That once unthinkable scenario was quashed with the finalists now decided for the Fide Word Cup in Baku, as the 128-player field comes down to the final two, with Russians Peter Svidler and Sergey Karjakin beating off Anish Giri of the Netherlands and Pavel Eljanov of Ukraine respectively in the semifinals.
Surprisingly, seven-time Russian champion Svidler had the easier task of the two, by beating Giri 1.5-0.5, after a dreadful opening game from the normally reliable young Dutch star (who looks set to get to the Candidates by virtue of his rating). Svidler therefore ended Giri’s remarkable run of 43 classical games without a loss, which is even more remarkable when you consider that this also included all nine rounds of both Grand Chess Tour opening events of the Norway Chess tournament and the Sinquefield Cup.
The path to the final wasn’t so easy for Karjakin however, as he had to survive a hard-fought playoff with surprise package Eljanov, who squeezed his opponent to the very last, before his extraordinary run finally came to an end in the blitz deciders. Both defeated semifinalists go home with the conciliation prize of $50,000 each and a guaranteed spot into the next Fide Grand Prix series of tournaments (as also does Svidler and Karjakin).
This leaves Svidler and Karjakin to contest the second successive all-Russian World Cup final, as the four-game match gets underway on Thursday. The runner-up gets $80,000 while the champion gets $120,000. While there is a certain amount of kudos and bragging rights that goes with being the champion, both will be relieved - as will all of Russia - that they have achieved the greater objective of qualifying for the Candidates tournament next March.
The full brackets showing the path to the final for Svidler and Karjakin (and including the latest scores in the final) can be found by clicking here.
Anish Giri - Peter Svidler
FIDE World Cup, (6.1)
Ruy Lopez, Zaitsev Variation
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0-0 8.c3 d6 Giri is not a big-time player of 1.e4 - and perhaps he was gambling on Svidler playing his favourite Marshall Attack with 8...d5. This is a big theory-line made famous by American legend Frank J. Marshall; it's double edged, but at this level, games are more often than not drawn - and this could have been Giri's game-plan had Svidler not diverged with 8...d6 and going into a Zaitsev. However Giri did say after the game that he had also made preparations for this from Svidler. 9.h3 Bb7 10.d4 Re8 11.Nbd2 Many a notorious 'grandmaster draw' have been agreed here, after the repeating of moves with 11.Ng5 Rf8 12. Nf3 Re8 13.Ng5 Rf8 etc. 11...exd4!? A sideline that's become popular of late - and one that Svidler enjoys playing. 12.cxd4 Nd7 13.Nf1 Na5 14.Bc2 Bf6 15.Rb1 c5 16.d5 Nc4 17.b3 Nce5 In his post-game press conference, Svidler lamented that he couldn't remember his notes here. Marginally better was 17...Ncb6!? but there can't be much difference to what he played. 18.N3h2 Ng6 19.Ng3 Too cautious. Instead 19.Ng4 Bc3 20.Bd2 Bxd2 21.Qxd2 Nf6 22.Nxf6+ Qxf6 23.b4 would have given White a small edge - "but I think it's playable," commented Svidler. 19...Bc8! Exactly the correct plan: the bishop done its job on b7 by enticing the closing of the centre with d5, so now seeks a more active outpost that covers the crucial f5 square. 20.Rf1!? Apparently Giri was still in his opening prep here, and had barely used any time time on the clock.The idea is not so much to threaten f4 but to stop Black gaining a temp with ...Bc3, as mentioned in the previous note, and Svidler said it forced him to reluctantly part with one of his bishops. 20...Nb6 21.Ng4 Bxg4 22.hxg4 Helping to bolster the f5 square for his knight. 22...h6 23.Nf5 Ne7 24.Ne3 Also an option was the immediate 24.g3 with the idea of playing Kg2 and further attacking options with his rook down the h-file. 24...b4 25.g3 a5 It was only now that Giri began to think in great depth. He does have a lot of options - perhaps too many, and this may have confused him, because around here he started losing the thread of the game. 26.Kg2 Svidler thought Giri should first have gone for liquidating the queenside with 26.a4 bxa3 27.Bxa3, which the Russian believed to be better for White than what happened in the game. 26...a4! Svidler forever cuts off any ideas of a4; and now, he has threats himself with the possibility of the a-file opening and his rook coming to a2. 27.bxa4 Qd7 28.Qd3 On reflection, Svidler thought that liquidating on the queenside for Giri with 28.a3 may have been best, as after 28...Nxa4 29.Bxa4 Rxa4 30.axb4 Rxb4 31.Rxb4 cxb4 32.Bd2 he thought the weakness of ...b4 means White can't be any worse here. 28...Ng6 29.Nf5 Now, if 29.a3 c4! 30.Nxc4 Nxc4 31.Qxc4 Qxg4 and Black should have a perpetual here with ...Nh4+. 29...Nxa4 30.Bxa4 Giri offered a draw at this point. "I've taken a number of strange draws in the tournament," mused Svidler. "I thought if I don't see mate I should continue." 30...Rxa4 31.Rh1 Ne7! A strong move and the correct move. A few minor errors from Giri, who has now all but abandoned the queenside in the faint hope of a kingside assault, has led to Svidler having a very strong initiative. 32.g5 hxg5 33.Ne3 It looked tempting, but 33.Nxe7+ Qxe7 34.e5 Qxe5 35.Qh7+ Kf8 and Black has nothing to worry about here. 33...Rxa2 34.Bd2 Ng6 35.Nf5 Ne5! (See Diagram) Also an option was 35...c4 36.Qf3 Rxd2 37.Qh5 Nh4+! 38.gxh4 g6 39.Nh6+ Kg7 40.Qf3 Rd3 with a big advantage - but the text is so much stronger. 36.Qe2 g6 37.Nh6+ There was a speculative shot here with 37.Bxg5 Rxe2 38.Bxf6 that looks to be mating for White - but Black has a wonderful resource with 38...Rxf2+ 39.Kg1 Rh2!! 40.Rxh2 (40.Kxh2 Ng4+ 41.Kg2 Nxf6) 40...Nf3+ and Black's winning. 37...Kg7 38.Nf5+ Kg8 39.Nh6+ Kg7 Black repeats a couple of times to get to the time control safely. 40.Nf5+ gxf5 41.Qh5 Ng6 0-1