How did Radjabov do it?

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Bobby Ang

Chess Piece

FIDE World Cup 2019
Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia
Sept. 9–Oct. 4, 2019

Result of Finals (winner in bold)

Teimour Radjabov AZE 2758 vs. Ding Liren CHN 2811 6-4

7-round 128 player Knockout event

Time Control: 90 minutes for the first 40 moves, then 30 minutes play-to-finish with 30 seconds added to your clock after every move, starting move 1

Teimour Radjabov defeated Ding Liren 6-4 in the finals to win the 2019 World Cup. He had to survive a grueling 25-day event with games everyday and only two one-day breaks. Round about the 15th day of competition the participants were already complaining about exhaustion and this was only the halfway point!

Before we go into the point I am making, let us do a quick review of Teimour Radjabov.

As perhaps the BW reader will recall Radjabov was a child prodigy — born 12 March 1987, he earned the International Grandmaster (GM) title in March 2001 at the age of 14, the second-youngest in history at the time. He was really a chess phenomenon not only for of his results but also for the beauty of his play. In 2003 he beat the-then World No. 1 Garry Kasparov in spectacular fashion in the famous Linares tournament, winning the brilliancy prize for that game as well. This was a really big deal at that time for Kasparov had been undefeated in five consecutive Linares tournaments before losing to Radjabov and has not lost a rated game with White in seven years, and never lost one again.

Kasparov, Garry (2847) — Radjabov, Teimour (2624) [C11]
20th Linares (2), 23.02.2003

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3 a6 8.Qd2 b5 9.a3 Qb6 10.Ne2

This move, allowing Black to close the center, is pretty common now but back in 2003 the usual continuation was 10.Be2 cxd4 11.Nxd4 Bc5 12.Rd1 etc.

10…c4 11.g4 h5 12.gxh5 Rxh5 13.Ng3 Rh8 14.f5!? exf5 15.Nxf5 Nf6! 16.Ng3

[16.exf6 Bxf5 17.fxg7 Bxg7 18.Rg1 Bf6 I prefer Black]

16…Ng4 17.Bf4 Be6 18.c3 Be7 19.Ng5 0–0–0 20.Nxe6 fxe6 21.Be2 <D>



Probably not the best, but enough to confuse Kasparov.


Not the best:

22.dxe5 is wrong because of 22…d4 23.cxd4 Rxd4 24.Qc1 (not 24.Qe3? Rf8 25.Bg5 Bxg5 26.Qxg5 Qa5+ and Black mates) 24…Na5 25.Be3 Nb3 26.Bxd4 Qxd4 27.Qd1 Qe3 28.Qc2 Bh4 Black is clearly winning;

Correct is 22.Bxe5! Nxe5 23.dxe5 Bc5 (23…d4 24.0–0–0 and White has survived the opening) 24.Bg4! Be3 25.Qe2 d4 Black is still attacking but everything is far from decided.

22…Nd7 23.Qxe6 Bh4 24.Qg4?

White should have picked up the d5 pawn 24.Qxd5.

24…g5! 25.Bd2

[25.Bxg5 Rdg8]

25…Rde8 26.0–0–0 Na5 27.Rdf1?

A mistake as now Kasparov’s king has to go back to the center where it once more becomes a target.

27…Nb3+ 28.Kd1 Bxg3!

Radja wants to play …Qg6 to threaten …Qb1 with dire consequences for White, but if he does it right now White can block it with either Qf5 or Nf5, so first he gets rid of the g8–knight.


There is no good way to capture the bishop:

29.hxg3 Qg6! 30.Bc1 (30.Qf5 is not posible because of 30…Qxf5 31.Rxf5 Rxh1+) 30…Qb1 31.Qxg5 Nxc1 32.Qxc1 Qe4 attacking the bishop on e2 as well as the rook on h1. Black is winning.;

29.Qxg3 Qg6 30.Bc1 Qb1 31.Qxg5 Rhg8 32.Qf4 Re4 33.Qh6 Rxe2!


[29…Qd6 allows White to complicate: 30.Bxg5 Bxh2 31.Rf6 Qc7 32.Bf3 Kb8 33.Rxa6 White still has chances to hold]


[30.Qxg3? Qg6 attacks the rook and also threatens Qb1]

30…Qg6 31.Qf5

[31.Rf5 Rde8]

31…Qxf5 32.Rxf5 Rdf8 33.Rxf8+ Nxf8 34.Bf3 Bh4! 35.Be3 Nd7 36.Bxd5 Re8 37.Bh6 Ndc5! 38.Bf7 Re7 39.Bh5 Nd3 0–1

Later on that same year he defeated former World Champions Anand and Ponomariov to show that he was not a “flash in the pan.” Several more successes followed and in November 2012 he achieved his peak rating of 2793, good enough to be ranked no. 4 in the world.

All this changed though when he played in the Candidates’ Tournament of 2013. The Azeri GM finished last with a 1 win 6 draws and 7 loss score. This affected him psychologically for he had never been beaten this badly before and afterwards he started limiting his appearances to two or three tournaments a year.

So, when he arrived in Khanty-Mansiysk for this year’s World Cup no one expected him to win. After all, Radja was basically semi-retired and is not expected to be in his best form. When the competition started though the former child prodigy had a strong performance from start to finish, not losing a single game until the 2nd game of the finals against Ding Liren, and even then avenging that loss right away. Before reaching the final against Ding, Radjabov defeated two of the so-called chess-elite who get invited to all these high profile tournaments — Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and he stopped the challenge of the younger players in the persons of Daniil Yuffa and Jeffery Xiong, who until they met him were having their own stronger performances.

So how did he do it? How did he take all his skill, lock it up in a freezer, and take it out for the World Cup tournament?

The short answer, opening theory. He would only play in top tournaments like Wijk aan Zee or the FIDE Grand Prix events where his opponents will be very highly rated. That way, agreeing to draws wouldn’t harm his rating too much. Then Radja never stopped working hard on his opening theory and, when playing, using a safety-first strategy, frequently choosing forced theoretical lines to avoid any nasty surprises.

And it did not hurt that he had a great positional feel and a sharp eye for tactics — these never left him. Last Tuesday I showed you his Marshall Attack win over Ding Liren where he was still within his opening preparation on move 29 (!). Against Vachier-Lagrave he was winning by move 10! Then in an earlier column I showed you how he slipped through the cracks and defeated Mamedyarov with a sudden tactical resource.

Now we will look at his win over Daniil Yuffa, beautiful positional play.

Radjabov, Teimour (2758) — Yuffa, Daniil (2577) [B11]
FIDE World Cup 2019 Khanty-Mansiysk (3.1), 16.09.2019

1.e4 c6 2.Nf3 d5 3.Nc3

The Two Knights’ Variation, Bobby Fischer’s favorite weapon against the Caro-Kann.


As Bobby Fischer explained in his annotations to his draw with Petrosian in the 1959 Candidates’ Tournament, the purpose of the Two Knights’ line is to exclude the Classical 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bf5 line.

How’s that again? Let me explain. Here in the Two Knights if Black now continues 3…dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bf5? (4…Nf6 is correct) 5.Ng3 Bg6? (5…Bg4 6.h3 Bxf3 7.Qxf3 had to be played) 6.h4! h6 7.Ne5 Bh7 8.Qh5 g6 9.Qf3 Nf6 10.Qb3 White wins material. This trap has come up more than a hundred times in the international tournament circuit, sometimes even involving grandmasters.

4.h3 Bxf3 5.Qxf3 e6 6.Be2

Another possibility is to offer the sacrifice of a pawn by 6.d4 dxe4 7.Nxe4 Qxd4 8.Bd3 but perhaps this is not suitable for a big-money tournament like the World Cup.

6…Bc5 7.0–0 Ne7 8.Qg3 0–0 9.d3 Nd7 10.Kh1

Obviously intending f2–f4–f5.


Which is why Yuffa goes ahead with his own f-pawn advance.

11.Bg5 Bd4 12.Qd6 Bf6 13.f4

[13.Qxe6+? Kh8 14.Bd2 (14.Bxf6 Rxf6) 14…Nc5 in both cases the white queen is caught in a trap]

13…Rf7 14.Bxf6

[14.Qxe6? Nc5]

14…Rxf6 15.e5 Rf7 16.d4

White obviously has an edge now because his pieces have more scope, but he has to harness that extra maneuverability quickly before Black can regroup.

16…Nc8 17.Qb4 Qb6 18.a3 c5 19.Qxb6 Ncxb6 20.Nb5 Re7 21.b3 cxd4 22.Nxd4 Nc5 23.g4 Ne4 24.Rg1 Rf8 25.gxf5 exf5 26.h4 g6 27.Rg2 Kf7 28.h5 Rh8 29.Rag1 Ree8 30.a4 a6 31.a5 Nd7 32.c4!

This is better than 32.e6+ Rxe6 33.Nxe6 Kxe6.

32…dxc4 33.e6+ Rxe6 34.Bxc4 Nf8 35.hxg6+ hxg6+ 36.Rh2 Rg8 37.Nxe6 Nxe6 38.Rh6 Nf2+ 39.Kg2 Ne4 40.Kh2 Nf2 41.Bxe6+ Kxe6 42.Rhxg6+ Rxg6 43.Rxg6+ Kd7 44.Rb6 Kc7 45.Kg3 1–0

Everything looks so simple, and yet only a great master can play a game like this.


Bobby Ang is a founding member of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) and its first Executive Director. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA), he taught accounting in the University of Santo Tomas (UST) for 25 years and is currently Chief Audit Executive of the Equicom Group of Companies.