The World Cup final that started Thursday features Peter Svidler versus Sergei Karjakin, making it an all-Russian affair. Both the finalists qualify for the Candidates, along with Viswanathan Anand, Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura. Veselin Topalov and Anish Giri should also make the Candidates on the basis of high average ratings.
The tension may ease a little since both finalists have sealed Candidates spots. But $200,000 will be split by them, with $120,000 going to the World Cup winner. So, there's plenty to play for. Svidler and Karjakin are both highly-experienced, players who know each other well. The four game final could be close. Svidler leads with a convincing win in Game 1. He built explosive pressure in a Kings Indian Attack and won material when he broke through.
Giri, seeded #4, was the highest-rated player to make the semis. But #19 Svidler's cool calculation gave the Russian GM a big win in Game 1 against the Dutchman (who has a Russian mother). Svidler swallowed two pawns and fended off incipient threats to win with black. After that, the 39-year-old shut down Game 2, without giving the 21-year-old Giri much of a chance. In fact, Svidler had a harder time winning his tiebreakers against the young Wei Yi in the quarters.
The other semifinal was a thriller. The #26 seed, Pavel Eljanov added 35 Elo and climbed several places in the world rankings after a sterling display. The Ukrainian came close to winning Game 1 against Karjakin (#11) but top quality defence helped Karjakin hold. Game 2 was a quick draw.
Eljanov took the first rapid game (Game 3), and Karjakin broke back, winning Game 4. In Game 5, Karjakin exploited a big error to pull ahead after Eljanov overpressed, holding an edge. In Game 6, Eljanov was on the verge of clinching an equalising win when he made a heart-breaking error. In a winning endgame, he allowed triple repetition that was immediately claimed.
In the DIAGRAM, WHITE TO PLAY, (White: Eljanov Vs Black: Karjakin, World Cup 2015), White clearly has play for the pawn but it's not obvious that he's winning by force. In fact, he is. Play went 27.Ra1! Qb5 [Forced because 27. - Qb4 28. Be1; or 27.- Qb6 28. Bxf6! gxf6 29. Qg3+ Bg7 30. Bd5 fxe5 31. Rg1 Rg6 32. Qxg6 Qxg6 33. Rxg6] 28.c4! Qa6 29.d4! Rxd4 [Or 29...cxd4 30.b4]
Now 30.Qc3! wins a piece 30...Ne4 [Since 30...b6 31.Bxf6 gxf6 32.Qg3+ Bg7 33.Rg1 and Bd5 will mate] Play continued 31.Qxa5 Qxa5 32.Rxa5 Nd2 33.Rd1 Bd6 34.Bf2 Bxe5 35.fxe5 Nxc4 36.Bxd4 Nxa5 37.Bc3 Nc4 38.e6! Rxe6 39.Rd8+ Kh7 40.Bd5 (1-0). An elegant finish.
Devangshu Datta is an internationally rated chess and correspondence chess player