THE saying ‘when the going gets tough, the tough gets going’ holds true again in the completion of the cast for the finals of the 2009 World Chess Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk.
Israel super GM Boris Gelfand (2758, seed 1st) will be contesting the World Cup title with former FIDE World Chess Champion (2001-2003) – Ukraine's super GM Ruslan Ponomariov (2739, seed 7th).
Their trek to the top of the ladder could hardly be described with anything but tough. Gelfand has to beat in Round 4 the current world junior champion and French champion, Maxine Vachier-Lagrave (2718, seed 17th) in the second blitz tiebreak after the regulation two classical games, the four rapid tiebreak games and the first blitz tiebreak game all ended in draws. In Round 5 he saw off Russia's Dmitry Jakovenko (2736, seed 9th) with the score of 3.5–1.5. In Round 6, he displayed his excellent form by shutting out, 2–0, Ponomariov’s countryman and former second, Sergey Karjakin (2723, seed 12th), to notch the first finals berth.
Ponomariov needed a tiebreak to subdue France's Etienne Bacrot (2700, seed 23rd), 3.5–2.5, and advanced to the round of eight – the quarterfinals. He then disposed the current European champion, Vugar Gashimov (2758, seed 2nd) of Azerbaijan, 3.5–1.5. In the semifinals, he faced off with Russia's Vladimir Malakhov (2706, seed 22nd) who in the previous round sent home his compatriot, Peter Svidler (2754, seed 3rd) who he defeated, 1.5–0.5. Prior to the Ponomariov–Malakhov meeting, the latter a former European vice-champion, has the best rapid tiebreak record of 8.5 points out of 9 games.
The Ponomariov–Malakhov tussle went into the rapid tiebreak after they drew their two classical regulation games. True to form, Malakhov, won the first tiebreak game to improve his rapid-format record to 9.5 points out of 10 games. That's an incredible 95 percent performance at the top level by any standard. However, as Chaucer said “all good things must come to an end,” Malakhov's stupendous rapid record reached its pinnacle and has nowhere to go but down. His rival, Ponomariov, showed other remarkable traits such as resilience and toughness, which overcame his rival’s early lead and stamped his own class by winning the next 3 games and the match, 4–2, to notch the remaining finals berth.
The four–game finals match between Gelfand and Ponomariov is a classic experience-against-youth encounter. Ponomariov is not new to this situation as he has won the 2001 FIDE World Championship, the predecessor of the current event, against his rival’s contemporary and his countryman Vassily Ivanchuk to become the youngest ever world chess champion. Gelfand, despite being a perennial world chess contender, has only reached this very height for the first time. The onus would be on him to prove that he can overcome the challenge of his young protagonist. His results against strong youngsters from rounds 4 to 6 indicate that he would be up to this task.
Expect a very tough contest between these two equally deserving finalists.