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India knock out France in World Teams thriller

Nihal Sarin beats Jules Moussard

Nihal Sarin was India's hero as he beat Jules Moussard in the final game | photo: Mark Livshitz, FIDE

It’s India-Uzbekistan and China-Spain in the FIDE World Team Championship semi-finals after India survived a comeback to beat top seeds France in a blitz playoff, with Vishy Anand calling Indian hero Nihal Sarin “a blitz genius”. The other shock was Spain taking down Azerbaijan, with David Anton defeating Teimour Radjabov in the crucial game.

Wednesday’s quarterfinals of the FIDE World Team Championship were played as two 45+10 rapid matches, with tiebreaks only if the score was then level at 1:1 in match wins. Three of the matches finished before that.

Wojtaszek Lu Shanglei

Radek Wojtaszek thought for 20 minutes on one move against Lu Shanglei, but chose wrongly | photo: Mark Livshitz, FIDE

China continue to play like China despite being led for the first time by 27-year-old Lu Shanglei. They beat Poland 2.5:1.5 in the first match, with Radek Wojtaszek and Mateusz Bartel losing their way in complications against Lu Shanglei and Bai Jinshi. 20-year-old Szymon Gumularz scored a consolation win against the previously unstoppable Li Di, but it wasn’t enough.

China had no trouble making a 2:2 draw in the second match to clinch a semi-final spot, with Poland exiting the tournament without managing to win a match.

David Anton

David Anton would bring Spain victory over favourites Azerbaijan | photo: Mark Livshitz, FIDE

China will now play Spain, who pulled off a famous win over Azerbaijan. All four games were drawn in the first match, with Rauf Mamedov later having reason to regret not playing on in the final position against Daniel Yuffa. The second match saw a 2.5:1.5 victory for Spain.

Gadir Guseinov’s win over Alexei Shirov was balanced out by Miguel Santos defeating Rauf Mamedov, in a game he effectively had to win twice after earlier spoiling a winning position. He commented:

I’m shaking and also very happy, because I had a really complicated game which I finally managed to win somehow, and we tied in the first match, and now there is only one game left which is Anton, and he has a winning endgame. So I hope Anton, if you ever see this, please win this game!

David Anton was facing the formidable Teimour Radjabov, but ultimately managed to win a piece and clinch victory for a Spanish team that was outrated on all four boards.

Perhaps the favourites to win the title remain the Olympiad Champions Uzbekistan, who won both matches against Ukraine. The first was by a 3:1 scoreline, with Javokhir Sindarov and Jakhongir Vakhidov winning convincingly with White against Kirill Shevchenko and Igor Kovalenko.

Kirill Shevchenko

What's your superpower? 20-year-old Kirill Shevchenko | photo: Mark Livshitz, FIDE

Kirill managed to hit back in the second match, but Uzbekistan won on the bottom two boards, with an impressive find by Shamsiddin Vokhidov after Andrei Volokitin went for the excellent last try of 33…Bxf3!

White now has to be very careful, as for instance 34.Qf6? loses to 34…Rh1+! 35.Kxh1 (35.Kg3 Qg4+) 35…Qf1+ and mate on g2.

In fact there’s only one winning move for White — the far from obvious 34.Nd4!. After 34…exd4 35.Qe5! wins, with the 35…Rh1+ trick no longer working because after 36.Kg3 there’s no Qg4+. White is also threatening simply to capture on f3, so Andrei tried 34…Be4 but resigned after 35.Qf6 — mate is unstoppable.

Uzbekistan Ukraine

Vasyl Ivanchuk was held to two draws as Uzbekistan beat Ukraine | photo: Mark Livshitz, FIDE

Uzbekistan will play India in the semi-finals, after the Indian team won a thriller against France. It began with India winning 3:1 with Vidit and Narayanan beating Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Laurent Fressinet with the black pieces.

MVL Vidit

MVL and Vidit traded blows on top board | photo: Mark Livshitz, FIDE

Vidit’s 17…Bf5!, ignoring the attack on the e5-bishop, clearly came as a shock, as MVL thought for 4 minutes over his reply.

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18.Qxf5 loses to 18…Bxc3 19.Bxc3 Qxe3+ 20.Kh2 Qxc3, when Black is a pawn up with excellent pieces. 18.Qc1 Bxc3 19.Qxc3 Be4 kept the pawn but left Black dominant, with Vidit going on to win after many twists and turns.

Maxime and Laurent both hit back in the next match, however, despite having the black pieces, so that the contest went straight from “slow rapid” chess to lightning fast 3+2 blitz.

France swapped Tigran Gharamian for Maxime Lagarde and were rewarded with a win on the bottom board, but elsewhere everything went wrong for them.

Vidit had some tricky winning chances against MVL but ultimately made a draw, while Narayanan outplayed Fressinet in a rook endgame. That meant everything depended on whether Nihal Sarin could beat Jules Moussard. He delivered some early blows.

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19…Nxb2! 20.Kxb2 Na4+ 21.Ka2 Nxc3+ forced Jules to give up the exchange, and it looked like the game would soon end in checkmate.

Instead Jules put up huge resistance and seemed to come very close to establishing a fortress. In the end, however, Nihal broke through and gave his team a place in the semi-finals! Vishy Anand called Nihal a “blitz genius”.

Nihal said he was "very nervous" but also felt he "finally played a good game".

So it’s China-Spain and Uzbekistan-India in the semi-finals.

The four remaining teams will be around to the end, since the losing semi-finalists will play a match for 3rd place.

The games begin at 3pm in Jerusalem, which is 08:00 ET, 14:00 CET and 18:30 IST and you can follow them live here on chess24.

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USA & Dutch crash out of World Team Championship

Hans Niemann

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