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World Cup 2019 Rd. 2.2: Harikrishna and Vidit advance, Nihal's blackout

by Sagar Shah - 15/09/2019

How much chess action can you pack in one day! " A LOT" is the answer if you are following the World Cup 2019. Harikrishna and Vidit Gujrathi showcased clinical performances and progressed to round three. While Hari dominated the match against Fedoseev, Vidit took his chances when he was presented and beat Rakhmanov. The big news of the day of Nihal Sarin's blackout moment and a piece blunder against Eltaj Safarli in a better position. Nihal now has to fight it out in the tiebreaks against the Azeri GM. Adhiban has played a solid 1-1 draw against Yu Yangyi and the match goes into the tiebreaks. Aravindh Chithambaram couldn't continue his magic and was eliminated against Tomashevsky. A detailed round 2.2 report by IM Sagar Shah.

Eltaj Safarli vs Nihal Sarin, Round 2.2 

Black is clearly better in this position. If you are under time pressure, like Nihal was in the game, the first move that comes to your mind is ...Qe2. And that's a fine move. But Nihal played the inexplicable ...Rg6??, simply forgetting that Rxf2 is a free piece. Safarli took the gift and also the game!

Mistakes do not happen in vacuum

Imagine a fresh Nihal Sarin sitting at the board and him being given the above position. Do you think he will blunder like he did in the game? As is rightly said, "Mistakes do not happen in vacuum." Eltaj Safarli was facing a tough situation after the first game ended. He had been completely outplayed by Nihal in the Breyer and his young opponent, all of 15 years, simply looked rock solid. Something really out of the ordinary was required to cause problems to Nihal.

Evans Gambit it is!

Safarli, who has been the second of Mamedyarov in the past, knew that something as drastic as the Evans could unsettle Nihal. However, it didn't really seem to be the case. Nihal played really well and very soon had a completely fine position. From the position on the board it seemed like Safarli's gamble to play the Evans Gambit had not worked. But if you take the clock into consideration you realize that it was a great decision. Nihal had spent nearly an hour on the first twelve moves and by the time he had a good position he was already down to his last 10 minutes. Nihal has this habit of taking a lot of time in the opening. This had worked out in both his games against Cori and also in his first game against Eltaj. The only problem in the second game against Safarli was that the problems posed by his opponent were continuous in nature. Accurate calculation was needed on just about every move from move 16 onwards. Nihal managed to do that for 15 more moves, but on the 32nd move he blundered the bishop.


Although Nihal lost he didn't fail to impress. First of all the system he chose against the Evans Gambit was very nice where he got quite a solid position. And secondly there were certain moves where you required great precision and Nihal was able to show it.

White has just taken the pawn on d6. How would you respond with Black?

The move Re8 looks normal, or you are thinking of ideas like Bd7 or Rxd6. But Nihal realized that it was important to keep the only weakness in his position defended - the f7 pawn. He played the move ...Rf8! which was very strong.

Safarli has taken Nihal's bishop on g4. How do you continue?

Nihal had seen in advance that he did not need to recapture the bishop. In fact he can simply take the pawn on e4 with a double attack on the rook on d3 and the bishop on g4.

This is when things start getting really tricky. Nihal was down to his last few minutes on the clock and his opponent has played his knight to e5. It looks like a big fork on f7 is looming, but Nihal simply played Qf4! Nf7+

...Kg8! not at all afraid of any discovered checks! To play this under time pressure and to realize that you are completely fine just shows what a big talent this youngster really is. The best that Safarli had here was a perpetual, but a draw would mean elimination and so he tried for something else.

Nc4 was a mistake. Now Black could have played Rae8 threatening Qxf2 as the back rank is extremely weak for white. Nihal actually took ...Bxf2 which was also a very strong move. Black is a pawn up and has a dominating position.

After all these accurate moves Nihal blundered and lost.

Nihal's mental strength is being put to a big test at the World Cup 2019
IM Sagar Shah analyzes Nihal's loss against Safarli

If you too would like to learn the active Evans Gambit, we recommend Simon Williams' Evans Gambit for the new generation:

If you are looking for a black recommendation against various gambits that white plays after 1.e4 e5 like the King's Gambit, the Scotch Gambit, the Latvian, Schliemann, Evans, Fried Liver etc, then we recommend Erwin l'Ami's Gambit Guide Vol.1+2:

The score is now 1-1 and the match goes into the tiebreaks. Both Nihal and Eltaj are really good at short formats. But Safarli has the added advantage of having played a tiebreak in round 1 when he eliminated Sam Shankland. Nihal has only played four classical games until now. It will be really interesting to see if Nihal can adjust to the new time control and also forget the blunder he committed.

India no.2 and 3 on a roll

Harikrishna and Vidit have been playing some excellent chess at the World Cup 2019 and both of them have made their way to round three without playing any tiebreaks! While Harikrishna dominated his opponent Fedoseev, Vidit took his chances when Rakhmanov misplayed a better position. A 1.5-0.5 victory for both of them.

Harikrishna has been ruthless at the event and was very close to winning his fourth consecutive encounter

For Fedoseev it was an uphill task to beat a solid player like Hari after losing the first game of the match. He tried his best to mix up things and Hari was also up for the challenge:


Fedoseev vs Harikrishna, Game 2

Harikrishna spiced up the game by taking on f3 in this position. White gets the bishop but Black has the better structure.

Fedoseev went pawn hunting on a7, but Harikrishna was up to the task. He broke in the centre with ...e5. Hari realized that the white king on e1 is not at all safe and it makes complete sense to open up the position.

...Bf4! was a good decision. When your opponent has a bishop pair. It makes sense to exchange one of them. The power of the other bishop also reduces.

Hari sacrificed another pawn with ...Ne5! It is this energetic play that left Fedoseev completely clueless as to how to defend against Hari's pieces.

Harikrishna got a clear advantage and was winning. But in the end he didn't calculate precisely and had to agree to a draw. Harikrishna will now play the winner of Kirill Alekseenko (2671) and Johan-Sebastien Christiansen (2558). The two will play their tiebreaks today and the winner will take on Hari in round three. 

If you would like to learn the art of initiative by sacrifice some material, just like Hari did in the game, we recommend two excellent books for you - one is by Ivan Sokolov and the other by Mihai Suba.

Vidit's won his match against Rakhmanov with a score of 1.5-0.5

For Vidit, his match against Rakhmanov was quite a difficult one. The Russian GM is a solid player and in the first game he drew his game with the black pieces with ease. When Rakhmanov had white in game two, he chose an interesting opening, one that is the favourite of Vladimir Kramnik (if you look at the annotations below you will find a couple of new ideas by the 14th World Champion in this opening). Rakhmanov's play was quite unambitious and Vidit equalized without too many difficulties. But then Vidit began to try for more! This approach could have easily backfired as very soon he landed in a minus position.


Rakhmanov vs Vidit, Game 2

Objectively Vidit should have taken on e3 twice and then played Ke7. This would have led to a draw. But the Indian GM wanted more!

White's position looks preferable because the pawns are pretty weak.

While Re3 looks like a very solid move in the position, it was a mistake because it allowed Vidit a very strong resource. Can you find it?

...Rd4! is what Rakhmanov missed. Now the rook has to be taken because allowing Rd1+ followed by Bf1 would lead to mating attack. After Rxd4 cxd4 Black's weak c-pawn has suddenly transformed into a strong passed pawn! 

White had a confusing decision to make here. Should he play Ra4 or Re5?

The move Ra4 attacks the pawn on a7 and also defends the f4 pawn, but it was incorrect as it allowed Vidit the very strong resource Rf1! This was missed by Rakhmanov. The threat is g2-g1. White had to give up the f4 pawn but under highly unfavourable circumstances. Better was to play Re5! in the above position. After ...Rxf4 Rg5 the black king is sort of cut off and also the pawns are in check. Next White begins to push his queenside pawns and it is a relatively easy draw.

Vidit's round 3 opponent is the world class GM Wesley So. Do you think Vidit will be able to overcome this challenge? | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Adhiban's staunch defence against Yu Yangyi

While Harikrishna and Vidit have made their way to round three, a very impressive round two match is being played between Adhiban and Yu Yangyi. Adhiban, rated 2639, is more than a 100 Elo points lower than his opponent. However, the Indian GM believes that he has every chance of outplaying the Chinese no.2 player. Until now both the games have been hard fought draws with neither of the players giving each other any chances.

You can see from Adhiban's face, that he is not here to give up!

Today Adhiban and Yu Yangyi will indulge in a tiebreak. At the last World Cup Adhiban was very close to eliminating Ian Nepomniactchi in the tiebreak. He somehow missed his chances. Perhaps, this is his chance to redeem himself.

Aravindh ran out of steam at the World Cup and lost his match 1.5-0.5 to Evgeny Tomashevsky. But this was a great experience for the youngster who clearly has a lot of positives to take home!

The tiebreaks will begin at 3.30 p.m. IST and you can follow them LIVE along with updates by IM Sagar Shah here

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