Seven Indians had qualified to the 2017 World Cup that kicked off in Tbilisi, Georgia. While Viswanathan Anand and Pentala Harikrishna were expected to roll though their opposition quite easily, our other stars had their hands full. At least that is how it appeared before the games actually began.Anand started his campaign with the black pieces against Malaysian No. 1 IM Yeoh Li Tan (2478). He played the Sicilian and in the Alapin that arose, he did not sweat too much to outplay his younger opponent. In the middlegame, it actually looked like he had missed something but everything was under control for the Indian legend. The Malaysian decided to strangely sacrifice his queen praying for a fortress but he was wrong, and Anand won easily.
In the second game, things went horribly wrong for the five-time world champion, and for most part of the late middlegame, he was losing, if not clearly worse. Anand kept playing quickly, defending with the hope of tricking his opponent. In an advantageous endgame, young Yeoh misplayed the position to allow Anand to grab his chance to draw the game. By virtue of his win in the first game, Anand qualified for the second round with 1.5-0.5.
For India No. 2 Pentala Harikrishna, it was a terrible first day as he panicked with the black pieces, miscalculated and collapsed against Cuban GM Yuri Gonzalez Vidal (2547). He had a lot of work to do in the second round to stay alive. Hari did not let the hope of the country down as he made all the right moves with the white pieces and crushed the Cuban. In the rapid tiebreakers on the third day, he breezed past his opponent anyway to reach the second round.
The latest entrant to the 2700 club, Vidit Gujrathi, was able to display sublime opening preparation with both the colours. Although he could only draw with the white pieces against Neuris Delgado Ramirez (2614), with black he was impeccable in converting his advantage and walk to the second round.
S.P. Sethuraman had the toughest task of all Indians—he had to get past the legendary Ukrainian GM Ruslan Ponomariov (2694) who had won the FIDE World Championship in a similar format in 2002 ahead of world-class players like Anand. Although Ponomariov is arguably past his peak, he still is a class act. In the first game, Sethu could have been in trouble but Ponomarov made his job infinitely easier by simply offering a draw after 16 moves. Sethu was quick to pounce on the opportunity to take the draw with black. On the second day, there was no looking back as Sethu created several attacking chances with white on the kingside. Although his technique was not the best, it was enough to win thanks to a cup full of errors by the former FIDE World Champion.
Baskaran Adhiban made two very quick draws in the classical part of the match against Nguyen Ngoc Truong Son (2629). He then fought tooth and nail in the rapid and blitz tiebreaker on the third day, but his Vietnamese opponent was up to the task. It was only due to Adhiban’s better nerves in the critical moments towards the end that the Chennai grandmaster was able to win and sail through to the second round.
But the real story of the tournament has to be the Indian champion Karthikeyan Murali’s stunning will power. He was up against Spanish GM Paco Vallejo (2702) and in the first game, he was outplayed and smashed out of the park. But time and again, the double Indian champion has shown that it is precisely in such situations, when the chips are down and all hope seems lost, Karthikeyan rises like a phoenix. In the second game, Karthikeyan mounted an incredible comeback with the white pieces to win the game and tie the match!
However, in the tiebreaker in the rapid and blitz games, the young Indian was no match for the Spanish grandmaster and had to bite the dust.
Debutant Deep Sengupta (2589) could not make a dent of any form on China’s Wang Hao and had to admit defeat in the second game, to be knocked out of the World Cup.
Therefore, Anand, Harikrishna, Vidit, Adhiban, Sethuraman qualified for the second round while the lowest rated members of the Indian contingent have to return home after the first round.
The best players from around the world are playing in the World Cup, including the World Champion Magnus Carlsen who comfortably made it to the second round. Magnus has for long been an advocate of the World Cup format and he believes that this is the best way to decide the title for the World Championship. After winning the world title thrice in match format, Magnus by himself participating, has finally decided to show why he believes that the World Cup format is the right way to decide the world champion.
Results and pairings: Official Website
(Photo Credits: Ananstasia Karlovich and Maria Emelianova for the Official Website)