2017 World Chess Cup: Semifinals

2017 World Chess Cup
September 2nd-27th, 2017 (Tbilisi, Georgia)
SEMI-FINALS
Levon Aronian vs. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
Wesley So vs. Ding Liren
Drum Coverage
| Round 1 | Round 2 | Round 3 | Round 4 | Round 5 |
| Semifinals | Finals |

Photos by Maria Emelianova (chess.com), Anastasia Kharlovich (fide.org), Lennart Ootes.

The 2017 World Cup is coming to a close and there are so many possibilities of how this could affect the Candidates tournament. Macauley Peterson actually discussed the possibilities of who could make the tournament.

Of particular interest is the question of how the Isle of Man could potentially affect the average ratings of Kramnik and Caruana, who were elminated from Tbilisi after losing 9.2 and 5.2 rating points respectively. The pair are currently both precisely 2793.8 on the live ratings. But for the Candidates, the average of the monthly ratings over the entire calendar 2017 are what matter.

As of today, if nothing else changed between now and December, the average rating list would be as follows:

Caruana (2807)
So (2806)
Kramnik (2805)

Interesting Interview with Macauley Peterson
concerning the route to 2018 Candidates Tournament

Video by Georgia Chess

MVL will most likely miss the rating cut-off and will try to get one of the two spots in Tbilisi. One thing is for sure… there will be no easy outs in these two matches as all are elite players. In these matches, they will be tough to predict. It would be interesting to see if players will play it safe in the classical and go for tiebreaks or try to be aggressive in the classical and steal the match.

In Aronian-MVL, both in great form and expect have their seconds working overtime to find a novelty. In So-Ding, the Chinese delegation is impressive and most likely are looking through So’s voluminous history. Many of the Chinese players still remain in Tbilisi to assist in that task. Both players still have a chance to qualify even if they don’t reach the finals.

Official Website: https://tbilisi2017.fide.com/
All PGN Games (TWIC): https://www.theweekinchess.com/
Rules and Regulations: https://tbilisi2017.fide.com/regulations/

Daaim Shabazz

Daaim Shabazz is the founder of The Chess Drum, while serving as a tenured faculty member of Global Business & Marketing at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida, USA. He holds a B.S. Computer Science from Chicago State University, an MBA in Marketing and a Ph.D. in International Affairs & Development, both from Clark Atlanta University. He has served the journalist community for more than 30 years and still competes in tournaments occasionally.

7 Comments

  1. SEMIFINALS-Game 1 Recap
    September 19-22, 2017

    Both games drawn, but some critical moments

    We’ve gone from 128 players to four. The hall has become very empty over the past two weeks. However, the World Cup seems to be shaping up into a epic ending. Both semi-final games had their moments, but if this is a sign of things to come, fans will be pleased at the action. Both MVL and Wesley So may have missed opportunities involving a sacrifice of an exchange.

    In Aronian-MVL, the game got extremely complicated with all kinds of twists and turns. Somehow MVL stated that he had lost the thread of the position and possibly missed a winning chances.

    Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

    In So-Ding, it was an Italian Game with So having obtained a grip on the position with a knight ensconced on d5. At a critical moment, he missed a chance to sacrifice the exchange with 41.Rxb3! In the ChessBase video IM Sagar Shah gave a challenge to the audience to determine whether the exchange sack gave white winning chances after 41…axb3 42.gxf6 gxf6 43.Rg7.

    Sure enough, a ChessBase reader (Mark S.) found a stronger continuation. The point is white increases pressure with 43. Rg8+! Kd7 44.Nb4! threatening a mating net whereby 44…Ke7 45. Rc8 Ra2 46. Nxa2 Kd7 47. Rxc7+! Kxc7 48. Nb4 +- would give white a decisive advantage. Not easy to see. Ding was a bit surprised at the Rxb3 possibility and could only grin and acknowledge that it would have given white winning chances.

    Ding Liren

    Sagar Shah’s post-mortem (Wesley So – Ding Liren)

    Videos by Sagar Shah (ChessBase India)

    Video by Georgia Chess

    Official Website: https://tbilisi2017.fide.com/
    All PGN Games (TWIC): https://www.theweekinchess.com/
    Rules and Regulations: https://tbilisi2017.fide.com/regulations/

  2. SEMIFINALS-Game 2 Recap
    September 19-21, 2017

    Aronian-MVL with 19-move draw… Ding misses chance…
    both matches go to tiebreak!

    While MVL-Aronian was a “damp squib,” Ding-So had a bit of drama. Many were predicting Ding would crash through when he got a nice grip on the position.

    Yesterday, So had a chance to get virtually a winning position but allowed Ding to escape. Today, it was Ding who let So off with a sigh of relief after the Chinese player had a chance to apply pressure with 37.Rh8! The point is not the h-pawn, but the dastardly idea of creating a mating net in conjunction with e4-e5. IM Sagar Shah gives some incisive commentary.

    Video by Sagar Shah (ChessBase India)

    With a spot in the Candidates on the line, these two will not be laughing tomorrow. Photo by Amruta Mokal (ChessBase India)

    Video by Georgia Chess

  3. SEMIFINALS-Tiebreaks
    September 19-21, 2017

    The Queen reigns over Rook… Aronian and Ding advance

    The finals are set. Two players have punched their tickets to the Candidates tournament and ironically, this may have been the most important round of the tournament. Of course, both players are vying for the $120,000 first place, but to earn a coveted seat to challenge for the world championship is what dreams are made of.

    Wesley So vs. Ding Liren
     
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    So
    USA
    ½
    ½
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    ½
    0
    ½
    Ding
    China
    ½
    ½
    ½
    ½
    1
    ½

    Ding Liren and Wesley So both seemed to be a bundle of nerves as both missed opportunities to apply pressure at key moments. In fact it was Ding who bungled not one, but two chances to go ahead in the match. However, all of the games were drawn.

    In the first rapid game, Ding played the decisive 38…f4! and after 39.Kd2, he could have responded with 39…fxg3 40.hxg3 h5 (diagram) and white has no moves.

    To recap briefly, So missed a chance to sacrifice the exchange in the first classical game which upon deeper analysis, would give him winning chances. In the second classical game, Ding had a chance to get a favorable ending with 37.Rh8! While black could stave off the mating net, the ending leads to a virtually lost ending. So the match remained knotted.

    Rapid (25’+10″) Game 1

    In the first rapid game, Ding faced the Catalan and snatched the c4-pawn. So played inaccurately in the opening and the Chinese player held onto the booty. In fact, white was completely tied up after 38…f4! but black missed a chance to put white in a state of zugzwang after 39.Kd2. However, he missed a couple additional opportunities to win. So simplified the position and held on to the draw in a rather uninspired performance.

    Rapid (25’+10″) Game 2

    Nine-move draw??? Triple question mark.

    Are the players getting weary or was this simply a case of hitting the reset button in order gain one’s bearing after three imperfect games. Perhaps, but of course, social media exploded. There is no 30-move no-draw rule in this tournament and it may be good for the players, but for those anticipating another fight, not so much. The players would take their chances in the faster formats.

    Rapid (10’+10″) Game 1

    This is technically the fastest rapid game you can play. In fact is a a hybrid between rapid and blitz and suits both of these players. The Chinese contingent were working hard to find a chink in the armour of So who has brought along his foster mother Loftis Key, but it is unclear who else he has in his team. Now is where the real preparation could come in handy.

    So is in zugzwang. If 41.g4 then 41…h4 seals the tomb.

    So had white again, but still was not sharp. Ding seem to get active piece play with a black knight planted on d3 and active pieces. So stirred the pot with 19.Ng5! which forced Ding to walk a tightrope to avoid losing a piece. He found 19…b2! 20.Rab1 Nxf2! The resulting exchange would give So two minor pieces for a rook.

    After 22…e5 (hitting the knight), So retreated with 23.Nh3 and offered a draw. Ding declined and won the psychological round. Having someone decline your draw offer is an unsettling moment, but So was also down on time. However, So gave back the two pieces for a rook, but his king was hopelessly exposed. Ding seized on this with 30…h5! In fact, Ding missed 33…Bxd4+! to immediately end the game.

    Ding kept up the pressure and white’s exposed king would lead to his undoing. White was completely tied up and to avoid zugzwang had to donate his queen for a rook. In these endings there are several defenses and a few Grandmasters have failed to win. There are a couple stalemating tricks, but typically the rook is forced away from the king and picked off. Ding deftly executed a staircase maneuver and So resigned one move from his rook being picked up.

    Rapid (10’+10″) Game 2

    Trying to save the match would be an uphill battle for So. He had not been sharp in the tiebreak games. He went for the Modern Benoni in the equalizer, a fair choice. Unfortunately, he was unable to create enough of an imbalance and Ding’s bishop pair was able to command control and without the queens, it was a rather routine task to make a draw. The American player had played well in the previous rounds, but had run out of gas.

    Thus, Ding Liren has become the first Chinese player to qualify for a championship qualifier… and there certainly will be many more. It’s been almost 30 years since Liu Wenzhe shocked the world at the 1978 Olympiad with a stunning win against Jan Hein Donner. One may argue that this was the beginning of China’s march to the elite levels of chess.

    Video by Sagar Shah (ChessBase India)

    Levon Aronian vs. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
     
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    Aronian
    Armenia
    ½
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    0
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    1
    5
    MVL
    France
    ½
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    0
    4

    Rapid (25’+10″) Game 1

    This was a heavyweight match. Both players went toe-to-toe in a match that went the distance. It was the first match to go to Armageddon. Both Aronian and MVL are friends and were seen exchanging warm words and smiles throughout their match. Their tiebreak segment started with a boom. MVL mercilessly crushed his comrade!

    Rapid (25’+10″) Game 2

    The thing about the tiebreaks is if you lose, you have to change your plan. In the words of Mike Tyson, “Everyone has a plan until they get hit.” Aronian had a plan… mix it up and hope MVL would dawdle. He did. The Armenian played a piece sacrifice that undoubtedly rankled MVL, but he took the piece and tried to hold on. Aronian kept plowing ahead and opening lines. MVL was doing well, but made a horrible blunder in trying to get the queens off the board with 24…Qd4?? After 25.Qe2! Qb4 white had a devastating knockout attack with 26.Qh5. Here is how it ended.

    Video Sagar Shah (ChessBase India)

    Rapid (10’+10″) Game 1

    The first game went 24 moves into Aronian’s preparation In fact he had played the position against Anish Giri and drew in 48 moves in 2015 Wijk ann Zee. Would he find an improvement?

    Video by Sagar Shah (ChessBase India)

    No improvement in a fairly uneventful game. Recalling theory is certainly within the realm of any professional in any particular field. However, the tension is so high and one tiny mistake in any line can be disastrous. The game was well-played and the match would continue.

    Rapid (10’+10″) Game 2

    The seconds of the respective players were certainly working hard to find a wrinkle. Now MVL would have a chance to win the match. Aronian would definitely have a load of resources with him. He went into the mainline with 9…Na5 played smoothly, but there were no surprises. White sacrificed his queen for two rooks, but there was no progress to be made.

    Blitz (5’+3″) Game 1

    Unbelievable game here. While watching the game, many thought that Aronian had an overwhelming advantage when MVL’s pieces got tangled. In fact, it appeared as if he was going to reel in the point, but the game got out of his control. Actually, he played a winning move, but thought he blundered the position. Watch his expression during the game. The action starts at 38.Bg5.

    Video by Sagar Shah (ChessBase India)

    Yes… in this game white had built up an impressive advantage out of the London System no less. Magnus Carlsen has used it on occasion with good effect. After 20 moves, Aronian had a comfortable edge. His advantage grew after 29.Bh6 with the bishop pair controlling affairs. Aronian also missed 34.Rd8! which was discussed in the broadcast.

    Aronian played 39.Rd8! perhaps not realizing that he was on the verge of winning. Shaking his head after 39…Bxd1, he played 40.Rxa8! but on 40…Qxa8 he missed 41.Bc4! He played 41.Bxd1 and got in trouble, but saved the draw.

    As time wound down, Aronian started to dawdle a bit shuffling pieces and allowing MVL to get a defensive posture. However, on 39.Rd8! he played the right continuation after 39…Bxd1 40.Rxa8! (40.Rxd8 loses material) Qxa8 41.Bxd1? (On 41.Bc4! white is on top) The commentators pointed out this line as well.

    After 41.Bxd1 Qe8, black got a slight advantage, but not decisive. It appears that black should play something like 48…Qc4 or 48…Qb4! to keep the game going. After 48…Qe5 white drew comfortably with 49.Qf1+ Kg7 50.Qxb5. Thrilling battle! Things are ratcheting up.

    Blitz (5’+3″) Game 2

    This game gave both players a “breather.” There was a repeat of topical line in the Ruy Lopez with 6.d3. It was actually black who had a bit of an advantage when white deviated with 12.Rxa2 in the opening. Seems like the rook was misplaced for several moves, but MVL got heavy pieces off and only had to deal with a passed d-pawn. In fact, white had to jettison a pawn to get some breathing room. On the last move of the game he played 41.Kxd3 and the tension was broken. They’d go to Armageddon.

    ARMAGEDDON!!

    So this is it. The final game to determine who would advance to the final and also who would secure the second spot in the Candidate’s Tournament next year. When asked by The Chess Drum if he felt a sense of urgency, Aronian stated that “he likes his chances.” Well… that confidence accounts for a lot and he has the entire nation behind him including the President. In fact, Independence Day of Armenia was on the day of Armageddon match.

    On the other hand, MVL had his own agenda. For the Frenchman, he seeks a passage into the Candidates, but can get in through the wild card or through the Grand Prix. However, MVL sought to get in directly and would be playing black with draw odds. In other words, all he had to do was to hold the draw and he’s in.

    Faik Gasanov (Azerbaijan) conducted the chosing of colors in the old-fashioned way. Aronian got the chance to play white and receive an extra minute. However, he needed a win to advance. MVL is playing for two results instead of one. Photo by Amruta Mokal

    In this game, Aronian repeated the unambitious London System he played in the first blitz game. He the same line, but MVL deviated with 9…b6 and got a playable position. In fact, it didn’t seem Aronian had any semblance of winning this one. MVL had an outside passed-pawn, but started sacrificing central pawns to activate his king. White’s pieces were passive, but two pawns are two pawns.

    54…Raa4! would’ve saved the game and put MVL into the finals and Candidate’s.

    The black king rushed up the board like a quarterback sprinting for a first down, but the white pawns started racing up the board as well. Since white had both rooks tied down, it became a game of kings… and of tempos. After 54.e6, MVL had to play 54…Raa4 with a cute draw. It was difficult to see it. After he retreated back to a8, then white had a tactical resource 55.Rf1+ Rf4 56.Rxf4+ Kxf4 57.Rxa2!

    The pawns were unstoppable now and we had another Q vs. R ending, but the difference is that Aronian had little time to execute the win. He used his king and queen to squeeze black. As in So-Ding Q vs. R game, the rook had to move away from the king and eventually had to fall on the sword and admit defeat. What a rush! Here are the final moments.

    Video by Sagar Shah ChessBase India)

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