World Cup 2019 Rd 2: Giri beats Najer in Armageddon, Nisipeanu knocks out Hikaru
Giri-Najer went all the way down to Armageddon. Photo:

World Cup 2019 Rd 2: Giri beats Najer in Armageddon, Nisipeanu knocks out Hikaru

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Round 2 of the World Cup 2019 saw an Armageddon, an endgame with five knights, and Hikaru Nakamura going down in flames against Nisipeanu.

This round featured very few upsets, but a couple of thrilling matches which went down to the wire. The top seed of the event, Ding Liren, did get a scare though, when he was completely lost at one point against Sergei Movsesian.

Ding went on to draw the next game with Black and beat Movsesian in the rapid tiebreaks. Aronian and Vachier-Lagrave won their matches convincingly, but Evgeny Najer gave stiff resistance to Anish Giri, taking the match all the way down to a thrilling Armageddon.

The match started with 6 draws on the bounce, taking the match into 5+3 blitz, when Anish finally striked, conjuring up a mating attack out of nowhere in what seemed like a difficult position with Black. 

At this point it would seem that the match was over, Najer had the task of winning on demand with Black which was anything but easy. But he did, convincingly, and even more impressive with a good positional game, winning the game in 105 moves and forcing sudden-death.

The Armageddon is a special type of chess game where a result is forced. White gets five minutes to Black's four but a draw for Black is as good as a win. Giri had Black, and he consistently played very fast from beginning to end, not only making up for the lost minute, but putting Najer in severe time pressure.

He was playing an excellent game, not afraid to enter complications only needing a draw, and he had a very strong kingside attack. He was much better or probably winning at some point, but he didn't make the most of his chances and suddenly the game was very much anyone's again.

It seemed like Najer was slowly beginning to take control of the position. He had the two bishops, one of them nicely posted on a blockading square in the center of the board, when Anish saw his chance:

It's Black to play, and Giri unleashed 28...Nxh2! which, according to engines, isn't the best but in that situation, with Najer running down on the clock, it was clearly favourable for Giri to bring such a drastic change in the course of the game. After 29.Kxh2-Qh6, 30.Kg1-Qh1, 31.Kf2-Qg2, 32.Ke1-Qxg3, 33.Bf2-Qxa3 the position may be objectively equal but practically, with a king under fire, time pressure and the opponent having a dangerous passed pawn, it was game over for Najer.

The big shock of Round 2 was Liviu-Deter Nispeanu beating Hikaru Nakamura, after the latter seemingly confused his preparation in the 1st game:
Nisipeanu was winning the 2nd game as well, but decided to take a draw just to be safe.

One of the most exciting match-ups of Round 2 was the young Iranian star, currently the youngest 2700 player in the world, Alireza Firouzja against World Rapid Champion Daniil Dubov. But Firouzja did not allow the match to enter the rapid portion...

The first game was very exciting, with advantage changing hands, but the game finally ended in a draw. The next game started with a Rossolimo Sicillian, where Firouzja played excellently with White to get a much better endgame. He might not have played very precisely there and probably had a easier way than in the game, but this one moment was incredible:

Firouzja played the natural 35.Na6 here, and after 35...Ra7, 36.Nb8-Rb7 it seemed that the players were ready to shake hands, but the Iranian stopped for a bit, and with a mere 30 seconds left on his clock, executed 37.exd6!! It's impressive how well he was able to calculate and evaluate the upcoming position with so less time on the clock. After 37...Rxb8, 38.Re1! White has two far advanced passed pawns and is forcing the rook's way to the seventh heaven. It was too much to handle for Dubov and he finally cracked under pressure.

Nihal Sarin couldn't continue his dream run, after winning the first game against Eltaj Safarli what Magnus Carlsen called to be "A crushing game!" he had a blackout moment in the next round where he just left a full bishop en prise in severe time pressure, and went on to lose the tiebreaks later. That actually means Safarli has managed to beat two higher rated opponents in two rounds. Nihal's first game was indeed brilliant though:

For a couple of players the tournament just couldn't have gone better. One of them is Xu Xiangyu, a Chinese GM rated 2576 who eliminated Bu Xiangzhi in the first round, and then Inarkiev Ernesto in the second.

The other one is Daniil Yuffa, who first knocked out David Navara, and now Luke McShane in what was a marathon contest that came just short of Armageddon.

The first game saw Yuffa having two bishops against McShane's one knight, where the player with the bishops can win the knight according to tablebases but it takes more than 50 moves. The game ended in a 132-move draw:

The 2nd classical game was drawn. The tiebreak saw the player trading blow-for-blow. Yuffa won the first rapid game. McShane hit back. Yuffa won the next game. McShane hit back.

Yuffa again won first in the blitz portion, and McShane had to win a 3rd time on demand, and with the Black pieces. The 8th game seemed like a draw throughout, but McShane had one very big and rather easy chance to force an Armageddon:

Round 2 also featured a very unusual endgame between Anton Korobov and Le Quang Liem, just 4 knights on the board: 
But who knew, that one knight was still to increase....
Have a look at the full game:
That's all for Round 2. The tournament is getting more intense as each round passes by, and the 3rd round has some mouth-watering clashes, Firouzja-Ding topping the list. Stay tuned!