The Hidden World Cup: Six US Players Survive Round One

View of Tbilisi, Photo Cathy Rogers

Georgia has in recent years been keen to promote itself as a desirable tourist destination. Add to that a chess tradition which includes producing some of the top women players of the previous century and Tbilisi could be viewed as an ideal place to host a major tournament.

So when billionaire Prime Minster Bidzina Ivanishvili was presented with a proposal back in 2012 to try to bring the Chess Olympiad to Georgia in 2018, he happily allocated the needed government funds, both to promote chess and to help advertise Georgia to 150+ countries around the world.

FIDE also requires the bidding country to host the World Cup in the year before the Olympiad, so at the start of September the Georgian capital Tbilisi found itself hosting the ever-entertaining – but expensive – 128 player knock-out event with a first prize of $96,000. Players qualify for the World Cup from zones around the world, supplemented by players selected on rating or gaining their places through the Women’s World Championship, the World Junior Championship plus various wild cards.

The 2017 World Cup is being held in Tbilisi’s best hotel, the Preference Hualing, part of a massive commercial development and (massive) residential project by the Chinese company Hualing on the outskirts of Tbilisi. Players are required to stay at the hotel for the duration of their survival in the tournament – those who initially chose to book an Airbnb apartment discovered that they would be slugged the $247 per day hotel rate by the tournament organizers anyway! (With 128 players staying from four days to almost a month, that totals more than the tournament’s first prize, a significant savings even allowing that some of that money must go to the hotel.)

The World Cup has attracted a sensational field, including the top 16 players in the world, yet walking around the centre of Tbilisi one would be hard-pressed to know that any chess tournament is taking place in Georgia’s capital.

In another apparent cost-saving measure, there are no posters advertising the tournament around the city – nor even in the tournament hotel.

There have been items about the event in the local media but the absence of local buzz was clear from the spectator numbers on the first day: 60 for the start of the round on a Sunday, and far fewer the next day.

Certainly the advertisers, had they been asked, would have had a wonderful event to promote thanks to Magnus Carlsen’s decision to compete in the World Cup, which also happens to be a World Championship qualifier.

Carlsen’s reasons for playing were simply that a 128 player knock-out World Cup was a unique and exciting event on the tournament calendar and a “loophole” allowed him to take part.

While some questioned the World Champion taking part in an event where he would have a chance to influence which players qualified for next year’s Candidates tournament, most welcomed Carlsen’s participation as creating – arguably, as all these claims inevitably are – the strongest tournament of all time (at the top end, at least).

The tournament format involves each pair playing two classical games and if the score is tied at 1-1 they compete at pairs of games at faster and faster time limits, culminating in an Armageddon game (where White has extra time but if Black draws, Black wins the match).

The pairing system is designed to reward high ratings, as the top seeds are likely to progress confidently in the early rounds, as seed 1 plays seed 128 in the first round, seed 2 meets seed 127, and so on.

The US contribution to the field consists of nine players, including three of the favorites – Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura and second seed Wesley So – all placed in the opposite half of the draw to Carlsen. Caruana disputed his, or anyone else’s, favorite tag, saying “Nobody is really favourite to win. We calculated that Carlsen has about a 25% chance of making the final and even that may be too high.”

Nonetheless, for the US to have three players seeded to reach the quarterfinals (where Nakamura is due to run into So) is promising and all three won relatively comfortably in the first round.

Nakamura v. Mollah Abdullah, Photo Cathy Rogers

Nakamura did, however, have his nervous moments in game one.

The most remarkable US result in round one came from Alex Lenderman who defeated world number 15 Pavel Eljanov 2-0 in a match which hinged on a few moments of madness/overconfidence by Eljanov.

With Black in the second game, Eljanov was given no chance to fight back and was summarily crushed, providing the only major upset of the first round of the World Cup. (Carlsen and the other 14 of the top 16 seeds made it to round 2 safely.)

Lenderman will meet Norway’s Aryan Tari in the next round, the Norwegian junior also pulling off an upset in beating England’s David Howell in an extended rapid playoff.

The other US player to score an upset was 16-year-old Sam Sevian who took on and beat the German number one Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu.

Sevian v. Nisipeanu, Photo Cathy Rogers

Sevian should have finished the match in the second classical game but failed to convert an extra piece against Nisipeanu.

The rapid playoffs on the third days looked at first as if Sevian was again squandering chances, when he agreed a draw in game 3 just when his solid defence with Black was about to bear fruit and leave Nisipeanu in trouble.

However Sevian kept his cool in game four and this time took his opportunities when they presented themselves.

Early on the second day, Alexander Onischuk had reserved his place in the second round by winning his second game on forfeit against compatriot Yaroslav Zherebukh, who did not arrive in Tbilisi. Zherebukh is apparently unable to travel due to restrictions after applying for green card, but many were wondering why he did not then give up his place to another player since he will not receive his first round loser’s prize money ($4,800) and may even face disciplinary sanctions by FIDE.

Apart from Zherebukh, the US has two other players who are going home from Georgia after the first KO round.

Akobian v. Kovalyov, Photo Cathy Rogers 

Varuzhan Akobian was rated slightly above his Canadian opponent Anton Kovalyov but admitted that he didn’t have a chance in the two games. Akobian lost the first game with White – almost always fatal in this format – saying “My brain just didn’t work that day.” The following day he created some complications against Kovalyov’s English Opening but the Canadian always had the position in hand and could have played for a win had the position required it.

Xiong v. Motylev, Photo Cathy Rogers 

Jeffery Xiong was another who exited quickly. The World Junior Champion’s match-up with the former Russian and European Champion,Alexander Motylev, was keenly anticipated but Xiong made nothing of the White pieces in the first game, drawing in just 15 moves, and found himself steadily outplayed in the second.

US Pairings for Round 2

So v Bluebaum (GER)

Caruana v Luka Lenic (SVN)

Nakamura v Bruzon (CUB)

Onischuk v Wojtaszek (POL)

Sevian v Li Chao (CHN)

Lenderman v Tari (NOR)

Games begin at 5am AEST and may be viewed via and as well as the official site


  1. If Zherebukh applied for a green card without getting proper legal advice, then he’s a fool. He should have (and could have) applied concurrently for a travel permit, so he may have precluded himself from any overseas tournament play, because leaving the US without such a permit knocks out the green card application when his interview comes up.

    Out of curiosity, what is he using as a permanent US address? No matter where you live, there is a Customer Service location that serves the city or state where the person lives. Doing it yourself doesn’t always work out well.

  2. Just wondering but without a green card he is not truly a citizen and don’t you have to be one to play in the U.S Championship also because of this can’t fide revoke his transfer to the United States federation and revert his representation back to the Ukraine

  3. FANTASTIC ARTICLE BY GRANDMASTER IAN ROGERS AND FULL OF STRONG PRO CHESS OPINION AND UNCENSORED COMMENTARY AS BEFITS THE NEW TREMENDOUS/ wonderful, fearless, NEWLY PROUD and uncensored US CHESS ORGANIZATION now beginning to take pro chess as a serious life and death matter rather than THE TRULY PATHETIC clown like attitude of former US chess officials ..” NAKAMURA, CARUANA, SO ?? “LET THEM IT CAKE IF THEY DO NOT HAVE BREAD” ..MAKING US CHESS a well deserved laughingstock, mickey mouse joke…..the observer and potential chess sponsor need only to look at this astounding World Chess Cup to realize the horrendous multi million dollar mistakes made by US chess policy boards in the past 20 surrender, can’t never could.. $400,000,000 LARGELY WASTED ON ZERO CHESS SINCE 1973…….THE GRAND OLE! EVENT is what must be promoted i.e the GRAND NATIONAL 5,000 PLUS PLAYERS IN NASHVILLE TENNESSEE. Thus immediately hold EVERY YEAR a 50 state 5 days flat thriller world rated CHESS CHAMPIONSHIP OF THE UNITED STATES event with ONE PLAYER FROM EVERY US STATE (PLUS NATIONS TOP 10 PLAYERS RATED ) PLAYING 27 WORLD RATED ST. lOUIS FORMULA world fide rated RAPID/ BLITZ GAMES IN 5 DAYS FLAT.losers go immediately into a world rated consolation tourney, equally delightful…GAMES AS THE MULTI MILLION DOLLAR 5 DAYS FLAT RAPID SYSTEM JUST PLAYED BY CARLSEN /KASPAROV ETC… no player can ever be allowed to leave the board in world ranked games ever.Period. This THRILLS EVERYONE, ALL DRAWS BY AGREEMENT MUST BE BANNED..PLAY OR DIE…..this prevents almost all computer fraud now well documented world wide.THE NEW TRANSPARENT GREAT ONE MILLION DOLLAR SURPLUS PDF REPORT BY THE NIFTY NEW US CHESS POLICY EXECUTIVE BOARD HAS JUST BEEN RELEASED AS WELL AS OTHER DELIGHTFUL UNCENSORED REPORTS..WHAT A NEW WONDERFUL NEW DAY. CREW..YOU HAVE A MILLION DOLLARS. USE IT FOR A 50 STATE US CHESS CHAMPIONSHIP WITH ABSOLUTELY NO GAME ALLOWED THAT LASTS LONGER THAN ONE HOUR.. INCLUDE ABSOLUTELY EVERY STATE …THIS ALLOWS PROFESSIONAL PEOPLE, PARENTS, AND ABOVE ALL MEDIA CREWS WITH A 5PM DEADLINE TO PARTICPATE . I close with the tragic reminder that the WORLD CHESS CUP IS ALSO BEING PLAYED IN ABSOLUTE SILENCE IN THE AMERICAN MEDIA…NO REAL TELEVISION, DAILY NEWS PAPER COVERAGE..well gee whiz why is this? Is US CHESS LEADERSHIP TOTALLY RESPONSIBLE , totally to blame ? YES. The collapse of all chess columns in LA Times, New York Times, Washington Post etc were likewise caused by our local boy and girl not being in the hunt with furious LOCAL world rated events that make true heroes/ public media figures of local players/ chess organizers.They live and die in darkness. ALL CHESS IS LOCAL…EVERY US state (YES, ALASKA, IOWA , MAINE) must have a US chess championship fast time control one day only qualifier… or you die while Sir Rex And Princess Jeanne/ St.Louis Chess Club foundation very quickly, totally REPLACE your efforts … INCLUDE EVERYONE OR ITS ALL OVER FOR YOUR ENTIRE CREW..START LOOKING FOR ANOTHER JOB IN CHESS! Leave 300 million PLUS people out of direct play for the US championship and they will understandably laugh at your sheer stupidity / ignore you. There are now 600,000,000 ( yes that is right friends, neighbors and countrymen .. six hundred million and growing by the thousands daily! )chess phone app users worldwide ( SOURCE:AGON independent survey) MIGHTY US CHESS CREW HAVE COURAGE- GET GOING ..IT IS GOING TO HAPPEN ..CHESS IS HEADED FOR THE BIG TIME. You can do this with just will power and phone fact the whole initial 50 STATE CHESS championship event with $100,000 FIRST PRIZE event could be fiercely contested on CLOSELY ARBITER SUPERVISED / BROADCAST LIVE INTERNET… SAVING ALL PLAYERS TIME AND HUGE TRAVEL COSTS …THEY COULD PLAY IN THEIR OWN CITIES under strict official supervision…IN ALL 50 STATES ON THE INTERNET OVERNIGHT….fINAL BIG MONEY US CHESS CUP MATCHES ARE NATURALLY FOUGHT OUT IN IN PERSON AT A CENTRAL US CHESS LOCATION LIKE CHICAGO OF COURSE.People believe. THIS IS AMERICA WITH GUTS…. ..You can do this. Jude Acers/ New Orleans

      • WRONG SIR BRIAN… THERE IS ONE MILLION DOLLARS ……and mushrooming with 600,000,000 chess phone app users/growing daily (Agon survey) …IN THE BANK SAVED BY the new really startling NIFTY GENTLEMANLY HONORORABLE/ TRANSPARENT pdf PRONE… US CHESS EXECUTIVE LEADERSHIP WHO ARE NOW RAPIDLY CONNECTING WITH ST. lOUIS CHESS FOUNDATION MIRACLE CHESS PROMO WORKER CREW..LET’S GO ladies and gentlemen! US CHESS FEDERATION CREW RIGHT NOW…YOU REALLY DO NEED TO SHOUT.EVERY SINGLE US STATE MUST HAVE ONE PLAYER IN THE US CHAMPIONSHIP/ 100,000 FIRST PRIZE AND TOP 10 RANKED US PLAYERS MUST ALSO PLAY .. HAVE COURAGE, GUTS, ENTERPRISE SIR BRIAN…SEIZE THE DAY…entire /US CHESS CUP tourney is over in 5 days flat. THE MONSTER EVENT OF THE YEAR.Final THRILLING big money FINAL games played live in person/ EVERY GAME WORLD RATED AND TITLE ELIGIBLE/losers go immediately into a GREAT world rated/title eligible consolation tourney and one hour per game leaving the board ever during play in world broadcast American Cup Chess play.the big event every year like clockwork… dates FIERCELY, PROUDLY PUBLISHED WORLDWIDE BY US CHESS ..(THEY BECOME DA’ BIG BOSS/LEADER OF WORLD CHESS OVERNIGHT) five years in advance known to all… chess emerges from darkness and eternal impossible time controls… MIGHTY CREW..BELIEVE IN AMERICA..PEOPLE DIED FOR YOUR RIGHT TO INNOVATE, THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX, HAVE SOME PROSPERITY AND LEISURE TIME SO YOU CAN PONDFR SUCH MATTERS..USE THIS TREASURE.lead …lE GRANDE AMERICAN CHESS CUP.. let us show guts..Sir Brian … WE CAN DO THIS .DATES FOR EVERY US CHAMPIONSHIP American chess cup $100,000 minimum FIRST PRIZE TOURNEY ANNOUNCED 5 YEARS IN ADVANCE AND SUMMER DATES ONLY FOR STUDENTS AND VACATION SPECTATORS.Everybody plays period. $100,000 OR MORE FIRST PRIZE IS NON NEGOTIABLE. Chess is fierce, wonderful fun, serious business, not a mickey mouse trivial kiddieland. Act like it. THE TRUE GRAND NATIONAL American Chess Cup taught to us wonderfully by the kids themselves in Nashville! THE KIDS WERE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT ..THE GRAND EVENT IS THE WAY TO GO RIGHT NOW. Jude Acers/ New Orleans

  4. It’s interesting that Nakumaru thought he was lost when he was barely inferior. It would seem that in the area of positional evaluation, like that of the endgame, he is sadly deficient when compared to other GMs.

  5. […] Despite being the lowest rated of the US Chess delegation going into the FIDE World cup, US Open Champion GM Aleksander Lenderman is the first American player through to round three. After drawing his first round, he took down Norweigian 18-year-old Aryan Tari in the second game with White. Our other five contenders- Onischuk, Caruana, So, Nakamura and Sevian all playoff tomorrow for their spot in the round of 32 players. Follow along starting at 7 AM EST on chess24, the official site and the chessbrah stream with GMs Yasser Seirawan and Eric Hansen. Look for GM Rogers’ dispatch from Tbilisi tomorrow, and find his first report here.  […]

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