As the $1.9m Fide World Cup in Sochi now gets down to the nitty-gritty of the final four, the stage is now set for what could prove to be an intriguing redux of the 2016 World Championship Match, as the two former title combatants, Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin, are on a collision course to meet in the final, should both successfully get through their semifinal matches.
After surviving a mini-scare against 19-year-old rising Russian star Andrey Esipenko, Carlsen wasn’t taking any prisoners when he faced Etienne Bacrot, as the world champions swept the French former prodigy aside with an emphatic 2-0 victory to become the first player to reach the semi-final of the 206-player knockout competition.
And in Sunday’s semi-final Carlsen now meets another potentially awkward younger opponent in Jan-Krysztof Duda (Poland), who won 1½-½ against Vidit Gujrathi (India). In the other half of the draw, Vladimir Fedoseev (Russia) got late lucky to defeat big outsider Amin Tabatabaei (Iran) also by 1½-½ to set up an all-Russian encounter with his compatriot Sergey Karjakin, who beat Sam Shankland (US) 4-2 in a gripping contest which had no draws and all six games being decisive.
Against all the odds, Shankland, showing the sort of form that won the Californian the 2018 US championship title, had led 1-0 and 2-1, but each time Karjakin fought back from the brink, as the Minister of Defence had to turn to the tag of Minister for War to win the pulsating match. “I won many games where I had to make a comeback,” said a relived Karjakin. “Somehow I am just concentrating on playing chess. There is no special secret… The only thing I can say is that I try to fight until the end.”
Bacrot 0-2 Carlsen
Vidit ½-1½ Duda
Tabatabaei ½-1½ Fedoseev
Shankland 2-4 Karjakin
Carlsen v Duda
Fedoseev v Karjakin
Saturday is the rest day, and the semi-finals on Sunday and Monday (with Tuesday reserved for any tiebreak-deciders) can be watched free and live at the official Fide World Cup site with top grandmaster commentaries, starting at 15:00 local time (08:00 EST | 05:00 PST | 13:00 BST).
And if you can’t do without a Saturday chess-fix, then the Meltwater Champions Tour from the Play Magnus Group resumes on Saturday, with the $100,000 Chessable Masters. Tour leader Carlsen is otherwise engaged, but Levon Aronian, Wesley So and Hikaru Nakamura are among the favourites. The online event has a diverse field that also includes the world woman champion, Ju Wenjun, and the youngest ever grandmaster, Abhimanyu Mishra, 12.
GM Sergey Karjakin – GM Sam Shankland
FIDE World Cup, (6.2)
1.e4 e6 2.d3 Now there’s a certain degree of psychology going on here from both players. With Sam Shankland 1-0 up, Sergey Karjakin needs to win on demand to take the match to a tiebreak – but Shankland is not normally a French practitioner, so smelling a rat, and something prepared for his usual 3.Nc3, the Russian instead goes for the King’s Indian Attack to ‘mix it’ – a wise choice, as it turns out. 2…d5 3.Nd2 Nf6 4.Ngf3 Be7 5.g3 a5 6.Bg2 a4 7.a3 c5 8.0-0 Nc6 9.Re1 0-0 10.e5 Nd7 11.Nf1 b5 12.h4 In his youth, this is the set-up that Bobby Fischer favoured against the French. It’s an easy attacking system and often double-edged – ideal for Karjakin in a must-win scenario – but a crucial factor is that Black has to effectively roll out his queenside counterplay quickly, otherwise he’s likely to be steamrolled by what can quickly turn into an overwhelming kingside attack. 12…Bb7 13.h5 h6 14.Bf4 Qb6 15.Qd2 Rfc8 16.g4 Qd8 Given that Karjakin has to play for the win, perhaps more pragmatic was the alternative option here of 16…Nd4!? the idea being that after 17.Nxd4 cxd4 Black has good play down the open c-file, one example being 18.g5 Qa5 19.gxh6 (Trying to keep the queens on seems to favour Black, for example 19.Qc1 Nc5! with the embarrassment of a knight hit either on b3 or d3.) 19…Qxd2 20.Nxd2 Rxc2 and with the queens off and the rook active on c2, Black has no worries here. 17.N1h2 Ra6 The computer likes Sam’s move, but my history of seeing many, many KIA vs the French games tells me that Black should just be getting on with the queenside counterplay and 17…b4!? where now the caveman tactics of 18.g5 hxg5 19.Nxg5 Ndxe5 20.h6 leaves a mess on the board; and frankly one where any three results is possible. 18.Kh1 Now all the fun starts, as Karjakin goes ‘all-in’ with his attack by freeing up the g-file for his rook. 18…b4 19.Rg1 Nf8 20.axb4 cxb4 21.d4 Na5? Too slow. Now admittedly, the knight heading to c4 looks good, but it only helps Karjakin to make his move on the g-file. More to the point was 21…a3! right now, with no delay, and White’s going to be tied down to defending against the a-pawn, with play likely to continue 22.b3 (If 22.bxa3 Rxa3! 23.Rab1 Nh7 and Black is in control with the knight coming to g5 blockading the attack.) 22…Nh7 23.Bf1 Raa8 24.Bd3 (Alternatively, White can opt to ‘press the gamble button’ with 24.g5 Bxg5 25.Ng4 and see what happens.) 24…Ng5! and it’s difficult to see how White’s attack is going to crash through with the big g5 blockade. 22.g5! It’s now or never for Karjakin, as he rips open a route to Sam’s king via the g-file. 22…Nc4 23.Qc1 hxg5 24.Bxg5 b3?! Shankland has basically sleepwalked into the danger zone – his last desperate try was 24…Bxg5 25.Nxg5 f6!?! (Desperate times call for desperate measures – and besides, snatching on b2 leads to nothing but trouble 25…Nxb2 26.Bf1 Rb6 27.h6! and Black’s close to the brink.) 26.Ngf3 Rc7 27.h6 fxe5 and let the chips fall where they may – but at least here Black’s pieces are more ideally placed to deal with the coming kingside attack. 25.Bxe7 Qxe7 26.Bf1! There’s really no way back for Shankland after this move – a classy move that not only opens the floodgates for the attack down the g-file, but also plays a crucial defensive role, as we’ll soon see. 26…a3? [Too little too late – and now an open invitation for a “happening” on the g-file. The situation has become critical for Shankland, and even 26…bxc2 loses in the same spectacular way as in the game. 27.Rxg7+!! [see diagram] Karjakin produces a killing King’s Indian Attack that’s worth of the young Fischer – and with it he crashes another American hopes with his spectacular rook sacrifice. 27…Kxg7 28.Ng4 f5 There’s no defence. If 28…Nd7 to cover the threat of Qh6+ and Nf6+, there comes 29.Qh6+ Kg8 30.Bd3! and another mate in a few moves. 29.exf6+ Qxf6 Played more in the hope of a miracle that Karjakin somehow might get confused and concerned about Black’s a- and b-pawns – but Karjakin isn’t in the least confused nor concerned about the threats from the pawns. 30.Nxf6 axb2 31.Qg5+ Kf7 32.h6! With Karjakin’s retreating Bf1 offering the crucial breathing space by deflecting a check from a queening pawn, he can carry on with his mating attack, which Sam sportingly allows to be played over the board rather than resigning. 32…Ng6 33.Nh4 bxa1Q 34.Qxg6+ Ke7 35.Qg7+ Kd6 36.Qd7# 1-0