Before his quarterfinal match-up with outsider Pavel Eljanov of Ukraine, World No.4 Hikaru Nakamura tweeted on how tough the competition was, with: ‘If every tournament was like the World Cup, I think I would be dead within 10 years.’ The World Cup format is indeed a ‘murderous’ schedule - and Nakamura found this out to his cost, as he was easy eliminated by surprise package Eljanov, rated 32nd in the world in the current list, with a 'mere' 2712, some 100 points less than the US Champion.
But the Ukrainian has obviously found a rich vein of form in this tournament, and he’s easily glided through the opposition in Baku to score 8.5/10 in the classical games so far, resulting in a seismic rise in his rating of 34.4 points - and now he’s tantalisingly just one match away from heading to the Candidates tournament, the winner of which will determine Magnus Carlsen’s next title challenger.
And Eljanov also “knocked out’ Russian Dmitry Jakovenko for the second time in two matches! After beating Jakovenko in the final sixteen, and now beating Nakamura, it closed off the Russian’s backdoor route into the Candidates by taking the qualifying spot from the Grand Prix, as he would have been next in line had Nakamura reached the World Cup final.
Also joining Eljanov in the semis is another ‘smooth performer’ in Baku, Anish Giri of the Netherlands, who easily beat Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France, as he expertly converted a nice technical win in a rook and pawn ending. The nail-biting speed playoffs saw the seven-time Russian champion, Peter Svidler, playing 16-year-old Chinese sensation Wei Yi, and local Azeri hero Shakhriyar Mamedyarov up against Sergey Karjakin, which saw the Russians winning through after tough battles to keep their Candidates hopes alive.
The full brackets with quarterfinal scores and semifinal updates can be seen by clicking here.
Pavel Eljanov - Hikaru Nakamura
FIDE World Cup, (5.1)
1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.c4 e6 4.g3 Be7 5.Bg2 0-0 6.0-0 dxc4 7.Qc2 a6 8.a4 Bd7 9.Qxc4 Bc6 This is a solid set-up against the Catalan, with Black looking to control d5 with his pieces. 10.Bg5 Bd5 11.Qc2 Be4 12.Qc1 h6 13.Bxf6 Bxf6 14.Rd1 a5 15.Nbd2 Much better than 15.Nc3 , as from d2 the knight can swing to b3 and attack a5 and also occupy the c5 outpost. 15...Bh7 16.Nb3 c6 17.Qc3 Be7 18.Nc5 Qc7 19.Ne5 Na6 20.Nxb7! The knight sacrifice offers White good chances of converting to a win, as it also picks off the two other weak Black pawns on c6 and a5. 20...Qxb7 21.Bxc6 Qc7? Almost immediately, Nakamura's response is unexpectedly unconvincing. Instead 21...Qa7! 22.Bxa8 Bb4! and this zwischenzug would have kept the crucial a5 pawn and left Black with excellent chances of saving the game. As it is, all Nakamura achieved with his inferior 21...Qc7 was to improve White's pawn structure. 22.Bxa8 Qxc3 23.bxc3 Rxa8 24.Nc6 Bd8 25.Nxd8 Rxd8 26.f3! Threatening e4 to restrict the scope of Black's bishop. 26...Rc8 27.Ra3 Bg6 28.Kf2 Rb8 29.Rd2 f6 In view of what follows, Black should have tried the interesting possibility of 29...Bb1!? to stop White activating his rooks. 30.Raa2! A subtle little move, reactivating the rook and preventing the previous possibility of 29...Bb1. 30...Rb3 31.Rab2 Rxc3 32.Rb5 Bc2 33.Rxa5 The exchange of the c- for a-pawn is more favourable for White, as the passed a-pawn creates huge problems for Black. 33...Nc7 34.Ra7 f5 35.a5 Kh7 36.Rb7 Rc4 37.Rb6 Ba4 38.a6 Bc6 39.a7 Bd5 The problem for Black is that his minor pieces are now forever tied to the a-pawn - and thus vulnerable to tactics. 40.Ra2 Rxd4 41.Rc2 This is one such tactic - but a stronger one was 41.Ra5! Ba8 42.Rc5 Rd7 43.Rb8 Na6 44.Rcc8! winning. 41...Na8 42.Ra6 Rd1 43.h4 h5 It's a horrible move to play, as it allows the easy king incursion with Ke3-f4-g5 - but it was forced on Nakamura, as he had to stop White from playing h5. Also, if 43...Kg6 44.Rc8 Bb7 45.Rxe6+ Kf7 46.Rce8 Rd7 47.Re5 White will have no problems from quickly winning from here. 44.Ke3 (See Diagram) The king walk to g5 isn't just threatening pawns, it also helps weave a mating net by using the a-pawn as a decoy now. 44...Rg1 45.Kf4 Rg2 46.Rd6 Rg1 47.Rc8 Ra1 48.Kg5! Rxa7 49.Rdd8 g6 50.Rh8+ Kg7 51.Rcg8+ Kf7 52.Rxg6 Ra6 53.Rh7+ Kf8 54.Kxh5 Nb6 55.Kg5 Nc4 56.h5 Nd6 57.Rf6+ Kg8 58.Rd7 1-0