to favour. Understandably, perhaps Pragg just didn’t want to voluntarily open lines toward his own king, but after 21.Rd1 (The elephant in the room is 21.Rg1 but now 21…Be4 Black is well covered on the kingside, and he’s now threatening …Rb8 with looming prospects of crashing through to White’s king) and certainly an interesting battle from here. 21.b3 e5 I totally get that Pragg – with the safer king – wanted to blow the position open now, but this looks the wrong way to go about it. I thought the more logical try was 21…a5!? and leave MVL to sweat over his king being prised open via the queenside route. 22.fxe5 dxe5 23.Qc5! Now it is becoming clear that not only is MVL’s king safe, but he’s also pawn up with a solid position and has the bishop-pair – and facing the prospects of going into a bad endgame scenario, Pragg has no option now other than to press the gamble button. 23…Qb7 24.Kb2 Nd5!?! Once you’ve pressed the gamble button, you may as well keep on pressing it! And this is a good attempt as any by Pragg to try to “mix it” now, the alternative being 24…a5 25.Rad1! a4 26.Qb5 Qc7 27.Qc5 Qb7 28.b4 and White seems to have everything under control and a solid edge. 25.cxd5! The engines opt for 25.Bg4 but MVL – who foresaw this possibility when he played 24.Kb2 – has a rather convincing positional queen sacrifice up his sleeve! 25…Rfc8 26.Rac1! And with one accurate and brave move, suddenly Pragg’s attacking chances are vanishing with the material imbalance, leaving MVL in command. 26…Rxc5 27.Rxc5 h6 You can’t really target the powerful d-pawn with 27…Rd8 as White just plays 28.Rd1 and if you capture on d5 there will be an almighty game-winning pin with Bc4 at the end of it. So instead, Pragg plays a waiting move that gives his king a little bolthole to avoid any awkward back-rank mates – but MVL isn’t for waiting around! 28.d6! The d-pawn is now a game-winner. 28…Bxg2 29.Rd1 Qe4 30.Bc4+ Kh8 31.d7 “Passed pawns must be pushed,” as the old chess adage goes! 31…Qxe3 32.Rc8+ Kh7 33.d8Q 1-0