The FIDE World Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk has lightened its field to 64. 62 unlucky losers went all the way to Siberia for a few hours of chess and are now headed home. Except for a few of the local wildcards, who are already home. (Not 64, since Akopian and Wang Hao never made the trip.) The top favorites went through without much drama. The biggest upset on the Elo chart was young American Sam Shankland taking out Peter Leko, who had fallen far from his decade in or near the top 10 before taking a lot of time off. After two bad results at Dortmund and the Olympiad the former world championship challenger hadn't played in nearly a year before he popped up for Hungary at the World Teams last month, where he turned in a creditable +2 result. He predictably dominated his game with white against Shankland, who was as surprised as anyone that his tough defense turned into a win when Leko's nerves fell apart. It happens, but Leko has only himself to blame for playing the Benoni to try to win the second game. There's no good way to play for a win with black against a strong opponent, but playing an opening that's so much against his style was too desperate by half. Black was practically busted by move 22 and Shankland was happy to cede the draw a few moves later instead of playing on for the full point.
Most of the top seeds went through without too much fanfare. Kamsky had his hands full with the unheralded Brazilian IM di Berardino, who came second in his national championship. Kamsky crushed him with ease in the first game with white, but the Brazilian showed considerable moxie to come back and beat his 260-point superior to force tiebreaks. Kamsky got nothing with white but went to work on di Berardino's IQP in the second game and then won with a little tactic. With Fier taking out Wang Yue, it was and admirable performance from the new Brazilian generation. While we're in the region, Felgaer of Argentina flirted with infamy for a moment in tiebreaks against 2009 World Cup surprise Malakhov. The Argentine had rook, knight, and an a-pawn versus Black's rook and the only danger in the position was stalemate. Which, after tangoing by several mates in six and seven in increment time, is exactly what Felgaer managed to do. But fate took pity on him and in the second game Malakhov, already under pressure, dropped his queen in just 25 moves.
It was a near wipeout for the Chinese, who came in with nine players, more than anyone other than Russia, and are already down to two. (Unless, as the Ugra live games page has it today, Bu Xiangzhi is now playing for Russia.) Sebastian "Finger" Feller is still with us, unfortunately, after beating Iordachescu in the tiebreaks. No word on whether or not his cheating co-conspirators are also in Khanty-Mansiysk. Or maybe FIDE has hired them.
Things heat up now, with no match a sure thing. We are guaranteed a few underdogs in the third rounds since a a few upset winners are meeting. Gupta beat Mamedov and now meets Shankland. The Ukrainian teenager Zherebukh beat his countryman Eljanov in tiebreaks and faces Felgaer. But attention will be on the top boards, where some tasty matchups like Karjakin-So and Alekseev-Ivanchuk are just about to bet underway. Two former KO winners, Kasimdzhanov and Kamsky meet.