Part of the fun of a Chess Olympiad, like the one now taking place in Baku, Azerbaijan, is not just following the teams but enjoying the individual performances. After seven rounds, one of the most outstanding performances has been turned in by Ian Nepomniachtchi, Russia’s fourth board. He has played every round, six times on Board 3, and won all his games.
Nepomniachtchi began the competition rated 2740 —high enough to be Board 1 on almost any other team— but in Baku he’s behind Sergey Karjakin, Vladimir Kramnik, and Evgeny Tomashevsky in the board order. (Alexander Grishchuk is also on the team.) Nepomniachtchi’s six wins have catapulted him to No. 15 in the world on the Live Ratings web site. Here is how he got to 6-0, round by round.
He began against Oladapo Adu, an international master from Nigeria. Adu, who had White,opted for a very safe and solid opening opening, but then seemed to change his mind when he ceded the bishop pair to achieve h4-h5. This was not a good idea from a positional perspective and Nepomniachtchi combined the superiority of his minor pieces with the power of a mobile pawn majority on the queenside to win the game in impressive fashion.
In Round 2, Nepomniachtchi was White against Saparmyrat Atabayev, a FIDE master from Turkmenistan. Nepomniacthichi won by doing what many stronger players do against lower-rated opposition: give them enough rope to hang themselves. Black’s 19th move was pretty, creative, and bad, and transformed the game from complicated to clearly winning for White.
In Round 3, Nepomniachtchi faced a grandmaster for the first time in the event, Dmitry Svetushkin of Moldova. Like Adu in Round 1, Svetushkin opted for safety with White rather than trying to take advantage of having the first move. For a long time, Svetushkin had a safe position, and although Nepomniachtchi was finding little ways to increase the pressure, a draw was by far the likeliest result. As often happens when a player faces prolonged pressure, however, the defender misses something somewhere, and that happened to Svetushkin. White’s 42nd move made excellent sense as the first step in a plan to improve the activity of his minor pieces, but it had a fatal tactical flaw that Nepomniachtchi saw and exploited.
In Round 4, the opponent was even better. Nepomniachtchi had Black again, but against Anton Korobov of Ukraine, an erstwhile 2700-rated player. Nepomniachtchi played the Grunfeld Defense and Korobov chose an unpretentious line against it, which was still enough to gain a slight edge coming out of the opening. Rather than be satisfied having a little extra space on the kingside, Korobov pushed his e- and f-pawns to e5 and f4 respectively, and found himself permanently on the defensive thereafter as he tried to plug up all the holes created by pushing his pawns so far forward. Like Svetushkin in the previous round, Korobov defended well for a long time, but he finally collapsed under Black’s persistent pressure.
In Round 5, Nepomniachtchi had White again. His opponent was Adham Fawzy of Egypt, an international master. It was yet another endgame, but this time Nepomniachtchi started with an edge and managed to increase it. His play from move 30 on was particularly outstanding.
In Round 6, Nepomniachtchi faced Daniel Fridman, a very strong German grandmaster. Fridman had Black and played the Petroff, which is a specialty of his. Fridman got a good position out of the opening and there were even moments in the middlegame when he had an advantage. But Nepomniachtchi kept fighting and taking risks rather than trying for a draw or accepting one if Fridman seemed to be steering for that sort of result. In the second time control, Nepomniachtchi’s efforts bore fruit.
Editor’s note: This article originally misstated the country that Saparmyrat Atabayev represents. It is Turkmenistan, not Turkey. The error was introduced in the editing process.
Dennis Monokroussos is a FIDE master who has written about chess on his blog “The Chess Mind,” since 2005. He has been teaching chess for almost 20 years and for the last 10 years has been making instructional chess videos, which can be found at ChessLecture.com. Between 1995 and 2006, he taught philosophy, including a four-year stint at the University of Notre Dame.
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