Magnus Carlsen botches win and heads for tiebreaks at chess World Cup

Magnus Carlsen’s serene progress through the early rounds of the $1.9m (£1.38m), 206-player World Cup at Sochi hit a rock in Friday’s fourth round, the last 32, when the world champion botched a simple win. After drawing his first game with Radoslaw Wojtaszek on Thursday, Carlsen built up a decisive attack against the Polish No 2’s Sicilian Defence only to miss the decisive rook move 25 Rxh7! instead allowing a draw by repeated position.

The match now heads at 1-1 for speed tie-breaks on Saturday, starting at 1pm. Carlsen will still be the heavy favourite, but even if he wins his oversight will give encouragement to his potential opponents in later rounds, starting with round five and the winner of the all-Russian encounter between Daniil Dubov and Andrey Esipenko, which is also level at 1-1.

Ths 2021 World Cup has already proved a graveyard for the top 10 grandmasters, while a bevy of teenage talents have seized the opportunity to enhance their growing reputations.

After three rounds, the global elite’s representation had been culled and decimated. Round four started with five teenagers still in the hunt and a quarter of the field aged under 22, but only one of the top four seeds still going. However, the established order still has a serious chance. Ten of the 32 are Russians, led by the experienced Alexander Grischuk, seeded seven, and Sergey Karjakin, seeded 10.

That lone survivor of the top seeds was Carlsen, as the world champion advanced serenely to 4/4 and explained apologetically that he was really playing the tournament just as practice for his coming title match against Ian Nepomniachtchi.

Levon Aronian, the No 3 seed, had already withdrawn with a fever before the start. Fabiano Caruana, the world No 2, had his first game stopped after an hour’s play when it was discovered that Susanto Megaranto, his Indonesian opponent, had tested positive for Covid-19 but that Fide, the global chess body, had only been informed after the game started. Caruana’s later virus tests were negative, but so too was his third round play when he was knocked out by the No 1 from Kazakhstan, Rinat Jumabayev.

Anish Giri, the No 4 seed, was eliminated 2-0 by 16-year-old Nodirbek Abdusattorov from Uzbekistan as the teenage wave swept away the elite. The other rising Uzbek star, Javokhir Sindarov, 15, had already knocked out Alireza Firouzja, seen by many as heir apparent to Carlsen, in a game where the strategic vision of Sindarov’s 22…f4-f3! was widely praised.

Play starts at 1pm BST daily and can be followed, including commentaries by Nigel Short, at at the official site.

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, the No 6 seed and Azerbaijan No 1, was eliminated in the speed tie-breaks by Haik Martirosyan, Armenia’s No 8, who turned 21 at the start of the tournament. Of the top nine seeds, only Grischuk (No 5) and France’s Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (No 7) survived alongside Carlsen into round four, and the Frenchman had to go the full distance to an Armageddon sudden death decider before winning 5-4 against Russia’s David Paravyan.

Vachier-Lagrave progressed into the final 16 on Friday with a 1.5-0.5 win over the Indian talent Rameshbabu Praggnandhaa, who earlier played one of the best attacks of the tournament.

As the business end of the tournament approaches, the stakes in terms of future opportunities become higher. The two finalists qualify for the next world title candidates, while the rest of the final eight will qualify for the next Fide Grand Prix which is another candidates route. Carlsen is ineligible, which could complicate matters.

Meanwhile the 103-player Women’s World Cup reached its final 16 on Thursday with, in contrast to the men, hardly any form upsets. The top seeds, Russia’s Aleksandra Goryachkina and Kateryna Lagno, have progressed smoothly so far using the trusted formula of drawing as Black and winning as White. Germany’s No 1 Elisabeth Paehtz scored a quick win by trapping the black king in the centre with 14 Bb5+! However, Thursday’s first game of round four brought a shock, as Goryachkina was well beaten by Bulgaria’s former world champion Antoaneta Stefanova. Goryachkina won Friday’s return game to take the match into Saturday tie-breaks.

The World Cup semi-finals next weekend coincide with the opening round of the online $100,000 Chessable Masters, sponsored by the successful online learning platform that has several top GMs among its authors. Play starts at 4pm BST, around the time that the World Cup games finish, and the field so far includes former US champions Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So, the youngest ever grandmaster (at 12) Abhimanyu Mishra, the women’s world champion Ju Wenjun and rising star Firouzja.

International over-the-board chess returns to England next month with the Northumbria Masters in Gateshead from 26-30 August. Its open event has a £3,000 prize fund, while other tournaments go down to an under-1500 Minor (£750 prize fund) for average and weaker players. Two all-play-alls qualify for GM and IM results.

3773 1 Qg5! g6 (if Qxg5 2 Rxd8 mate) 2 Qh6! gxf5 3 Rg4+! fxg4 4 Bxh7+ Kh8 5 Bg6+ Kg8 6 Qh7+ Kf8 7 Qxf7 mate.