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By John Henderson

It started with an original field of 206-players, but now there’s a natural chessboard “64” left in the marquee event of the 2021 FIDE World Cup, the massive knockout competition with a galaxy of elite-stars and would-be wannabes that’s currently running in Sochi, Russia. There’s not just plenty of money on offer, as its primary function is also to find two qualifiers for the 2022 Candidates, plus the next six qualifying for the FIDE Grand Prix next year.

And with it, there’s a possible crack at a future title-match. But apart from the likes of perennial title challengers Fabiano Caruana, Anish Giri, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave et al., there’s the even a certain Magnus Carlsen himself in the field, and the World Champion is there not only because the World Cup is open for anyone who qualifies, but also, as he freely admits, because he wants to simply “mess with the pairing.”

In the last 64, all eyes were on the clash between Carlsen and his young countryman Aryan Tari – but despite the all-Norwegian attraction, it proved to be nothing short of a romp for Carlsen, who with his comfortable 2-0 victory was one of the first to go forward to Round 4, where his next opponent will be either Poland’s Radoslaw Wojtaszek or Russian Maxim Matlakov, with both returning on Tuesday to play a series of tiebreak deciders.

But in one of the biggest giant-killing results so far in the World Cup, second seed Caruana will not be going forward to the expected big clash in the final with Carlsen, and nor will he be joining him in the last 32 either, as the top US player was sensationally knocked out of the competition today by the relatively unknown underdog, GM Rinat Jumabayev of Kazakstan – and to make matters worse for Caruana, with it, he now dips below 2800 and drops to world #3.

GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Aryan Tari
FIDE World Cup 2021, (3.1)
English Opening
1.c4 e6 2.g3 d5 3.Bg2 dxc4 4.Qa4+ An unambitious hybrid line of the English Opening/Reti Opening. 4…c6 5.Qxc4 c5 6.b3 Nf6 7.Bb2 Be7 8.Nf3 Nc6 9.0-0 0-0 10.Ne5 With little to work with, this is the only game in town for Carlsen – but Tari has easy equality with some logical exchanges. 10…Nxe5 11.Bxe5 Nd7 12.Bb2 Rb8! Getting the rook off the long white diagonal and threatening to expand quickly on the queenside with …b5. 13.Nc3 Bf6 14.Rab1 Not the most inspiring move to have to play, but it is forced as Black threatens …b5 again with the Bb2 unprotected. 14…b6 15.b4 Bb7 16.Bxb7 Rxb7 17.bxc5 Nxc5 I would imagine by this time Tari would have felt he was in no danger with pieces being traded and no pawn weaknesses – but Carlsen is notorious for extracting blood from a stone, and he just relentlessly grinds away at the little weaknesses he has created in his countryman’s pawn structure. 18.Ba3 Rc7 19.Rfd1 Re8 20.Nb5 Rd7 21.Bxc5 bxc5 22.Qa4 Qa8 The position is not as innocent as it looks. After 22…Rxd2 23.Nd6! Rxd1+ 24.Rxd1 Rf8 25.Nxf7! Qe8 26.Qxe8 Rxe8 27.Nd6 Rd8 28.Rd3 and despite the engine telling you that White’s advantage is “only” +0.07 or so, you have to be wary playing such positions against Carlsen, as he’ll happily and relentlessly grind away all day here. So there’s that doubt just lingering in the back of Tari’s mind here. 23.d3 h5 Understandably Tari creates a little escape route for his king, but now was the time to be brave with the bold plan 23…Rb8!? 24.Nc3 Rd4! 25.Qa6 Be7 26.Rxb8+ Qxb8 27.Nb5 Rd7 28.Rb1 Rb7 29.Rb3 Bf8 and it is difficult to see how White can make something out of this tougher Black defence. 24.Rdc1 Rc8 25.Na3! Carlsen has made the most of the little opportunities that have come his way: his rooks are ideally placed, as is his queen, and now his knight is heading to a good blockading outpost on c4 that makes targets of Black’s weak queenside pawns on c5 and a7. 25…Rd4 For reasons that will soon become clear, stronger and better was 25…Qd5 just centralising the queen. 26.Nc4 h4 27.Qb5! Carlsen quickly hones in on what’s needed to try and convert this ending, and that’s Qb7 trading queens as it will be difficult for Black to defend those two weak pawns on a7 and c5. 27…Qd5 28.Qb7 Rd8 29.Qxd5 exd5 30.Ne3 The hanging pawns created now on c5 and d5 are targets, but Black has more than enough resources to stay in the game. 30…Ra4 31.Rc2 A tad too hesitant – White’s best chance to make something happen is with 31.Rxc5!? hxg3 32.hxg3 d4 33.Nd5 Rxa2 34.Kf1 Re8!? 35.Nxf6+ gxf6 36.Re1 a5 37.Rd5! Ra4 38.f4 and making progress with Kf2-f3 and g4 etc – but still a lot of work will be required to convert for a win here. 31…h3! Tari keeps his hopes alive by generating possible back-rank mating chances – that or perhaps finding a way to bludgeon a way through to the h2-pawn and making Black’s own h-pawn a potential game-changer being so far down the board. 32.Kf1 Bd4 33.Nf5 Bf6 34.Ne3 Bd4 35.Nf5 Bf6 Tari may well have begun to let his guard down by now, convincing himself that Carlsen would have to settle for a draw by repeating with Ne3 – and short of time, and possibly shocked that Carlsen opts not to take the draw, he blows his position. 36.Rxc5 Rxa2 37.Ne3 a5?? [see diagram] After doing all the hard-work, Tari blunders at the crucial moment, thinking his fast-running a-pawn will be his saviour, but alas not realising he was in fact sleepwalking into a deadly knight fork. Instead, after 37…d4! 38.Nc4 Re8 39.Re1 Re6 and with Black’s pieces well-placed, the game should now eke out to a draw. 38.Nxd5 Bd4 39.Rcb5 a4 Here’s the dilemma now for Tari: With his flag beginning to hang precariously, the threat is Ne7+ followed by Nc6 forking rook, bishop and winning the a5-pawn. And if he tries 39…Kh7 40.Ne7! (Threatening Rh5 mate!) 40…Rd6 41.e3 Bc3 42.Nd5 Bb4 43.Rc1 Rb2 44.d4 Bd2 45.Rcc5 Bb4 46.Rc7 Rd8 47.Nf4 Rb1+ 48.Ke2 White has a big endgame-winning advantage with the h3-pawn set to fall – and all of White’s pieces are very actively placed, perhaps also picking off the a5-pawn, or launch a sudden attack on the Black king. And no use either is 39…Kf8 40.e3 Bf6 41.Nxf6 gxf6 42.d4 Rc8 43.Rb8 Rxb8 44.Rxb8+ Kg7 45.d5 with a hopelessly lost R+P ending with all Black’s pawns weak and ready targets. 40.Ne7+ 1-0 And Tari resigns, as avoiding mate (with 40…Kh7 41. Rh5 mate) with 40…Kf8 now sets-up 41.Nc6 and Black has to lose the exchange, as 41…Rd6 walks into another mate with 42.Rb8 mate!

 

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