- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 17, 2019

The field has been winnowed, and three of the six Americans have already been sent home at the 128-player FIDE World Cup knockout tournament, now entering the third round of matches in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia.

U.S. GMs Wesley So, Lenier Dominguez Perez and Jeffery Xiong are still in the hunt during an event in which the final two players in the two-game knockout format win a coveted spot in the 2020 world championship candidates’ cycle.

GM Sam Shankland, the 2018 U.S. national champion, was upset in Round 1 by Azerbaijan’s Eltaj Safarli, and GMs Sam Sevian (ousted by former FIDE champ Sergey Karjakin) and Hikaru Nakamura were dismissed in last week’s second round. Nakamura, once rated No. 2 in the world and a regular challenger for the world title in recent cycles, appears in danger of not qualifying for the 2020 fight to take on world champion Magnus Carlsen.

(Breaking news: So made on to the Round of 16 Tuesday with a win over Indian GM Santosh Vidit, while Xiong’s and Dominguez Perez’s matches were heading in overtime.)

Nakamura fell to GM Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu in a Closed Catalan, when the veteran Romanian star made a bold offer of his queen to lock down Black’s game: 11. dxe5 (Nxc7!? Qd6 12. Nb5 Qb4 13. dxe5 Rd8 14. Qc2 is only equal) Rd8 12. exf6!? Rxd1 13. Rxd1, when 13…Bxf6 14. Nxc7 Qa5 15. Nxa8 b5 16. Be3 b4 17. Rac1 looks strong for White.

After 14. Bf4 e5? (better was 14…Qa5, as Black’s center now disappears) 15. Nxd6 cxd6 16. Bxe5! Qa5 17. Rxd6, White’s bishops and rooks dominate the position, while Black faces major back-rank woes. It’s over after 23. Kg2! (a nice Karpovian touch, battening down every last hatch before the final assault) Re8 24. h4 Qc8 25. a5 a6 (Black has no counterplay) 26. Rd7 Qa8 27. R1d6 Rc8 28. Bd4 c3 29. bxc3 Re8 30. Bb6, and Nakamura resigned as 30…Rc8 (Rf8 31. Rd8 wins) 31. Ra7 Qb8 32. Rdd7 Rf8 33. Bc5 breaks down all resistance.

Dominguez Perez, who switched federations from Cuba to the U.S. in December, is quickly becoming a major asset on the U.S. chess scene, ranked 11th in the world in the most recent FIDE survey. The drama of the short-match knockout formula was on display in his second-round win over Azeri GM Nijat Abasov in a very double-edged Rossolimo Sicilian, in which White launches a speculative but sketchy sacrifice that works out when Black loses his way.

We jump to the key position after 24. Ng5 h6, when Dominguez Perez tries to activate threats along the long diagonal and the e-file with the tempting 25. Ng4?!. But after 25…Bxg4 26. Rxe7 Rxe7 27. Rxe7, Abasov could have parried the plethora of mate threats with 27…Ne2+! 28. Kh1 Nd4! 29. hxg4 hxg5 — the long diagonal is blocked and Black is a piece up.

Instead, Black panics with 27…Nh5? 28. hxg4 Qxg4 29. Ne6! Rf6?? (one oversight often leads to another; it’s still a game on 29…Qd1+! 30. Kh2 Nf6 31. f3 [Nxf8 Qh5+ 32. Kg1 Qd1+ 33. Kh2 Qh5+ 34. Kg3 Qg4+, and the king can’t escape the checks] Qe1! 32. Nxf8 Qxe7 33. Nxg6 Qg7) 30. Qe5!, with a lethal threat of 31. Qb8+. Abasov resigned.

We’ll squeeze in the finale of Xiong’s fine positional Round 1 win over Russian GM Igor Lysyj, a Queen’s Gambit Accepted capped by a fine piece sacrifice. From today’s diagram, where a very cramped White has just sought some relief with 34. a2-a3, Xiong finished things off with 34…Rf7! 35. axb4 Rf2+ 36. Kd1 axb4! (Rf1+? 37. Ke2 Rxb1 38. bxa5 is only equal) 37. Bc1 (Bxb4 Rf1+ 38. Ke2 Rxb1 39. Bc3 Rg1 40. g3 Rh1 41. Bxg7 Rxh2+ 42. Kd1 Rh1+ 43. Kd2 Rg1, winning a critical pawn) Rf1+ 38. Kd2 Rf2+ 39. Kd1 Rf1+ 40. Kd2 b3!, and White resigned facing lines such as 41. Rd3 b2 42. Bxb2 Rf2+ 43. Kd1 Nxb2+ 44. Ke1 Rxg2 45. h4 Rg1+ 46. Kd2 Rxb1 47. Kc2 Na4! and wins.

Nisipeanu-Nakamura, FIDE World Cup, Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia, September 2019

1. Nf3 Nf6 2. d4 e6 3. c4 d5 4. Nc3 Be7 5. g3 O-O 6. Bg2 dxc4 7. Ne5 Qd6 8. O-O Qa6 9. a4 Nc6 10. Nb5 Nxe5 11. dxe5 Rd8 12. exf6 Rxd1 13. Rxd1 Bd6 14. Bf4 e5 15. Nxd6 cxd6 16. Bxe5 Qa5 17. Rxd6 Bg4 18. Bc3 Qc7 19. Rad1 g6 20. Bxb7 Rf8 21. Bf3 Bxf3 22. exf3 h5 23. Kg2 Re8 24. h4 Qc8 25. a5 a6 26. Rd7 Qa8 27. R1d6 Rc8 28. Bd4 c3 29. bxc3 Re8 30. Bb6 Black resigns.

Dominguez Perez-Abasov, FIDE World Cup, Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia, September 2019

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. Bxc6 dxc6 5. d3 g6 6. h3 Nh5 7. Be3 b6 8. a4 a5 9. O-O Bg7 10. e5 f5 11. exf6 Nxf6 12. Qc1 Nd5 13. Bh6 O-O 14. Bxg7 Kxg7 15. Nbd2 Nf4 16. Re1 Be6 17. b3 Bd5 18. Qb2+ Kg8 19. Re3 Qd7 20. c4 Be6 21. Rae1 Rae8 22. Ne5 Qc8 23. Ne4 Bf5 24. Ng5 h6 25. Ng4 Bxg4 26. Rxe7 Rxe7 27. Rxe7 Nh5 28. hxg4 Qxg4 29. Ne6 Rf6 30. Qe5 Black resigns.

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email [email protected].

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