World champion Magnus Carlsen is in a comfortable position to qualify of the semi-finals of the FIDE World Cup in Sochi.
He leads Etienne Bacrot of France after the first match of the quarter-final tie.
Coming into the quarter-finals, excluding blitz and rapid games (in which Bacrot has defeated Carlsen twice), the world champion had a 6-3 track record in his favour, with no wins for Bacrot, and this statistic didn’t improve today.
Carlsen played a very good game with Black, sacrificing a pawn for two bishops and the initiative in an anti-Marshall Ruy Lopez opening. Bacrot started to go astray with 24.f4?!, weakening his kingside, and a few moves later he blundered with 26.Qh3? (the move 26.f5 was better and the game goes on).
Carlsen followed up by sacrificing his queen for a rook and a bishop in addition to a very strong passed pawn, and soon notched up the win and made his claim to advance to semi-finals.
On board two, USA top player Sam Shankland took on former 2015 World Cup winner Sergey Karjakin, in the first official game between the two.
After an earlier exchange of the queens, the game seemed to be heading for a draw, but Shankland did have some light-square pressure and chances to pressure a double pawn.
However, he needed a mistake and it finally came. Karjakin’s 38…f5?, allowing 39.e5, creating a strong supported passed pawn, was a game-deciding move. With excellent endgame technique and top-notch pawn-ending theoretical knowledge, Shankland was able to grind his opponent down. The former 2015 World Cup winner will now have to win the second match to force the tiebreak.
Russian Vladimir Fedoseev, playing for Russia, was relatively happy with a draw with Black on board three. Both players castled queenside in a Queen’s Gambit – exchange variation -, but his opponent, Iranian M. Amin Tabatabaei, played for the attack on the queenside. Fedoseev sacrificed a pawn for some compensation, but Tabatabaei declined the offer and the Russian escaped unscathed.
The match between Vidit, Santosh Gujrathi of India and Jan-Krzysztof Duda of Poland will have to be decided today. Vidit went for a solid Catalan opening which gave him a very slight edge, two bishops and some squares for the knights, but Duda defended perfectly and the game ended peacefully on move 28.