The last time Judit Polgar made a deep run in a FIDE World Cup / FIDE KO Championship we were still in the 20th century. She cruised to the fifth round in Las Vegas, where she lost to eventual winner Alexander Khalifman's amazing run of form. Other than that trip, she has usually underperformed these events, losing early to underdogs Almasi and Milov. The 2004 and 2007 events corresponded with the arrival of her two children and in 2009, at the last World Cup, she lost to another eventual winner, Gelfand, in the third round. Now she's into the sweet 16 once more and clearly in good form, though it will take more time to see if she can fulfill a 2007 interview statement that she could work her way back into the top 10.
We know what Sergey Karjakin would say about it. In their first game, the top seed had his Berlin Wall torn up by Polgar faster than you could sing "Winds of Change" in a German accent. The Berlin is generally popular these days, but it is also trotted out as a sort of antidote to aggressive attackers like Polgar (and, famously, Kasparov). That may just be a myth since her performance rating against the stodgy queenless position is higher than her actual rating and she beat Topalov's Berlin last year. Karjakin must have been encouraged by the 15-move non-game she played against his Berlin at the Olympiad last year, but he wasn't so lucky this time. I don't know enough about Berlin theory to comment on Karjakin's nominal novelty 12..Bb7. All these positions look the same to me and they all make me want to kill myself. The minute shuffling of the minor pieces, the mincing steps of the queenside pawns, it's a horrific business.
Maybe it's as simple as Kasparov's jest in the latest New In Chess regarding Karjakin's (!) recent win over Kramnik's Berlin in the Russian Ch: wait until e6 is covered three times and then play e6! Polgar did play this now-typical sac, pioneered by Kasparov against Kramnik at Astana, 2001. But this time it was for clear purposes, or clearance purposes, allowing her bishop to get behind the lines on the queenside. This all seemed far too simple, but Polgar took her extra pawn and marched it down the board as easy as you please, undeterred by the opposite-colored bishops Karjakin may have been relying on to save his bacon. Their second game was another Ruy Lopez, no Berlin from Polgar, a long theoretical line that was seen in, wait for it, Polgar-Carlsen, Biel 2007. 26.Qe1 was probably White's last best chance at an advantage. After that passed, Black held steadily and the top seed of the World Cup was out. Polgar will face Dominguez for a trip to the quarters. If she beats the Cuban there's no way she can make it to St. Louis in time for the "Kings vs Queens" event she is scheduled to headline with Nakamura and Karpov.
Second-seeded Ivanchuk also lost in the first game of the round, with white to Sutovsky. This set up some drama for the return game, especially when Sutovsky decided that the best defense was a maniacally sacrificial opening against Ivanchuk's Pirc. The old "the best way to play for a draw is to play for a win" was taken a bit too far in this case, methinks. The Israeli GM did have his chances, but he faltered in the complications and Ivanchuk did not. Chucky duly won both rapid games to escape elimination. The strangest match may have been the highlight duel between Morozevich and Grischuk. Grischuk beat Moro's French in the first game and in the second, after 12 uninspired theoretical moves, Morozevich tested his opponent's hearing by offering a draw. Incredible. Sure the position is dull, but queens are on the board, why not play some chess when the alternative is heading home? Are the delights of Khanty-Mansiysk so tempting? Grischuk now faces another countryman, Potkin, who eliminated another strong Russian, Vitiugov. Ivanchuk meets Bu Xiangzhi.
David Navara made news in his match with Moiseenko with a touch-move kerfuffle in their second game that has made news only because of Navara's decision to offer his opponent a draw in a winning position as compensation. This exchange has been hailed as the greatest act of sportsmanship since Lance Armstrong agreed to ride the Tour de France with one testicle. From the reported details, and without seeing a video of the touch-move, this seems more than a little overblown. It sounds like Navara clearly accidentally touched the king next to the bishop he wanted to move, an obvious case of j'adoube. For Moiseenko to make a serious case over such a touch would be bizarre. Navara went on to outplay his opponent over a long game and, only then, with the win at hand in Q v R, did he offer a draw since he was wracked with guilt over the touch-move incident. Having done nothing wrong, Navara punished himself by giving up a well-earned half-point that would have put him through to the next round. Anyone who has met Navara, or even read his commentary, knows that the Czech lad is a tender soul, reserved and humble to a degree that makes you wonder if he will replicate Akiba Rubinstein's habit of moving and then sitting in the corner so as not to disturb his opponent. (As with so much about the players of yore, Donaldson and Minev's words should be taken to heart. "Most stories concerning Rubinstein are at best half truths, which have become so embellished over time that they bear little resemblance to what actually transpired.") I'm not going to completely rain on the sportsmanship parade, but Navara would have done nothing wrong to take the point and every player I've spoken with so far agrees. Anyway, tempest, teapot, and Navara went through after four tiebreaks to meet Zherebukh.
Most of the first tiebreak games were won by black, paving an easy road for Ivanchuk, Kamsky, Ponomariov, Nielsen, Bruzon and Potkin. Svidler won with first with white against Caruana, holding on to a pawn with superlative accuracy. Kamsky played an inspired exchange sac in the first tiebreaker against Nepomniachtchi. It ended up in a drawn rook endgame that, like so many drawn rook endgames in these KO cauldrons, was lost with a beginner mistake. Defend from the side until you can't, only then switch to behind the pawn. Of course Nepo knows that, but as we've seen many times, these events melt the brain. Dominguez went all the way to the armageddon game after a set of curiously short draws in the blitz. With white the Cuban demolished Lysyj to move into a match with Polgar. Our tournament dark horse was officially anointed this round, 18-year-old Ukrainian Yaroslav Zherebukh. He eliminated Mamedyarov in tiebreaks, first winning a Najdorf Sicilian with white in good style and then holding the return game. Zherebukh's 4th-round match with Navara is a slight step up from his recent events, which include failing to move on in the Ukrainian championship semifinal and a Lvov scholastic blitz tournament.
To recap, here's the sweet 16: Polgar-Dominguez, Svidler-Kamsky, Ponomariov-Bruzon, Gashimov-Nielsen, Bu-Ivanchuk, Radjabov-Jakovenko, Zherebukh-Navara, Grischuk-Potkin. Kamsky-Svidler would make for a worthy final match, a shame one of them will go out so early.