GM Josh Friedel on the World Cup: All the Way to Siberia for This?
By GM Josh Friedel   
November 26, 2009
GM Josh Friedel, Photo Betsy Dynako

Well, that was fast.  Almost as soon as I got to Khanty-Mansiysk, my tournament is over.  In the first game Wang Hao played a Caro-Kann, the move he’s played least of his four responses to 1.e4, all of which involve touching either the c or e-pawn.  Against most systems I was prepared to switch it up a bit, so as to avoid his prep.  Unfortunately, he played a system (6… Be6) against which I thought what I normally play (7.a3 g6 8.Bxf6) was simply best, so I played it.

Position after 6....Be6

 I did have an improvement over a previous game of mine, which was 12. Qd3 instead of castling. 

After 12.Qd3

He sank into deep thought here, and I was somewhat encouraged, though a little bit worried as well.  I didn’t consider the Caro all that likely, so I prepped this improvement rather quickly, and didn’t spend as much time as I did on my other lines.  This turned out to be a big mistake, as after twenty minutes he played f4, a move totally overlooked in my preparation, but completely obvious.  In fact, it was such an obvious move, I spent several minutes trying to recall if it was in my preparation and I just forgot it.  I finally decided on 13.Rd1, which is the main idea of Qd3, but is probably a mistake due to his next move.  If I simply castle, I certainly can’t claim any advantage, but at least my position is OK.  After Rd1 he found the annoying Bg4, and already I felt as if the tide was turning in his favor.  I played what I felt was rather forced, and soon I found myself up a pawn, but with doubled f-pawns and his superior pieces, I knew I was worse.  I tried a radical king march, but missed his reply 18… Qh4, after which I thought I was close to lost.

Position after 18...Qh4

After 19. Rh2 Rab8 20.Kc2, he sacked an exchange on e2, which was unnecessary but quite strong, and after trying to hold my position for several moves it finally collapsed. 


As anyone will tell you, losing with White is the one unforgivable sin in a two-game match.  Winning with Black against any professional who only needs a draw, never mind a 2700, is usually futile.  I even planned to deviate from my usual double-king pawn, when he played 1. Nf3 a bit unexpectedly.  My most ambitious reply is the Chigorin, so I played 1… Nc6, and after thinking for awhile he played 2. E4!  Blast!!  I didn’t want just a worse position after d6, so I played e5, and he responded with Bb5.  Now my main concern was getting out of his prep, and perhaps I overdid it.  I decided on the Berlin defense with Bc5.  In retrospect, I probably should have just played my favorite Archangel, and hope that whatever he prepped I had covered. 

Position after 4...Bc5

After I played Bc5 he thought only a moment and played Nxe5.  Now I was really kicking myself, as I completely forgot about this move somehow.  As White I’ve played c3-d4, which I think is quite good, so naturally I forgot about this alternative.  Sadly, the main line leads to an ending, which is probably mildly favorable to White.  But I had to win!  Seeing no alternative, I decided to simply castle, pitching a pawn for next to no compensation.  Soon I found myself losing another pawn and trading into an ending.  Clear I was never going to win this game, I offered a draw, which he declined.  This didn’t surprise me, and maybe I was wrong to offer myself, but I thought I’d let him clinch the match if he wanted to.  The rest was merely a depressing exercise, though he gave me a glimmer of hope by letting me queen before him with his king in the center.

Position after 38. c8=Q

Of course after several checks it was clear I had nothing and had to resign, but I was surprised he’d go for such a line when he can play completely without risk instead! 


And thus, my tournament was over before it even began.  It was a disappointing feeling to say the least.  While I didn’t necessarily expect to beat my 2700+ opponent, I was hoping to at least make him break a sweat.  Instead, I got into trouble quickly as White and lost, putting me in a near impossible situation the second game, which lead to an idiotic loss.  As with most failures, it has to be written off as experience.  There is a balance between playing stuff you know and not being predictable, one that I haven’t quite mastered yet.  I’ll also probably be a bit smarter in booking my flights.  As they say, next time can’t be any worse, right?  The other Americans fared better.  While only four got by the first round, they all put up far better fights than I.  Yury only lost in a blitz tiebreak, and Robert had a great position in the second game of his match.


Still in we have Gata, Alex S., and Var, who I watched duke it out with Tregubov in tiebreaks until one in the morning, for the privilege of facing Ponomariov the next day. (Since Josh wrote this report Akobian and Shabalov have been eliminated.) Talk about a brutal event!

See Josh's first report on arriving to the World Cup and his offiicial website.