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The Chess World Cup is unique among top-tier chess tournaments. While most of these events have a limited number of entrants who play one another in a round robin, the World Cup is a knockout-style competition with more than 200 players. You can think of it as a chess tournament that is organized like a tennis Grand Slam tournament.

Knockout-style chess tournaments are often less predictable than round-robin tournaments, and this year’s World Cup was no exception. The second-seeded player, Fabiano Caruana of the U.S., was shocked in the round of 64 by Rinat Jumabayev of Kazakhstan. In the deciding game, the players reached the position shown in the diagram below. Caruana, playing white, has a queen and connected passed pawns, but his king is vulnerable to attack. White’s best move is 41Qd2, keeping black off balance by attacking his rook on g5. Play could have continued 41…Nf4+ 42Kh4 h6 43Nf5 with chances for both players.

White to Move

Caruana-Jumabayev Move 41

Instead, Caruana played 41Qc4? This attempt to win black’s passed pawn on b4 gave Jumabayev time to launch a winning attack with 41…h5! Black threatens mate in two with Nf4+ and Rg4. Caruana avoided mate by giving up his knight after 42Kg2 h4. He struggled on for a while but ultimately resigned at move 59 in a hopeless position. To view this game on a virtual board, go to https://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=2063194.

World Champion Magnus Carlsen returned to in-person chess as the top seed in this World Cup. He advanced comfortably until reaching the semifinals, where he was upended by Jan-Krzysztof Duda of Poland. In their last game, Carlsen survived a lost middlegame to reach the following position. White can hold the draw with 62Bd4, after which black has nothing better than retreating his bishop; 62…Be7 63Bb2 defends the position. If black plays 62…Bd2 to win white’s f4 pawn, white plays Kb6 and Kxb7, when black has difficulty stopping white’s passed pawn.

White to Move

                                                          Carlsen-Duda Move 62

Instead, Carlsen played 62Bc1? and Duda responded with the winning 62…Bc3! If 63Kb6 d4 64Kxb7 d3 65d6 d2 66Bxd2 Bxd2 67Kc8 Bxf4 68b7 Bxe5 69b8(Q) Bxb8 and black has a winning pawn endgame. Carlsen instead tried 63b6 d4 64Kc4 Kd7 65Be3 Bb2 66Bxd4 Bxa3, but black’s passed a-pawn gave him a winning position, and white resigned at move 75. To view this game on a virtual board, go to https://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=2068994.

In the championship match, Duda had a surprisingly easy win over former World Championship challenger Sergey Karjakin. In the deciding game, Karjakin played riskily as black, choosing to unbalance the position. Duda was up to the challenge, and his white pieces soon became more active than Karjakin’s. Black’s position continued to deteriorate until the following position was reached. Relatively best for black was 26…b6, but after 27Ne5 Nxe5 28Rxe5, white will win black’s a-pawn or f-pawn and have excellent winning chances.

Black to Move

Duda-Karjakin Move 26

Instead, Karjakin blundered with 26…Na5?. White can win two minor pieces for a rook by playing 27Rxd8, but instead chose to win with 27Bd5 Rc7? 28Bxf7+ Kg7 29Rxc7 Bxc7 30Bd5.

Black to Move

Duda-Karjakin Final Position

Karjakin Resigns. White is threatening both Bxb7 and Nd4 followed by Ne6. To view this game on a virtual board, go to https://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=2069069.


Keith Holzmueller has been the head coach of the Evanston Township High School Chess Club and Team since 2017. He became a serious chess player during his high school years. As an adult player, he obtained a US Chess Federation Expert rating for over-the-board play and was awarded the Senior International Master title by the International Correspondence Chess Federation. Keith now puts most of his chess energy into helping young chess players in Evanston learn to enjoy chess and improve their play. Please email Keith at news@evanstonroundtable.com if you have any chess questions.

Keith Holzmueller

Keith Holzmueller has been the head coach of the Evanston Township High School Chess Club and Team since 2017. He became a serious chess player during his high school years. As an adult player, he obtained...

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