The World Cup is often treated as a necessary step to enable a city to host the Chess Olympiad, but Baku really made an effort with this one – overall it was the best of all the World Cups I have taken part in. I was picked up by a London taxi with an advert for the tournament on it at the airport, and whisked off to the spectacular Fairmont Flame Towers, where most of the players also stayed – the kind of hotel where your bathroom shaving mirror doubles up as a tv, with the playing hall just across the reception.
My first match with then Women’s World Champion Mariya Muzychuk was quite tense; after our first game ended in a draw where I got nowhere, the second worked out alright in the end with a pretty endgame finish:
In Round 2 I played against Viktor Laznicka, he came up with a tricky opening idea in game 1 and I didn’t react well. Roles were reversed in game 2, so we went to a tiebreak. Having won the first game, blundering a pawn on move 8 in the next was not ideal. I was also ahead in the next pair of games, but a draw with White against the Scandinavian was too much to hope for. Moving to blitz is not that easy as the increment drops from 10 seconds to 3, which is a tricky adjustment, the 2 games were drawn after many adventures. I figured as neither of us was playing too quickly, choosing White in an Armageddon game with 5v4 minutes was a wise choice and it worked out perfectly. However, in modern chess avoiding defeats is very important, and this is especially true in KO events, losing 3 games in the match and 2 in the day didn’t bode well overall.
The next match against Lenier Dominguez also went into overtime, we both pressed with the White pieces but the first six games were drawn. As I was getting reasonable positions with the Re1 Berlin I stuck with it for the fourth time in the blitz, this time things went wrong, but in a massive time scramble with both players under 10 seconds I won despite being the exchange down, and after another ropey opening staggered into the next round. Faster play in the blitz games was key in this match again.
My rollercoaster event finally derailed in the next round, I actually got a good position against Hikaru Nakamura in the first game, but missed my opportunities, then he took over. I pressed a bit in the return but not for the first time the Berlin Wall proved difficult to dismantle.
There was some good news as when collecting my prize I discovered that very generously the organisers took care of the FIDE tax boosting everyone’s prize money by 20%.