2023 FIDE World Cup: Round 5

Carlsen, Caruana through… four Indians make the quarterfinals

In the fifth round of the World Cup, Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana the two top-rated players on the live list advanced to the quarterfinals. Both are in different brackets and could possibly meet in the final. However, a lot is being made of the Indian prodigies and there are lots of articles being written. Four of the final eight in the quarterfinals are from India with three of them being teenagers.

Let’s be clear. Those who have followed chess would know that this evolution has been unfolding for decades. In fact, The Chess Drum wrote about the rise of Asian countries in several articles (starting in 2001), here, here and here.

The rise of nations in the Asian region has been phenomenal and has changed the balance of power in chess forever. Central Asian nations such as Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have also shown they are capable of producing world-class talent. However, the spotlight on India in this year’s World Cup has to take center stage.

Many of the top heavyweights have exited this round with Ian Nepomniatchtchi being ousted by Vidit Santosh Gujrathi. Nepomniachtchi has already qualified for the Candidates, but he will have a grand challenge to make it to the championship for a rematch. The Indians have practically decimated the field and have sent more than a handful of the top players home. Here was an interview with Vidit that resonated with the fans.

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Round 5 tiebreakers
Photo by Stev Bonhage

Hikaru Nakamura, was ousted by Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa, and one wonders if his hectic streaming schedule has impacted his performance. Probably not. In fact, it may be the reason for his resurgence to world #2. Most of the chess world marvels at how he is able to do his recaps religiously and offer deep insights into top-level games. Nakamura is heading home, but recently married Atousa Pourkashiyan, so not all is bad. In fact, he may have an extra push to perform well in the Candidates!

The Great Abasov

While Nijat Abasov would never claim to be the greatest chess player, we can say he SHOULD be the biggest story of the World Cup. He has been fantastic in this tournament having defeated Laurent Fressinet (FRA), Anish Giri (NED), Peter Svidler (RUS) and now Salem Saleh (UAE). He will now play India’s Vidit in the quarters. When asked about his future opponent, Abasov stated “I just want to play my best chess. It doesn’t matter who I play against; both are superstrong.” Indeed. Azerbaijan must be extremely proud to have someone hoisting the flag at the tournament.

Abasov is truly deserving of his success in a country where it is easy to get attention due to legends like Teimour Radjabov, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and to a lesser-degree Eltaj Safarli. His performance against Saleh featured five decisive results in eight games. After winning the match, he kept focus, but seem to enjoy the interaction with the local fans. In this tournament, he can claim to be the greatest Azeri player!

Goryachkina, Muzychuk now favorites

Anna Muzychuk (right) on her way to victory.
Photo by Maria Emelianova

Both Aleksandra Goryachkina and Anna Muzychuk advanced and will advance to the semifinals. Of course, the is the usual one Chinese player in contention and this year it is Tan Zhongyi. Goryachkina had to play nine games against Dronavalli Harika to advance. Russia’s Polina Shuvalova lost to Bulgaria’s Nurgyul Salimova after a total topsy-turvy tiebreak.

Aleksandra Goryachkina had a difficult task against Harika Dronavalli but managed to prevail. The two played three rounds of tiebreaks to decide who would move to the semi-finals in the Women’s event.

Goryachkina won the first tiebreak game today after Harika blundered a bishop in a drawn endgame. Goryachkina played as White in the second game and had a better position. However, she misplayed and allowed Dronavalli to dominate across the board.

Then followed two draws in the 10-minute rapid games, with Harika having a strong advantage in the second but dropping it and finishing with a draw.

Aleksandra Goryachkina eliminates Harika Dronavalli in the blitz tiebreaker after a 95-move draw.
Photo by Stev Bonhage

It was time for the Blitz: In the first game Dronavalli misplayed in a rook and queen endgame and lost. In the second Blitz game, Goryachkina had a sizable advantage and no counterplay from her opponent but did not try too hard to convert, as a draw was enough to qualify for the semi-finals. She is taking on Tan Zhongyi in the semi-finals.

~Milan Dinic, FIDE

There have been criticisms of the quality of play in the women’s tournament, but the tension is quite high and nerves are starting to play a major factor as the stakes increase. It may be instructive to show how one can lose a winning position. In Salimova-Shuvalova, black is completely winning as the g-pawn will morph into a queen.

Instead of the winning 51…g2! 52.Rf7+ Ke5 53.Rxg7 Rc1+ and 54…g1(Q). Shuvalova played 51…Rc1+?? when 52.Ka2 g2?? is losing after 53.Rf7+ 53…Kxe6 (53…Ke5 54.e7 and white queens first!) 54.Rxf7+ Kf6 and 55.Rxg2 winning.

Some still believe that quickplay is the future of chess and Magnus Carlsen’s words about classical being boring were proof that rapid and blitz are the future, but the number of blunders at this level would not be what we want to see in chess. The tradition of chess is about playing quality games and these games tend to be poor examples of why there are not many instructive books written on rapid and blitz games. At the least, we have a number of examples of what not to do in winning positions. Nevertheless, the knockout format always brings an element of instability.

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