Azerbaijan used to be a part of USSR until August 1991 and as per a Soviet-time legend, every cab driver played better chess than most of the Western Grand Masters. Azerbaijani capital, Baku is, therefore a chess city and it is apt that the 2015 FIDE World Chess Cup is being held there. Now, however, the action in the grand ballroom of Baku’s Fairmont Hotel is down to a single board with two Russian finalists on either side. St. Petersburg resident Peter Svidler has won the first game against Moscow’s Sergey Karjakin in the 4-game final that began on October 1, 2015. After three weeks, 126 participants have already exited the tournament and the ballroom gives a deserted look with just one table and two chairs. If the games do not produce any result by October 4th, a tiebreak will be played on October 5. On Thursday, however, Peter Svidler took a vital 1-0 lead after defeating Karjakin in the first game. Playing with Whites, Svidler opened with the King’s Indian Attack and in an unexpected deviation, Karjakin responded by recapturing the knight on d5. This made the game equal for a while but Karjakin erred by moving his rook to f7. This helped Svidler in taking the upper hand and he placed his queen on b3. While this pressurized Karjakin, the muscovite committed another error and couldn’t free up his black pieces. Svidler had no difficulty in capturing the first game. Now, Karjakin’s performance over the next three days will be crucial.
39-year old Pyotr Veniaminovich Svidler is already a World Cup winner. He defeated compatriot Alexander Grischuk in the 2011 FIDE World Chess Cup held in the oil boom town of Khanty-Mansiysk in Russia. If he wins the 2015 World Cup, he will equal the 2-world-cup-win record of India’s Viswanathan Anand, who was the champion of the inaugural edition in 2000 at Shenyang in China and yet again in 2002 at Hyderabad, India. Both Svidler and Karjakin had two days of good rest after their semifinal victories over their rivals Anish Giri and Pavel Eljanov respectively.
Svidler had the advantage of playing with White pieces and he began with the King’s Indian Attack, something that he has played a few times recently. Both players made some expected moves for a while. Svidler opened the center with a temporary pawn sacrifice in d3-d4. The game looked equally poised until Karjakin made an error by moving his rook to f7. Svidler brought his queen to b3 and obtained an extended flexibility. Karjakin’s next error cost him the game as he found that his pieces were frozen. When Svidler played 18.cxd4, Krarjakin responded with Nxd4 and the trading of two knights became very favorable for White as he could make excellent use of his bishop. Karjakin weakened himself further with his Qd7 reply to 21.Rb1. Karjakin was now in deep trouble because he just couldn’t find the way to free his black pieces. Svidler duly converted the advantage to take the 1-0 lead in the final match.
Karjakin missed on his luck and in the remaining three games, he will have to rally himself to stay in the match. The second game starts on Friday at 3 PM local time.