With large disparities between the teams, upsets were unlikely, but higher ranked players had to sweat in a few games.
For the top teams at the Chess Olympiad, so far, so good as there were no upsets in Round 1 as the Olympiad got underway on Friday.
The Olympiad is being held in Baku, Azerbaijan, in the Crystal Hall, a large arena. With 180 teams from 175 countries in the open section, and 142 teams from 138 countries in the women’s section, and a total of 1,599 participants, it is the largest Chess Olympiad in history.
The tournament is organized as a Swiss in which the top teams play the lowest teams in the Round 1. That produced a lot of mismatches. While the team results are usually never in doubt, there are sometimes some surprises in individual games. The reason is that even for the best players, who may be rated over 2700, it can be difficult to win games against motivated opponents who are 2300 to 2400. Nevertheless, it was quite impressive how almost none of the top teams dropped even a half point in either the open or the women’s sections.
Team Russia, led by Sergey Karjakin, had no trouble with Nigeria, sweeping them, 4-0.
In the open, the powerhouse Russian team, which is the top seed, won all their games in convincing fashion against their Nigerian opponents. So did China, the defending champions, who are the No. 3 seed. They had no trouble against Kosovo.
The American team, which is the No. 2 seed, had a tougher pairing against Andorra. The United States won rather easily on Boards 3 and 4, but Andorra had a couple of grandmasters on the top boards, and they made a fight of it.
On Board 1, Aloma Vidal, who had Black, was doing fine for most of the game against Hikaru Nakamura, who is ranked No. 6 in the world. But Vidal imploded near the end.
On Board 2, Oscar Del La Riva played extremely solidly against Wesley So, who is ranked No. 7 and just won the prestigious Sinquefield Cup. So was a bit better for a long time, but couldn’t find a way to easily convert his advantage into a win. In the end, he needed some help from his veteran opponent:
De La Riva Aguado, Oscar vs. So, Wesley
Baku Chess Olympiad | Open |chess24.com |Round 1.2 |02 Sep 2016 |0-1
Rg6!the best practical try. If White plays Rxg6, then after hxg6, the White f-pawns are blocked, and Black will win with his extra pawn on the queenside. 44. f4Kc645. Kf3
( 45. Rg3!The key idea here is that after 45 Rxg3 46. fxg3, the White pawns on the kingside would be self-sufficient. And if Black plays d5 (as he did in the game) he can't
just exchange the rooks and win the pawn endgame. 45... Kc546. f5!White is just in time to create counterplay. 46... Rf647. Rg7I think that this position should eventually be drawn. Black is more active, but White should be able to win both the Black d- and h-pawns. After that, White's passed f-pawn isn't really worse than Black's b-passed pawn. )
( 45. Kg3A suggestion of the computer, this is another remarkable way to achieve a draw. This move is counter-intuitive, but once again White is just in time to get to the queenside while keeping his kingside pawns safe. 45... Rxg5+46. fxg5d547. cxd5+Kxd548. f4!b549. Kf3b4If 49 Ke6, then 50. Ke4! followed by 51. f5+ and the White pawns would be safe. 50. Ke3and the White King will be able to catch the b-pawn 50... b351. Kd3Ke652. Kc3Kf553. Kxb3Kxf454. Kc4Kxg555. Kd3!Kf456. Ke2!Kg357. Kf1and White is just in time. Of course, this line was ridiculously hard to find in the game. )
45... Rxg546. fxg5d547. cxd5+Kxd548. Kg4
( 48. Ke3Ke5!is probably what Oscar De La Riva missed. The White king is able to catch the Black b-pawn, but his extra kingside pawn is of no use because the Black king will capture them all. )
The host team from Azerbaijan swept Zimbabwe, 4-0, but it was not entirely smooth as the team's top board, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, had some shaky moments.
The home team, Azerbaijan, the fourth seed, is trying to do what it can to boost its chances to win. The team recently got Arkadij Naiditsch, formerly the top player for Germany, who is ranked No. 45, in the world, to switch federations and play for Azerbaijan. The team also has hired Etienne Bacrot of France, No. 47, to be the coach instead of playing for France. Azerbaijan will definitely be a team to look out for in the competition.
But in Round 1, the team’s top player, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, No. 11, had a bit of a scare. He was never in any real danger, but at some point it felt like his position was slowly going downhill and he could be in trouble against Rodwell Makoto, an international master from Zimbabwe:
Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar vs. Makoto, Rodwell
Baku Chess Olympiad | Open |chess24.com |Round 1.1 |02 Sep 2016 |1-0
10. a3d4!?Black was certainly not intimidated by his high-rated opponent! 11. Bxf6
( 11. axb4Qxg5!is the idea )
11... dxc312. Kf2Having pieces that are attacked and not defended evidently didn't bother either player!
( 12. axb4Qxe3+13. Qe2Qxe2+14. Nxe2gxf6is probably close to equal )
12... gxf613. axb4Qxb414. bxc3Qc5A very
interesting transformation has occurred. Mamedyarov probably expected the weakened Black kingside to give him an advantage, but as soon becomes clear, it is very hard to exploit. 15. Ne2O-O16. Nd4Re817. Bd3Bd718. f4Rac819. Qf3f520. Rhd1Nxd4!?A very interesting decision. It seems to improve White's pawn structure, but Black passed pawns on the queenside. 21. cxd4Qe722. Ra1?!Giving up the c-file doesn't seem right. I don't think Mamedyarov expected Black to put up much resistance and perhaps grew over confident. 22... a623. Ra5Qh4+24. Kg1Rc3!the pressure on the e3 pawn keeps White's pieces tied up 25. g3Qh326. Qf2Rec827. Bf1Qg428. Be2Qh3The situation has changed quite a bit. Black's weak kingside is still very hard to exploit and he has also taken control of the c-file. What is White going to do? 29. Rc5!?A way to create some complications. At least, White forces Black to make some difficult decisions. 29... Rc2!?Black continues to play ambitiously
( 29... R3xc530. dxc5Bc6would also have been perfectly fine for Black. White really isn't in position to exploit the weak Black king. )
30. Rxc8+Bxc831. Qe1Bd732. Rd2Rc3!?Black continues to keep the position complicated. He was clearly more worried about playing a technically dry position against Mamedyarov. In the next few moves, there were some inaccuracies, but considering how tense the situation is, the play on both sides is quite good.
( 32... Rxd233. Qxd2Qh6should be quite drawish as the Black queen will be perfectly placed on d6. )
33. Bf3b534. Rb2Rc435. Bd5Rc736. Ra2b4!?37. Qb1Black was probably under time pressure to get to Move 40. Unfortunately for him, he misses White's threats: 37... Rc3?
( 37... Bb5!was much stronger. Now the b-pawn can't be captured and Black is able to keep both his extra pawns. White's position feels like it is on the verge of collapsing although perhaps he could still survive with some precise moves. 38. Bg2Qh5The threat of Qd1 prevents White from playing Qxb4. )
38. Rxa6!Rxe3I think that Black completely forgot about the threat of Qb4 to Qf8+ threat.
( 38... Qh5!keeping the b-pawn defended because of the threat of Qd1+ was still fine for Black. )
39. Ra8+Kg740. Qxb4!The Black pawns are gone and White even has the initiative! 40... Be841. Qd2Re742. Bf3It is all over. 42... Bb543. Ra1Ra744. Rb1Bc445. Bg2Qh646. Qc3Be247. d5+Qf648. Qxf6+Kxf649. Rb6+Ke750. Kf2Ra251. Ke3Ba652. d6+
Many other top teams, including India, the bronze medalists in 2014, Ukraine, and France also swept their opponents.
Norway is not a top team, but it does have the World Champion, Magnus Carlsen, and it survived a nasty scare. In addition to Carlsen, the team has Jon Ludwig Hammer, a strong grandmaster who used to be over 2700, and some very talented young players.
Carlsen did not play in Round 1 and Hammer failed to put much pressure on the top player for Wales, Richard Jones, an international master, and could only draw. That put added pressure on Aryan Tari, a 17-year-old grandmaster, who playing Board 2 for Norway. Tari seemed to be in a bit of a spot, but he turned things around admirably to get his team a comfortable victory of 3-1:
Strugnell, Carl vs. Tari, Aryan
Baku Chess Olympiad | Open |chess24.com |Round 1.2 |02 Sep 2016 |0-1
15. f4It looks like a dangerous position for Black. In particular, the pawn on f5 is a sitting target and Black's kingside might soon be pried open. 15... Rae8!A very interesting idea by Aryan 16. fxg5hxg517. Nf3
( 17. Rxf5f618. exf6N7xf619. Bxg5Ne4It is not clear who has the advantage. Black's active pieces provide excellent compensation for his missing kingside pawns. )
17... f6!18. exf6N7xf619. Bxg5Ne4!There has been an amazing transformation in the position over the last few moves. 20. Bd2b621. Rc1Re6!Lifting his rook so that he can attack from g6. He also has another idea that will become clear: 22. Nh4White falls for the trap 22... Nxd223. Qxd2Bh6!24. Qd3Bxc125. Rxc1Qf4Now it is all over. 26. g3Qe427. Qf3Rfe828. Rf1Qe3+29. Qxe3Rxe330. Nd2Re231. Nhf3f432. Rc1fxg333. hxg3R8e634. Kf1R2e335. Kg2Nb436. Kh3Rd337. Rf1Rf638. g4Nc239. g5Rf8
A few top teams, including Hungary, who won the silver medal in the last Olympiad, Spain, and Germany, all gave up a draw on one board. Generally, these draws were all similar: the lower rated player was White and held on as the higher rated player tried various ways to break through.
I was particularly impressed by the defensive effort of Satea Husari, a 47-year-old international master, against Ivan Salgado, a young Spanish grandmaster:
Husari, Satea vs. Salgado Lopez, Ivan
Baku Chess Olympiad | Open |chess24.com |Round 1.2 |02 Sep 2016 |1/2-1/2
a5It seems that the position is a bit worse for White, but White defends admirably. 37. g3!Creating threats of his own. After 37 Kd5 38. h4, the White h-pawn could become dangerous. 37... Rf538. Re3b539. a3Kd540. Rd3!A surprisingly good defensive setup. Black is not able to do anything to break through. In the next 18 moves, Black tried different ways, but without much success. 40... Kc641. Re3Kd642. Kb3Rd543. Kc3Ke744. Re2Kd745. Re1Rf546. Re3Kd647. Kb3b448. Kc4bxa349. Rxa3Rd550. Rb3Kc651. Re3Kd652. Rb3Rf553. Ra3a454. Rxa4Rxf355. Ra6+Kd756. Ra7+Kd657. Ra6+Kd758. Ra7+Kd6
Round 2 should be much more competitive as there are likely to be many more grandmasters playing against the favorites. Even if there are no upsets, there are likely to be more closely fought contests.
Parimarjan Negi is an Indian grandmaster who is the second-youngest ever to earn the title (at 13 years 4 months and 22 days). Ranked No. 80 in the world, he just finished his sophomore year at Stanford University. He can be found on Twitter at @parimarjan.
FIDE and World Chess announces today that the 2018 World Chess Championship Match will take place in London in November 2018. The world’s most prestigious chess tournament is to be the climax of a season of high-profile activity to extend the sport’s appeal among global audiences – and make 2018 the Year of Chess in the UK.
After 9 days of intense chess battles at the last leg of the World Chess Grand Prix series 2017 in Palma de Mallorca, the two winners of the series were finally determined: Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan, overall 340 points in the series) and Alexander Grischuk (Russia, 336,4 points). They qualified for the Candidates Tournament – the next part of the World Chess Championship cycle, which leads up to the Championship match.
The sole leader of the Palma de Mallorca Grand Prix Levon Aronian made a quick draw with Evgeny Tomashevsky today, inviting the group of rivals to join him at the top. But same as in the previous rounds all games on the top boards finished peacefully and not a single player came close to catching up with him.
After seven rounds Aronian is in the lead with 4,5 points. A group of 8 players is half a point behind, including Vachier-Lagrave. In order to qualify for the Candidates, the Frenchman needs to win at least one more game. Boris Gelfand defeated Alexander Riazantsev, Pavel Eljanov won against Jon Ludvig Hammer, while Teimour Rajabov outplayed Li Chao. After the victory the Azerbaijani Grandmaster still hopes to qualify, but in that case has to win both games.
Javier Ochoa, Honorary FIDE Vice President and President of the Spanish Chess Federation, made the first symbolic move to start the fourth round, which turned out to be the most exciting round of the tournament so far, with six decisive games out of nine.
In the Third Round of the FIDE Grand Prix in Palma de Mallorca games between the four leaders, Vachier-Lagrave-Aronian and Rajabov-Giri, finished in a draw. Peter Svidler joined the group of leaders by beating Jon-Ludvig Hammer in the third round.
The world’s best chess players and chess establishment came together in Bellver Castle to celebrate the opening of the final leg of the FIDE 2017 World Chess Grand Prix Palma de Mallorca – a prestigious qualifier for the World Chess Candidates Tournament.
Katerina Lagno, one of the strongest Russian women-grandmasters won the historic Moscow Blitz Tournament, beating her fellow Russian Olympic team members Alexandra Kosteniuk, Valentina Gunina and Olga Girya.
After a draw against Ian Nepomniachtchi, Teimur Rajabov won the tournament. One of the strongest players, Rajabov had not won a major tournament lately, but has shown phenomenal form in Geneva and managed to overpower some of top world’s players