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Aronian, Ding To Final, Candidates As Queens Beat Rooks
Aronian and MVL went all the way to Armageddon. | Photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.

Aronian, Ding To Final, Candidates As Queens Beat Rooks

Levon Aronian and Ding Liren have qualified for both the final of the FIDE World Cup and for the 2018 Candidates' Tournament. Ding beat Wesley So in the 10+10 games whereas Aronian eliminated Maxime Vachier-Lagrave by winning the Armageddon game. In both matches the basic endgame queen vs rook decided the game.

After a super tense tiebreak day the biggest prizes are known. The two winners, Aronian and Ding, have clinched their tickets for the Candidates' Tournament, and will be playing a World Cup final for the $120,000 first prize. First there will be a rest day, and then the final starts on Saturday.

The two players who lost, So and Vachier-Lagrave, leave Tbilisi winning $50,000 each. So still has a chance to reach the Candidates on rating; he is competing with Caruana and Kramnik for that in the coming two months. MVL still has a chance to qualify via the Grand Prix; for him it's good news that Ding won't take a spot there.

2017 World Cup | Results Semifinals

Fed Player Fed Player Classical Rapid Blitz Arm. Score
Aronian (2802) Vachier-Lagrave (2804) ½-½, ½-½ 0-1, 1-0, 
½-½, ½-½
½-½,½-½ 1-0 5-4
So (2792) Ding Liren (2771) ½-½, ½-½ ½-½, ½-½,
0-1,½-½
2½-3½

The drama. The joy. The winners. The losers. Classical chess vs speed chess. Nerves vs skill. Queen vs rook.

Highlander's There Can Be Only One comes to mind each time a knockout tournament reaches its decisive phase. All four players were definitely capable of winning this World Cup, but only two could get a real shot at it. It doesn't get any crueler in chess.

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So leaving the playing hall for the last time with his foster mom Lotis Key. | Photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.

Chess fans of all levels were on the edge of their seats as they watched the two matches unfold. Famous names on Twitter were part of the joint feeling of pure excitement. As a spectator it took a while to shake off the tension; imagine if you're one of the players.

But first, Ding Liren vs Wesley So. The two classical games, where both players had their chances, promised an exciting battle. Their first rapid game was more of the same, with Ding gaining a winning advantage (as in: really winning, with White unable to move) but failing to win it:

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A game that's only possible to forget if, at the end of the day, you're still in the tournament. | Photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.

After a nine-move draw in the second rapid game, Ding again reached a winning position as Black in the first 10+10 game. This time he finally managed to finish it off, but his nervousness was quite visible. Uncharacteristically, he had a hard time sitting still. But he played the Q-vs-R flawlessly:

In a must-win situation So played the Benoni, but a premature queen sortie led to an ending where there was no way to create any chances whatsoever. Ding was in total control, held the draw and became the first Chinese grandmaster to qualify to the Candidates' Tournament. A historic day for Chinese chess.

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So "resigns" to a draw, and leaves the World Cup. | Photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.

"I feel very happy after today's game," said the winner. "In the first game I was much better. I was winning at some point. (...) With about four minutes ont he clock I didn't find the clear win and I spoiled the advantage. He made me very frustrated."

Ding explained that the quick draw that followed was very welcome to him for getting rest, prepare and lose the negative emotions—suggesting that So should have played on.

He also said that winning last year's match in Shanghai helped him to "grow confidence against him" as "he's a very strong and very solid player. He's very hard to beat."

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Ding beat a player who is indeed very hard to beat. | Photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.

Ding's remark about the attention in China can only get him more fans: "My coach told me I should ignore the coverage in China, but I just can't do that because sometimes it's motivating me to perform well!"

That left just one more board, where Levon Aronian and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave were still equal after the 10+10 games. First, the two had exchanged wins in the 25-minute games, with Vachier-Lagrave starting impressively:

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A fantastic start of the tiebreak wasn't enough today for MVL. | Photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.

The Frenchman might have regretted his opening choice in the second rapid game, but it must be said that he doesn't have a very wide repertoire against 1.d4. Aronian played 3.f3 against his Grünfeld, and theoretically speaking a Benoni setup is a decent choice there. But.. a Benoni when you only need a draw?

Aronian's piece sacrifice was a novelty, and worked perfectly:

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Aronian puts his queen on h5, decides the game and levels the score. | Photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.

Their 10+10 games were two fairly balanced draws, and by then Ding and So had finished. For a moment arbiters from countries that are officially at war, Ashot Vardepetyan (Armenia) and Faik Gasanov (Azerbaijan), played a friendly blitz game on their board, to kill some time. Among the spectactors were Aronian and MVL!

They went for the next stage, which was games at five minutes and three seconds increment. Aronian was completely winning in the first one, but somehow failed to score the point, and then MVL was the one to spoil a winning endgame:

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What a match played these two guys today! | Photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.

After another draw in a Ruy Lopez the tournament was finally going to see an Armageddon game. In all the tiebreaks before, this hadn't happened yet. One Dutch grandmaster (and participant of this World Cup) had been waiting for it:

MVL won the toss, and got to choose the color. He decided to play with Black, which got him four minutes on the clock and draw odds vs five minutes for Aronian. From move 61, the players got three seconds increment per move.

Vachier-Lagrave was better, and then very close to the draw in the rook ending, but then Aronian found a beautiful combination that eventually led to a Q-vs-R endgame—exactly the same as in Ding vs So. Aronian too knew exactly how to win this.

"I think our classical games were not that exciting but in the rapid and blitz we kind of gave back our debt," said Aronian. "I thought I had the advantage throughout the match in the rapid but I could not convert."

After losing the first, there was no real strategy for winning the second: "When you have nothing to lose you just go for it," Aronian said.

For the Armageddon game, he said there is no real strategy either. "You have to be lucky. There are no recipes, [such as] play precise moves. No, you just have to play fast and hope that your opponent will make some mistakes."

Aronian was extremely relieved. "It was a very dramatic day. I am very delighted that it's over and that I came out as the winner."

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Aronian, in the Candidates with Karjakin, Ding and five more players. | Photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.

The Armenian grandmaster, who also won the World Cup in 2005 in Khanty-Mansiysk, called today's win "definitely one of the toughest and I would say most precious victories." He noted that this comes 12 years after his success in Khanty: "There's [a] circle and the circle has to be completed. It has nothing to do with me, it's just the way the nature works!"

He complimented his opponent: "He is a very good blitz player. I think I proved that I am not that bad either!"

About the final, Aronian said: "I reached the goal of the tournament, and then there is a bonus, which wouldn't be bad to collect as well!"

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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.


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