The top seeds include Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria and the top two US players Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana, all three of whom are all but guaranteed a place in the Candidates regardless of their result in Baku - Topalov by having an unassailable position as the top-rated seed on the Elo list, Caruana and Nakamura by virtue of being the respective winner and runner-up in the Grand Prix. But for others, such as former Russian world champion Vladimir Kramnik and Levon Aronian of Armenia, this is their last gasp chance at making it to the Candidates.
The format guarantees excitement. A knockout with 128 players and mini matches, with tie breaks decided by speed playoffs. And prize money escalates, round by round. A KO reduces the chances of any given person (true for tennis as for chess) compared to a round robin. Blitz and rapid play tiebreakers randomises things even more and tend to favour younger players.
Usually the seeds tend to go forward in the first round, but occasionally with this thrills 'n' spills format, some don’t. And the big news of the first round is definitely that of the 18-year old Chilean prodigy, Cristobal Henrique Villagra, dramatically knocking out former World Cup winner and 2012 World title challenger Boris Gelfand in the tiebreakers. Also headed for an early exit was another previous World Cup winner, Rustan Kasimdzhanov, who lost to the young Ukraine-Canadian grandmaster Anton Kovalyov.
Some didn’t even make it as far as speed playoffs, with the classical mini match seeing a couple of surprises, with two of the highest rated players knocked out being from America: Ray Robson and Gata Kamsky, yet another former World Cup winner.
The full brackets of first round results can be seen by clicking here.
GM Gata Kamsky - GM Hrant Melkumyan
FIDE World Cup, (1)
Ruy Lopez, Berlin Defence
1.e4 A somewhat strange opening choice from Kamsky - he has been playing and has had good success playing London System set-ups with 1.d4 2.Bf4, eschewing main-line theory; instead, relying on his wealth of chess knowledge to build on a simple positional positions. 1...e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0-0 Nxe4 5.d4 Nd6 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.dxe5 Nf5 8.Qxd8+ Kxd8 The Berlin Defence in the Ruy Lopez has long had a reputation for being rock solid and drawish; and especially the endgame now known as "The Berlin Wall" 9.Rd1+ Ke8 10.h3 Ne7 11.Bf4 Nd5 12.Bh2 Bf5 13.c3 Rd8 14.Nbd2 c5 15.Re1 Be7 16.Ne4 Be6 17.Nfg5 Kd7 It may look strange to some, but this is a good move. First it connects Black's rooks, and secondly, it positions the king more actively long-term for the endgame, heading to c6. 18.Rad1 Kc6 19.g4 h6 20.Nxe6 fxe6 21.Bg3 If White gets over-ambitious with 21.f4 Bh4! is very strong for Black, winning the f4-pawn, as 22.Re2 loses to (22.Rf1? Ne3 23.Rxd8 Rxd8 24.Rc1 Rd3 Black is much better.) 22...Nxf4! 21...b5 Black clearly is much better here; his king plays an active role as an additional piece supporting the rapid advance of the queenside pawns. Already this is looking bad for Kamsky. 22.Kg2 a5 23.Rd2 Nb6 24.Rde2 Kamsky has rightly judged that exchanging rooks off down the d-file would head to an extremely uncomfortable ending, so he does the right thing by keeping material on the board to try to play for complications. It fails, but this is the only hope in such positions. 24...c4 25.f4 g6 26.Nd2 Rd3 27.Ne4 b4 28.Rc1 b3 29.Ra1 a4 30.a3 Black has too much of a hold now on the queenside - and Kamsky will have to be alert to a thematic piece sacrifice breakthrough on a3. 30...Nd5 31.Rae1 Bc5 32.Nf6? The best option was 32.Nxc5 Kxc5 - but this simplifies things, as White's best piece has been exchanged off. Rather than that, Kamsky attempts to complicate the game in an effort to confuse his opponent. 32...Ne3+ 33.Kh2 Nc2 34.Rf1 Rhd8 35.Ne4 Bxa3! (See Diagram) The thematic sacrifice breakthrough in such positions, with the pawns so far advanced up the board. White's game is hopeless. 36.bxa3 Rd1 37.Rxd1 Rxd1 38.f5 gxf5 39.gxf5 b2 40.Nd2 Rxd2! 41.Rxd2 b1Q 42.f6 Ne1 43.f7 Nf3+ 44.Kg2 Qf5 45.Rf2 Qxf7 46.Rxf3 If it wasn't for White's chronic pawn weakness on the queenside, Kamsky may have had survival chances - but not here and not now. 46...Qe7 47.Rf6 Kd5 The e6-pawn now defended, a3 will fall next and there is no way to stop Black's a-pawn from quickly promoting with the further loss of material. So Kamsky resigns. 0-1