The 2013 FIDE World Cup

The 2013 FIDE World Cup

Today I’m going to talk about [what I think are] the most exciting match-ups in the 2013 World Cup. Warning: this one is heavy on the text, if you want the Tl;dr version just read the things in bold.

The 2013 World Cup is the largest knockout tournament that we as chess players have. For those of you not familiar think of it like the NCAA Basketball tournament, only double. So instead of 64 (or 70 however many teams there are now) there are 128 players all vying for one spot to challenge the world champion (Currently Vishy Anand). The format is similar to March Madness in that it is an elimination tournament where the best players start of paired with the worst players in the beginning of the tournament (something rarely seen in the chess world). The World Cup is one of the most grueling and demanding tournaments that we currently have today, and like March Madness anything can happen for instance in 2009 a young upstart from the Philippines named Wesley So shocked the chess world by beating both Vassily Ivanchuk and Gata Kamsky in match games, and he did it as black playing the french no less! An amazing feat because as every patzer on ICC knows, the french loses by force.

As you can imagine winning the world cup is a high honor unfortunately it doesn’t necessarily mean you get to challenge the world champion no no no. One does not simply challenge the world champion even after running through the gauntlet which is the world cup. Like everything FIDE does the road to the World Championship is fraught with arduous tournaments and candidates events. In 2009 Boris Gelfand won the whole thing, and was then Graciously allowed to participate in the Candidates tournament which he also won. Only then was he allowed to challenge the world champion. That’s really the best case scenario. Think about poor Peter Svidler who won the World Cup in 2011 (which afforded him a ticket to the candidates tournament which was eventually won by Magnus Carlsen).

I suppose FIDE’s intentions are good, you are giving the golden ticket to a few lucky players (the winner and some runner ups) to participate in the Elite candidates tournament. Unfortunately the same players who are likely to qualify for the candidates tournament (the one that actually matters) are playing in the World Cup… so conceivably there could arise a situation where a player qualifies for the candidates match based on two criteria, which then opens up a spot for another player (usually determined by rating or the beloved committee selection) to be thrust into the spotlight and allowed to play in the candidates tournament.

Enough about my disagreements with FIDE on their soviet-style bureaucratic selection process for the world championship let’s talk match-ups! The match-ups below are what I believe will be the most exciting chess/interesting match-ups of the first round.

Most Anticipated Match-Ups of the First Round:

1. (41) Shirov vs (88) Hou

Alexei Shirov is an elite Grandmaster from Latvia. In his youth he studied under Mikhail Tal the former world champion and widely regarded as the greatest attacker of all time. Shirov follows suit in what has become known as the “Latvian” style. He is a balls-to-the-walls attacker and is quite ruthless on the chess board. Shirov has been in ranked in the top chess players since the early 90’s and has strung together numerous tournament victories since then. Lately he hasn’t been seen in the elite tournaments and his rating seems to be on a downward spiral; which doesn’t bode well for his chances.

Hou Yifan is one of the strongest female chess players in the world and a former women’s world champion. In 2012 she had a fantastic tournament at the Gibraltar Chess Festival scoring 8/10 (+7 -1 =2) with a whopping performance rating of 2872.

Why this match matters: The last time these two met was in Gibraltar (2012) where Hou had the gall to grab a pawn from Alexei and managed to hold in a nice game. I believe this match is going to be the most exciting matchup in the first round.

Likely Outcome: Some of you may disagree with me here but I believe Hou has fantastic chances to beat Shirov in a match. Although she is less experienced in this sort of match play Shirov doesn’t seem himself lately and hasn’t been able to produce the results that we have grown accustomed to from him.

2. (23) Vachier-Lagrave Vs (106)Shabalov

Maxim Vachier-Lagrave is a strong young junior from France. He is a rising star among the juniors and like many on this list has accomplished a great deal in a short period of time. Last time we had this tournament he had a fairly early exit losing to Chinese phenom Bu Xiangzhi.

Like Alexei Shirov (mentioned above) Alexander Shabalov studied under the tutelage of Mikhail Tal in what has become referred to as the Latvian chess school. Like his mentor Tal, Shabalov is one of the most dangerous attackers on the circuit. His openings are uncompromising and when given the initiative he can be as dangerous as the best attackers in the world. He is a personal favorite of mine and he was one of the first chess players I can remember liking when I was a small boy when I saw one of his games from a recent US championship victory in the newspaper.

Why this match matters: This may be the final hurrah for guys like Shabalov and other favorites of yesterday. Unfortunately chess skill tends to diminish with age and this could be one of the last times that he gets the chance to play in an event like this, although with the generally weak field in the US Interzonal I suppose he could be a staple in the World Cup for a long time.

Likely Outcome: Shabalov is an all or nothing kind of guy, he will either lose two games spectacularly or will embark on some fantastic initiative gaining foray to score the full point. I give Shabalov good chances to win this match solely based on his erratic and sometimes unpredictable play; who knows which Shabalov we might see. If Lagrave can keep him contained I think it will be very difficult for Shabalov to win; but I guess we’ll just have to see.

3. (32) Tomashevsky Vs. (97) Ramirez

Alejandro Ramirez is a strong Grandmaster from Costa Rica now living in the US. He had a fantastic performance in the US Championship (Or as FIDE calls it: Zonal 2.1) where he came in second losing in rapid playoffs to Gata Kamsky.

Evgeny Tomashevsky is a strong young Grandmaster from Russia, who has a laundry list of chess victories and achievements.

Why this match matters: I expect a fairly original match, Tomashevsky is known for his position style (known as the “professor” among chess players) and Ramirez is known to play some fairly unconventional openings (trotting out the Benko and Alekhine defense could be possible). I really chose this match because Ramirez could very well be the future of American chess.

Likely Outcome: Tomashevsky plays patiently and maneuvers around and eventually Ramirez is ground down in a rook and pawn ending or something equally boring.

4. (63) Yu Vs (66) Beliavsky

Yu Yangyi is a promising junior from China who has had some fantastic results as of late. He became a Grandmaster at the age of 15 making him China’s 29th Grandmaster. In the 2009 World Cup Yu caused the biggest upset in the first round by beating Sergei Movsesian.

Alexander Beliavsky has been a household name for many chess players for the last 30+ years. He became a Grandmaster in 1975, which incidentally is 19 years before Yu Yangyi was born. Beliavsky is known for his classical repertoire and his uncompromising style of play. Beliavsky won the Soviet Championship 3 times and qualified for the World Cup by placing =1st at the European individual championships.

Why this match matters: This is a classic youth vs experience matchup. With ratings so close and fairly similar styles this one is going to come down to who has better preparation.

Likely Outcome: This one is probably going to come as a surprise but I like Beliavsky’s chances in this match.

5. (62) Khismatullin Vs. (67) Kobalia

Denis Khismatullin is a strong Russian Grandmaster and also serves as second to Dmitry Jakovenko.

Mikhail Kobalia is a strong Russian Grandmaster as well.

Why this match matters: You’ve probably never heard of these guys, and to be honest, neither had I before I started doing some research. Tournaments like this are all about rivalries. In a competition like the World Cup very often you have strong grandmasters from a variety of countries who have never played each other over the board. Typically the same strongest players in the world are invited to elite events and the rest are left to toil in open championships among the plebes (aka you and I dear reader). I could only find two match-ups in the first round where the players had played more than 2 games against each other (the other being Le Quang Liem Vs. Oliver Barbosa). The score between these two is 2-1 in favor of Khismatullin the last time they met was in 2007 where Kobalia finally put up a point and beat Khismatullin.

Likely Outcome: Tough to say honestly these two are quite evenly matched, I do like Khismatullin’s chances though and since I can only pick one I’m going Khismatullin on this one.

So there you have it; I know this one was a bit on the longer side and I hope you guys were able to sit through it. I look forward to seeing some fantastic fighting chess and hope that the American players can hold their own against some pretty stiff international opposition. Round 1 Game 1 starts on August 11 at around 9:00AM EST.

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