2011 Chess World Cup – A perspective from the Man from Down Under

I met Zong-Yuan Zhao (Yuan) while playing in the Australian Open Championship in January of 2007. The geography of the situation guaranteed that we would rarely see each other. We had an amusing encounter at the most recent Olymapid. We ran into each other before a game. We had a short chat and discovered that our opponents on that day would be Aronian and Topalov. Living in Canada and Australia has its advantages for chess players too;).

I was very fortunate to spend a lot of time with Yuan at the most recent World Cup. Our backgrounds are very similar – top chess players of great countries but that lack a chess tradition.

I have met a lot of chess players over the years. Yuan is hands down one of my favourite people in the world of chess. His story is an amazing one, as he finished a degree in Pharmacy which he followed up by working a year in the field before deciding to study medicine, his current occupation. Oh yeah, he’s also a Grandmaster rated 2570. When our adventures were coming to an end I asked Yuan to write an article for my blog and he gladly agreed. Enjoy the detailed account, I certainly did!

“My name is Zong-Yuan Zhao, a 25 year old Australian, currently living in Sydney and studying 2nd year post-graduate medicine, having previously completed a bachelors in pharmacy.  I consider myself a complete non-professional when it comes to chess although I am extremely passionate about the game and have worked hard on it for more than 15 years.  This was already my second time representing the Oceania region (this FIDE-designated geographical area includes countries like Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Palau and potentially other Pacific Islands).  I have very pleasant memories of my previous 2007 World Cup sojourn (held in Khanty Mansyisk as well) when I got to face the now “Great Magnus” (current world no.1 Magnus Carlsen from Norway) just before he reached true greatness – after beating me he jumped from something like 2670 – 2720 in one rating list, I must have made the bulk of that Elo contribution right 🙂

That was a great learning experience but it was only the start of my European tour to seek my GM norms and he told me afterwards that he thought I would be able to do it.  I didn’t take the man too seriously as I thought he was merely consoling me after snapping me 2-0 in the match but I can now report he has a future in the soothsaying business, doubtlessly like some of his Nordic ancestors –  I went on to achieve 3 GM norms out of my next 4 tournaments in Europe…

I had the pleasure of meeting Mark Bluvshstein when he visited Australia at the beginning of 2007 in Canberra for the biennial Australian Open held in Australia’s capital, Canberra.  At that time as I recall it he was about to start university and the Australian tour was a small “chess tourist” holiday before he would be more confined to his academic interests.

Fast forward now to 25th September 2011, about 5pm at Moscow Domododevo airport with me wandering around aimlessly inside the gigantic yet quite overcrowded airport.  As I wheeled my baggage past the “Business to Bussiness Cafe” I suddenly recognised the slightly raised, blond crew-cut of a familiar figure.  “Mark” I blurted out, the man looked slightly confused first of all, probably because we were in Russia and very few people would call this name this “English” way.  Eventually we made eye contact and my voyage from Sydney-Khanty Mansyisk for the 2011 Chess World Cup was about to get much better.  My flight from Sydney-Abu Dhabi was cancelled and then rescheduled about 15 hours later which meant I missed my connecting flights from Abu Dhabi-Moscow and Moscow-Khanty Mansyisk.  What was meant to be a 30 hour trip had already turned into the third day on the road (or in the sky since I was mostly flying) for me by the time I reached Moscow Domododevo airport.  I was simply so relieved that I found someone familiar who also spoke English.

Of course, as fellow chess colleagues we quickly started socialising and catching up on the last 5 years since we last saw each other.  Mark offered his English-Russian translation services and valiantly tried to change my air ticket to the same flight as him on the evening of 25th September.  However, it was not quite to be, as I had to spend one more evening at the airport hotel before I could jet-off to my final destination in Khanty Mansyisk.

I arrived in Khanty Mansyisk early on the morning of 27th of September (2 days later than what I planned, all due to my cancelled flight from Sydney) and having crashed in my room for about 8 hours I went out to get my World Cup player’s accreditation and then pleasantly ran into Mark and his fellow Canadian colleague, Eric Hansen.  In fact this was the beginning of a somewhat short but very meaningful friendship between the three of us as we spent most of our spare time aside from the chess together.  The first thing we did was go off and get some afternoon dessert at a cafe quite close to the Olympiad Hotel (where many participants of the 2010 Chess Olympiad was housed).  Apparently for Eric, there at this puny but beautiful little cafe he had his first flirting (one of many more for sure) with the famous “banana split”.  Funnily enough as Mark explained, despite the Cyrillic-English alphabet differences the pronunciation of this was almost English-like.  We started teasing Eric about his first “banana-split” but I somehow have a feeling this was sort of understood by the pretty waitress who was making Eric’s banana split and she really did make it very special for him, I only wish we had captured it on camera.  Next we went across the road to a little snack bar on wheels and Mark attempted to order two Russian snacks which I would describe as being quite similar to Turkish Pides (like a pizza but in a different shape and the topping is sometimes sealed inside).  They were delicious but the main thing I remember was Mark teaching me the pronunciation and I thought one of them was rather close to what sounded like…”gibberish” 🙂 I am sure Mark will correct my tongue twisting misunderstanding. (Cheburek-MB;))

In the chess scheme of things, this time my opponent in the first match (each match consists of 2 classical games followed by rapid, blitz and armageddon games on an as needed basis) was the 2710 Russian GM Evgeny Tomashevsky.  As I write these passages I checked the latest chess news and he has “cruised” to round 3 of the World Cup where he is facing the top Azeri GM Vugar Gashimov (world no.11).  I say cruised because his victory over me at least was indeed very cruisy as I was dispatched with few chances.  In the first game, I snatched a pawn early on in a Catalan on the black side and got this position:

I have been dismally outplayed and if white had played 23.b4 here I may have soon passed out at the board due to asphyxiation 🙂  Instead my opponent continued his manoeuvres and somehow I managed to improve my position to this:


At this point after white’s last move, 35.Qb1 I recall both of us had only about 1 minute left and my opponent was clearly getting very nervous  (first time control at move 40, where each player got an additional 30 minutes, note that there is also a 30 second increment from the start of the game) .  I got very excited as I saw possibilities of moves like 35…c5 or simply just 35…Qb6 but then it hit me.  I played the highly excitable 35…Nb6?? thinking that this wins an exchange since the rook can’t retreat to c2 as then the knight is hanging.  My opponent broke this “logical argument” by playing 36.Rc5! Bxc5 37.Rxc5 and I resigned shortly after, feeling quite depressed.  From a purely chess point of view, 35…c5! which I thought about briefly before “blurting out” my blunder was very strong and ensures black a good game.  What a pity…

Unfortunately Mark and Eric also posted the same dismal result and we shared our woes together that evening at a lovely Russian restaurant which Mark and I went back to together every night for the remainder of our stay in Khanty Mansyisk. (Night City Restaurant-MB)

In the second game, my opponent showed his true colours as he solved my anti-Marshall riddle:

The position comes after 19.Bxc4.  The following phenomenon I am sure is familiar to chess enthusiasts and professionals alike.  Strangely enough I had this position in my analysis on the computer with the evaluation that white is slightly better.  The line the engines gives is something like 19…a5!? (which mortal which think of that? If one does think of it, I would check his DNA and accuse him of cheating by selling his soul to be a silicon) followed by 20…Rb7!.  Okay, the moves are sort of conceivable but the plan as a whole is distinctly without “clear” human logic.  My opponent continued instead 19…Bg4 20.Bf1 Bb4! (forcibly coming in to e1 with his rook) 21.Qb3 Bxf3! (this is the sort of move harder to make for a strong grandmaster than an average 2300 player because one has to see the follow up well in advance, otherwise giving up such a strong bishop would be a grievous sin which condemns one to the chess sin bin) 22.Qxf3 Re1 23.Qd3 leading to the following position:

What would you expect black to play?

Just to keep you in suspense for a moment longer, at this point whilst my opponent was pondering his move, I got up to use the restroom and have a quick bite at the little snack bar they set up for the players.  I was feeling really quite confident as it still hadn’t occurred to me what black was planning.  I am pretty sure Evgeny had already envisaged the following move when he spent a long time pondering his 19th move, truly grandmaster foresight! 23…Qg6! this is a really nice move.  It’s a bit against intuition to initiate a queen exchange but once one realises that exchanging queens is very bad for white due to the back rank pin, it all makes sense 24.Qc4?! (instead 24.Qxa6! Qc2 25.Kg2! seems to be a draw as now black should opt for 25…Qe4+ 26.Kg1 Qc2 with repetition.  If 25…Rxc1 then 26.Rxc1 Qxc1 27.Bc4! seems to be somewhat better for white) 24…Qe4 25.a3 Bc5! (a simple tactic as my opponent described it but one I missed and still quite cute I think) 26.Ra2? (26.b3 Qxd4 27.Ra2 Qxc4 28.bxc4 Rxc1 29.cxd5 cxd5 30.Kg2 a5 31.a4 I saw but dismissed quickly because here I may draw but anyway then the match is lost) 26…Qb1 26.Bd2 Rd1! and I simply have too many awkward pieces and soon I was mercifully knocked out by my opponent.

So after losing 2-0 I enjoyed one more “rest day” as I had originally booked my return flight to Sydney in case I made the rapid/blitz tiebreaks if the match is tied after the first two games.  Instead the Canadian/Australian trio embarked on another wander around Khanty Mansyisk.  We visited a lovely Bavarian style restaurant and had a very nice lunch for only 300 roubles (just over 10 USD) and then we strolled back to the tournament venue and enjoyed the action as other players had to sweat it out in the tiebreaks.  There was a really good computer room/analysis area where each game was broadcast live (actually there were live camera feeds for some of the top games and one could clearly see the player’s facial expressions, simply awesome!) and in addition each computer was equipped with Houdini (no.1 chess engine in the engine rankings and maybe of humanity too!) so that even players like me could instantaneously pick up embarrassing episodes in the games of the greats like Karjakin and co.  For dinner that evening I recall that Eric ordered a gigantic pizza (I think it was larger than “family size” by Australian standards) which took less than 10 minutes to make (really impressive as so called fast food pizza chains I know of take at least 15-20 minutes) and afterwards I believe he even made the acquaintance of a local Russian lady who is about to move to his home town in Canada.  I think Eric is flying home 2 days later than Mark and I but we feel we leave him in good company as we departed home.

Many players ask me about what I think of the World Cup in Khanty Mansyisk.  My answer to the question depends on the emphasis which the person asking the question has: Khanty Mansyisk is a beautiful city with rich customs and very friendly people and the chess events held there, whether it be World Cups or Olympiad are simply very well organised, I would say of top class.  The only down-side, at least for a man from the Land Down Under is that this is simply a place very, very, very…far away! However, my final emphasis would be for the experience and chess it’s well worth it and I would do it again and again and again!

Thank you Mark and Eric! You guys are what made this experience even more memorable as I felt we shared a little bit of our special journey together.  This World Cup really stands out in my memory because of both of you.  May the Canadian/Australian bond grow ever stronger and I hope one day I will get a chance to visit your Northern Lands!”

Game 2

After losing the first game, I needed to win the second one to take the match into overtime. Playing in these all-or-nothing situations is somewhat of an art. Historically, my must-win results are quite good. I clinched my first GM norm by winning the last three games of a Round Robin event. I clinched my last GM norm by beating GM Novikov (at the time rated over 2600) with the White pieces in what must be considered one of my best games ever.

This was a different story. Both players are extremely motivated at the World Cup. The goal was to seriously complicate the matter without going overboard crazy. The first task was choosing the opening. Realistically speaking, it’s more pleasant to play for the win with White than to play for a draw with Black in this situation. Pleasantness is not really a decisive factor though.

While preparing for the match I shortly considered playing 1.e4, but decided against it in consideration that my opponent is a Caro Kahn specialist. I have alternated my first move only once over the last year. Against 1.d4 my opponent usually plays the Nimzo Indian. So preparation should be easy, right? Not so much. It’s important to consider all of the enemy’s cards.

My opponent had been around a lot of Gruenfeld in recent times during his role as Grischuk’s second. Riazantsev used to play the opening himself and I have shown little to demand fear against it. Another potential weakness he could try to exploit was the Queen’s Gambit Declined. Everybody has been playing it recently. Fortunately for the liveliness of chess, Aronian-Harikrishna (2011), as well as some other games that followed succeeded in throwing more wood into the fire. I have shown “softer” preparation against this opening. It was about covering all bases. Considering the match situation, I was quite sure the Gruenfeld was not a serious option.

The Nimzo had more than a 50% chance of appearing on the board. That’s exactly what happened. So what was the plan?

[Event “?”]
[Site “?”]
[Date “2011.08.29”]
[Round “?”]
[White “Bluvshtein”]
[Black “Riazantsev”]
[Result “1/2-1/2”]
[ECO “A00”]
[PlyCount “154”]
[EventDate “2011.08.28”]
[SourceDate “2011.08.29”]

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Nf3 c5 5. g3 Ne4 6. Qd3 Qa5 7. Qxe4 Bxc3+ 8.
Bd2 Bxd2+ 9. Nxd2 Qb6 10. dxc5 Qxb2 11. Rb1 Qa3 12. Qd4 O-O 13. Bg2 Na6 14. Ne4
Qa5+ 15. Qd2 Qc7 16. Rb5 Rb8 17. Qd4 b6 18. cxb6 Rxb6 19. Rg5 e5 20. Qxe5 Qxe5
21. Rxe5 d6 22. Re7 Be6 23. O-O Bxc4 24. Nc3 Rb2 25. Rxa7 Rc2 26. Bd5 Rxc3 27.
Bxc4 Rxc4 28. Rxa6 Rc2 29. e3 Rb8 30. Rd1 g6 31. Raxd6 Rxa2 32. Rd8+ Rxd8 33.
Rxd8+ Kg7 34. g4 Ra5 35. h4 h5 36. g5 Ra4 37. Rd4 Ra2 38. Kg2 Kf8 39. Kg3 Ra3
40. Kf4 Ra2 41. f3 Ra3 42. Ke4 Ra1 43. Ke5 Ra3 44. Ke4 Ra1 45. Rb4 Kg7 46. Kf4
Ra3 47. Rb1 Ra2 48. e4 Re2 49. Rb7 Ra2 50. Rb3 Rg2 51. Rb1 Re2 52. Kg3 Ra2 53.
Re1 Ra3 54. Kf4 Ra2 55. Re3 Rg2 56. Re1 Ra2 57. Kg3 Ra3 58. Kf2 Ra2+ 59. Re2
Ra1 60. Kg2 Ra3 61. f4 Ra4 62. Kf3 Ra3+ 63. Re3 Ra1 64. Kg2 Ra4 65. Kg3 Rb4 66.
f5 gxf5 67. exf5 Rg4+ 68. Kh3 f6 69. Re6 fxg5 70. Rg6+ Kf7 71. hxg5 Rf4 72.
Rf6+ Kg7 73. Rg6+ Kf7 74. Ra6 Rxf5 75. Kh4 Rf1 76. g6+ Kg7 77. Kxh5 Rf5+

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Nf3 This was supposed to be a semi-surprise. I played this move in a few games without much success. 4.f3 and e3 have been my main weapons for a lot of years. My opponent did not have many games in this line and I did not know what to expect. He never played the next move before. 4… c5 5. g3 Ne4 6. Qd3 Qa5 7. Qxe4 Bxc3+ 8. Bd2 Bxd2+ 9. Nxd2 Qb6?! This move was made famous by the game Kasparov-Karpov in 1985. However, it’s dubious. 9…Nc6 has become the main move where 10.dxc5 b6! leads to rather balanced positions, but 10.d5!? Nd4 11.Bg2 Nb3! 12.Rd1 leads to a very interesting position where White sacrifices a pawn or two for optimal piece activity, as in Moiseenko-Bluvshtein, 2004.

I knew that this move is not supposed to be very good and I remember looking at it. Just didn’t remember why. I reacted well. 10. dxc5 Qxb2 11. Rb1 Qa3 Taking the a2 pawn is dangerous because White places his Queen on c3. 12. Qd4 O-O 13. Bg2 This much was all in the notes. 13… Na6 13…Nc6 leaves Black with some serious problems after 14.Bxc6, after which the White Knight gains supremacy over the Bishop. 14. Ne4 Black is running into some difficulties. Even though White’s pawns are scattered, Black’s forces are currently immobile. 14… Qa5+ The greedy 14…f5 15.Nd6 Qxc5 16.Qxc5 Nxc5 17.Rb5! lands Black in trouble 15. Qd2 Qc7 16. Rb5! The Rook will be useful on that square. 16… Rb8 16…f5 17.Nd6 Nxc5 18.Qd4 Na4 19.g4! leaves Black’s forces immobile once again, as White prepares an offensive.

If Black can peacefully play b6 and regroup his position will be fine.17. Qd4 White prepares against b6. 17… b6 18. cxb6 Rxb6 19. Rg5! The idea of it all, the rook lift. Black’s choices are limited. 19… e5 20. Qxe5 Qxe5 21. Rxe5 d6 21…Rb1+ 22.Kd2 Rb2+ 23.Kc3 Rxa2 24.Kb3! traps the Rook, as 24…Rxe2 will be answered by 25.Nf6+ 22. Re7 Gotta keep that Rook active and creating problems. 22… Be6 23. O-O Bxc4 24. Nc3! The ideal square for the Knight, from where it controls everything. 24… Rb2 Black stays aggressive.

25. Rxa7? A rushed decision. Much stronger was 25.Rc1! (stopping Rc2) 25…Bxa2 26.Nxa2 Rxa2 27. Rxa7, where Black will not have any choice but to go for a Rook+Bishop+4 VS Rook+Knight+3 on the same side, giving White good winning chances. I was looking for something more straightforward. 25… Rc2 26. Bd5 Rxc3 27. Bxc4 Rxc4 28. Rxa6 Rc2

This is a tough nut to crack. 29. e3? 29.Rd1! Rxe2 30.Rdxd6 would have offered White better winning chances than the text, but with careful play from Black it feels like the game should still end in a draw. 29… Rb8 30. Rd1 g6 31. Raxd6 Rxa2 32. Rd8+ Rxd8 33. Rxd8+ Kg7 34. g4 White tries to gain a preferable pawn structure, as Black ideally plans to play h5. I will not go into analyzing this endgame in-depth. The position is a draw and Black stays alive with accurate defense. 34… Ra5 35. h4 h5 36. g5 Ra4 37. Rd4 Ra2 38. Kg2 Kf8 39. Kg3 Ra3 40. Kf4 Ra2 41. f3 Ra3 42. Ke4 Ra1 43. Ke5 Ra3 44. Ke4 Ra1 45. Rb4 Kg7 46. Kf4 Ra3 47. Rb1 Ra2 48. e4 Re2 49. Rb7 Ra2 50. Rb3 Rg2 51. Rb1 Re2 52. Kg3 Ra2 53. Re1 Ra3 54. Kf4 Ra2 55. Re3 Rg2 56. Re1 Ra2 57. Kg3 Ra3 58. Kf2 Ra2+ 59. Re2 Ra1 60. Kg2 Ra3 61. f4 Ra4 62. Kf3 Ra3+ 63. Re3 Ra1 64. Kg2 Ra4 65. Kg3 Rb4

No more progress can be made before advancing the f-pawn. 66. f5 gxf5 67. exf5 Rg4+! 68. Kh3 f6! Black forces the fixing of the pawns. 69. Re6 fxg5 70. Rg6+ Kf7 71. hxg5 71.Rxg5 Rf4 72.Rxh5 Kf6 is drawn as well. 71… Rf4! 72. Rf6+ Kg7

White is in zugzwang. 73.Kh2 Rh4+ 74.Kg3 Rg4+ allows Black to take the pawn. The rest is just an attempt at a fighting spirit. 73. Rg6+ Kf7 74. Ra6 Rxf5 75. Kh4 Rf1 76. g6+ Kg7 77. Kxh5 Rf5+ 1/2-1/2


I lost my match to GM Riazantsev by a score of 1.5-0.5. I won both opening battles but lost the fight in both games. In the first game I equalized with Black and was crushed in the middle game. In the second game I gained an advantage with White and failed to convert. I out-prepared my opponent but was outplayed over the board, which is what is most important in the end of the day…

In general, results are not everything. The process is very important. In my scenario, however, results are everything. I can’t say that I will dwell on the result for too long. Other things await. Non-chess related things.

The World Cup continues. In the second round, my opponent drew both games against GM Nepomniachtchi (rated 2718) but then lost the playoffs in active games.

A very positive note on the tournament is GM Moiseenko, who used to be an annual visitor to the Canadian chess scene. His current rating is 2725 and he is on to the third round. I had a brief chat with him during the tournament and he appears to be extremely determined. Good luck to him for the rest of the tournament!

Another interesting note, there is an open tournament in KM for those eliminated in the first round. I have still not seen the tournament advertised, but one hears rumors.

Below are some more photos from the event. Next article will be a concluding article on my year as well as general thoughts.

Not all signs from the 2010 Olympiad are down

Local old-fashioned restaurant

Eric and Yuan

Friendly ogre in a mall

We really looked like tourists here

Favourite restaurant in KM: “Night City Restaurant”. If you are in the area, stop by. Probably not worth 30 hours of traveling though


Game 1

An important factor in playing at the World Cup is general fatigue from the travel, as well as jet lag. A good night’s sleep usually does the trick for me when it comes to fatigue. I’ve benefited from good sleep during my chess travels. Research says that one needs a day to adjust for every hour of time difference. KM represents a 10 hour time difference with Toronto. We do what we can to deal with the situation. The simple task of staying well hydrated and eating well helps. My own advice is to try to adjust on the first night by not listening to your body and instead listening to the clock. Then there is game day. I try to get into my pre-game rhythm with the usual 1.5-2 hour nap, followed by a shower. I’m not sure how jet lagged I was going into the first round.  Either way, jet lag is just another factor players need to deal with.

I was to play with Black in the first game. I had been preparing for my opponent for about three weeks before the match started. GM Alexander Riazantsev is known as one of the best theoreticians out there. As a second, he made a big contribution to Grischuk’s opening resurrection and his fine performance at the Candidates Matches earlier this year. A decision needed to be made in regards to openings.

I had become rather easy to prepare for, playing the Nimzo, Queen’s Indian and Benoni structures almost exclusively against 1.d4. The lazy way to play this match would be to just continue this streak and see how it goes. This would also be extremely dangerous, since it would be my opponent who chooses the specific line in the opening. Testing his preparation while not really knowing what he would go for was dangerous, especially considering my opponent’s reputation. On the other hand, this was to be my last tournament. Preparing and playing a new opening with Black seemed like a very time consuming activity.

A lot of my opponent’s games were studied in an attempt to find weaknesses. A weakness was found – the Queen’s Gambit Accepted (QGA). The hard-working route was chosen. The new opening also created a new interest in the game, as opposed to just playing some old systems that would generate a lot of repetition. The new opening generated freshness in ideas. It also created more risk and more potential for reward. Most of all, I wanted to play some interesting chess, which has been lacking the last few tournaments. New openings also create motivation.

I had been flirting with other openings, against both 1.e4 and 1.d4 at different times. By flirting I don’t mean thinking about it. I mean actually preparing those openings for a week or longer. The time never seemed right and the short-term risk seemed to be greater than the long-term reward with those new openings. Here, the case was different. With time to prepare, an opponent can really bust the usual opening.

A lot of preparation was done in the QGA. All lines needed to be analyzed, not just those recently played by my opponent. It was a lot of work. On with the game.

[Event “?”]
[Site “?”]
[Date “2011.08.28”]
[Round “?”]
[White “Riazantsev”]
[Black “Bluvshtein”]
[Result “1-0”]
[ECO “D20”]
[PlyCount “75”]
[EventDate “2011.08.28”]
[SourceDate “2011.08.28”]

1. d4 d5 2. c4 dxc4 3. e4 Nf6 4. e5 Nd5 5. Bxc4 Nb6 6. Bb3 Nc6 7. Ne2 Bf5 8.
Nbc3 e6 9. O-O Qd7 10. Be3 O-O-O 11. a3 Kb8 12. Qc1 f6 13. exf6 gxf6 14. Rd1
Bd6 15. Ng3 Bxg3 16. hxg3 Ne7 17. Bh6 Rhg8 18. a4 Nbd5 19. a5 Nxc3 20. bxc3 Be4
21. Re1 Bd5 22. Rb1 Nf5 23. c4 Bc6 24. d5 exd5 25. cxd5 Bxd5 26. Rd1 Ne7 27.
Be3 Qe6 28. Qc5 b6 29. Bf4 Ka8 30. Qxc7 Rd7 31. Qc3 Rc8 32. Bxd5+ Rxd5 33. Qf3
Qc6 34. axb6 Rxd1+ 35. Qxd1 axb6 36. Qe2 Qd7 37. Ra1+ Kb7 38. Qa6+ 1-0

1. d4 d5 2. c4 dxc4 3. e4 Nf6 4. e5 Nd5 5. Bxc4 Nb6 6. Bb3 Nc6 7. Ne2 Bf5 8. Nbc3 e6 9. O-O Qd7 10. Be3 O-O-O 11. a3 Kb8 12. Qc1 One of several playable moves here. 12… f6!?  

All preparation so far. My last move is a novelty that attempts to improve on Illescas-Karjakin from 2005. I was aiming at a position like this, where the two sides castle in opposite directions. I was looking for a highly dynamic position with the Black pieces that can end in all three outcomes. 13. exf6 13.Rd1 was the main move analyzed. 13… gxf6 14. Rd1 Bd6 15. Ng3 This is the first move that made me think during the game. 15… Bxg3 15…Bg6!? was a very playable alternative, where the h-pawn will later advance. 16. hxg3 Ne7 Black aims to become very solid by placing a Knight on d5 and fully consolidating against White’s two Bishops.

17. Bh6!? A creative idea that stops the h-pawn from advancing, threatens Bg7, and prepares a4. 17…  Rhg8 18. a4 Nbd5 19. a5 Things have been quite natural up to this point.

The position is about equal. Black is very solid, controls some important squares and has no weaknesses. However, White has the two Bishops and some potential for an attack. Black needs to play 19… a6!  20. Na4 Qd6 21.Nc5 Rg4 where the position remains approximately equal. I decided to go in a different way. 19… Nxc3? The most gentle way I can describe this move is as “anti-positional”. In a more emotional state, I have to describe it as idiotic. Black changes White’s pawn structure in an attempt to place the Bishop on the long diagonal. But those pawns get rolling. This makes White’s life much easier. I just shot myself in the foot. 20. bxc3 Be4 21. Re1 Bd5 22. Rb1 Nf5 I had underestimated what was coming. 23. c4 Bc6

White’s pieces are well placed and he goes for the kill. 24. d5! After this move, White is close to winning. 24… exd5 25. cxd5 Bxd5 26. Rd1 Ne7 26…c6 27.a6 b6 28.Qf4+ Ka8 29.Rxd5! cxd5 30.Ba4 creates unstoppable threats. 26…Qe6 37.Bf4 Rg7 38.Qc5 is winning easily. 26…Qf7 27.Rxd5 Rxd5 28.Qc6! Rgd8 29.a6!! wins the house.

27. Be3 Qe6 28. Qc5 b6 29. Bf4! White leaves his Queen under attack 29…bxc5 30. Bxd5+ wins easily. 29… Ka8 Black’s position is lost and he plays some desperate moves in time trouble. 30. Qxc7 Rd7 30…Rc8 31.Qxe7! would have been another pretty finish. 31. Qc3 White’s attack is just too much. 31… Rc8 32. Bxd5+ Rxd5 33. Qf3 Qc6 34. axb6 Rxd1+ 35. Qxd1 axb6 36. Qe2 Qd7 37. Ra1+ Kb7 38. Qa6+ 1-0

I won the opening battle. My opponent then played extremely well to first create the initiative and then take home the point. My mistake on the 19th move cost me the game. This was a self-inflicted loss. Would this cost me the match? The next game would be all or nothing.

World Cup Part I

I qualified for the World Cup with my result in Mexico, back in April. I was looking forward to playing in the tournament but was certainly not looking forward to the process getting there. The travel is horrible. Khanty-Mansiysk (KM) is in the middle of nowhere. I left home at about noon on the 24th. Flew into Moscow on the morning of the 25th.  Waited there for 14 hours and then flew to KM to arrive at my hotel at, 5am KM time, on the 26th. 31 hours total after leaving my house. What a trip. Something tells me that the Moscow players who arrived at their KM hotel 7 hours after leaving home were not as grumpy;).

I didn’t sleep much on the way there. Some choppy sleep on planes and in the Moscow airport. Passed out at 6am at the hotel. Next thing I know, it’s 7pm. I vaguely recall turning off my alarm clock at 2pm. The bad stuff was over.

The above wasn’t even such a bad journey. Hal Bond had a similar travel time. Eric Hansen traveled for about as many hours from Calgary. His luggage was lost on the way. He got his luggage right before his second game.  Zong-Yuan Zhao is Australia’s best chess player. His flight was much worse. I actually ran into him at the Moscow airport. He was originally supposed to make it to KM on the 25th, but only got there on the 27th (a day after me)! Yuan agreed to be a guest-writer on this blog and he will give you some more details on that. The good thing is that after trips like these, a short travel to Europe is a joke;). Chess players build resilience.

Eric got to KM on the morning of the 27th. We went to buy him a shirt. Delayed luggage takes time to get to KM. Then we went to see the city. My experience is not that of most Canadians. I speak Russian and feel very comfortable with the people. People in KM are very nice, especially by comparison to those in Moscow. This might sound strange to you if you have never been to Russia. Hotel staff generally has poor English, but you can’t find any English off the hotel grounds. This was my second time in KM, both as a player and a translator. I already knew the city well. We were staying beside a grocery store which I visited last year and very close to the bank.

The formalities started with the Player’s Meeting. The meeting stated the obvious: the tournament is not organized for the players. No tolerance on lateness. You must sit at the board when the game starts. No excuses. No electronic communication devices allowed. To a question on whether players were allowed to take photos, the chief arbiter replied by going around in many circles to finally let us know that we are not allowed to have cameras in the playing hall. There is professional media for that. Something that should also be clarified is the living arrangements. There were four hotels for the event. As usual, the FIDE officials and arbiters were placed in the best one, while the players were spread among the other ones.

Then came the opening ceremony, which was beautiful. It also included the drawing of lots – the only thing the players cared about. A lot of the players left right upon hearing their colour for the first game to go on and prepare. This was followed by a small reception.

The first round was to take place the next day. Below are some photos. Game one to come in the next post.

The room

Watch your step as you enter the washroom

Entrance to Victory Park

Ummm… this looks familiar from 2010

What used to be Olympic Hotel. No longer operating

Theater where Opening Ceremony took place

A local park

Memories of childhood?

KM is quite modern but still has places like this

World Chess Cup sign

IM Eric Hansen in front of the tournament hall

The Players Meeting

French GMs Fressinet and Vachier-Lagrave at the Opening Ceremony

FIDE President Ilyumzhinov and Mayor of KM

One of the beautiful performances at the Opening Ceremony

The reception