After a draw on the top board between Russia and the United States, three teams lead the open section. In the women’s section, after upsetting the Russian team, the United States is now tied for the lead with China.

After Round 8 of the 42nd Chess Olympiad in Baku, Azerbaijan, the United States is in good position to fight for a team gold medal — not just in the open section, which was expected, but also in the women’s division, which is a bit of a surprise. 

Round 8 featured exceptional pairings on the top board in each section: Russia vs. the United States. In the open section, the face-off ended in a tense drawn match. But in the women’s division, the American women pulled off a big upset by beating the defending champions in the event.

The United States is now among the leaders in both sections. In the open section, it is tied with India and Ukraine, who both won in Round 8, while in the women’s section, the Americans are tied with China, who crushed Azerbaijan, 3.5-0.5, on Saturday.

Russia’s two top scorers in the Olympiad through seven rounds - Sergey Karjakin (6 points out of 7) and Ian Nepomniachtchi (7/7!) — both had White in Round 8. On the bottom board of the match, Russia also had an edge because the team’s fourth player, Alexander Grischuk, outranked Ray Robson of the United States by a pretty big margin.

But the beginnig of the match looked quite good for the United States. Fabiano Caruana, who is ranked No. 3 in the world, neutralized Karjakin’s edge with White on the top board, Wesley So, ranked No. 7, did even better by outplaying Nepomniatchtchi on Board 3. Black had an advantage soon after the opening:

Nepomniachtchi, Ian vs. So, Wesley
42nd Olympiad Open 2016 | Baku AZE | Round 8.3 | 10 Sep 2016 | ECO: C50 | 0-1
22. Nd4 Ne6! Giving up the light-squared bishop was definitely a surprise. It also feels a bit dangerous for Black, but So evaluated, correctly, that gaining control of the central squares is a lot more important.
23. Nxf5 Rxf5 24. Bd3 Rf4! It is surprising that White doesn't seem to have any play on the kingside.
24... Rxe5 25. Bxg6! Rxe1+ 26. Qxe1 hxg6 27. Re3 Black is up a pawn but he no longer has control of the center. White should have more than enough compensation for his small material deficit.  )
25. Bxg6 hxg6 26. Qd1 Raf8 27. Rf3 Qb4! Black has control of the key squares on both sides of the board!
28. Rxf4 Rxf4 29. Nf3 Qxa4 Black has won a second pawn. The game continued for another 20 moves but White was in too deep a hole.

Hikaru Nakamura of the United States and Vladimir Kramnik of Russia have had many interesting matches against each other, but in Round 8 they played a relatively calm draw. On Board 4, Robson, had played a super solid line against Grischuk, who had opted for the Berlin Defense. It seemed unlikely that Robson would face any trouble.

But he is a tactical player by nature and he clearly didn’t feel comfortable just playing solidly. He seemed to alternate between playing active moves and trying not to compromise his position. This indecisiveness proved costly, as Grischuk soon created some pressure. In the end, Robson blundered and walked into a lost king-pawn endgame:

Robson, Ray vs. Grischuk, Alexander
42nd Olympiad Open 2016 | Baku AZE | Round 8.4 | 10 Sep 2016 | ECO: C67 | 0-1
Qh4 38. Bxe4?
38. Bh3! It looks ugly to put the bishop here, but it was the only way to keep fighting. It would be very difficult for Black to make progress.
38... Qh5 39. Kg2 Kf6 40. Qd3! Preventing Qd1. Then White could play Kg1 and Kg2 over and over, just waiting for Black to try to do something.
40... Ke6 41. Kg1 The game is still very tense. Black's king could perhaps go to the queenside to support the move b6, but it doesn't look easy to make progress.  )
38... fxe4 39. Qf2
39. Qg3+ Qxg3 40. hxg3 Kg6 41. Kf2 Kf5 42. Ke3 Kg4 43. Kf2 h5 44. Ke3 h4 45. gxh4 Kxh4 The f-pawn will fall and Black should be able to win.  )
39... Qxf2+ 40. Kxf2 Kf6! 41. Kg3 Kf5 42. h3 h5 43. h4 e3 44. Kf3 e2 45. Kxe2 Kxf4 46. Kd3 Kg4

India was beaten decisively by the United States in Round 7, but it bounced back strongly against England, a team that it matched up well against. The first three boards were solid draws, so it all came down to S.P. Sethuraman on Board 4 against Nigel Short.

Sethuraman had lost a heartbreaking game from a winning position against Sam Shankland in Round 7, but he showed no signs of carrying that burden in Round 8. (Shankland even complemented Sethuraman on his Facebook page.) Short, who played for the World Championship against Garry Kasparov in 1993, played some very interesting moves, including a surprising maneuver in which he switched his queen to h8:

Sethuraman, S.P. vs. Short, Nigel D
42nd Olympiad Open 2016 | Baku AZE | Round 8.4 | 10 Sep 2016 | ECO: C45 | *
20. g4!? Qh8! The queen looks terribly misplaced on h8, but I think the idea is kind of sweet. It will come back into play after Nd7 and g6 and may turn out to be quite well positioned after all as becomes apparent later.

Later on, however, when the game became more tactical, Sethuraman simply outcalculated his older opponent.

Sethuraman, S.P. vs. Short, Nigel D
42nd Olympiad Open 2016 | Baku AZE | Round 8.4 | 10 Sep 2016 | ECO: C45 | 1-0
26. Qe2 Qe5 This turned out to not be such a good square for the queen. Perhaps Black should have played Rfe8.
27. Rhe1! Short probably didn't expect this because the h2 pawn is no longer defended adequately.
27. f4 isn't possible because of
27... Rxf4!  )
27... Rf7
27... Qxh2! had to be played, but Short got cold feet:
28. Qb5!? White could also play Qxh2, but that was certainly not what Short was worried about.
28... Ne5 the position remains very complicated. There is no easy way to exploit the position of the queen on h2.  )
28. f4! This move is now very strong because Black cannot reply Rxf4.
28... Qe4 29. Bc1 Qa4
29... Qxe2 30. Rxe2 White is simply up a pawn in the endgame.  )
30. a3 Nf8 31. f5! Now White has an extra pawn and the initiative, though the position is still complicated.
31... c4 32. fxe6 Rb7 33. e7! A precise move.
33... Bxe7 34. Qf3! Again, Sethuraman finds the most precise continuations. This was particularly hard because he had to have foreseen his 38th move.
34... cxb3 35. Qxd5+ Kh8 36. cxb3 Qa6 37. g5!! The only way to win! Now the White rook is able to attack the pawn on h4.
37... Kg7 38. Bf4! Bxa3 39. Be5+ Kh7 40. Re4! It is all over.
40... Ne6 41. Rxh4+

I thought forseeing the piece sacrifice line with 34. Qf3! through to 37. g5!! was particularly impressive.

Georgia has been doing quite well in this Olympiad, powered by their top board, Baadur Jobava. In Round 8, he was against at his creative best, winning a brilliant miniature against Ruslan Ponomariov of Ukraine, a former FIDE World Champion. As he often does, Jobava started with an obscure, unorthodox opening. Black seemed to be doing fine until Ponomariov missed some brutal tactics:

Jobava, Baadur vs. Ponomariov, Ruslan
42nd Olympiad Open 2016 | Baku AZE | Round 8.1 | 10 Sep 2016 | ECO: A45 | 1-0
1. d4 Nf6 2. Nc3!? This variation used to be considered dubious even among lower-level players, but Jobava has been a champion of such side variations and he has done surprisingly well with them.
2... d5 3. Bf4 c5 4. e3 cxd4 5. exd4 a6 6. Bd3 Nc6 7. Nge2 Essentially, White is playing some sort of Queen's Gambit Declined, but with colors reversed. In that sense, White has a good version of that opening because he has an extra tempo. But this isn't a big problem for Black. He has a choice of many good plans.
7... e6 8. Qd2 b5 9. O-O Be7 10. a3 Bd7 11. h3 O-O 12. Rfe1 Na5 13. Rad1 Black seems to be doing well.
13... Qb6 14. Ng3 Rfc8? Ponomariov becomes careless.
15. Nf5! exf5 16. Rxe7 Be6 17. Bh6!! gxh6
17... Qd8 18. Bxg7! Qxe7 19. Qg5!  )
18. Qxh6 Rxc3
18... Bd7 19. Rde1 White is in no hurry; Black doesn't have any way to untangle his pieces and White can transfer his rook on e1 to g3 etc. If he continued
19... Qd6 20. Rxd7 Qxd7 21. Qg5+ Kf8 22. Qxf6 Kg8 23. Re3 should be crushing (among several possibilities)  )
19. Qg5+
19. bxc3 Ne4  )
19... Kf8 20. Qxf6 Rxd3 21. cxd3 and with the threats of Rxf7, or just Re1, etc., Black's position is collapsing.

Jobava’s effort was not enough as the much higher-rated Ukrainian players were too strong on the other boards and won the match comfortably, 3-1.

The host team from Azerbaijan was stretched to its limit in its win over Latvia, 2.5-1.5. Latvia had been doing surprisingly well in the competition, but its dream run came to an end after Eltaj Safarli of Azerbaijan managed to convert his advantage into a victory on Board 4 against Nikita Meskovs.

Among the surprises in Round 8 was that Norway pulled even with India and Ukraine after a tough win against Peru.

Magnus Carlsen, the Norwegian World Champion, has not been playing all that well, but it is still very intimidating to face him. In Round 8, he beat Emilio Cordovo after a messy scramble in mutual time pressure. There were quite a few interesting possible continuations at the end and Corodovo was probably disappointed that he missed some of his opportunities:

Carlsen, Magnus vs. Cordova, Emilio
42nd Olympiad Open 2016 | Baku AZE | Round 8.1 | 10 Sep 2016 | ECO: E18 | 1-0
37. Qf6 Rf7
37... Qg6! And Black would have been fine.  )
38. Qe6! Rf8 39. Rgf2 At this point, Carlsen had a winning continuation, if he could have found:
39. g6! Qd1+ 40. Kxh2 Qh5+ 41. Kg3! and now after Qg6+, White could play Kh3, pinning the queen!
41... hxg6 42. Rgf2! Qg5+ 43. Kh3 Qh6+ 44. Kg2 and the king escapes the checks.
44... Qg7 45. Rxf7 Rxf7 46. e5! dxe5 47. d6 The pawn can't be stopped because Black is so tied down.  )
39... c4??
39... Kg7 Would have provided the most resistance. Black might even have had chances to gain a draw.
40. Qh6+ Qxh6 41. Rxf7+ Rxf7 42. gxh6+ Kg6 43. Rxf7 Kxf7 44. Kxh2 Kg6 45. Kg3 Kxh6 46. e5 It seems that White could win after playing his pawn to e6, but there is no way to get an entry into the kingside.
46... Kg6! 47. e6 c4 48. Kg4 h6 49. Kh4 h5 50. Kg3 Kf6 and White has no way to win if Black chooses to do nothing.  )
40. g6! Qd1+
40... Qxg6 41. Rg2 And it also would be all over.  )
41. Rf1

Among the other matches, the Netherlands recovered from two consecutive tough losses with a win against a strong Cuban team. Anish Giri of the Netherlands and Leinier Dominguez Perez of Cuba drew on the top board, but Erwin L’Ami and Robin van Kanmpen both won smooth games on the next two boards. The Dutch team should have won 3 - 1, but on Board 4, in a very drawish endgame, Benjamin Bok was caught in a beautiful zugzwang:

Ortiz Suarez, Isan Reynaldo vs. Bok, Benjamin
42nd Olympiad Open 2016 | Baku AZE | Round 8.4 | 10 Sep 2016 | ECO: C50 | 1-0
Kc6 47. Bf3! Bxf3 48. Kxf3 I think this is a beautiful zugzwang position! Black has no moves that allow him to continue to defend all his pawns. Bok gave up the g5 pawn but he didn't really have sufficient drawing chances after that.

China, the defending gold medalists and No . 3 seed, continued to fall apart. After leading the tournament early, it had lost two matches. In Round 8, it lost its second consecutive match, this time to Hungary, by the narrow margin of 2.5-1.5. The only decisive game was on Board 3 between Li Chao and Zoltan Almasi. Li was doing well but then lost his concentration, with disastrous consequences:

Li, Chao b vs. Almasi, Zoltan
42nd Olympiad Open 2016 | Baku AZE | Round 8.3 | 10 Sep 2016 | ECO: E21 | 0-1
19. Rxe5 Bxg2! The best - or really only - practical chance.
20. Kxg2 Qg4+ 21. Kh1 Qf3+ 22. Kg1 Qg4+ 23. Kf1 Qh3+ 24. Ke1??
24. Ke2 White would still need to be a bit careful after Ng4 but it would clearly have been an improvement over Ke1.
24... Qxh2 25. Qf5! is perhaps what Li missed, but that is hard to imagine.  )
24... Qxh2! Possibly Li forgot about how strong this simple move is and assumed that White would still be doing well.
25. f4 Qg1+ 26. Bf1 Ng4 White's position is collapsing; there are too many threats, like Qf2, etc.
27. Qc4 Rae8 And also this!
28. c6 Nxe5 29. fxe5 Rxe5+ 30. Kd1 Rf5 It is all over.
31. c7 d3 32. Qxd3 Rxf1+ 33. Kc2 Rxa1

In the women’s section, the United States-Russia match was tumultuous.

On the top board, Alexandra Kosteniuk of Russia, the former Women’s World Champion, was doing very well on the White side of Sicilian Defense against Irina Krush. But Krush held on and after many inaccuracies by Kosteniuk, Krush turned things around with a nice trick in the following  position:

Kosteniuk, Alexandra vs. Krush, Irina
42nd Olympiad Women 2016 | Tromso NOR | Round 8.1 | 10 Sep 2016 | ECO: B42 | 0-1
42. c4 Qd2! A somewhat unexpected move.
43. Qxd2
43. Rf8+! would have allowed White to avoid losing the exchange because Rxf8 isn't good:
43... Rxf8 After Kh7 chances are about equal.
44. Rxf8+ Kxf8 45. Qb8+! Ke7 46. Qe8#  )
43... Nxd2 44. cxd5 White still had compensation for the exchange but after a few more inaccuracies, Kosteniuk couldn't hold on any longer.

But just this win wasn’t enough, as on Board 2, Valery Gunina of Russia continued her excellent run by defeating Nazi Paikidze, the reigning United States Champion, quite comfortably.

On Board 4, Russia’s Girya Olga found a very interesting pawn sacrifice to take the initiative against Katerina Nemcova, but she then lost her way. When Nemcova had a chance to recapture the initiative, she took it and the, with very precise play, scored another crucial win for the United States:

Nemcova, Katerina vs. Girya, Olga
42nd Olympiad Women 2016 | Tromso NOR | Round 8.4 | 10 Sep 2016 | ECO: B12 | 1-0
12. Bxg5 f6! Very ambitious and a good move!
13. exf6 Bd6 14. Re1 Kf7? Black's follow-up to her earlier moves is incorrect.
14... Ndf8! 15. Bd3 Bg4 Would be similar to the game, but Black has a huge initiative.
16. Bxg6+ Nxg6 17. Qd3 Qh7! one of the key advantages of playing Nf8 - the 7th rank is available for the queen.  )
15. Bd3 Bg4 16. Bxg6+! Kxg6 17. Qd3+ Kf7 18. Qe3 Bh2+ 19. Kf1 The White king is safe, while the Black king isn't.
19... e5 20. Nxh2 Rxh2 21. f3 Be6 22. Bf4 Rh5 23. Bxe5 White is ahead by too many pawns.

Ukraine was also a favorite to join the leaders, but they were held to a draw by Hungary. The crucial game was the loss of Mariya Muzychuk of Ukraine, the former World Champion, to Szidonia Vajda:

Muzychuk, Mariya vs. Lazarne Vajda, Szidonia
42nd Olympiad Women 2016 | Tromso NOR | Round 8.2 | 10 Sep 2016 | ECO: E97 | 0-1
f5 11. exf5? Precipitating some forced lines, in which Muzychuk misses a brilliancy!
11... e4 12. Nd4 Nxf5! 13. Be3 Nxe3 14. fxe3 Qh4 15. Bxh5 Be5!! The move that makes 11.exf5 turn out to be such a bad move.
16. g3 Bxg3! 17. Re2
17. hxg3 Qxg3+ 18. Kh1 Rf2 and mate follows.  )
17... Bf2+ 18. Kh1 gxh5 Black is up a pawn, has powerful bishops, and the initiative. Black went on to win without too many problems.

The tournament situations in both sections are far from resolved.

In the open section, three teams are tied for the lead, but the United States would seem to be in the best position. It leads on tie-breaks and has the strongest team, on paper. It also has the easiest pairing, on paper, in Round 9 as it faces the Norway. Norway is, of course, led by Carlsen, the World Champion, but the team’s strength falls off rather sharply after him.

In addition, the other two co-leaders, Ukraine and India face each other, so they could knock each other out of the lead if they draw. The other two teams that are just behind the leaders, Russia and Azerbaijan, also play each other.

In the women’s division, the two co-leaders, China and the United States are paired. China is the clear favorite and the United States will once again have to exceptionally if it is to stand a chance.  


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.