World Cup Clashes: Who is Who?

World Cup Clashes: Who is Who? The ongoing World Cup witnessed many surprises in terms of results. Whenever

World Cup Clashes: Who is Who?

The ongoing World Cup witnessed many surprises in terms of results. Whenever there is an improbable victory, most of us relate the situation to the clichéd David vs Goliath story. But, what if I tell you that the clarity lies in details?

For those who do are not aware of the story, here is a shortened version:

David was a shepherd boy who lived in Israel. He took care of sheep. God chose David to take care of the Jewish people. David played the harp. When the king of Israel was tired of fighting in the war, he asked David to play for him. David’s music made him feel better. One day a terrible giant named Goliath started bragging to his soldier friends that none of the Jews would dare to fight him. And he was right.

The Jewish soldiers were all afraid of big Goliath. What would happen to the Jewish people?

Then little David said: “I’ll fight Goliath. God will help me.” And he went and got some stones for his slingshot. The giant just laughed at him. David put a stone in his sling and flung it. The stone hit big Goliath on the head. Then David killed him with his sword. All of Goliath’s friends ran away.  The little shepherd boy had saved the Jewish people

Malcolm Gladwell’s book David and Goliath deals with the classic underdog tale and shares some lesser known points and unleashes a fresh perspective of the story. David’s strength lies in his slingshot as he has been using it to save his flock against lions and wolves for years. On the other side, Goliath is huge and is taken to the battle point by an attendant. Now, this is unusual. It shows that the giant is dependent and needs help.  As the giant sees a figure approaching him, he calls out “Come to me so I can feed your flesh to the birds of the heavens and the beasts of the field”

As David comes closer, Goliath notices the shepherd’s staff and he says “Am I a dog that you would come to me with sticks?”

Now, there is just ONE stick. But, Goliath says STICKS. Now, all these details show that even Goliath had his own share of vulnerabilities. But, it was David who made the first move with his slingshot and that made the difference.

Experienced players were sent out packing, some games were decided in the classical format itself. I will take you through some of the interesting clashes where the lower seeded player managed to beat the higher seeded opponent. The format of the FIDE World Cup is tricky and involves all kinds of time controls.

Do watch this TED Talk of Malcolm Gladwell on the topic:

For those who want to read the transcript of the TED talk:


The format has been favoring those who are able to defend and give a lot of resistance.  One of the key themes is that the player defending slightly worse or worse positions in these games usually chooses the move that doesn’t lose immediately. They refrain from straight forward or concrete variations and always try to generate a hint of vagueness in the position.

White to play

Here, two continuations seem to give white a clear advantage. 38.f4 or 38.gxf5, but Eljanov chose d5. Later, he made a few dubious moves in time trouble and reached the following position:

Find the last chance for white

54.Rxe3 was the last chance as the sacrifice was forced. But, he went wrong with 54.Rd2, falling for 54…Rxd4 trick that follows the knight fork theme.


In their second game, Eljanov found himself in a must win situation and employed Dutch. But, winning the first game in the World Cup format is a great advantage. It becomes bigger when the win comes through the black color.

As many have put it, one mistake is enough to pack bags in the World Cup.

In the second round, the exit of Anand and Karjakin made it to the headlines everywhere.

Danil Dubov’s sharp preparation gave him a lot of cushion in the opening. He revealed that he is here to gamble and take risks, considering the format of the event. Karjakin later tweeted that he forgot his analysis despite having revised the same position on the day of the game:

Here, Black had to play 18…Rxa5 which is a draw;

I knew that 18…Ra5 is a draw, but over the board got confused and played 18…Ba7. I even repeated this line today, but it did not help…

— Sergey Karjakin (@SergeyKaryakin) September 7, 2017

ChessBase India is covering the entire event, you can watch Dubov’s analysis here:


In Anand’s game, a risky knight sacrifice punctured the hopes:

The next black game didn’t give much chance and Kovalyov moved to the next round. Later, there was a controversy and Kovalyov didn’t play his match against Rodshtein.

In the next round, Bu Xiangzhi knocked out World Champion Magnus Carlsen and that was the biggest upset of the event!

Black to play

15…Bxh3 was played more out of necessity according to Bu Xiangzhi. This sacrifice coupled with inaccuracies by Carlsen, helped Bu to go to the next game with white pieces.

White to play and draw

Bu Xiangzhi foreseen the following continuation in advance and had reached the position willingly. This sacrifice helped him to qualify to the next round!

Fedoseev has been playing very well in 2017 and it is getting better as he knocked out Nakamura. You can watch the video by ChessBase India here:



This game will find its way in attacking manuals!

When it comes to chess, the game begins with the same number of pieces. All the three results are possible and it may not be correct to generalize that a particular victory or a result is a case of David vs Goliath tale. Some games may be one-sided and some games may have other factors involved. At the end of the day, the real battle lies in determining who is who.

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About Niranjan Navalgund

Niranjan Navalgund is a young chess professional who derives great pleasure in learning about life through the game of chess. He is a former National U-17 chess champion, Commonwealth U-18 Silver Medalist and the author of 'The Lively Library & An Unlikely Romance'. Unusual stories excite him. He hopes to visit the Panda Zoo, someday.

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