There’s no shortage of top knockout chess action right now! Not only do we have the FIDE World Cups (for both open and women) rapidly coming to its conclusion in Sochi, but running concurrently now online is the the latest leg of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, the Chessable Masters, which is now set to go into the ‘business end’ of its deciding knockout stage.
With Tour leader Magnus Carlsen otherwise preoccupied at the World Cup, the prelim stage of the Chessable Masters was convincingly won by top seed Wesley So, as the reigning US champion seized his big chance to catch up with the leader by breaking the event’s score record with 11/15 en route to victory, half a point clear of the chasing pack of Levon Aronian, Alireza Firouzja and Hikaru Nakamura.
The remaining four joining So, Aronian, Firouzja and Nakamura in the knockout stage will be Vladislav Artiemev, Liem Quang Le, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Jorden Van Foreest. The knockouts start Tuesday with kick off at 17:00 CEST (11:00 EST | 08:00 PST). All the live action and commentaries can be found on the official Tour site.
Meanwhile in Sochi, we already have one big winner as the former world champion Alexandra Kosteniuk rolled back the years to surprisingly and convincingly win her all-Russian clash with GM Aleksandra Goryachkina in the final of the Women’s World Cup, beating the favourite to take the title. “When you are young, and you win, you don’t really appreciate it that much,” said a euphoric Kosteniuk in her post-victory interview. “But when you become older, every victory is something unbelievable… These victories motivate me to go on.” (for Kosteniuk’s full victory interview, click here)
Also on the comeback trail and back on top form is Sergey Karjakin, who made easy work of his compatriot Vladimir Fedoseev in the other all-Russian clash in the men’s semi-final today, as he hijacked his opponent to win and thus go forward to the final and take one of the two guaranteed spot up for grabs in the next Candidates Tournament. And with it, Karjakin now also makes a timely return once more to the world’s Top-10.
The former title challenger and 2015 World Cup winner will now have to wait to see whom he faces in the final, as Carlsen and Jan-Krzysztof Duda of Poland battled each other to a standstill with two hard-fought draws in their entertaining semis clash. Both now have to return for what promises to be a not-to-be-missed tiebreak decider also on Tuesday, which gets underway at 15:00 local time (08:00 EST | 05:00 PST | 14:00 CEST) at the official World Cup site.
GM Sergey Karjakin – GM Vladimir Fedoseev
FIDE World Cup, (7.2)
Ruy Lopez, Zaitsev System
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 0-0 9.h3 Bb7 10.d4 Re8 11.Nbd2 There’s an infamous “GM short draw” option here that occurs after 11.Ng5 Rf8 12.Nf3 Re8 13.Ng5 Rf8 14.Nf3 Re8 and a repetition, as White has no better move other than retreating the knight to f3 after Ng5 Rf8 etc. But thankfully not today! 11…Bf8 The tabiyah of one of the most dynamic lines for Black in the Ruy Lopez, the Zaitsev System, refined in the early 1970s by Anatoly Karpov’s former trainer, Igor Arkadievich Zaitsev. A few years back, another of Karpov’s trainers, Alexey Kuzmin produced a labour of love with his definitive book on this defence, The Zaitsev System (New In Chess, 2016). 12.a3 When in Sochi, so to speak, play the ‘Sochi Variation’, first played against its eponymous creator there in 1976. But certainly not nearly as demanding nor as testing than the historic ‘Kasparov Variation’ by pushing further on with 12.a4, a famous line that the former World Champion used in his five title matches with Karpov. 12…h6 13.Bc2 d5!? The big mainline is 13…Nb8 – but the text has been played several times by the enterprising Alexander Morozevitch. 14.dxe5 Nxe5 15.Nxe5 Rxe5 16.Nf3 Re8 17.e5 Ne4 18.Bf4 c5 19.a4 f5 So far, so theory. But here Karjakin went into the tank for nearly 30min to find some “inspiration” to take his opponent out of what was clearly a prepared line – and the 2018 title challenger soon found a clever novelty that now sent Fedoseev into the tank. 20.h4!?N Karjakin improves on 20.Qe2 played previously in Tari-Vidit (2018) and Oparin-Morozevich (2015). And the new improvement takes Fedoseev by surprise, as he somehow seems to miss what Karjakin was up to. 20…Be7 21.h5 Rf8? A serious mistake from Fedoseev that he never recovers from. Instead, he should have tried playing on the queenside with 21…b4 22.cxb4 c4!? and Black looks to have excellent counter-play with …Bxb4 and …Bc5 with pressure on the dark squares and a possible juicy target on f2. 22.axb5 axb5 23.Rxa8 Bxa8 24.e6! [see diagram] This is what Fedoseev missed – the pawn advancing to vacate the e5-square for the knight. And faced with the dilemma of systematically being pushed off the board, Fedoseev opts to go down fighting by taking the desperado route. 24…Re8 A clear recognition from Fedoseev that he’s in a bad way. The point is that the pawn can’t be taken due to the pin on the e-file, for example 24…Qc8 25.Ne5! Qxe6 26.Ng6 Rd8 27.f3 and the best Black can hope for is 27…Bf6 28.fxe4 fxe4 which might well have had survival chances, had it not been for 29.b4! and Black is busted and has to play 29…c4 where 30.Qd2 followed by Be3-d4 and White is easily winning. 25.Ne5 Bg5 26.Ng6 d4 27.cxd4 Nxf2?! It’s hard to criticise here with Fedoseev in dire straits, but it was either being pushed off the board or going down trying to confuse Karjakin with some spurious complications – but Karjakin is not the sort of player to go into a panic in such circumstances. 28.Kxf2 Bxf4 29.Nxf4 Qh4+ 30.Kg1 Qxf4 31.d5 Qg3 32.Re2! Karjakin calmly defends g2 and if needs be, also perhaps swinging the rook over to d2 to protect d5. 32…Qg5 33.Qd2 1-0 And with g2 double-protected, Fedoseev resigns with d6-d7 coming.