16 Sep



But there’s a longer route to the finals in chess, with the field initially starting off with 128 players. And in Baku, the 64 first round losers sent packing home all left town with $6,000 each, and we’re now down to our very own 64 players left vying for the title, the final four each pulling in $35,000, and the lion’s share of the $1.6 million overall prize fund going to the deciding final match.

And with the brutal nature of such a knockout tournament, there also comes with it the frenzied unpredictability of speed playoff deciders to break the ties. Top seeds easily going forward to the final 32 with decisive two-game mini match wins in round two were Veselin Topalov, Fabiano Caruana, Vladimir Kramnik, Wesley So, Ding Liren and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. But those involved in a nerve-jangling speed playoff include Hikaru Nakamura (who was held to two draws with fellow countryman Sam Shankland), Anish Giri, Levon Aronian and Alexander Grischuk.

The full brackets of all of the round two results (and playoff latest updates) can be seen by clicking here.

Another intriguing tussle now also going to a deciding playoff after a win apiece, was the match involving former US Champion Alexander Onischuk and the Ukraine-born Russian Sergey Karjakin, a player once considered a ‘world champion-in-waiting’, who has seen a slump in his game and a fall out of the top 10 - and getting to the final of the World Cup is now his only qualifying route left into next year’s eight-player Candidates, the winner going forward to become Magnus Carlsen’s next World title challenger.

GM Sergey Karjakin - GM Alexander Onischuk
FIDE World Cup, (2.2)
Ruy Lopez, Berlin Defence
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 The Berlin Defence was popular in the nineteenth century, but passed out of favour in the early twentieth. Fifty years ago, it was described as “fundamentally too passive" (Leonard Barden, The Ruy Lopez [1963]). Even so, the opening back then had adherents, such as former US Champion GM Arthur Bisguier and then latterly England’s GM Tony Miles. But Vladimir Kramnik's surprise use of the Berlin Defence in his World Championship match with Garry Kasparov revived the opening. 4.d3 The alternative way to battle the dreaded "Berlin Wall" ending after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.O-O Nxe4 5.d4 Nd6 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.dxe5 Nf5 8.Qxd8+ Kxd8. 4...Bc5 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.Nxe5 Qd4 8.Be3 Qxe5 9.d4 Qe7 10.dxc5 Nxe4 11.Qd4 Bf5 12.0-0-0 0-0 13.Nxe4 Qxe4 14.Qxe4 Bxe4 15.f3 Bf5 16.Bf4! A very effective move that ties Black down to defending c7 - and it compromises his game so much, you begin to wonder wether it would have been best to jettison the pawn now and seek to activate his rooks better, seeking to exchange them off and head for an opposite bishop ending. 16...Rac8 17.Rhe1 Karjakin's rooks dominate the open d- and e-files; his task now is to turn this advantage into winning a pawn on the queenside. 17...Be6 18.Re3 Rfe8 19.Rd4! If Karjakin can get in Rb4 now, he wins a pawn. Black's reply is forced. 19...b6 20.Rb4 a5 No easier is 20...b5 21.Rd4 (or 21.Rbe4), and again the c7-pawn will be forever a millstone round Black's neck. 21.Ra4 Re7 22.c4! (See Diagram) Nicely timed yet again - White is set in demolishing Black's queenside, with his rooks and bishop picking off the damaged pawns. 22...Rd7 23.cxb6 cxb6 24.c5! bxc5 25.Rxa5 c4 26.Rea3! Looking to swap off a set of rooks; and doing so will make White's winning task of rapidly pushing the a-pawn up the board much easier to do. 26...Rdd8 27.Ra7 h6 28.Rc7 Rxc7 29.Bxc7 Rd3 30.Ra8+ Kh7 31.Ba5! The final piece of the jigsaw: White want's to stop Black playing 31...c3 that would complicate his winning chances. Now, after Bc3, there's no stopping the a-pawn racing up the board. 31...h5 32.h4 Bf5 33.a4 Rd6 34.Bc3 c5 35.a5 Rg6 36.a6 Rxg2 37.Rf8 Be6 38.a7 Bd5 39.a8Q Bxa8 40.Rxa8 Rf2 Black is hopelessly lost. If 40...Rh2 41.Rc8 Rxh4 42.Kd2! comes to defend f3 while the 'going nowhere' doubled isolated c-pawns fall in rapid succession. 41.Rc8 1-0

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