The $1.9m (£1.38m), 206-player World Cup at Sochi has so far proved a graveyard for the top 10 grandmasters, while a bevy of teenage talents have seized the opportunity to enhance their growing reputations.
After three rounds and with the original hopefuls whittled down to 32, the global elite’s representation has been culled and decimated. Round four started on Thursday, with five teenagers still in the hunt and a quarter of the field aged under 22, but only one of the top four seeds still going. However, the established order still has a serious chance. Ten of the 32 are Russians, led by the experienced Alexander Grischuk, seeded seven, and Sergey Karjakin, seeded 10.
That lone survivor of the top seeds was Magnus Carlsen, as the world champion advanced serenely to 4/4 and explained apologetically that he was really playing the tournament just as practice for his coming title match against Ian Nepomniachtchi.
Levon Aronian, the No 3 seed, had already withdrawn with a fever before the start. Fabiano Caruana, the world No 2, had his first game stopped after an hour’s play when it was discovered that Susanto Megaranto, his Indonesian opponent, had tested positive for Covid-19 but that Fide, the global chess body, had only been informed after the game started. Caruana’s later virus tests were negative, but so too was his third round play when he was knocked out by the No 1 from Kazakhstan, Rinat Jumabayev.
Anish Giri, the No 4 seed, was eliminated 2-0 by 16-year-old Nodirbek Abdusattorov from Uzbekistan as the teenage wave swept away the elite. The other rising Uzbek star, Javokhir Sindarov, 15, had already knocked out Alireza Firouzja, seen by many as heir apparent to Carlsen, in a game where the strategic vision of Sindarov’s 22…f4-f3! was widely praised.
Play starts at 1pm BST daily and can be followed, including commentaries by Nigel Short, at the official site.
Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, the No 6 seed and Azerbaijan No 1, was eliminated in the speed tie-breaks by Haik Martirosyan, Armenia’s No 8, who turned 21 at the start of the tournament. Of the top nine seeds, only Grischuk (No 5) and France’s Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (No 7) survived alongside Carlsen into round four, and the Frenchman had to go the full distance to an Armageddon sudden death decider before winning 5-4 against Russia’s David Paravyan.
India’s Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa, 15, who meets Vachier-Lagrave in round four, is another high-class talent, and his victory over the Polish veteran Michal Krasenkow was a fine example of how to use open files and diagonals to overwhelm the opposing king.
As the business end of the tournament approaches, the stakes in terms of future opportunities become higher. The two finalists qualify for the next world title candidates, while the rest of the final eight will qualify for the next Fide Grand Prix which is another candidates route. Carlsen is ineligible, which could complicate matters.
Meanwhile the 103-player Women’s World Cup reached its final 16 on Thursday with, in contrast to the men, hardly any form upsets. The top seeds, Russia’s Aleksandra Goryachkina and Kateryna Lagno, have progressed smoothly so far using the trusted formula of drawing as Black and winning as White. Germany’s No 1 Elisabeth Paehtz scored a quick win by trapping the black king in the centre with 14 Bb5+! However, Thursday’s first game of round four brought a shock, as Goryachkina was well beaten by Bulgaria’s former world champion Antoaneta Stefanova and is in a must-win situation on Friday.
The World Cup semi-finals next weekend coincide with the opening round of the online $100,000 Chessable Masters, sponsored by the successful online learning platform that has several top GMs among its authors. Play starts at 4pm BST, around the time that the World Cup games finish, and the field so far includes former US champions Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So, the youngest ever grandmaster (at 12) Abhimanyu Mishra, the women’s world champion Ju Wenjun and rising star Firouzja.
International over-the-board chess returns to England next month with the Northumbria Masters in Gateshead from 26-30 August. Its open event has a £3,000 prize fund, while other tournaments go down to an under-1500 Minor (£750 prize fund) for average and weaker players. Two all-play-alls qualify for GM and IM results.
3773 1 Qg5! g6 (if Qxg5 2 Rxd8 mate) 2 Qh6! gxf5 3 Rg4+! fxg4 4 Bxh7+ Kh8 5 Bg6+ Kg8 6 Qh7+ Kf8 7 Qxf7 mate.