24 of the 64 first-round matches in the 2015 Chess World Cup went to tiebreaks on Sunday, including some of the biggest names in chess. Alexander Grischuk, Dmitry Jakovenko and Boris Gelfand were among them, and all three had all they could bargain for and then some, even though none of them were facing grandmaster opposition. Both Grischuk and Jakovenko failed to win in the 25' + 10" games and 10' + 10" games, but both finally prevailed in the 5' + 3" blitz, winning both games. As for poor Gelfand, he was bounced in the first round of tiebreaks, losing badly with White in the second 25-minute game. His opponent, an almost-19-year-old Chilean IM named Cristobal Henriquez Villagra, won confidently. Will he build on this result, or was it a one-off result? We'll see; his next opponent is another very experienced grandmaster, Julio Granda Zuniga of Peru.
Another upset, but to my mind a minor one, saw another 2700-GM go down when Shanglei Lu defeated Alexander Moiseenko. Lu is a rising player and a great rapid and blitz player, so that's not so surprising. Lu's reward is to face his countryman Wang Hao in the next round. One other 2700 - and a former FIDE world champion through the knockout system - was bounced: Rustam Kasimdzhanov, to Canadian GM Anton Kovalyov in the final 5' + 3" game. All their previous games were drawn, but Kasimdzhanov almost lost the first blitz battle in a way that reminded me of one of my all-time luckiest wins.
Kasimdzhanov had the better position in a bishop ending, but lacked any clear winning plan. Kovalyov's bishop was completely paralyzed, but despite that he had what appeared to be (and probably was) simply a fortress. Kasimdzhanov made a bunch of meaningless moves to gain a little thinking time via the increments, but at a certain point got lost in thought and only just recovered, making a move with one second left on the clock. Something similar happened to me some years ago (which I mentioned on my blog at the time). I was defending the ending rook vs. queen (just those pieces and the kings; no pawns) against a good opponent (2140-something) who started the ending with only seven seconds on his clock, but with five-second time delay before each move. (A practice in the U.S. that isn't followed anywhere else, as far as I know, but I'm entirely open to correction on this matter.) Early in the ending my opponent spent five of his "real" seconds on a move, and then on the 25th move of the ending "accidentally" started thinking and lost on time. They say that human beings are not very good at multitasking, and occurrences like these seem to confirm this.
In fact, I had an experience like this on Kasimdzhanov's side as well - I've written about this one, too. In a game back in 1999, I believe, I was somewhere between much better and winning, but wasn't sure how to convert it into a full point. I had several minutes to make my final move of the time control, and fluctuated between several ideas, all the while aware of the clock as the minutes counted down. Then, at some point, I got sucked into the position and was fully concentrated, and when I made my move I did so calmly, as if it was just any normal situation in the game. When I did so, I looked at the clock, and noticed with horror (and perhaps relief, but only after I got over the shock) that I had done so with one second left on my clock. Thankfully, that's the only time that has happened to me in all the years I've been playing tournament chess.
Back to the World Cup! Women's #1 Hou Yifan won her match on tiebreaks against Rafael Leitao, thereby exceeding women's world champion Mariya Muzychuk's performance in the event. Amongst U.S. players, one won and one lost. Sam Sevian lost both 25-minute games to Teimour Radjabov, so he's out, while Alexander Onischuk went 1.5-.5 against Andrei Volokitin in the game/25 round to advance. Finally, one match made it all the way to the Armageddon game, and that was Gabriel Sargissian vs. Mateusz Bartel. Sargissian drew the Armageddon game with Black, and so he advanced.
Monday sees the start of round 2, and here are some of the notable pairings:
- Veselin Topalov - Sergei Zhigalko
- Wang Hao - Lu Shangeli (all-Chinese battle)
- Teimour Radjabov - Ilia Smirin
- Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu - Peter Svidler (both this match and the previous one pit current 2700s against former 2700s)
- Wesley So - Csaba Balogh
- Peter Leko - Wen Yang (a solid 2700 vs. one of the possibly seriously underrated Chinese players)
- Fabiano Caruana - Rauf Mamedov
- Anton Kovalyov - Sandro Mareco (a battle between two upset victors)
- Shakhriyar Mamedyarov - Hou Yifan (a huge test for the women's #1)
- S. P. Sethuraman - Pentala Harikrishna (an all-Indian battle)
- Sergei Karjakin - Alexander Onischuk
- Alexander Grischuk - Vladmir Fedoseev (an all-Russian battle)
- Sam Shankland - Hikaru Nakamura (an all-U.S. battle)