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World Cup 2019 Rd 1.1: Nihal Sarin makes a grand debut

by Sagar Shah - 11/09/2019

15-year-old Nihal Sarin is the second youngest participant at the World Cup 2019. This is the first time Nihal is playing at the World Cup, but the youngster showed no nerves and outplayed his higher rated opponent Jorge Cori with the white pieces. Nihal's opening play was impeccable, in the middlegame he tightened the screws and all that was left in the endgame was not to go wrong! His win was definitely the game of the day. Harikrishna and Adhiban were the other two Indians who won their games. Sethuraman, S.L.Narayanan and Ganguly have the task to win their games to stay in the tournament. Vidit, Abhijeet, Karthikeyan and Aravindh drew their game. We bring you a detailed round one report. 

Three Indians win, three lose and four draw on day one

Playing hall of the World Cup 2019 | Photo: Olexandr Prohorov

A Swiss tournament is like a slow paced romantic movie that gets exciting past the half way mark. A knock-out event on the other is a fast paced thriller where things begin to happen right from the word go. As you enter the playing hall of the World Cup 2019, you already begin to see some nerves. If you lose a game, chances are very bright that your journey in Khanty Mansiysk will soon come to an end. Also for some youngsters this was the first time they were playing the World Cup and it was quite apparent that they were tensed and nervous. For India's 15-year-old Nihal Sarin this was a big opportunity. He is the second youngest participant in the event (the youngest is Fahad Rahman from Bangladesh) and Nihal was up against GM Jorge Cori. Playing with the white pieces it seemed as if Nihal was facing the same issues as other debutants, taking a lot of time for his opening moves.

Nervous on his debut? - 15-year-old Nihal Sarin | Photo: World Cup 2019

Nihal Sarin vs Jorge Cori

In this well known position of the Kalashnikov, Nihal took 20 minutes to play the move 10.Be2. Why did he take so much time?

My first explanation was that the youngster was a bit tensed playing the first World Cup of his career. Turns out that Nihal was actually luring his opponent into a line which he had prepared! The most natural move for Black now is to play 10...Na5 11.b3 b5

The c4 pawn looks like a lost cause. Black seems to have got a clear advantage, right?

Black has a clear advantage, at least that is what I thought as well. But it turns out that Nihal had a much bigger concept in mind than just a pawn! I can explain to you this concept with the help of a small history lesson! In 1983, a young Garry Kasparov was eager to make it to the finals of the World Championship to challenge Anatoly Karpov. In the Candidates Semi-final he was pitted against the man who had already challenged Karpov twice - Viktor Korchnoi. Kasparov had already beaten Korchnoi in the 1982 Olympiad and so he was all prepared to beat Korchnoi.


Kasparov vs Korchnoi, 1983

On the 14th move Kasparov took on c5 with dxc5 clearly expecting Korchnoi to recapture the pawn.

Korchnoi surprised the youngster by simply castling 14...0-0! When Kasparov took on b6, Viktor just recaptured with 15...axb6 and we reach this position:

In return for a pawn Black has two semi-open files. His rook on a8 has been activated without any effort and the knight has beautiful posts down the c-file on c5 or c4.

I hope you could see the similarities between the Kasparov-Korchnoi game and Nihal-Cori Jorge:

When Cori took the pawn on c4, Nihal never really wanted to take it back. He wants Black to take the pawn on b3 as well so that after axb3 his rook is activated down the a-file and his bishop on e2 is also very powerful. Now Nihal's move makes complete sense 13.Ned5!

After a few moves, Nihal has a clearly better position. What would you do here?

Although Nihal played the opening like a genius, this is my favourite moment of the game. White is better, there is no question about it, but how should he continue? Nihal wasn't sure where his rook should belong, he also wasn't sure whether this was the right time to push his a-pawn or commit his bishop. In such a situation, you have to improve your position and this Nihal did with the move 24.g3!

g3 was followed by 25.Kg2! and White's strategy becomes clear. He wants to put all of his pieces on light squares away from the action of Black's dark squared bishop. This idea of g3 followed by Kg2 just improving the position, shows the maturity with which Nihal plays his games! 

If there is one place where Nihal's play could have been improved it is at this point. Nihal took the pawn on d3. Can you do something better?

It was the 39th move and very clearly Nihal was under time pressure. The winning move here was 39.Bxf7! The bishop is untouchable because of 40.h6+ and overall White is just winning.

Cori grabbed his chance and took the pawn on f2. This was the last desperate attempt to create some counterplay.

A lot of players would have been flustered at this point. From one sided play, things have become complicated. If you take the bishop on f2 then after Rc2+ it is already huge counterplay for Black and in fact White has to find some very difficult accurate moves to hold the draw there. Instead Nihal simply played the powerful 42.Rf3!

Playing this move requires a calm mind and the ability to tell your mind not to see ghosts in the position. Black has a couple of checks starting with Qg1+ Kh3 Qh1 Kg4 but after the queen exchange, White is positionally winning.

White has so many trumps, that further resistance is futile. Cori played on for a few moves before throwing in the towel!

How can one not be impressed with the youngster after such a brilliant game! | Photo: World Cup 2019
IM Sagar Shah explains the game in great detail in his video presentation

The Kalashnikov is not a bad opening! If you would like to learn the best way to play it, we can recommend you the Kalashnikov and Sveshnikov combo by Pert and Erwin l'Ami.

Harikrishna faced the same opponent as in 2017 World Cup - Yuri Gonzalez. At that point their match had gone on for six rounds. This time it seems as if the match will be way shorter! Playing with the black pieces Hari won his game with some superb endgame play. | Photo: World Cup 2019

Yuri Gonzalez vs Harikrishna

Yuri got his bishop all the way from g5 to a3 to exchange off the pieces. Turns out, that the rook endgame is clearly in Black's favour!

Hari already had the plan in his mind.

1. Exchange the bishops.

2. Get the king to b6 and tie down the white rook to the defence of the a6 pawn

3. Start pushing the kingside pawns and fix a weakness there

4. Play ...c5 and open a second front!

Check out how Hari implements all of these ideas in a perfect manner:

Adhiban won his game against GM Eduardo Iturrizaga

From Adhiban's moves it was clear that the "Beast" was back in form. He was trying to find the best moves in the position and he gave his opponent no chances after he went wrong. The critical moment came on move 19.


Iturrizaga vs Adhiban

19.f4 by Iturrizaga was not at all called for. He could have simply played Reb1 or Rab1 and tried to get in b4. After f4 if Black didn't take the pawn, then White should be fine. But the fact that 19...exf3 was possible, gave Black a clear advantage.

Time to switch on the beast mode! Black to play

Adhiban found the very strong ...Nd3! and White had to already part with a exchange because of the threats on the f2 square.

Iturrizaga has the uneviable task of winning his game with the black pieces against Adhiban to level the scores | Photo: World Cup 2019

Indians in a must-win situation

After the opening it seemed as if Sethuraman was on course towards victory. But his opponent Tamir Nabaty turned out to be a tough nut to crack. Setting up traps in just about every position, Sethuraman was forced to find the most accurate moves. The Indian GM couldn't keep up the accuracy and finally had to throw in the towel. | Photo: World Cup 2019

For S.L. Narayanan it was a game that he would like to put behind him. The youngster played some risky chess in the opening, but it didn't really pay off.

Surya Sekhar Ganguly, fresh from his Belt and Road success, started on a wrong foot in Khanty Mansiysk. He is now in a must-win situation against Fedoseev with the white pieces

Four draws

Vidit played out a solid draw against Alan Pichot with black. He will now try to press with the white pieces in game two | Photo: World Cup 2019

Karthikeyan Murali had an advantage against Ernesto Inarkiev, but he didn't manage to convert it. In the end the players agreed to a draw. | Photo: World Cup 2019

If you would like to learn the Ruy Lopez, there is no one better than Fabiano Caruana. The World No.2 has recorded a special series of three DVDs for ChessBase. They will be released on 25th of September. If you would like to preorder them, you can do so at a discounted price below:

Abhijeet Gupta played out a fighting draw against Anton Korobov | Photo: World Cup 2019

When we speak about fighters in chess, this is what we mean:

Black has just played his rook to g8. Now a normal player will see that Black threatens ...Nh5 and then g2 would be weak, so he plays Rhg1. But Abhijeet, being a fighter, went for Rc5!? and his idea is that after Nh5 he goes Nd3 giving up the g2 pawn and getting his other rook to c1 and then using the pieces to launch an attack! That's how these players like Abhijeet Gupta and Korobov try to fight, by finding creative solutions.

Aravindh was very lucky to have wriggled out with a draw | Photo: World Cup 2019

Ding Liren began with a smooth win in round one against Shaun Press | Photo: World Cup 2019

Anish Giri also had very few difficulties to subdue Mohammed Fahad | Photo: World Cup 2019

All results

Live Games will begin at 3.30 p.m. and they can be followed with live analysis by IM Sagar Shah here

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