Africans at the World Cup 2021: Round 2.1

The second round of the World Cup welcomed the top 50 seeds of the tournament, who had received a bye in the first round. Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana, Anish Giri and, Africa’s very own, Amin Bassem, were amongst those who joined the event. The day was filled with action-packed chess and even some off the board drama that might have a huge effect on the rest of the event. Let us break down what happened today.

easy win, free rook?

Bassem Amin | Image from Official Website Eric Rosen

GM Bassem Amin (2703) was paired against GM Hovhannes Gabuzyan (2590) from Armenia. Gabuzyan knocked out our Algerian representative, GM Bilel Bellahcene in the tiebreaks of the first round. Bellahcene had extremely good positions, which he, unfortunately, was not able to convert into a second round match-up with arguably Africa’s greatest player ever. Amin is the rating favorite in this match and it showed in today’s game as he systematically swept Gabuzyan off the board.

Amin opted for an English Opening set-up in this game, as opposed to his favorite King’s Indian Attack. Both players have been following the opening theory up to this point. White placed his knight on d5 and Black decided to exchange it for his light-squared bishop. We now have some interesting imbalances in the position. Amin continued in a pretty standard manner with 15.a4.

What did Amin play here?

This is quite a critical moment. White’s pieces are in general better placed that Black’s, but Black’s rooks are quite menacingly placed and if they are left unchecked they might cause some trouble. What did Amin play here?

White has a strategically winning position. Black’s pieces are awful, whereas White’s pieces can play all over the board. Amin’s play from here on is quite instructive.

Black has overextended himself on the kingside and now Amin weakens the structure with 33.f3!

Free rook anyone? No? Okay…

Black has just played the shocking 35…Rb7?? The rook is unprotected! I am not sure which is more shocking: Gabuzyan hanging a whole a rook or Amin not taking it!

It was here that Gabuzyan decided that enough is enough. It is quite amazing that, although the material is still equal, Black is just completely losing! The g4-pawn will drop next and Black pieces are still as useless as they were a dozen moves ago. A great win for the African number one, who now only needs a draw with the Black pieces to become the first African to ever advance to the third round.

a setback

GM Abdelrahman Hesham (2397) knocked out his compatriot GM Ahmed Adly (2625) in the first round, in what was one of the biggest upsets of the tournament, to secure a match with GM Constantin Lupulescu (2659) from Romania. Lupulsecu had a walkover in the first round as his opponent FM Allen Chi Zhou Fan from New Zealand was unable to make it to the event. Unfortunately, Hesham lost the first game and will have to win tomorrow with the White pieces to take the match to tiebreaks.

Hesham played the Janowski variation of the Queen’s Gambit Declined and got in a bit of trouble with his d5-pawn. Fortunately for him, Lupulescu was unable to find the best way to attack the pawn and we reached this position, where Black is doing fine. However, Hesham played 17…f6, after which Lupulescu took the initiative

Lupulescu now started to undermine Black’s queenside structure with 20.b3!

White has made a lot of progress and here Lupulescu found a very nice move, 27.Rxb7!

To trade or not to trade? These are always difficult decisions to make. What would you do here?

Black has rammed his h-pawn down the board in hopes of creating counterplay on the kingside. White however just calmly evacuates his king with 39.Kf1 and the extra pawn gives him a big advantage. White went on to convert the position. Hesham now has to win with the White pieces if he wants to continue his World Cup journey. He has already won on demand once, can he do it again?

More covid drama

Aronian forfeits his first game | Image from Official Website Anastasiia Korolkova

First GM Amir Zaibi from Tunisia could not travel to the World Cup due to a failed PCR test and now it seems more players are forfeiting their matches for the same reason. The most high profile person to forfeit their game today is Levon Aronian, who has not tested positive for COVID-19, but displayed fever symptoms earlier this week. In order not to put other players at risk, Aronian forfeited his first game against Bobby Cheng from Australia and they are monitoring his situation to see whether he will be able to play the second game.

However, the more bizarre occurrence of the day was a player forfeiting his game because they received a positive PCR test during the game! Both players have now been quarantined and it is yet to be seen whether the match will continue. They will also be monitoring the second player for the next few days to see whether he can continue in the event if the match is forfeited, which seems to be the most likely outcome.

FIDE later clarified that they meant ‘became known’ instead of ‘was known’.

FIDE did not reveal the name of the player due to their privacy policies, although it is quite well-known by this point, and even his opponent, Fabiano Caruana, later tweeted regarding the situation.

The concerns of why the player was detected that late were addressed by FIDE on their social media platforms:

“The health agency that runs the tests for the event should have alerted FIDE of any positive before 1PM, local time. However, for reasons that we are investigating now, FIDE was not informed about the result of this test until 15:21, when the game had already started.”

~@FIDE_chess

One cannot help but ask what will happen if there is a mass outbreak of the COVID-19 virus in the tournament? Hopefully that does not happen and the tournament can continue without anymore of these hiccups and that the players affected will be able to continue their games. We wish all players, arbiters and organizers that were affected by this unfortunate situation all the best and a speedy recovery.

Scheduled to take place from July 12th (Round 1) to August 6th (finals), the 2021 FIDE World Cup will gather together in Sochi (Russia) 309 of the world’s best chess players, with 206 of them playing in the Open World Cup and 103 participants in the first ever Women’s World Cup.

The top two finishers in the tournament, aside from World Champion Magnus Carlsen who is also participating, will qualify for the 2022 Candidates Tournament, in addition to winning the 110.000 USD first prize (80.000 USD for the runner-up).

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