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FIDE World Cup underway

In case you missed the news, the FIDE World Cup is being played right now in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia. The event began on Nov. 20th and will run until December 15th. The World Cup is part of the qualifying cycle for the 2011 FIDE World Chess Championship.

I found it interesting that the World Cup has become a “knockout” event (in which a loss eliminates a player), rather than a traditional swiss system tournament. The format for this event is as follows: the first six rounds consist of two games contested between each pair of players with winners advancing to the next round. The seventh round consists of four games. The time control is ninety minutes for the first forty moves followed by a 30-minute “sudden death” period. The timers use the “Fischer increment” in which each player has thirty seconds added to his time after each move.

It’s easy to understand why the event uses the “knockout” format: players gain nothing by playing for a draw rather than for a win. The knockout format encourages players to go all-out in each game. In digging around through some databases, I discovered that the 1991 World Cup (the first World Cup I looked at) had actually ended in a tie between Anatoly Karpov and Vassily Ivanchuk (10.5 out of a possible 15 points). Their last round game was a draw, though, to the players’ credit, they did fight it out — the game lasted forty-five moves with a dead level position at the time the draw was agreed upon.

So far in the 2009 World Cup there have been a few upsets. When you take a look at the games from this event and compare players’ ratings, it’s important to note that the Elo rating system gets “stingier” with points the higher one advances in the ratings. For example a 1600-rated player beating an 1800-rated player in a club event is no big deal — it happens all the time. But at the grandmaster level, a 200 point rating differential is a whopping great gulf, more akin to an 1100-rated player whipping up on that 1800-rated player in a club event. That’s what makes this first round game so much fun, a game in which Yu Yangyi (rated 2527) schools 2718-rated Sergei Movsesian on how to play the White side of a Sicilian Defense:

Yu Yangyi-Movsesian
FIDE World Cup, 11/21/09

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nc6 5. Nc3 Qc7 6. Be3 a6 7. Qd2 Nf6 8.
O-O-O Be7 9. f3 h5 10. Kb1 b5 11. Qf2 d6 12. h3 Bb7 13. Bd3 h4 14. Nxc6 Bxc6
15. Rhe1 b4 16. Ne2 e5 17. Bb6 Qb7 18. Nc1 {This is where it begins to come
off the track for Movsesian. The White Bishop’s presently not hurting much on
b6, so Black should ignore it. Castling Kingside or setting up a b-file
battery with …Rb8 would have been more productive.} Nd7 19. Ba5 {Now we see the problem with …Nd7 — it gave up space while not gaining any back.} O-O 20. Bc4 Rfc8 {I’m not sure why. The move …Nc5 would gain space and put some pressure on White’s side of the board. Even the …Rab8 battery idea could still be valid.} 21. Nd3 Ba4 22. Bb3 Bxb3 23. axb3 {Wow! Opening the a-file into his own castled position looks like risky play by White, but there’s no immediate danger.} Qb5 24. Bxb4 a5 25. Ba3 a4 26. Nb4?! {This should have been fatal. The move b3-b4 locks in the dark-squared Bishop, but also sews up the King’s castled position.} axb3 27. cxb3 Nc5 28. Nd5?? {Another “wow” move. 28.Qe3 keeps things sewed up and is far less risky than the text move.} Bg5 29.b4 Ne6?? {And Black hands the game back to White! Why retreat the Knight? Either…Na4 or …Nb3 would keep the pressure on White’s King. Now White will wriggle free.} 30. Nb6! Rxa3 31. bxa3 Rc3 32. Qb2 Rd3 33. Nd5 Nd4 34. a4 {Some nice defensive play by White, and now neither side has any real advantage.} Qc4 35. Rc1 Qa6??  {Movsesian completely misses 35….Bxc1 to win back the Exchange…} 36. Rc3 {…and now it’s too late.} Rd2 37. Qa3 Ne2 38. Rc7 Rd3 39. b5 Qa5 40. Qxd3 Qxe1+ 41. Ka2 Qf2 42. Rc2 Nc1+ 43. Ka3 Qg1 {Black is down material and doesn’t want to swap pieces. If Black had played …Nxd3, White would have replied Rxf2 with a better endgame.} 44. Qc3 Qd1 45. b6 Nd3 46. b7 Qb1 47. Qxd3 {Playing Qc8+ guarantees a second Queen, but pretty much any reasonable White move ensures a win. Black is strictly on auto-pilot now.} Bc1+ 48. Rxc1 Qxd3+ 49. Nc3 {White will get his Queen back next move, so Black resigns.} 1-0

If you want to learn more about the FIDE World Cup, the official website is http://www.ugra-chess.ru/eng/main_e.htm

By the way, a good way to find and play through games of previous World Cups is to consult the ChessBase Mega Database 2009, which is the perfect companion to ChessBase 10, Fritz12, and Rybka3.

Have fun! — Steve

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