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Aronian-MVL, Ding-So Go To Tiebreaks

Aronian-MVL, Ding-So Go To Tiebreaks

The second day of the FIDE World Cup's semifinals was identical to the first. Whereas Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Levon Aronian played a quick draw in a Ruy Lopez, Ding Liren and Wesley So were involved in a long, Catalan fight that ended on move 58 with bare kings.

Deputy chief arbiter Ashot Vardepetyan performs the drawing of colors for the tiebreak after Ding-So has ended in a draw. | Photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.

With two draws in both matches, there will be two all-decisive tiebreaks tomorrow. After a series of rapid and possibly blitz (Armageddon?) games, we'll know which players will qualify for the 2018 Candidates' Tournament from this World Cup.

Kramnik will be rooting for So, because that would make it a lot easier for the former world champion to qualify by rating. Meanwhile, if Ding or MVL don't make it they still have a chance to qualify via the Grand Prix in November. For Aronian, winning tomorrow is the only way to be certain of participation.

2017 World Cup | Results Semifinals

Fed Player Fed Player Classical Rapid Blitz Score
Aronian (2802) Vachier-Lagrave (2804) ½-½, ½-½ 1-1
So (2792) Ding Liren (2771) ½-½, ½-½ 1-1

If you look at their two games yesterday and today, one gets the impression that both Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Levon Aronian were happy to decide this match in a tiebreak. However, they did play chess. In both cases, as soon as something "happened" in the opening, the white player decided to take the draw.

Today's game was even shorter than yesterday. Only about 20 minutes into the game, and only seven half-moves after leaving "theory," the players agreed to a draw.

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Aronian and MVL in good spirits right after their game. | Photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.

It must be said that, unlike yesterday, Aronian's preparation was very successful. MVL's Anti-Marshall with 6.d3, 8.a3 and 9.Nc3 was neutralized completely with a series of moves that were very to the point. It's surprising no top player had played it before.

All the more impressive was Aronian's time usage—or rather, his lack of. He could play every move, from start to finish, without thinking and ended up with seven more minutes on the clock than he had started with, thanks to the 30-second increment per move. 

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Aronian showed excellent preparation today. | Photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.

"I must have mixed up something in my preparation," Vachier-Lagrave told Chess.com in an interview for our French channel. "He played very precisely and suddenly it was all equal." 

For the tiebreak, Vachier-Lagrave should be considered the slight favorite. Before this tournament the mutual score between Aronian and MVL was slightly in favor of the Frenchman in classical chess. MVL had won five games against Aronian's four, with 10 draws (now 12).

However, in rapid and blitz the difference is bigger, with seven wins for the Frenchman against four for the Armenian, and 12 draws. This year, their blitz game at the opening day of Norway Chess ended in a draw. A month later in Leuven, Aronian won the rapid game but MVL beat him 2-0 in the blitz.

In this tournament, Aronian played tiebreaks against Hou Yifan (2-0 in the 25-minute games) and Maxim Matlakov (two draws in the 25-minute games, then a win each in the 10+10 games and then 1.5-0.5 in the 5+3 games). MVL beat Lenderman 1.5-0.5 in the 25-minute game, Grischuk 1.5-0.5 in the 10+10 games and Svidler 1.5-0.5 in the 25-minute games.

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Vachier-Lagrave picked White for the first rapid game tomorrow. | Photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.

On to the other match, where things were also mirrored compared to yesterday. Not only did the players fight much longer than on the other board, but again one of them got close to victory.

Ding Liren's advantage wasn't as clear a win as So's yesterday, but still rather big. "I got the dream position of the Catalan," said the Chinese GM, "and he defended very well."

Despite his modest setup with 6.b3 in that Catalan, Ding still managed to keep an edge thanks to a few strong moves (10.Ne1!, 15.Rfc1!). The critical moment came on move 37.

When FIDE's Nastja Karlovich confronted him with the line 37.Rh8 Rc7 38.Rdd8 Rxc5, Ding had seen it obviously, but "there's no mate." That may be true, but as Dejan Bojkov points out, he could have gotten a promising rook ending where he could have played for two results for quite a while.

Dejan Bojkov's Game of the Day

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Ding still pushing in the rook endgame, but there the worst was over for So. | Photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.

In tomorrow's tiebreak, So is probably the favorite, but only very slightly. In classical games the two are equal with one win each, and 11 draws. So has beaten Ding once in a rapid game, which decided their 2011 match in the first round of the Khanty-Mansiysk World Cup. They also played a four-game match last year in Shanghai; that's where Ding scored his classical win which decided that match.

In Tbilisi, So had only two tiebreaks so far. He beat Bluebaum 2-0 in the 10+10 games, and Jobava 1.5-0.5 in the 25-minute games. Ding also played only two tiebreaks, beating both Martyn Kravtsiv and Santosh Vidit Gujrathi 1.5-0.5 in the 25-minute games. 

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So will play with White in the first rapid game. | Photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.

Neither Ding nor So has lost a game so far, but the Chinese player admitted that yesterday was close. "The computer immediately shows it's winning for White but the winning variation is a little bit difficult to calculate."

2017 FIDE World Cup Bracket Quarterfinals

(Click for bigger version.) 

Download all games in PGN

Games from TWIC.

The World Cup takes place September 3-27 in Tbilisi, Georgia. Each round consists of two classical games (four in the final), and possibly a rapid and blitz tiebreak on the third day. The total prize fund is $1.6 million, including a first prize of $120,000. The top two finishers will qualify for the 2018 Candidates' Tournament. 

Chess.com relays the games at Chess.com/Live. You can watch also live commentary on Chess.com/TV provided by the Chessbrahs, which includes some of the best commentators on the planet: GM Eric Hansen, GM Robin van Kampen, GM Yasser Seirawan and IM Aman Hambleton.


Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that only MVL has a chance to qualify via the Grand Prix in November and that for Aronian and Ding, winning the tiebreak is the only way to be certain of participation. However, Ding also has a chance to qualify via the Grand Prix.


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