Africans at the World Cup 2021: Round 2.2

We are happy to report that history has been made! GM Bassem Amin is now the first African to advance to the third round of the Chess World Cup. Amin achieved this by beating GM Hovhannes Gabuzyan 1.5-0.5. We started off with 22 African players in the event and only Amin is left, as GM Abdelrahman Hesham was also knocked out today by GM Constantin Lupulescu.

Record-breaker

GM Bassem Amin – Breaker of records

Bassem Amin is arguably the greatest African chess player of all time. He continues to raise the bar higher and higher for Africans. The 5-time African champion became the first player to reach the second round of the World Cup in 2015 and now he has done one better and reached the third round! How did he manage to achieve this feat?

Amin had a relatively easy win in the first game and only needed a draw today to advance to the third round. The Scotch Four Knights is known to not offer White that much. It was Nepomniachtchi’s go-to line to secure a draw against Caruana in the recent Candidates. Therefore, it is quite strange that Gabuzyan chose this line in a must-win situation. My guess is that he was counting on the fact that this 9.Bd2 line is not that well-known. It is quite ironic that Alexander Motylev, who actually played against FM Abobker Elarabi from Libya in the first round, wrote an article for the New in Chess Yearbook 133 on this variation titled, “An ultimate drawish weapon”. He had this to say about this line: “On the whole, the employment of this variation made sense as long as Black did not yet know of its existence. Then it could be hoped that Black would become confused and disorientated, or would spend much time in the opening. But now it is sufficient to spend 15 minutes at home with a computer to meet this variation fully armed.”

11.Bc4 was only played by Nepo in an online game against Giri, so maybe this was Gabuzyan’s try. He surely succeeded in surprising Amin, who spent 45 minutes on the first 11 moves. But this does not count for much as the position is not too difficult to figure out over the board, especially for a world-class Grandmaster like Amin. This position is just equal.

This was the main moment of the game. With Black’s pieces decorated along the 5th rank, it makes some sense to consider 21.Bxd5. I am not sure whether Gabuzyan considered this seriously or not because he only spent three minutes here and played 21.Rd4. The downside to taking on d5 is, of course, allowing the opponent’s rook on the 2nd rank. Nonetheless, this was a move to consider to change the course of the game. After 21.Rd4, there were some minor moments, but nothing serious enough to stop Amin from advancing to the second round.

It is here that the players agreed a draw and Amin booked his ticket to the third round. A great result for Amin and African Chess!

Bassem Amin’s bracket | Official results

Amin will play against the winner of GM Etienne Bacrot and IM Ravi Haria, who will play in the tiebreaks after Haria managed to win on demand against the experienced Grandmaster. Bacrot is the favourite to win the match, and if he manages to do so we will have a very interesting fourth round match-up. Bacrot and Amin have played against each other ten times with three wins each. But we will have to wait and see if this match-up becomes a reality.

A valiant effort

As one Egyptian advances, another exits. GM Hesham’s World Cup journey has been cut short, but the fact that he even made it to the second round was shocking to most, so he can keep his head high. He went all out to beat Lupulescu today but fell short:

GM Abdelrahman Hesham (R) playing against the late IM Pedro Aderito (L) at the Angola Open 2019 BC | Photo by Berdian Beukes

We have reached a very well-known position in the Tarrasch Defence, but this is probably the first interesting moment. How would you play in a must-win situation? Would you just play your normal stuff as though it were any other game or would you go all out? The normal move here is 15.e4, which has been seen many times, but Hesham went for the eccentric 15.Rg5. His intentions are quite clear: he keeps the rook on the kingside to put pressure there. My first reaction was that he is forcing things and that the rook will be marooned on the kingside, but maybe this is a good practical decision considering the match situation.

16.b4 was played by the Egyptian Grandmaster, who is now really burning all bridges to win the game. He probably made this decision because he wanted to quickly develop, but the thing about these types of moves is that if they do not work out, it normally means the loss of the game. 16.b3 with a similar idea was a more solid way of playing here.

This is just a few moves later, and Black is the one putting pressure on White’s position. Black is a pawn up and has many threats in the position. It is already really difficult for White and Hesham was unable to wriggle out of his predicament knocking him out of the event.

covid update

We reported yesterday that Levon Aronian had forfeited his first game against Bobby Cheng due to fever symptoms that he had been showing earlier this week. Well, today Aronian decided to completely withdraw from the event even though he has not tested positive for COVID-19. From an interview with his opponent, it sounds like Aronian had the chance to play the second game but decided against it to play on the safe side.

FIDE World Cup | Round 2 | Interview with Bobby Cheng

Aronian is not the only one to do this as the entire Indonesian contingent also withdrew from the event. Medina Warda Aulia and Irene Sukandar decided not to continue due to their teammate testing positive for COVID-19. This is a very unfortunate situation, but we respect the decisions made by the Indonesian team and Aronian for their selflessness.

In conclusion, we would like to congratulate Bassem Amin for his amazing accomplishment and wish him all the best for his third-round encounter. He has already broken a record, but can he break any more?

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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