2019 World Cup: Round #5

2019 World Chess Cup
September 9th-October 4th, 2019
(Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia)
MATCH PAIRINGS (Quarterfinals)
1 Ding Liren
CHN
1½-½
Alexander Grischuk
RUS
2 Yu Yangyi
CHN
5-4
Vitiugov, Nikita
RUS
3 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
FRA
2½-1½
Levon Aronian
ARM
4 Teimour Radjabov
AZE
1½-½
Jeffery Xiong
USA
Official Brackets

Xiong’s run is over… Russia is out… China guaranteed a finalist

One of the most remarkable stories of the 2019 World Cup has been the performance of Jeffery Xiong, the 18-year old rising star from Plano, Texas, USA. As with any tournament with elite players, one has to traverse many landmines and have a bit of fortune on one’s side.

Xiong took his share of chances, won several beautiful games and in the end, had a performance of a lifetime. His loss to Teimour Radjabov did not tarnish his tournament and it may have given observers an idea of his fighting resolve. He indeed made a graceful exit.

Yu Yangyi’s win guarantees a Chinese finalist
Photo by Kirill Merkuryev

One of the developments that has shown the changing balance of power in chess is the presence of China’s two semi-finalist despite only starting with seven players. On the other hand, Russia started with 28(!) players and none got past the quarterfinals. This also happened in 2017 World Cup in Tblisi, Georgia. As shocking as it may seem, it appears that the era of Russian dominance is long past.

Teimour Radjabov of Azerbaijan is one product for the Russian School of Chess having been a child prodigy made famous by beating Garry Kasparov at Linares at age 15. He actually created a small controversy when Kasparov protested his winning of the “most beautiful game” prize. In playing Xiong, Radjabov avoided being on the other side of history. He will face Frenchman Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (MVL) in the semifinals.

MVL ousted aspirant Levon Aronian after the Armenian blundered in a fit of time pressure. It was a very disappointing end for Aronian who was the defending champion and also won the World Cup in 2005. In fact, Aronian beat MVL in the semifinals in 2017.

Facing further tiebreaks, Aronian uncorked an exchange sacrifice hoping to capitalize off of white’s exposed king with his powerful knight. In fact, MVL blundered with 30.Rxe3 giving black a winning attack. After 30…Qxe3+ 31.Kh2 black missed the powerful 31…Ne4! initiating a mating attack on the white king. The white queen can only look on helplessly.

Aronian had outplayed the Frenchman with the exchange sacrifice, but lost the thread after 37…h5?? with 38.Rf3 winning a piece.

Aronian played 31…Qe2+?! and could’ve repeated the winning idea, but snapped the pawn with 32…Nxd3? helping to rid white of a barrier to protect his own kingside. In addition, the move set the knight on the wrong course. Lost for an idea, Aronian played 37…h5? and white seized a chance to stitch together a defense with 38.Qd1. Suffering from a blindspot, Aronian played 38…h4?? and tossed a piece after 39.Rf3. Overcome by his oversight, he played on seeking to liquidate pawns and set up a blockade, but it would not be. MVL finished the game in fine style.

Aronian wasn’t the only player by a blunder.

Nikita Vitiugov and Yu Yangyi had a fierce battle that carried all the way to the Armageddon game. Both had played spirited game, but neither could gain an edge. There was a trade of wins in the 10’+10″ segment. After a couple of draws in the 5’+3″ the to went to the final Armageddon game. White would have five minutes to black’s four, but would have to win to advance. Black need only a draw to win the match.

Something very strange happen. Perhaps fatigue had set as we saw in the MVL-Aronian battle. In the opening moves, the Chinese player had a total mental lapse…

Unbelievable!

After 9.Be4?? 10.Nxg2 Kf2 10.Nxf4, Yu was down two pawns by move nine. This was not a sacrifice and there was no compensation in sight! When one is losing in blitz, it’s important to complicate matters as much as possible. Yu went forward to do this and took chances. Nevertheless, Vitiugov had a chance to end the game immediately after 17…Qc5! threatening to win the Nd4 and a deadly discovered check on the Qh5.

After Vitiugov’s 34…Rc8?? Yu played 35.Rg8+!

After this missed opportunity, Yu used the open lines created by the missing f- and g-pawns to penetrate black’s camp. Soon he had doubled rooks on the seventh! Yu had a chance to win the exchange with 32.Rce7 and 33.Nd7+, but missed it. As the Russian realized he had allowed white a winning position, he scrambled to simplify and played 34…Rc8?? Yu pounced with the cute 35.Rg8+! and after 35…Rxg8 36.Rxc8+ white wins a rook after 37.Nxg8. Vitiugov played on a few more moves seemingly by reflex, but resigned the humiliating game. The aftermath of the game was even more crushing than the loss itself. Vitiugov was seen sitting in his seat shellshocked after everyone had left the hall. Brutal loss that will sting for many years to come.

The tournament will continue tomorrow with a Chinese derby Yu-Ding and MVL-Radjabov.

Official: https://khantymansiysk2019.fide.com/en/
chess24.com: https://chess24.com/en/watch/live-tournaments/khanty-fide-world-cup-2019
Drum Coverage: https://www.thechessdrum.net/

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