After Ukraine lost to the United States and India beat the Netherlands, India is the sole remaining undefeated and untied team in the open section of the Olympiad.

After six rounds in the 42nd Chess Olympiad in Baku, Azerbaijan, India is the only undefeated team left in the open section.

India won an extremely close match against the Netherlands in Round 6. The Netherlands had been one of the three remaining undefeated teams prior to the round. The other one, Ukraine, also lost an extremely tense match to the United States.

In the women’s section, it was the irrestible force against the immovable object as the two teams that that were undefeated heading into the round, Russia and Ukraine, were unable to break the deadlock when their match ended in a tie. They continue to be the only leaders as China failed to catch them when it was surprisingly held to a draw by the Romanian team.  

Against the Netherlands, the Indian team was slightly higher rated on all boards except Board 1. The Netherlands started the match aggressively and couldn’t have had much to complain about after the openings on each board. In team events, it is particularly important how the players who have Black in each round do. In Round 6, the Dutch had a dream start.

On Board 1, Anish Giri, the top player for the Netherlands, who had Black against Pentala Harikrishna, chose the risky Sicilian Najdorf but obtained a very good position. And on Board 3, Loek van Wely, the other Dutch player with Black, caught his opponent, Vidit Gujrathi off-guard in particular line of the Slav Defense that allowed van Wely to force a draw by repetition after only 15 moves. Vidit had won all his previous games in Baku, so this was a very good result for Netherlands.

On Board 4, Benjamin Bok failed to make much progress as White against S.P. Sethuraman, who easily held a draw as Black. So it all came down to the game on Board 2 between Erwin L’Ami and Baskaran Adhiban. L’Ami seemed to be in control, but in time pressure, things turned around dramatically:

L'Ami, Erwin vs. Adhiban, Baskaran
42nd Olympiad Open 2016 | Baku AZE | Round 6.2 | 08 Sep 2016 | ECO: E33 | 0-1
Re7 Black has managed to keep his position from collapsing and it is now difficult for White to improve his position. L'Ami was probably running low on time, so he misses an unexpected tactic:
36. Rd1?? Bxc4! 37. Bf3
37. Bxf7+ was what L'Ami had in mind:
37... Rxf7 38. Rxd6 Rf1# Was what LAmi overlooked.  )
37... Rxd1+ 38. Bxd1 Now Black is just up an exchange. The rest isn't easy, but Adhiban converts his advantage into a win with excellent technique:
38... Bb5 39. Bf3 Re6 40. Kf2 Bc6 41. Bg4 Rd6 42. Be5 Rd2+ 43. Ke3 Rxg2 44. h3 h5 45. Bd1 h4 46. Kf4 Bd7 47. Bf3 Rg1 48. Bf6 Rf1 49. Ke3 Bxh3 50. Bxh4 Kxg7 51. Bc6 Rb1 52. Bxa4 Rxb2 53. Be7 c4 54. Bb4 Kg6 55. Kd4 Be6 56. Kc3 Ra2 57. Bc6 f5 58. a4 f4 59. a5 Kf5 60. Bb7 Ke5 61. a6 Bd5 62. Bc5 f3 63. Bd4+ Kd6 64. Bxd5 Kxd5 65. a7 Kc6 66. Kxc4 Kb7

In the next match between the United States and Ukraine, things were equally as tense. Ukraine was lower rated in all boards, but they weren’t intimidated and they played well. On Boards 3 and 4, they drew without any particular issues.

On Board 2, Ruslan Ponomariov of Ukraine, who had White, was putting a lot of pressure against Hikaru Nakamura. But Nakamura played very precise defense to save the game:

Ponomariov, Ruslan vs. Nakamura, Hikaru
42nd Olympiad Open 2016 | Baku AZE | Round 6.2 | 08 Sep 2016 | ECO: A61 | 1/2-1/2
Ra8 Black can obviously win the White a-pawn to restore the material balance. But the problem is that it would allow White to invade the Black kingside from the eighth rank with the rook and the queen. I think Ponomariov just did not expect Black could allow that and it does look like Black should be lost if he does
30. Re1
30. Rd1 Placing the White rook on any file but the e-file seems to create more problems for Black because after he takes the pawn on a4, the White rook has more possibilities.  )
30... Qd2 31. Re4?! This makes Black's life easier but he did have to come up with some good defensive moves:
31. Rb1 Rxa4 32. Rb8+ Kg7 it isn't clear if White is winning. Certainly a position like
33. Qf8+ g3!? to prevent Qc1-Qf4 is also interesting. White would definitely be better in that case as well, but is it enough?
33... Kf6 34. Rb6+ Kg5 35. Qxf7 Qc1+ 36. Kh2 Qf4+ would probably allow Black to escape into a drawn endgame.  )
31... Rxa4! 32. Re8+ Kg7 33. Qf8+ Kf6 The rook is misplaced on e8. And the Black queen is better on d2 because it can create threaten a perpetual with Qc1-Qf4.
34. Qe7+
34. Qh8+ Kg5!  )
34... Kg7 35. Qf8+ Kf6 36. Re3 Rf4! Perhaps this is what Ponomariov missed. Now Black is able to regroup and get everything defended.
37. Qh8+ Kg5 38. Rg3+ Kh6 39. Qf8+ Kh5 40. Qc5+ Rf5 And the Black king is safe!

That left it all up to Board 1. In that game, Pavel Eljanov was doing very well against Fabiano Caruana of the United States, who is ranked No. 3 in the world. But Caruana found some resourceful ways to put pressure on Black to carry the American team across the finish line to victory:

Caruana, Fabiano vs. Eljanov, Pavel
42nd Olympiad Open 2016 | Baku AZE | Round 6.1 | 08 Sep 2016 | ECO: B31 | 1-0
a5 Black seems to be doing just fine. White's pawn on e6 has become a liability, and each of White's major pieces is stuck defending one of his pawns. How is he supposed to improve his position?
23. b4!! This seems like it will eventually lead to the loss of the pawn on e6, but it also creates a passed pawn on the a-file. The change in the position is significant.
23... axb4 The position still seems fine for Black, but the passed a-pawn puts a bit more pressure on him.
23... f4 24. Re4 f3 25. g3 Would have been similar to how the game actually progressed.  )
24. cxb4 cxb4 25. Rxb4 Ra8 White's pieces are no longer stuck defending weak pawns and he takes advantage of that flexibility to slowly increase the pressure on Black:
25... Rxb4 26. Qxb4 Rxe6 Eljanov probably thought that losing the e-pawn was enough of a deterrence for White not to play b4. But Caruana counts on the a-pawn, which looks dangerous:
27. a5 or perhaps first Rxe6 and then a5. The computer says that after both moves chances are equal, and with perfect play, that might be true. But from a practical standpoint, it is hard to how Black can try to create a perpetual against Whites king, which makes the combination of White's a-pawn and queen very intimidating. It is perfectly understandable that Eljanov tried to avoid this continuation.  )
26. Qa1 f4
26... Kg8 27. a5 Rxe6 28. Rxe6 Qxe6 29. a6 probably worried Black. The a-pawn stills more dangerous and Black has no play against the White king. Still, this was probably the best continuation. Even if White gets the pawn to a7, it probably won't be enough to win. But calculating several moves ahead, it probably was not obvious how Black would defend the resulting position. For example:
29... c5 30. Rb6 Qxc4 31. a7 Rxa7! is one possible trick that could have saved Black:
32. Qxa7 Qc1+ 33. Kh2 Qf4+ with a perpetual check; there is no way the White king can escape.  )
27. Re4 f3 28. g4 Kg8 The White king has become more exposed, but White is able to push the a-pawn and play in the center making Black's defensive job more difficult:
29. Qd1! Rxe6 30. Qxf3 Rxe4 31. Qxe4 The exchanges of the previous few moves has clearly weakened the Black king. White has a clear edge. In the next few moves Caruana beautifully maneuvers his pieces to increase the pressure even more:
31... Qc7 32. c5! dxc5 33. Qc4+ Kg7 34. Qc3+ Kg8 35. Qc4+ Kg7 36. Qxc5 Qd6 37. Qc3+ Qf6 38. Qe3 Rf8 39. Re4! Another amazing idea. From e5, the Rook will dominate the whole board, while Black has no counterplay.
39... Rf7 40. Re5 Qd6 41. a5 Qd1+ 42. Kg2 Qa1 43. Qe2 e6 44. a6 Qd4 45. Rxe6 And now it is basically over. Black still has no checks but the combination of the weak Black King and White's passed a-pawn is enough to make Black's defense impossible.
45... c5 46. Re7 Qd5+ 47. f3 c4 48. Rxf7+ Qxf7 49. Qe5+ Kh6 50. Qe3+ Kg7 51. Qd4+ Kh6 52. a7 Qb7 53. h4

China, the third seed, which lost to Ukraine earlier in the competition, survived a scare against Argentina, the No. 26 seed. China was on the ropes after its top player, Wang Yue, missed some beautiful tactics to fall into a mating net against Sandro Mareco:

Wang, Yue vs. Mareco, Sandro
42nd Olympiad Open 2016 | Baku AZE | Round 6.1 | 08 Sep 2016 | ECO: D37 | 0-1
Qxb2 Wang Yue has allowed Black too much counterplay. But Wang still doesn't quite sense the danger.
29. Bxc4? Nxc4 30. Nxc4 Qe2! 31. Rd2 Qe1+ 32. Kg2 Bh4! This was the move that White may have underestimated or overlooked.
33. Qxc5 Rf3!! Another unexpected move that completely changes the game. White has no way to defend against the threat of Rg3+.
34. e6
34. a4 Rg3+! 35. fxg3 Qf1+ 36. Kh2 Bxg3+ 37. Kxg3 Rf3+ 38. Kh2 Rxh3#  )
34... Rg3+! 35. fxg3 Qf1+ 36. Kh2 Bxg3+

Fortunately for China, Ding Liren and Li Chao, playing on Boards 2 and 3, respecitively, both won hard fought games to give China a narrow victory, 2.5 – 1.5.

Russia continued to be very solid, beating Germany, 3-1. Russia was led by Vladimir Kramnik, the former World Champion, who beat Georg Meier, while Ian Nepomniachtchi, Russia’s Board 4, won a messy game against Daniel Fridman. Though Russia lost earlier in the tournament to Ukraine, like China, it has done well otherwise.

As usual, Norway’s match drew a lot of attention because Magnus Carlsen, the World Champion was playing Board 1. For whatever reason, this seems to be the only tournament where Carlsen consistently performs below his level. In Round 6, he was doing very well against Julio Sadorra of the Philippines, but then he missed a crucial tactic and barely escaped with a draw:

Carlsen, Magnus vs. Sadorra, Julio Catalino
42nd Olympiad Open 2016 | Baku AZE | Round 6.1 | 08 Sep 2016 | ECO: C00 | 1/2-1/2
Bg6 21. Nxc2? Missing a tactic.
21. Bxc7! And White should be able to win back the pawn on c2 later on, after which White would simply be up a pawn.  )
21... Re4 22. Bg3 Ne5! 23. Bxe5 Rxe5 Now White has no advantage at all; Black will win the pawn on c5. It may have been time to think about trying to equalize, but Carlsen continues to try to press:
24. Ne3 Rxc5 25. f4 h6 26. Qb4 Nd7 27. f5 Bh5 Carlsens aggression is only helping Black.
28. Qd2
28. g4 Re5! 29. Rf3 Qg5 The Black bishop will be saved by the counterattacks.  )
28... Qg5 29. Qd4 Re5 30. Qxd7 Qxe3+ The position looks very sketchy for White, but Carlsen defended very stubbornly to save the game.

The rest of the games in the Norway-Philippines match were also drawn.

In the women’s section, all eyes were on the grudge match between Russia and Ukraine. On the top board, Alexandra Kosteniuk of Russia, the former World Champion, was doing fine against Anna Muzychuk of Ukraine, until her position collapsed suddenly after some questionable knight maneuvers. She violated the axiom, “Don’t put knights on the side of the board,” and paid the price:

Muzychuk, Anna vs. Kosteniuk, Alexandra
42nd Olympiad Women 2016 | Baku AZE | Round 6.1 | 08 Sep 2016 | ECO: A29 | 1-0
16. Re1 This looks like a very typical position. White has control of the center and some advantages related to that, but the center can also be counterattacked. Black needs to choose a plan, but Kosteniuk doesn't choose the best one:
16... Ng4 17. Bg1 Nb4 18. Rad1 Black's knight moves seem a bit pointless. It isn't clear what she is trying to do.
18... c6 I guess now I can see her idea. Black was obviously worried about Nd5 and thought this regrouping might improve her structure. But putting the knight on the side of the board is still not recommended, particularly not when a player gives free moves to the opponent.
19. a3 Na6 20. e5! Now the knight on g4 is in trouble.
20... h5 21. h3 Nh6 Within a span of five moves both of Black's knights went from being placed nicely to the side of the board! White is clearly better and though Muzychuk took her time, the result was no longer really in doubt:

Meanwhile, on Board 4, Olga Girya of Russia seemed to be well on her way to win against another former World Champion, Anna Ushenina of Ukraine. But on move 40, Girya gave it all away with an unfortunate blunder! She showed incredible grit, however, to regain her advantage and level the score for the Russians:

Girya, Olga vs. Ushenina, Anna
42nd Olympiad Women 2016 | Baku AZE | Round 6.4 | 08 Sep 2016 | ECO: E12 | 1-0
Qf6 White is controlling the whole board. She probably has a lot of good moves, but in time pressure, Girya played
40. Rf5?? It looked like White completely forgot that Black could just play
40... Qxd4 and the threat is Qxb2 mate.
41. Qg2 Black is now fine. But Ushenina struggled to come to terms with the huge gift she had just been given.
41... Rxf5 42. Bxf5 Qf6
42... Kd6 and Qd5 next was the simplest. In the endgame, only Black could be better.  )
43. Bg4 Qe5 44. Rh3! The position looks about equal, but it is never certain when there are bishops of opposite color. The transfer of the rook to b3 will happen at the perfect time. The White queen will then be free to roam the board, and the Black king is certainly more exposed than the White king.
44... Qb5 45. Rb3 Qc4 46. Be2! Of course White doesn't care about the pawn on e6.
46... Qxe6 47. Qxg5+ Bf6 48. Qh5 Black's exposed king is a serious problem. Black now makes things worse by letting the White rook on b3 get out of the pin:
48... Bg7 49. Bf3 Qe5? 50. Qg6! Qf6 51. Qh7 With the rook free to roam, White has the attacking forces that she needs.
51... a5 52. Rb5! a4 53. Bd5 Rd7 54. Qe4+ Kd8 55. Qxa4 Things look very bleak for Black.
55... Qd4 56. Qa8+ Ke7 57. Qg8 Qf6 58. Rb8 Bf8 59. Bc4 Rc7 60. Qd5 Rd7 61. Qe4+ Kd6 62. Rb6+

China faced Romania, who has nothing but women grandmasters. China still quite confident as the team rested Hou Yifan, the Women’s World Champion. That may be a decision they later regretted.

The Chinese team quickly took the lead in the match when the Romanian fourth board – Irina Bulmaga – missed a tactic against Guo Qi:

Guo, Qi vs. Bulmaga, Irina
42nd Olympiad Women 2016 | Baku AZE | Round 6.4 | 08 Sep 2016 | ECO: D55 | 1-0
20. e4 b5? missing a sweet little tactic.
21. Ng6! Qe8 22. Bxf7+ Qxf7 23. Qxf7+ Kxf7 24. Ne5+ And White wins a pawn. The rest of the game was easy:
24... Ke8 25. Rxd8+ Kxd8 26. Nxc6+ Kc7 27. Rxc5 Kb6 28. Rc2 Rc8 29. Nd4

On Boards 2 and 3, the Chinese team failed to make any inroads at all and they ended in draws.

On the top board, Ju Wenjun, seemed to be doing fine against Corina-Isabela Peptan and the game was headed to a draw. And then Ju suddenly lost control of the position:

Peptan, Corina-Isabela vs. Ju, Wenjun
42nd Olympiad Women 2016 | Baku AZE | Round 6.1 | 08 Sep 2016 | ECO: D38 | *
60. Ke3 Chances are about equal, but Black becomes careless:
60... Kf7? 61. Nh6+! Kg6 62. Nf5! Re6+ 63. Kf4 The White knight now dominates the position and the pawn on b5 is in danger.
63... Be8 64. Rc7! White is even creating mating threats.
64... Bf7 65. Rb7 Re5 66. Nd6 Bc4 67. Nxc4 bxc4 68. Rc7 It is still not clear if White is clearly winning, but the position proved to be too difficult for Ju Wenjun and White eventually converted her advantage.

In other matches, the Georgian recovery (after their surprise loss against the Philipines in Round 2) was temporarily halted with a 2-2 draw against the hosts from Azerbaijan. The Indian women’s team has been a bit shaky in the event so far, but they squeezed out a  win,  2.5 – 1.5, over Latvia led by Dronavali Harika,  their top board, who had struggled in the event so far. That might point to better things to come for the team.

In Round 7, China will play Ukraine, which could be a very crucial match to decide the fate of the women’s gold medal. Russia will face a strong Polish team, but with the form that Russia has displayed so far, the Russian team is a clear favorite.

In the open section, everything has been going right for India so far. But the team, which won the bronze medal in the last Olympiad in Tromso, Norway, in 2014, will be put to test a big test when it faces the formidable American squad. Can India’s excellent team spirit do much when confronted with three of the world’s top 10 players?


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 is about to start his junior year at Stanford University. He can be found on Twitter at @parimarjan.