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The $1.9m FIDE World Cup in Sochi has now reached the stage where Americans have come to know better through the annual NCAA basketball phenomena, with the huge 206-player starting field now whittled down to the bracketology parlance of the ‘Sweet 16’ – and made all the sweeter with Sam Shankland, the last American left standing in the competition, defying the odds to beat multi-time Russian champion Peter Svidler to become the first player to qualify for the quarterfinals.

Shankland played very aggressively from the get-go with 3.h4!? to thwart Svidler’s favourite Grünfeld Defence – but just as the game looked set to fizzle out and the match going to tiebreaks, Shankland benefitted big-time from a major blunder at the critical moment from Svidler, and one that left the dejected eight-time Russian champion only to ponder the Sochi-Novosibirsk Shuttle and his connection back home to St. Petersburg.

It’s one of the biggest results for Shankland following his shock 2018 victory in the US championship – and interviewed on becoming the first player to qualify through to the quarterfinals, he was typically pumped up about his chances of going all the way now in the competition. “[Maxime] Vachier-Lagrave and [Sergey] Karjakin, I’ll get one of these guys who are both obviously very very strong, but I am playing really well and if I can keep it up, I am ready to fight with them,” he said.

The US #5 will be joined in the quarterfinals by the young Indian star Vidit Gujrathi, who prevailed over Vasif Durarbayli. And by advancing to the quarterfinals, Vidit and Shankland have now also booked their place into the 2022 FIDE Grand Prix Series – but the dream could be bigger, because if they reach the FIDE World Cup Final, then they’ll qualify directly for the Candidates!

For the remaining 12 players left in the FIDE World Cup though, there’s no rest day for them as they face what could well be a nerve-wracking day of speed tiebreaks on Tuesday, including top seed Magnus Carlsen, who has still not managed to crack the resolve of the talented 19-year-old young Russian Andrey Esipenko, the only player with a 100% record against the World Champion following his shock Wijk aan Zee win back in January.

You can follow the speed tiebreaks that start at 15:00 local time (08:00 EST | 05:00 PST) on Tuesday, with commentary by former world championship challenger Nigel Short, at the official FIDE World Cup site.

Final 16:
Carlsen 1-1 Esipenko; Bacrot 1-1 Piorun; Grischuk 1-1 Duda; Vidit 1.5-0.5 Durarbayli; Fedoseev 1-1 Ivic; Tabatabaei 1-1 Martirosyan; Vachier-Lagrave 1-1 Karjakin; Svidler 0.5-1.5 Shankland.

GM Sam Shankland – GM Peter Svidler
FIDE World Cup, (5.2)
King’s Indian Defence/Anti-Grünfeld
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.h4!? Svidler is one of the world’s recognised Grünfeld gurus, and this strange attacking move – reaching early doors for ‘Harry the h-pawn’ – was made popular by Svidler’s fellow countryman Alexander Grischuk, and it is one of the most aggressive Anti-Grünfeld systems currently in tournament praxis. 3…Bg7 Black generally goes for Benoni setups against 3.h4, but can also opt for the King’s Indian, Benko, and even the Grünfeld – at his own risk. 4.Nc3 d6 The pure King’s Indian setup is by far one of the most critical options against 3.h4!? Black has. 5.e4 Nc6 6.Nge2 0-0 7.f3 Play now transposes into a KID Saemisch Variation – the big difference here being that Black can very easily counter in the center to White’s early h4 dalliance. 7…e5 8.d5 Nd4 9.Be3 c5! For the price of just a pawn, Svidler opens the game up for his well-placed pieces. 10.dxc6 bxc6 11.Nxd4 exd4 12.Bxd4 Rb8 13.Qc2 c5 14.Bf2 Be6 Black has rapid development, but White still has the pawn. 15.0-0-0 Nd7 16.Rxd6 Qa5 17.Be1 Ne5 18.f4 Nxc4 19.Bxc4 Bxc4 20.e5 Rfd8 21.Rxd8+ Rxd8 22.h5 Bxa2 23.hxg6 hxg6 24.Ne4 Qb6?? Painful. Very painful – Svidler goes from being fine to completely lost by moving the queen to the wrong square. He had to play 24…Qb5! 25.Nd6 (Unlike in the game, this time 25.Bh4 Rd4 26.Nf6+ Kf8 Black is better as there’s no knight fork on d7.) 25…Qb6 and we basically have an equal position that will most likely soon fizzle out to a draw. 25.Bh4! [see diagram] The body language said it all here – hesitating a couple of times before making this move, Shankland was pinching himself and rubbing his eyes in disbelief that Svidler had just handed him the game; the key being the gift of a major knight fork on d7. 25…Rd4 26.Nf6+ Kf8 27.Bf2! Bxf6 Forced, as 27…Rc4 28.Qxc4! Bxc4 29.Bxc5+! Qxc5 30.Nd7+ Ke8 31.Nxc5 Bd5 32.Rh2 and White will soon clear up with his big material advantage. 28.exf6 Qxf6 A quite dejected Svidler still couldn’t believe the gross blunder he made at the decisive moment of the game, and forced now to take on f6 down to avoid the mate after 28…Rc4 29.Rh8#. 29.Qxc5+ Rd6 30.Qc8+ 1-0 And with that Svidler resigned, not wishing to prolong his agony by 30…Rd8 31.Rh8+! Qxh8 32.Qxd8+ Kg7 33.Bd4+ f6 34.Qxf6+ Kg8 35.Qxg6+ etc.

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