FIDE Chess World Cup: Dramatic Exits For Aronian, Vitiugov As MVL, Yu Advance
MVL and Yu knocked out Aronian and Vitiugov today. Photo: Kirill Merkuryev/FIDE.

FIDE Chess World Cup: Dramatic Exits For Aronian, Vitiugov As MVL, Yu Advance

| 104 | Chess Event Coverage

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France) and Yu Yangyi (China) reached the FIDE World Cup semifinals today in dramatic tiebreak matches.

MVL beat Levon Aronian (Armenia) in the second rapid game where the Armenian GM was winning but blundered twice, while Yu lost two pawns in the armageddon game but still knocked out Nikita Vitiugov (Russia).

You can follow the games here as part of our live portal There is daily coverage by our Twitch partner, the Chessbrahs.

GMs Yasser Seirawan, Eric Hansen and Aman Hambleton are covering the tournament each day on their channel Play starts at 3 p.m. local time, which is 12:00 (noon) CEST, 6 a.m. Eastern and 3 a.m. Pacific.

The decisive games in both tiebreak matches today were similar in their drama. The players who first reached a winning position ended up losing the game, and got knocked out of the tournament. The difference was time: Whereas Aronian-MVL was done after just two rapid games, Yu vs. Vitiugov went all the way to armageddon.

This means we'll now see the semifinals Vachier-Lagrave vs. Teimour Radjabov and Ding Liren vs. Yu. Because of the latter pairing, a Chinese player is guaranteed to reach the final as well as the 2020 Candidates' Tournament.

Because Ding was almost surely going to be qualifying for the Candidates' anyway on rating (see our preview and this Google Document for details), a win for Yu in the semifinal will likely guarantee two Chinese players in the Candidates'.

This would be bad news for Dutch number-one Anish Giri, who is the number-two on average rating, and would qualify if Ding were to reach the final in Khanty-Mansiysk.

Anish Giri 2019 FIDE World Cup
Anish Giri was probably rooting for Vitiugov today, and will definitely be rooting for Ding now. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

The day started with the exit of two-time winner Aronian. It wasn't a great way to see a great player leave.

Unlike two years ago, when Aronian and Vachier-Lagrave went all the way to armageddon, their tiebreak lasted only two rapid games today. At the Tbilisi World Cup it was Aronian who went through. Today, a rather cruel Caissa decided otherwise.

In their first rapid game, the Armenian player had the slightly better chances in the final position but he decided to play it safe and offer a draw, since he had five minutes left on the clock vs 10 for his opponent.

Aronian Vachier-Lagrave 2019 FIDE World Cup
Aronian and Vachier-Lagrave started with a draw in a Symmetrical English. Photo: Kirill Merkuryev/FIDE.

Everything was going Aronian's way in the second game. He was outplaying MVL with the black pieces in a Giuoco Pianissimo, and found a brilliant exchange sacrifice that gave him a winning attack. 

In a less tense situation he would have found the crushing 31...Ne4 instantly, but somehow it was not on his radar. A few moves later he made an even bigger blunder as he dropped his knight in a position where he had at least a draw. MVL didn't hesitate and took firm control.

"I missed a couple of his ideas at some point," said MVL, "and my position got from slightly better to slightly worse and then to extremely worse after I missed this exchange sacrifice, which is very strong. I found some way to hold the boat, prevent it from sinking immediately. He just blundered my idea with Rf3 and then the tables are completely turned."

Vachier-Lagrave interview 2019 FIDE World Cup
Vachier-Lagrave was interviewed after reaching the semifinal. Photo: Kirill Merkuryev/FIDE.

"This was scary but in World Cups you cannot avoid scary moments," said Vachier-Lagrave, who now plays Teimour Radjabov for a spot in the final, and more important, the Candidates'. "I hope it’s a good sign but of course my match starting tomorrow will be very difficult and very decisive," he said.

FIDE's interview with Vachier-Lagrave.

Vitiugov and Yu started their tiebreak where they had left their classical games, and drew two solid games, although the Chinese player was definitely under some pressure in the second.

The first 10+10 game, a very drawish three-vs.-two rook endgame, also seemed to be heading to a draw but Yu decided to try his luck. In a classical game he would surely have agreed to a draw, but here he must have thought: Why not play a bit more and test my opponent's nerves?

Vitiugov didn't play it the most practical way (not going ...h5, and not leaving the g-pawn on g7) but still should have drawn it of course until he blundered terribly:

Nikita Vitiugov 2019 FIDE World Cup
A major blunder by Vitiugov in that rook endgame. Photo: Kirill Merkuryev/FIDE.

But things were not over yet. As Yu made the logical choice of the Petroff defense where a draw was enough, the last remaining Russian player in the field fought for his life.

He chose a line that was seen in one of the Kasparov-Karpov games from their 1990 match, and got a great position. Vitiugov missed a big chance in the opening, but ended up winning anyway as he found a neat checkmate trick:

Vitiugov Yu Yangyi 2019 FIDE World Cup
Vitiugov beat Yu Yangyi's Petroff with 3.d4. Photo: Kirill Merkuryev/FIDE.

With two more draws in the 5+3 segment (see below in the multi-game viewer) this match went to armageddon. Yu won the drawing of lots, and decided to play with the white pieces, thus putting himself in a must-win situation.

With one minute less on the clock but draw odds, Vitiugov probably couldn't believe his luck when Yu played 9.Be4 almost without thinking, blundering two pawns for nothing! But the madness didn't end there as the St. Petersburg grandmaster first missed that he could win a full piece, then started playing too passively and, not standing the pressure, found himself in a lost position 20 moves later.

While Yu quickly signed the scoresheets and left the playing hall, Vitiugov remained in his chair for several minutes in disbelief. It must have been the cruelest moment in his career.

Yu Yangyi vs Vitiugov 2019 FIDE World Cup
Yu Yangyi blundered early but composed himself well and ended up winning. Photo: Kirill Merkuryev/FIDE.

Despite this incredibly disappointing finish, Vitiugov was a top professional and gave an interview (in Russian) afterward, in which he expressed what he later tweeted:

Yu said he felt "very nervous" at the start of his interview because he was "very lucky," admitting that his position was lost. And then he told himself: "Hold, hold, hold, keep!"

FIDE's interview with Yu.

Not everyone was happy with what happened today, which was perhaps not really about chess anymore but all about nerves. Ian Nepomniachtchi, who got knocked out by Yu in the previous round, tweeted:

FIDE World Cup | Round 5 Results

Seed Fed Title Player - Seed Fed Title Player G1 G2 TB1 TB2 TB3 TB4 TB5 TB6 TB7
1 GM Ding Liren - 9 GM Grischuk Alexander ½-½ 1-0 . . . . . . .
3 GM Vachier-Lagrave Maxime - 6 GM Aronian Levon ½-½ ½-½ ½-½ 1-0 . . . . .
10 GM Radjabov Teimour - 31 GM Xiong Jeffery ½-½ 1-0 . . . . . . .
12 GM Yu Yangyi - 20 GM Vitiugov Nikita ½-½ ½-½ ½-½ ½-½ 1-0 0-1 ½-½ ½-½ 1-0

2019 FIDE World Cup bracket semifinals

(Click on image for larger version.)

Wednesday's games for replay:

The FIDE World Cup takes place Sept. 9-Oct. 4 in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia. Each round consists of two classical games and a tiebreak on the third day. The final consists of four classical games. Both finalists will qualify for the 2020 Candidates' Tournament. The total prize fund is $1.6 million (1.45 million euros). Sept. 19 and 29 are rest days. You can find more background info in our preview article.

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