Most of the top teams won, but they were not unscathed, and there were some mild upsets. Notably, the top seeded Chinese women were held to a draw.
The top teams in the open section of the 42nd Chess Olympiad in Baku, Azzerbaijan, made it through Round 3 without a loss, but their winning margins continued to shrink as they faced tougher opposition than they had in the first two rounds. All the winning teams yielded at least one point.
There were also one or two mild upsets. Poland, the No. 7 seed, lost to Cuba, the No. 15 seed, 2.5-1.5. It was a bad day for Poland all around as the women’s team, which was also the No. 7 seed in their section, lost to the hosts from Azerbaijan, who are seeded No. 16.
Cuba, on the far side of the tables, and Poland, during Round 3. Cuba won, 2.5-1.5.
Russia, the top seed, beat Moldova, 3-1, with a workman-like performance. The margin of victory was provided by their bottom two boards — Ian Nepomniachtchi and Alexander Grishchuk, who are rated 2740 and 2754, respectively! Nepomniachtchi beat Dmitry Svetushkin in a game that demonstrated the power of the bishop pair:
18. Bg5A move whose primary purpose is to exchange the bishop for Black's
knight. But that is a poor idea. Simply 18. f3, reinforcing e4 would have been
better and left White with a tiny advantage based on his slightly better pawn
structure. 18... h619. Bxf6Bxf620. Bb3bxc321. bxc3Qa622. Qf3Kg723. Ne3This was probably White's basic idea when he played 18. Bg5 -- to take
control of d5 and try to establish his knight or bishop there. 23... Rd324. Bc2Of course not 24. Bc4 because of 24... Re3, winning. 24... Rd225. Rd1Qd626. h3Bg527. Nc4Rxd1+28. Bxd1Qa629. Qd329. Ne5 would not have
won a pawn because of 29... Qe6 30. Nd3 Be7, and the e-pawn cannot be saved. 29... Qa130. Kh2If 30. Ne5, then 30...Bf4 31. Nf3 Be4 32. Qe4 Qd1 33.
Qe1, though White should be fine. This might have been the way to go. 30... Qa231. Be2Ba6The Black bishops are really making White's life unpleasant.
He is pretty well tied down. 32. g3Bd833. Kg2Ba534. Bf1Qa135. Qd5Bxc336. Qxc5White is managing to hold the material balance, but his
position remains uncomfortable. 36... Qb137. Qe3Qb438. Qd3Bd439. Qc2Qe140. Qe2Qa141. Qc2Bc8With a simple threat. 42. Nd2?A blunder. White
had to play 2 g4, as ugly as that move was. Note that 42. Bd3 was not possible
because of 42.. Bh3! and White cannot take the bishop without being mated. 42... Qe143. Nf3Bxh3+!44. Kxh3Qxf1+45. Kh2Bxf246. Qb2Be3White
resigned because 47. Qe5 Kh7 48. Qf6 Bg1! 49. Kh1 Bd4 would be easily winning
for Black. And so would 47. Qg2 Qd1.
The United States, the No. 2 seed, also won, 3-1, over Argentina, but the score arguably should have been 2.5-1.5. Hikaru Nakamura, playing Black on Board 2, played indifferently in the opening against Sandro Mareco, a grandmaster rated 2600. Nakamura lost one pawn and then another. The game gradually wound down to an endgame in which Nakamura’s only compensation was that his knight was a bit better than Mareco’s surviving bishop and Nakamura’s rooks were more active. Mareco began to push his pawns and all he had to do was be a little careful and he would nurse his advantage to victory, but he ran out of patience:
63. c6?!Tempting and natural, but not the best. White should first have
played 63. Rc3 and continued to slowly unwind his pieces. 63... Raa2?Should
lose, but Nakamura probably did not have the appetite to try to defend this
position by playing the best defensive move -- 63... Ra8. Nakamura's move also
sets a trap. 64. c7??Throwing away the win. If White had realized the
danger, he would have played 64. f5! The reason soon becomes apparent. 64... Nc1!White's advantage is gone in a puff of smoke. 65. Rxc1If 65.
Re3, then 65... Rc2 and Black will pick off the far advanced White c-pawn,
effectively ending any White chances to win the game. 65... Rxe2+66. Kf1Now the reason that White should have played 64. f5 becomes clear. If the
White pawn were no longer on f4, he could run his king to g3 and then f4 to
escape the checks. Now, playing Kg3 would walk into a mating net. 66... Rh267. Kg1Rag2+68. Kf1Rf2+69. Kg169. Ke1 would not help after 69... Rfg2,
threatening 70... Rg1, mate. 69... Rhg2+70. Kh1Rh2+Draw. White's king
cannot escape the perpetual check.
China, the No. 3 seed and defending gold medalists, also won, 3-1, over Brazil. China’s two wins were achieved in completely different fashions. On Board 1, Wang Yue ground down Alexandr Fier in 114 moves, while on Board 3, Yu Yangyi got a nice gift from his opponent, Evandro Amorim Barbosa:
36. Kf3White decides to activate his king, which is what players are
supposed to do in the endgame. 36... Ra3+37. Ke4??Whoops, too active.
White had to play 37. Kf2. Now it is all over. 37... Ke6The only way to
avoid 38... f5, mate, is by playing 38. Rg5, so White resigned.
India, the bronze medalists at the last Olympiad, also kept pace with a 3-1 win. They beat Azerbaijan 2, the second team from the host country. One of India’s victories, by Vidit Gujrthi against Ulvi Bajarani, was thanks to a nice petite combination:
10. h3It might have been better to play 10. Bh4, which would avoid what
happens next. 10... fxe411. dxe4Be612. Qe2Nxf213. Rxf2Bxf2+14. Kxf2Qh515. Bd2Rxf3+Good enough to force a draw, unless White tries for more
... 16. gxf3Qh4+17. Ke3Qg5+Now White could play 18. Kf2, and the game
could end in a draw by perpetual check. But White wants more. 18. Kd3?A
blunder that leads by force to a lost endgame. 18... Qd8+!19. Kc3Qd4+20. Kb3b521. c3Bxc4+22. Kc2Bxe223. cxd4exd424. Bb4Re825. Bc5Bxf326. Re1Bxe4+27. Kd2a528. Bxd4Rd829. Ke3Bf5White is simply down too many
pawns and the opposite-colored bishops, which sometmes help to create drawing
chances, are not enough. Black went on to win without too much trouble.
Daniel Fridman of Germany, left, lost to Andrei Volokitin of Ukraine. It turned out to be the difference in the match as Ukraine won, 2.5-1.5.
Ukraine, the No. 5 seed, also won its match over Germany, but its margin was only 2.5-1.5. The top three boards were all drawn, so it came down to Board 4. On that board, Andrei Volokitin dismantled Daniel Fridman after Fridman made an error in the opening and his king was trapped in the center.
1. e4c6The Caro-Kann Defense. It has a reputation of being solid and it is.
But when things go wrong in the opening, the position can go downhill in a
hurry. 2. d4d53. e5The Advance Variation is one of the systems that
poses the most problems for Black. 3... Bf54. Nf3This seemingly quiet
system became popular in the 1990s when it was used successfully by Nigel
Short, the English grandmaster. 4... e65. Be2c5The most ambitious move,
but not the safest. Either 5... Nd7 or 5... Ne7 were more solid. 6. Be3cxd47. Nxd4Ne78. O-ONbc69. Bb5It seems odd to move a piece twice in the
opening, but White wants to slow down Black's development so that he can open
the center before Black manages to castle. 9... Bg610. c4a6Black must
try to break the pin. 11. cxd5Qxd5It is understandable that Black did not
want to play 11... ab5 12. dc6 bc6, because the resulting position would be
ugly, but it would be safe. 12. Nc3Qxe5There is nothing better than to
take the pawn. 13. Ba4Rc8?!This seemingly natural looking move is an
error. Black had to break the pin by playing 13... b5. 14. Rc1Nf515. Nxc6bxc616. Ne2Nxe3?A blunder. Black should have played 16... Qe4. 17. Rxc6!Ke7After 17... Nd1 18. Re6 Kd8 19. Re5 Bc2 (19... Nb2 20. Re8 Kc7 21.
Rc1, etc.) 20. Bc2 Nb2 21. Bf5, White would have a clear edge. 18. fxe3Qxe3+?Another error. Black should have kept his queen near his king for
defense. 19. Kh1Rxc620. Bxc6Qd321. Qa4Of course White does not want to
trade queens. 21... e5The White knight was poisoned, but Black's move does
not do much either. He needed to try a move like 21... Bf5. 22. Rd1Qxe223. Qb4+It will soon be mate. For example, 23... Kf6 24. Qh4 Ke6 25. Bd7, mate
Further down the crosstable, Magnus Carlsen, the World Champion, and Norway were not able to avoid a loss to Romania, 2.5-1.5. Part of the problem was that Carlsen was held to a draw by Constantin Lupulescu, who played very, very well. The match was decided on Board 3 where Aryan Tari, the hero for Norway in the first two rounds, lost to Bogdan-Daniel Deac.
The Vietnamese team, in red, and the Chinese team at the start of Round 3. The match ended in a draw.
In the women’s section, there was another huge upset. One day after Georgia was upended by the Philippines, China, the top seed, was held to a draw by Vietnam, the No. 19 seed. China drew despite having Hou Yifan, the Women’s World Champion, play her first game of the competition and beat Le Thao Nguyen Pham.
The problem for China was that Thi Mai Hung Nguyen beat Zhao Xue, who outrated Nguyen by 200 points. And Nguyen won while playing Black! Zhao had played rather speculatively early on and her king wound up trapped in the center. She was trying to fight back, but she underestimated the danger to her king, allowing Nguyen to launch a mating attack:
37. Qh1?An error. White overlooks the threat, though, to be fair, White's
position was pretty bad. 37... Bxd3!38. Bxd3Rf2+39. Be2Ne4+40. Kd3Nc5+A moment of indecision... 41. Kd2Ne4+42. Kd3Ng3!She finds the
right path. 43. Rh8+Kc744. Qh7Nxe245. Ba5+b646. Bd2g347. Nd4Rf7!48. Qh3Allowing a pretty finish. 48... Qe4+49. Kxe2Rf2+50. Kd1Qb1+51. Bc1Qd3+52. Bd2Qxd2#
Russia, the No. 3 seed, had few problems, beating Uzbekistan, 3-1. And Ukraine, the No. 2 seed, also stayed undefeated and untied, though it was not easy as it narrowly beat the United States, the No. 6 seed, 2.5-1.5.
As for the Philippines, their cinderella story did not last long as they faced India, the No. 5 seed, and lost badly, 3.5-0.5.
The preliminaries are really over now and the fight for the podium will start in earnest in Round 4. The most intriguing contest will be in the open section where Russia and Ukraine will face each other on Board 1.
Dylan Loeb McClain is a journalist with more than 25 years of experience. He was a staff editor for The New York Times for 18 years and wrote the paper’s chess column from 2006 to 2014. He is now editor-in-chief of WorldChess.com.
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