Africans at the World Cup 2021: Round 1 Tiebreaks

After two days of classical chess, we had a rapid and blitz session to separate those who could not land the killer blow to their opponent in the classical portion. If you are unfamiliar with the format of the World Cup, first there are two games of 90 minutes for 40 moves, then 30 minutes for the rest of the game, plus a 30-second increment starting from move 1. If the players are tied, they will move on to two 25+10 rapid games, then, if needed, two 10+10 games. If they can still not be separated, they will play two games of 5+3, and, if needed, an Armageddon match (5 minutes for White to Black’s 4 but a draw counts as a win for Black).

GM Abdelrahman Hesham from Egypt | Facebook

We had eight players going into tiebreaks and only GM Abdelrahman Hesham made it through to the second round. He and GM Bassem Amin will now carry the hopes and dreams of the African continent on their shoulders. But before that, let us take a look at some of the action from round one’s tiebreaks.

“Genius”

GM Hesham is now only the second African to advance to the second round of the Chess World Cup. The first was GM Amin in 2015 when he beat GM Ivan Saric to advance to the second round. This is a great achievement by Hesham and a big step forward for African Chess, although it is extremely unfortunate that he achieved this at the cost of his countryman, Ahmed Adly. This result is also one of the biggest upsets of the first round as the rating difference between the two Egyptians is 229 points!

The first game ended in a draw. Adly decided to repeat the Bogo-Indian, which suffered a knock in the classical portion. Hesham managed to gain a winning advantage, but was unable to convert. Let us see:

Adly interestingly decided to continue with the Bogo-Indian line that Hesham beat him in on day two. He justifies his decision with the move 15…d5!. This is a typical idea in a lot of different openings, and after this Black does not have any problems.

Ahmed Adly | Image from Official Website Anastasiia_Korolkova

This was a very critical moment in this game. Black can equalise by force in this postion, but it is not that easy to find. Adly did not manage to see it, but since we have the privilege of hindsight, can you spot what Adly missed?

White is clearly better in this position. Black might have the bishop pair, but the problem is that they are hopelessly placed. White soon picked up some of Black’s pawns.

We reached this position after some inaccurate play by White. A few moves ago White had a passed b-pawn, but Adly managed to put some pressure on White’s position and won the pawn back. The current position is still winning for White and in the next couple of moves, Hesham makes a lot of progress.

White is now completely winning, however, caution is still required. How would you continue in this position?

The following game was awarded game of the day by FIDE and dubbed ‘genius’ by Nigel Short. Black was slowly outplaying White and then finished off the game with a fantastic combination.

Black has just played 18…a4 and White captured the b4-pawn. Of course, this is not just a blunder, but rather just very strong pawn play by Hesham, who now opened the scope of the sniper on g7 with 19…f5! and gained a winning advantage.

Can you spot the ‘genius’ combination?

This is the important position of the game. There are many ways to win here, but the way Hesham played is absolutely beautiful. In the official commentary, GMs Nigel Short and Evgeny Miroshnichenko were analysing this game at this moment. They were looking at some lines after 35…Qh6, when suddenly Hesham played 35…Rh2+!! Both the commentators’ and Adly’s reaction to this move was “What is that?” It took a bit of analysis before they realised that Black had just played a brilliant combination. Nigel Short remarked, “He is a genius,” upon realising the point of 35…Rh2+!!

The moment Hesham played 35…Rh2+!! | Official Tournament Commentary

A Marathon

Shahenda Wafa | Image from Official Website Anastasiia_Korolkova

The match between WGM Shahenda Wafa and IM Almira Skripchenko was a tight affair. Both players had good chances to seal the victory in the classical section, and the 25+10 games started in the same manner with Wafa striking first and Skripchenko equalizing in the next game. This was the only African match which went to the 10+10 portion, but Wafa unfortunately lost 2-0. In an interview, Wafa admits that she was tired in the last few games, which is very understandable. The World Cup is a tough event to play as you not only need to play good chess, but you also need to remain focused at all times, which can be quite difficult when you play several games over a few days.

FIDE World Cup | Round 1 | Interview with Shahenda Wafa

In a crazy Spanish game, Wafa managed to win the opening tiebreak game. This game had a lot of interesting tactics and I have included them here as exercises for you the reader to try out.

Black to play and win
Black to play. How would you continue the attack?
Black to play and win
Black to play. How would you continue the attack?
Black to play and win
Up to now, Black has not found the decisive moves and now White has a chance to strike back. How?
How did Wafa finish the game? White to play.

Skripchenko came back the next game and won a very instructive game in the King’s Indian Attack.

The third game had one very interesting moment where Skripchenko was greedy and Wafa had an opportunity to gain a big attack. She did not manage to find it and White was just left up material and managed to convert it into a full point.

Wafa had to win the next game to stay in the match. She managed to get a very good position out of the opening and started to play very ambitiously with a pawn advance in front of her king. Skripchenko managed to neutralise the kingside advance and later infiltrated White’s weakened position. Wafa had one last opportunity to save the game, but failed to find it, after which Skripchenko had a mating attack.

A missed opportunity

GM Bilel Bellahcene had the most unfortunate day. He achieved winning positions in both games but struggled to convert these positions and even went on to lose both! This type of defeat is always the hardest to take. You work so hard just to fall at the finish line. Nigel Short made the analogy in the live commentary that chess is like mountain climbing. You can take a thousand steps and slowly but surely make your way to the summit, but it only takes one wrong step for all your hard work to be in vain.

In the first game, Bellahcene got an extremely good position with the Black pieces from the opening. He played a near perfect game, he slowly increased his advantage and even netted an extra pawn, but then on the 35th move he made his first mistake of the game, and unfortunately for him, it was also the losing mistake. He thought that he could win a whole piece because he had White’s rook, queen and king lined up on the diagonal of his bishop, but he missed that his back rank was weak and ended up losing material.

Now, in a must-win situation, Bellahcene essayed his favourite Wing Gambit in the Sicilian Defence. It looked to be a mistake as Black held on to the pawn and looked to be building a strong initiative on the kingside. However, luck seemed to turn in Bellahcene’s favour as Gabuzyan blundered an exchange. Chess, however, is an unforgiving game and Bellahcene allowed Black to create some counterplay and he struggled to find the best moves in the ensuing time trouble. The position eventually cooled down and Black was able to get three pawns for a bishop. The endgame that ensued was tricky to evaluate with such little time and after some mistakes on White’s part, Black ended up with a winning position.

GM Adham Fawzy vs GM Evgeny Alekseev

Adham Fawzy | Image from Official Website Anastasiia_Korolkova

The tiebreaks were really tough for Fawzy and he struggled to carry the good form he had in the classical games into the rapid games. In the first game, he just blundered his h-pawn in the Classical Caro-Kann. He even later hung a rook, which his opponent, fortunately, also missed.  However, the extra pawn was enough for Black and he finished off the game with a cute tactic:

Black to play and win

The second game was just as tough, as he grabbed a poisoned b-pawn and lost an exchange early in the game. Alekseev just needed a draw to stay in the game and therefore liquidated into a drawn rook ending when he had the opportunity. Fawzy could not make it to the second round this time around, but he can take a lot of positives from this event and come back even stronger next time.

IM Chitumbo Mwali vs GM Haik Martirosyan

Mwali (L)Haik M Martirosyan (R) | Image from Official Website Anastasiia_Korolkova

The Copper Eagle also had a tough time in the office. Interestingly, he repeated the opening that scored him the victory over the GM, but as we noticed in the previous article, he got a pretty bad position out of the opening there and today was no different. Martirosyan learned his lesson from yesterday and managed to get his king to safety before launching a huge attack on White’s king.

Game two was also a repeat of the Benoni that was played in round one and just like that game, White completely crushed Black.

In the interview after the game, Mwali mentioned that rapid play is not his strong point and that he is disappointed to have lost against Martirosyan. This shows the attitude of a champion and we look forward to see what new heights the Copper Eagle will reach in the future.

FIDE World Cup | Round 1 | Interview with Chitumbo Mwali

WIM Ayaz Moaataz vs GM Anna Ushenina

Sabrina Latreche, Ayah Moaataz, Shahenda Wafa | Image from Official Website Anastasiia_Korolkova

Moaataz really put a valiant effort against the former World Champion, Ushenina. In the first tiebreak game, she sacrificed a pawn in the opening and managed to get some good compensation in the form of piece activity. However, this was a dynamic advantage which she did not utilise fully, and it looked as though Black had managed to find a way to untangle her pieces, until Ushenina played the strange 31…Qxc5, which allowed Moaataz to win back her pawn and get an equal ending.

White is a pawn down, but has much better pieces. Black still needs to sort out her development. How would you continue in this position if you were playing White?

In the second game, Ushenina played a hybrid of the Exchange Slav and Trompowsky. She managed to create some pressure on the queenside which Moaataz was unable to deal with and won shortly afterwards.

Moaataz can be very proud of her performance in this tournament. Not only did she give a Grandmaster a run for her money; she gave a former World Champion (!) a run for her money!

WIM Latreche vs IM Buksa

Sabrina Latreche | Image from Official Website Eric Rosen

Latreche came into the tiebreaks high on confidence after beating Buksa in the last classical game to equal the score. She played the Berlin Defence in the first game, which is known to be very solid. White could make no headway and the game watered down to a drawn rook ending. However, Latreche thought she had found a direct way to achieve a draw with 34…h5 to which Buksa responded with the very strong 36.h4! White won a pawn and then converted it to a full point.

As was the case in many games of the tiebreaks, the player who won was fine with a draw, even in better positions. Buksa played her Taimanov Sicilian and quickly got a very good position. However, mass exchanges followed, and the game trickled down into a draw, knocking the Algerian player out.

Black has achieved a very strong position. The only thing left now is to find a way to convert it into a win. In this position, there is a very strong tactic. Can you find it?

Next round

As mentioned before, we only have two African players advancing to the second round, GMs Hesham and Amin from Egypt. Hesham will take on GM Constantin Lupulescu from Romania, who had a walkover in the first round, and Amin will hope to avenge GM Bellahcene, as he takes on GM Hovhannes Gabuzyan. We wish them all the best!

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