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ALEXANDER KHALIFMAN won the quickplay play-offs in the semi-final of the FIDE World Championship early on Friday morning after a nail-biting session against Romanian Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu, and will face Vladimir Akopian in the final starting tomorrow.

Despite his final defeat, the 23-year-old Nisipeanu has been a revelation, especially in the admirably calm game below whereby he forced the play- offs: a "small upset" which reinforced my relief that I'm not employed here as a soothsayer.

Not that I would have expected to be devoured by sea serpents even if I had pointed my prognosticatory spear at Nisipeanu in warning to Ivanchuk. But I had given Ivanchuk 90:10 to beat him and was expecting Shirov to win through against him, and Khalifman to finish it on Wednesday.

It's refreshing to see such a disturbance of "the natural order", and I take Nisipeanu's odyssey as an endorsement, though those, such as Kasparov, who's already branded the three semi-finalists, apart from Michael Adams, as "tourists", will draw the opposite conclusion.

Nisipeanu got a small edge out of the opening due to his better pawn structure. The queenside weakness inflicted by 20...Bxc3 wasn't serious since the doubled c pawns still prevent Black from creating a passed pawn. 27...f6? and 28...h6? fixed serious weaknesses on the same colour as the bishop. I thought that 27... Na3 was correct and if 28.Bc1 Nb5 (not 28 Nxc2 29.Rd1 when the knight is trapped) 29 Bb2 c5. Though White might start to expand with eg 28 Rh1 b6 29 g5.

If 41...Kd6 42e5+ fxe5 43 Ke4 exf4 44 Kxf4 Ng5 45 Kf5 Ne6 46 Kg6 wins; but perhaps 41 Nd8 which is presumably met by 42 g5 since if 42 e5 f5! After 48 Ke4, White's advantage looks decisive. I guess the last move was probably 59 Kc4 though the score I've seen gives 59 Ke4.

Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu v Alexander Khalifman, (semi-finals game 4)

Scotch Game