29 September 2019

Unsafe Haven

Maxim Notkin reviews the Semifinal games of the FIDE World Cup 

Teimour Radjabov was first to advance to the Final. Similar to his previous match, this one was decided by aggressive play in the opening. There was a small difference, however: this time he honestly gave the opponent a choice – as early as on the move 6! –  to proceed to an ending that used to be considered equal and completely harmless.


Radjabov - Vachier-Lagrave


1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e3 Nxc3 6.dxc3



6...Qc7. This long forgotten line was rediscovered after Radjabov's victory over Svidler at the Geneva Grand Prix in 2017. Teimour has never played it since, while Maxime faced it a few times as Black. In the first game MVL followed Svidler, trading the queens, and won a dramatic game against Carlsen, but later switched to the text-move as more suited to his style.

7.e4 e6. Playing against Lenderman at the previous edition of the World Cup in Tbilisi, MVL opted for 7...Nc6 and had zero problems after 8.Bd3 Bg4 9.h3 Bh5 10.Be2 e6. Next year Giri responded with characteristic regrouping 8.Be3 e6 9.Nd2, and although that game ended in a draw, Maxime turned his attention to other moves, keeping the queen's knight at bay. The latter cost him very dearly in this game.

8.Bd3. A new move. Svidler and So (twice) tested MVL by 8.Be3.

8...Be7 9.Qe2 Bd7 10.0–0


10...0–0? Ignoring an obvious fact that all white pieces are aiming towards the kingside. Black's plan is logically continued by 10...Bc6 and then Nd7, 0–0, Rfd8, vacating the f8-square for a knight in order to keep the pawn chain intact. If White insists on 11.e5 Nd7 12.Re1, one could consider castling long.

11.e5! Bc6 (preventing Qe4) 12.Ng5 h6. Black has only two options. After 12...g6 he has to be sure that blowing up the kingside directly does not work: 13.Nxh7!? After 13...Kxh7? 14.Qh5+ Kg7 15.Qh6+ Kg8 16.Bxg6 fxg6 17.Qxg6+ Kh8 18.Qh5+ Kg8 19.Bh6 Black is either checkmated or loses a rook. The computer seer includes 13...c4! 14.Bc2 (14.Bxg6 fxg6 15.Nxf8 Bxf8 is unclear) 14...Kxh7, and there is ...Bc5 in the end of the line, keeping the material. Of course, White is not obliged to burn the bridges. After, say, 13.h4 Nd7 14.Re1 he enjoys the lasting initiative. 12...Bxg5 13.Bxg5 changes nothing, as Black still needs to weaken his pawn chain on the kingside.

13.Bh7+! Kh8



14.Bc2. 14.Bb1!? practically forces 14...g6, but here taking on е6 and f7 does not win on the spot, and after 15.Nh3 Kg7 16.Nf4 Nd7 17.Re1 White might still need his queen's rook in some variations.

14...c4. 14...Bxg5 15.Bxg5 Nd7 (intending to parry 16.Qd3 by 16...f5 17.exf6 Nxf6 18.Bxf6 gxf6) is met by 16.Be7, and Black has to either part with an exchange or allow the bishop to get on d6 comfortably.

15.Re1. Of course not 15.Qh5 at once – 15...Bxg5 16.Bxg5 Qxe5, although even here Black needs to be alert after 17.f4 Qc5+ 18.Kh1. 15.Nh7 deserves some attention, planning 16.Qh5 after the rook goes away, but Radjabov prefers a more solid approach.

15...Qd8 16.Nh3 Qd5. It is about time to develop something, and the c4-pawn also needs care. The computer does not promise compensation after 16...Rg8 17.Qxc4 (17.Qh5 Qf8) 17...g5, although such a drastic turn of the game course could be good for Black psychologically.

17.Nf4 Qc5



18.Bb1. Looks inconsistent, but does not hurt the evaluation. The following lengthy line with sparkles does not give White a decisive advantage and is therefore impractical: 18.Qh5 Nd7 19.Be3 Qxe5 20.Ng6+ fxg6 21.Qxg6 Kg8 22.Bxh6 Qf6 23.Qh7+ Kf7 24.Bxg7 Qxg7 25.Bg6+ Kf6 26.Rxe6+ Kxe6 27.Qxg7 Bc5. 

18...Bg5. 18...Nd7 loses to 19.Qc2 g6 20.Be3 Qa5 (20...Qxe5 21.Bd4) 21.Nxg6+ fxg6 22.Qxg6. MVL vacates е7 for the queen, but gives White a new target. Of course, Black has no perfect solution to everything for quite a while already. 

19.Nxe6! fxe6 20.Bxg5 Qd5 21.Qg4 Nd7. Here and later Black avoids trading the queens. The resulting positions are dire, however, not totally hopeless, and the lesser of evils is hard to choose. After 21...Qxg2+ 22.Qxg2 Bxg2 White has a choice between 23.Bxh6 gxh6 24.Kxg2 and 23.Kxg2 hxg5 24.Bg6.

22.Be4 Nxe5 23.Qh5 Qb5. Or 23...Nf3+ 24.Bxf3 Qxg5 25.Qxg5 hxg5 26.Bxc6 bxc6 27.Rxe6 – Black is a pawn down in a rook ending, and his structure is crumbled.

24.Bxh6 Bxe4 25.Bf4+ Kg8 26.Qxe5


26...Bd5. There goes another and final chance for 26...Qxe5 27.Bxe5 Bd5. In the subsequent game Teimour maneuvered skilfully, created an attack on the g7-pawn, and Black's blunder on the 44thmove only shortened the game for a few moves.

27.Re2 Rf5 28.Qe3 Qe8 29.f3 Qg6 30.h4 Raf8 31.Bg5 a6 32.Rd1 Qe8 33.Rd4 Qc6 34.Rg4 Kh7 35.Bf4 R8f7 36.Be5 b5 37.Qf2 Qd7 38.Qg3 Rh5 39.Bd4 Qc7 40.Re5 Rhf5 41.Rg5 Kg8 42.h5 Rxg5 43.Qxg5 Qe7 44.Qg4 Rf5 45.Qxf5 1-0.


In the first game of the Chinese match, Yu Yangyi made the rating favorite break a sweat.


Ding Liren - Yu Yangyi



White did not have the best of openings. Despite an early exchange of the queens, his king is not comfortable in the center. 

12...Nbd7 13.fxe4 Ne5! An excellent intermediate move. After 14.exf5 Black does not take with a check 14...Nxc4+ because of  15.Kd3 Ne5+ 16.Kd4!, but takes another pawn instead: 14...Bxf5,adding a check from d8 to a threat of taking on с4. If 15.Re1, then 15...0-0-0+ 16.Kc1 Rhe8 17.e4 Be6 or 15...Nxc4+ 16.Kc1 Ne3 with the initiative.

14.c5 fxe4 15.Bg2 Bf5. This move allows a creative response. 15...Nc4+ is stronger. On 16.Kc1 Black should reject 16...Bf5 17.Nd4 Bg6 18.Bh3 Rd8, where the game remains balanced after the complications of 19.Ne6 Rd2 20.b3 e3 21.Nxg7+ Ke7 22.Nf5+ Bxf5 23.Bxf5 Na3, and choose16...0-0! 17.Nxe4 Bg4 18.Nbd2 Nxe4 (18...Ne3!?) 19.Bxe4 Bxe2, where White has problems coordinating.

16.Raf1 Nc4+ 17.Kc1 Ne3



18.Rf4! Attacking the е4-pawn for the third time, Ding is worried neither about 18...Nxg2 19.Rxf5, nor about 18...Nh5 19.Rf2. The natural 18...g5 runs into 19.Rxf5! Nxf5 20.Rf1 Ne3 21.Rxf6 Nxg2 22.Nxe4, and Black's extra exchange does not bring him fruit because his pieces are way too far from each other. 18...Nfd5 also does not promise much: 19.Nxd5 cxd5 20.Kd2 g5 21.Rf2 Nc4+ 22.Kc3.

18...0–0!? Indirectly protecting the central pawn.

19.Nd4! In the case of 19.Bxe4 Nxe4 20.Nxe4 Ng2 White gives up an exchange on less favorable terms. Now if the black bishop retreats to g6, White can return his own bishop to life via h3. Having considered all the options, Yu correctly agrees to simplify the game and repeat the moves.

19...Nxg2 20.Rxf5 Ne3 21.Re5 Rae8 22.Rxe8 Rxe8 23.Nc2 Nf5 24.Na3 Ne3 25.Nc2 Nf5 26.Na3 Ne3 27.Nc2. Drawn.


In the first tie-break game Ding had no trouble equalizing as Black. The second 25-minute game turned out to be decisive. It was played splendidly by both players, but Yu managed his time a bit worse.


Ding Liren - Yu Yangyi


13...Nd7! Once again this knight move implies a pawn sacrifice!

14.Bxf5 Nf6 15.Bd3 h6 16.Nh4. After 16.0-0 (similar variations arise after 16.0-0-0 as well) 16...Nxd5 White's army in front is too limited in numbers in the case of 17.Be4 c6 18.Bxh6 gxh6 19.Bxd5+ cxd5 20.Qg6+ Kh8 21.Qxh6+ Kg8, so he has to give the perpetual, while 17.Bc4 c6 (17...Be6? 18.Qe4) 18.Bxh6 gives Black an extra option of 18...Bf5, although the game here also ends peacefully: 19.Bd3 Bxd3 20.Qxd3 Rxf3 21.gxf3 gxh6 22.Qg6+ Kf8 23.Qxh6+ Kf7.



16...Nxd5! In order to remove a good bishop, Yu Yangyi does not hesitate to part with a rook.

17.Bh7+ Kh8 18.Ng6+ Kxh7 19.Nxf8+ Kg8 20.Ng6 Qf6 (threatening Bf5) 21.Qe4! By attacking the enemy knight, White gains time to save his own knight. 

21...Be6 22.0–0 Re8 23.Nh4. In an endgame after 23.Nf4 Nxf4 24.Qxf4 Qxf4 25.Bxf4 Bxd4 Black's activity compensates for material deficit.

23...Bf7 24.Qg4



24...h5. After the probing 24...Be6 White can reject the repetition and play 25.Qg3, but it does not change the overall evaluation at all. 

25.Qg3 Re4! 25...Bxd4 26.Bxd4 Qxd4 is strongly met by 27.Qg5! (intending Rad1 and Nf5; the immediate 27.Nf5 Qf6 is not as good), and after 27...Qxb2 28.Rab1 the white rooks get a lot of room. 

26.Bg5. According to the computer, the players begin to exchange mistakes. For a human it is hard to accept cornering his own queen after 26.Nf3 Rg4 27.Qh3, but the AI considers this position equal, giving, among others, the following line: 27...Be6 28.Qxh5 Qxf3 29.Qe8+ Kh7 30.Qh5+.

26...Qe6. Black needed to capture a pawn: 26...Qxd4. 27.Nf5 is sufficiently well met by 27...Qe5! (the only move; Blacks gets severely punished after the greedy 27...Qxb2 28.Nh6+! gxh6 29.Bf6+ Rg4 30.Bxb2 Rxg3 31.hxg3), and White needs to maintain the balance by 28.Ne3 (28.Nh6+? gxh6 29.Bf4+ Qg7). 

27.h3 Bxd4. The alternative recapture 27...Rxd4 is weaker due to 28.Rae1 Re4 29.Nf3, and the bishop is out of play.


28.Nf3! Fighting for the initiative!

28...Bxb2 29.Rab1 Re2. After 29...Bxa3 30.Rxb7 Nc3 the threat of forking on е2 is parried by31.Nd4! Rxd4 32.Qxc3. Black should avoid losses by 32...Bc5, and the battle continues on equal terms.

30.Bd2. 30.Bc1 also deserves attention, as after 30...Bxc1 31.Rfxc1 White threatens to take on b7 and bring his knight on d4 or g5. However, after the correct 30...Bf6 31.Rxb7 Qc8 followed by...Nc3 nothing is clear.

30...Qf6 31.Bxa5 Nf4 32.Bxc7 Rc2 33.Kh2



33...h4?! Playing under the strong time pressure, Yu Yangyi makes two mistakes in a row. Black could either restore the material balance simply by 33...Rxc7 34.Rxb2 Qxb2 35.Qxf4 Qf6, or add a pawn by 33...Nxg2!? 34.Kxg2 Rxc7. In both cases his chances are not worse.

34.Qg5 Rxc7? Black crumbles after this move. He could continue the resistance by 34...Qxg5 35.Nxg5 Ba2 36.Rfe1! Ne2 37.Rbd1 Bc3 38.Bxd6 Bxe1 39.Rxe1 or 34...Ba2 35.Qxf6 gxf6 36.Bxd6 Bxb1 37.Rxb1.

35.Rxb2 Qxg5 (35...Qxb2 36.Qd8+) 36.Nxg5 Bc4 37.Re1 g6 38.Re4 Nd3 39.Rc2 Rc5 40.Rcxc4 Rxg5 41.Re7 Nc5 42.Rxh4 Rf5 43.f3. Black resigns.

Ding Liren advances to a World Cup Final for a second time in a row.