The United States and Ukraine remain tied for the lead in the open section, while China and Russia will play each other for the gold in the women’s division.

There are only a few teams left in the fight for the gold medals at the 42nd Chess Olympiad in Baku, Azerbaijan.

In the open section, the United States and Ukraine are tied for the lead and are the clear favorites to win. Russia is the only team within striking distance, but it has already played both of the leaders. To have a shot, it has to beat its last round opponent, Italy, and then hope that both the United States and Ukraine lose to their opponents, Canada and Slovenia, respectively. That would put the three teams into a tie and then it would come down to the one of the mathematical tie-breaker systems.

Such a scenario is extremely remote, partly because the United States and Ukraine (and Russia, too) are large favorites in their last matches as they outrank all their opponents by wide margins.

In the women’s section, the situation is relatively straight-forward. China leads Russia by 2 points, or one match victory, and they play each other. If China wins or draws the match, it is the champion. If Russia wins, it will go to tie-breakers.

One interesting thing about this Olympiad is the number of favorites that performed well below expectations. In the open section, China, the defending gold medalists, have lost three times. Azerbaija, which was the No. 4 seed, has also lost three times.

On the other side of the ledger are the teams that have done far better than expected, including Canada (No. 25 seed), Slovenia (No. 29), Peru (No. 34), and Italy (No. 36). All four are among the top ten teams in the rankings heading into the last round, which is also the reason they are playing a role (as underdogs) in which team wins the tournament. 

In Round 10, the United States faced Georgia (the No. 20 seed), a team that, on paper, it should have beaten handily. But Hikaru Nakamura, Board 2 for the Americans, who had flirted with trouble earlier in the tournament, only to always escape, finally played with fire one too many times, this time against Mikheil Mchedlishvili:

Hikaru Nakamura vs. Mikheil Mchedlishvili
Olympiad | Baku, Azerbaijan | Round 10 | 12 Sep 2016 | 0-1
12. e4 Not exactly an error, but not the best move either. Nakamura is being provocative, which can backfire.
12... dxc4 13. d5 Bxb2 14. Qxb2 cxd5 15. Rfd1? An error, and a simple one at that for a player like Nakamura who can calculate so well. Instead, 15. ed5 Bd5 16. Rfd1 c3 17. Qc3 e6, would just have been equal.
15... d4 Of course. A simple reply. Now if 16. Rd4, then 16... Qb6 and Black keeps his extra pawn.
16. bxc4 Nc6 Black completes his development and supports his d-pawn, which is immediately dangerous.
17. Qxb7 Qc8 18. Qb5 White has desire to trade queens, Black has a clear edge afterward.
18... Rb8 19. Qc5 Rb7 20. Nf3 Rd8 21. Nd2 White does not have enough time to capture the d-pawn.
21... d3?! A bit premature. White could now have played 22. e5 and after 22... Rc7 23. Bc6 Rc6 24. Qe7, Black will eventually have to take on c4 with his bishop and the chances will be equal.
22. Rab1? Rc7 Now White is clearly in trouble.
23. Rb6 Nd4 24. Qxa5 Bxc4 25. Nf3 Ne2+ 26. Kh1 Be6 Black is clearly winning now; White cannot stop the invasion along the file, after which the d-pawn will be very powerful.
27. Ne1 27. Nd2 was better. Now there is little that White can do as his position collapses.
27... Rc1 28. Rxc1 Qxc1 29. Rc6 29. Re6 is no better, for the same reason...
29... d2 Not the most accurate. After 29... Qd1, it would be lights out. For exmaple: 30. Qd8 Kg7 31. Qa5 d2, etc.
30. Qxd8+ Kg7 31. Rxc1 dxc1=Q White is temporarily up a pawn, but he is completely lost.
32. Qa5 Nc3 Winning the knight. The rest is easy.
33. Bf3 Qxe1+ 34. Kg2 h5 35. Qb4 Bxa2 36. Qxe7 Bc4 37. Qe5+ Kh7 38. Kh3 Qxf2 39. Qxc3 Bf1+ After 40. Kh4 f6! 41. h3 (41. Qf6 Qh2 42. Kg5 Qg3 43. Bg4 Qg4, mate) g5! 42. Kh5 Qg3, the threat of mate on h4 wins, and White has no good checks because the Black queen covers the square c7.

It was only the second game, collectively, that the United States had lost all tournament. Fortunately for the Americans, Wesley So, who has perhaps been the team’s most consistent performer, came through again on Board 3 against Levan Pantsulaia:

Levan Pantsulaia vs. Wesley So
Olympiad | Baku, Azerbaijan | Round 10 | 12 Sep 2016 | 0-1
12. Bc3 This is a fairly standard type of position arising out of one of the variations of the English. Chances are about equal.
12... f6 The only way to defend the e-pawn.
13. Qd2 a4 White has a few reasonable moves here, including 14. e4 or 14. Rfd1.
14. Bb2? A blunder and also an inexplicable move. What is the idea?
14... axb3 15. axb3 b5! 16. Ne3 Na5 And White must lose a pawn.
17. Qb4 Nxb3 18. Ng5? White finds a clever solution -- that makes things worse. After the following forced sequence of moves, Black will be winning.
18... hxg5 19. Bxa8 It looks like Black has a problem because if he plays 19... Qa8, then 20. Qe7.
19... c5! 20. Rxc5 Qxa8 21. Rxb5 Nc6 22. Qd6 Nbd4 Good enough; 22... Re8 was simpler. The smoke has cleared and Black has two pieces for a rook and pawn, but Black's pieces also control the center of the board. Black is clearly better.
23. Bxd4 Nxd4 24. Rb2 Rd8 25. Qb6 f5 26. Rfb1 f4! 27. Nc4?! White plays actively, underestimating the danger. Better was 27. Nd1.
27... e4 28. e3? White continues to fall apart.
28... fxe3 29. fxe3 exd3 30. exd4 Bxc4 The rest is easy.
31. Qxg6 Qd5 32. Rf2 Qxd4 33. Rb2 Qe5 34. Rbd2 Rd6 35. Qf5 Qe1+ 36. Rf1 36. Kg2 Bd5 37. Kh3 Be6, etc.
36... Qxd2 37. Qc8+ Kh7 White finally concedes as there is no perpetual check.

Along with a win by Sam Shankland and a draw by Fabiano Caruana against Baadur Jobava, Georgia’s top player, the United States won, 2.5-1.5.

Ukraine kept pace by beating the Czech Republic, 3-1. Ukraine was led by Pavel Eljanov, who beat David Navara in a game in which Navara just kind of collapsed after achieving a decent position out of the opening:

David Navara vs. Pavel Eljanov
Olympiad | Baku, Azerbaijan | Round 10 | 11 Sep 2016 | 0-1
15. b4 This position arose out of an anti-Berlin Defense opening. White has more space, but Black is fine for the moment.
15... Nd8 Black's idea, of course, is Ne6 and then Nf4. The knight will be annoying there, but there will be no direct threat.
16. d4?! An overreaction to Black's plan; 16. Qc2 was fine.
16... exd4 17. Qc2!? An interesting idea. White offers a pawn sacrifice to open the position and try to exploit the weak pawn cover around Black's king.
17... Bg6 Black finds a different way to accept the pawn sacrifice than by immediately taking the pawn, judging that the position could quickly become dangerous if he does.
18. cxd4 Nc6 The knight returns, but the situation in the center has changed drastically now.
19. Qc3 Nxe4 20. Nxe4 Rxe4 21. b5 Ne7 22. Rxe4 Bxe4 23. Re1 Bg6 So far, White has compensation for his pawn sacrifice.
24. Nh2 Nf5 25. Ng4 Kg7 A counter-intuitive move, as the king steps into a discovered check, but it is perfectly safe because 26. d5 accomplishes nothing after 26... Bd4.
26. Re4? A blunder. But note that Black cannot play 26... d5 because of 27. Be5 followed by 28. Nf6,
26... Rf8 Now Black threatens d5, so...
27. d5+ f6 28. Re6 Bd4 29. Qe1 Rf7 White is over-extended.
30. Bd3? A big error. White's position collapses.
30... Nxg3! 31. Bxg6 Kxg6 32. Qb1+ Kg7 33. Qd3 h5 34. Qxd4? A final blunder. It is over now.
34... Qxe6 35. dxe6 Ne2+ After 36. Kf1 Nd4 37. ef7 hg4, Black wins easily.

Russia, which trailed the United States and Ukraine by 1 point before Round 10, fell further behind, and probably ended its gold medal hopes, by only drawing with India. 

The main damage was on Board 1, where Sergey Karjakin of Russia (who will play for the World Championship title in November in New York City against Magnus Carlsen of Norway, the reigning champion) lost to India’s top player, Pentala Harikrishna:

Pentala Harikrishna vs. Sergey Karjakin
Olympiad | Baku, Azerbaijan | Round 10 | 11 Sep 2016 | 1-0
23. Nh5 Black's position is okay, but white's extra space, particularly his e-pawn, which controls key squares, gives him an edge.
23... a3?! It is understandable that Black was tired of supporting this pawn, but now it will be even weaker; 23... Ra8 made more sense.
24. b4! It is possible that underestimated this move.
24... Ne6 25. Qd2 Ng5 Black has no real plan.
26. Ng4 Suddenly White has threats around the Black king. Right now he is just threatening to win Black's queen with Nf6.
26... Qf5?? An inexplicable blunder. Black had to play 26... Kh8.
27. Nhf6+ Of course. White wins an exchange.
27... Kh8 28. Nxe8 Rxe8 29. Rxc7 Nf4 30. Qe3 Nge6 31. Rc3 Qg6 32. Qg3 Ra8 33. Kh2 h5 34. Ne3 Qh7 35. Rec1 Qe4 36. Rc8+ Rxc8 37. Rxc8+ Kh7 38. Qf3 The game is effectively over. The rest is mop up.
38... Qxf3 39. gxf3 Nxd4 40. Rc7 b5 41. Rxf7 Nde6 42. Rd7 d4 43. Nc2 d3 44. Ne1

Russia was able to salvage a draw thanks to a beautiful win by Vladimir Kramnik over Baskaran Adhibanon Board 2:

Vladimir Kramnik vs. Baskaran Adhiban
Olympiad | Baku, Azerbaijan | Round 10 | 11 Sep 2016 | 1-0
15. Nd1! Kramnik already has a plan in mind of how to reposition his pieces, which is why he retreats the knight to d1, not e2.
15... e5 16. Nf2 c5 While Black's moves look logical, they have one drawback: he is placing his pawns on the same color as his bishop, thereby making it less useful.
17. Qe2 Nc6 18. Bg4! The bishop will relocate to a much better diagonal via e6.
18... Kh8 19. Be6 exf4 20. gxf4 g5?! Black begins to panic; he can already see the storm clouds on the horizon.
21. Ng4 gxf4 22. Bxf4 Qe8 The transformation in just a few moves is startling. White is clearly better now as his bishops control so much space.
23. e5 Imprecise. It was time to think about the other side of the board and play 23. Qb5.
23... Bh4 24. Bc4 Qg6 25. Kh1 Bg5 26. Bh2 Nb6 27. Bd3 Qe6 28. Qe4 Qd5 29. e6 Rae8 30. Rxf8+ Rxf8 31. Ne5 Qxe4+ 32. Bxe4 Nd8 33. a4 Nxe6 The e-pawn did its duty.
34. a5 Nc8 35. Nd7 Re8 36. Be5+ Ng7 37. Rg1 Good enough, though 37. Rf1 was better.
37... Bh6 38. Bxb7 Ne7 39. Nf6 Rf8 40. Be4 Ng8 Black's position is almost comical. It is unbelievable how tied up he is.
41. Nxh7 Re8 42. Ng5 Re7 43. Bd3 Bxg5 44. Rxg5 Nh6 45. Bxg7+ Rxg7 46. Rh5 Black will lose the knight.

Azerbaijan’s latest loss was pegged on it by England, 2.5-1.5. The difference in the match was England’s two bottom boards, Gawain Jones and Nigel Short, who both won, beating Arkadij Naiditsch and Eltaj Safarli, respectively. Short, who played for the World Championship in 1993, has always had a somewhat odd style. When it works, it is brilliant, as it did against Safarli, it is brilliant:

Eltaj Safarli vs. Nigel Short
Olympiad | Baku, Azerbaijan | Round 10 | 11 Sep 2016 | 0-1
16. Bc3 White probably did not see what was about to happen.
16... Nxd3 17. cxd3 g5! An anti-positional move that forces White's queen away from the protection of f2.
18. Qh5 Ng6 19. Nh2?? White did not want to deviate from classical principles, but against a player like Short it is sometimes necessary. White had to play 19. g3 to control f4, as ugly as that move looked.
19... Bc5 And White has no good replies. If 20. Nhf3, then 20... Nf4 21. Qh6 Bf8! trapping the queen.
20. Nb3 Bxf2+ 21. Kh1 Bxe1 More precise would have been 21. d4 first.
22. Rxe1 Qd6 23. Ng4 Bxg4 24. Qxg4 White just does not have enough compensation for his material deficit.
24... Qd7 25. Qf3 Re8 26. Rf1 f5 27. Qh5 g4 28. Nd4 Re5 29. Nc2 d4 30. Nxd4 Rd5 It is impressive how Black's domination of the light squares controls the game.
31. Ne2 Rxd3 32. hxg4 Rd1 33. Rg1 Rxg1+ 34. Nxg1 fxg4 White is tied up and has no counterplay.

In the women’s section, China put itself in perfect position to win the gold by beating Poland, its closer pursuer before Round 10. It was no surprise that China was led by Hou Yifan, the Women’s World Champion, who outplayed and outcalculated Monika Socko:

Monika Socko vs. Hou Yifan
Olympiad | Baku, Azerrbaijan | Round 10 | 11 Sep 2016 | 0-1
19. Nxb5 19. Qd3 might have been better.
19... Rxe4 20. Rxe4 Nxe4 21. Qa4? An error, based on a faulty calculation. She clearly missed Black's 23rd move.
21... Bxd5 22. Nh4 Nxh4 23. Bxe4 Qe8! Oops. The two cross pins (along the a4-e8 diagonal and along the e-file) are decisive. White cannot play 24. Bd5 because of 24... Qe1 mate.
24. gxh4 Bxe4 The rest is relatively easy.
25. Qa5 Qd7 26. h3 h6 27. Nc3 Bf3 28. Kh2 Qe7 29. Qa6 Qe5+ 30. Kg1 Qe6 31. Kh2 Qg6 32. Qf1 Qf6 33. Kg3 Bc6 34. Qe2 d5 35. Qg4 d4 36. Nb1 Qe5+ 37. Qf4 Qe1 38. Qf5 Qg1+ 39. Kf4 Qxf2+ 40. Ke5 f6+ Black wins the queen.

It now seems very unlikely that China will not take home the gold. 

In the open section, the path for the United States and Ukraine is also pretty clear. Of the two, the United States would seem to have the inside track as it has the better tie-breakers.

If the United States wins, it would be its first gold medal since 1976. But that Olympiad, at Haifa, Israel, was boycotted by the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc countries, including Hungary, because of its location in Israel. Before that, the United States last won in 1937 — the last of four consecutive golds (1931, 1933, 1935, and 1937), when the American teams included players such as Samuel Reshevsky, Reuben Fine, Isaac Kashdan and I.A. Horowitz. 

It hasn’t been nearly as long a drought for Ukraine. It last won in 2010 and before that in 2004. 


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