- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 14, 2017

The biggest crapshoot in chess is living up to its reputation.

The FIDE World Cup, a 128-player free-for-all where top grandmasters play two-game elimination matches, is the most unpredictable format in the game. An off-day, a single oversight, a bad pairing, a misstep in the rapid and blitz playoffs can send even the best players packing, while less heralded players remain in the hunt for the four-game final that starts Sept. 23.

The just-completed Round of 32 in Tbilisi, Georgia, held true to form, with world champion Magnus Carlsen, former world champion Vladimir Kramnik and top American stars GMs Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura all booking flights home, while some unlikely contenders — Baadur Jobava, Richard Rapport and 21-year-old Daniil Dubov — moving on to the Sweet 16.

Carlsen fell victim to a very attractive attacking game from Chinese GM Bu Xiangzhi, a Bishop’s Opening that, to the Norwegian champ’s chagrin, by 10…d5! 11. h3 h6 12. exd5 Nxd5 13. Nxe5 14. Rxe5 Bd6 strongly resembles a Ruy Lopez Marshall Attack. With the daring 15. Re1 Bxh3!? 16. gxh3 Qxh3, Bu launches a sacrificial attack that White fails to solve over the board.

With several nice touches (18…f5!, blocking the White bishop from the kingside via e4 which prepares the Rf8-f6 life, and 23…g5!, inviting 24. fxg5 f4 25. Qc2+ Rf5 26. Bc1 f3 27. Be3 Kg8 28. Re1 f2+ 29. Bxf2 Rxg5+ 30. Bg3 Bxg3, winning), Black sets a relentless string of problems for his higher-rated opponent, setting up a fine finale.

Thus: 29. Ke1 (Qf7+ Rg7 30. Qf5+ Kh8 31. Ke1 Rg1+ 32. Nf1 Qxb2) h5 30. Kd1? (missing a last chance to put up resistance and activate the useless rook with 30. Rd1) Kh6 31. Nc2 h4 (White’s pieces are paralyzed in the face of the simple advance of the h-pawn) 32. Ne1 h3 33. Nf3 Qg2 34. Ne1 (see diagram; Black now finds a forceful win to a clear win) Qg4+! 35. Qxg4 Rxg4 36. Nf3 Rg1+!, and White resigns as 37. Nxg1 h2 gets Black a new queen.

Russian GM Vladimir Fedoseev upset Nakamura in the same round, using a sharp Four Knights variation in which White’s rook and pawn prove more effective in the middle game than Black’s two minor pieces. With his queenside pawns ensuring an endgame win, the Russian snuffs out Black’s last-ditch mating attack in the concluding flurry 39. Nd6 (trapping the bishop) h3 40. gxh3 Bd7 41. Rxd7 Ng5 42. Rf5 Nh4 43. Rxg7+!, and Black will be four pawns down when the smoke clears on 43…Kxg7 44. Rxg5+ Kf8 45. Rg3! (sidestepping the knight fork on f3) Rxa2 46. b6. Nakamura resigned.

Carlsen-Bu, FIDE World Cup, Tbilisi, Georgia, September 2017

1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nf6 3. d3 Nc6 4. Nf3 Be7 5. O-O O-O 6. Bb3 d6 7. c3 Be6 8. Re1 Qd7 9. Nbd2 Rab8 10. Bc2 d5 11. h3 h6 12. exd5 Nxd5 13. Nxe5 Nxe5 14. Rxe5 Bd6 15. Re1 Bxh3 16. gxh3 Qxh3 17. Nf1 Rbe8 18. d4 f5 19. Bb3 c6 20. f4 Kh7 21. Bxd5 cxd5 22. Re3 Rxe3 23. Bxe3 g5 24. Kf2 gxf4 25. Qf3 fxe3+ 26. Nxe3 Qh2+ 27. Kf1 Rg8 28. Qxf5+ Rg6 29. Ke1 h5 30. Kd1 Kh6 31. Nc2 h4 32. Ne1 h3 33. Nf3 Qg2 34. Ne1 Qg4+ 35. Qxg4 Rxg4 36. Nf3 Rg1+ 37. Nxg1 h2 38. Kc2 h1=Q White resigns.

Fedoseev-Nakamura, FIDE World Cup, Tbilisi, Georgia, September 2017

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bb5 Nd4 5. Bc4 Bc5 6. d3 c6 7. Nxe5 O-O 8. Nxf7 Rxf7 9. Bxf7+ Kxf7 10. Be3 Ne6 11. Bxc5 Nxc5 12. e5 Ne8 13. d4 Ne6 14. O-O d6 15. f4 dxe5 16. fxe5+ Kg8 17. d5 cxd5 18. Nxd5 N8c7 19. c4 Bd7 20. Qg4 Nf8 21. Qf3 Ng6 22. Rad1 Ne6 23. h4 Nxh4 24. Qf7+ Kh8 25. Nf6 Qb6+ 26. Rf2 Ba4 27. Rd6 Ng5 28. Qe7 Nf5 29. Rxb6 Nxe7 30. Rxb7 Ng6 31. Nh5 Ne6 32. Rff7 Be8 33. Rxa7 Rd8 34. Rf1 Kg8 35. Ng3 h5 36. Nf5 Kh7 37. b4 h4 38. b5 Rd2 39. Nd6 h3 40. gxh3 Bd7 41. Rxd7 Ng5 42. Rf5 Nh4 43. Rxg7+ Black resigns.

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email dsands@washingtontimes.com.

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