The opening games of the first round of the World Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk are now behind us. The 128-player tournament is run according to a knockout system, with the pairings formed so that the highest-rated player meets the player with the most modest rating i.e. No. 1 plays No. 128, No. 2 plays No. 127, No. 3 plays No. 126 and so on.
On the top boards the difference in rating between the opponents was a highly-significant 250-350 points. It was no accident, therefore, that almost all the games ended decisively: the world’s strongest grandmasters beat their opponents even with the black pieces. Only the Brazilian Grandmaster Darcy Lima (2493) managed to draw with White against Russian Champion Peter Svidler (2736). And in general, there’s every reason to call Sunday “Brazil’s day”: Lima’s compatriot Grandmaster Alexandr Fier (2566) won with White against the hard-to-beat Chinese grandmaster Wang Yue (2709).
The main sensation of the day, however, was Peter Leko’s loss with the white pieces against American Grandmaster Sam Shankland (2539). After playing the opening subtly Leko gained a persistent edge, but then he forced matters too soon. White won a pawn, but ended up with his dark-squared bishop out of play, after which Black got serious counterplay. The bishop never managed to break free, and in the meantime Black not only won back the pawn but also got an extremely dangerous passed pawn, which brought him victory. Here’s what Shankland himself had to say:
Of course I didn’t expect to beat Peter Leko with the black pieces! I was hoping for a draw, but anything could happen, so initially I’d prepared a very sharp variation for the game with White. Of course I’ll now completely rethink my plans as it’s Peter who now has to go all out to get complications with Black.
After the opening Leko had an edge and his position remained better. When play became tactical neither of us managed to avoid blunders, but I still handled the tactical lines better. We got an ending where Black had a good knight against a bad bishop, but even there I was ready to agree to a draw for a long time – until the point when Leko made a number of very poor moves in a row. When my opponent eventually did offer me a draw his position was already very difficult and I played on as I wasn’t risking anything. Of course I’m very glad that I managed to beat Peter Leko with Black!
World Champion Hou Yifan (China) put up resistance with the black pieces against Armenian Grandmaster Sergei Movsesian. Although White won an exchange he was forced to switch to defence, as Hou Yifan’s bishops and rooks developed great activity. Nevertheless, in the tactical complications Movsesian managed to outcalculate his opponent. Revenge was taken for the “weaker sex” by Judit Polgar (Hungary) who confidently beat Cuban Grandmaster Jimenez Corrales.
Russian Grandmaster Alexander Morozevich didn’t handle the Sveshnikov System very convincingly with the white pieces, and as early as around move 20 was forced to switch to a fight for equality. A draw was offered on the 23rd move by Greek Grandmaster Stelios Halkias, and Morozevich accepted.
Another noteworthy result was the win by Moldovan Grandmaster Viorel Iordachescu over Sebastien Feller, whose native French Chess Federation has accused him of unfair play during last-year’s Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk. That case is still being dealt with in a French court, so at the moment the accusations are unproved and Feller can continue to take part in events.
The same players will play with colours reversed on Monday 29 August. Those players who finish their two games with a 1-1 score (two draws or each winning a game) will play extra games with a reduced time control on 30 August – the so-called tie-breaks. The winners of the mini-matches will progress to the next stage of the knockout tournament.
All the games from the World Cup can be watched live with commentary in Russian and English at the official World Cup website.
You can also follow the games with analysis by the Houdini chess engine at WhyChess.
First World Cup sensations