The 42nd Chess Olympiad in Baku, Azerbaijan, has ended, with the United States edging Ukraine to win the open section and China winning the women’s section for the first time with Hou Yifan, the Women’s World Champion, as a member of the team. (She had played in every Olympiad since China last won in 2004.)
Many fans doubtless followed the competition the last two weeks but people probably focused more on the team results than individual performances. Last week’s column remedied that a bit by examining the fantastic start of Ian Nepomniachtchi of Russia, who won his first seven games. (He cooled off the rest of the way by losing one game and drawing two.) This week’s column is about some of the players who stayed hot from start to finish and won individual medals.
At one time, players were awarded board prizes based solely on their scores, but this changed, and rightly so. A strong player on a relatively weak team could amass a big plus score against lower-rated opposition, while a top player on a top team might have a slightly less impressive score and receive a lower board prize, even though his opposition was far stronger than that of the first player. Now, board prizes are based on a player’s tournament performance rating (TPR), which is the rating the player would have based on nothing but his performance in that event. In this way a player is not just rewarded for his score; his opponents’ ratings play an important role as well.
There is a full list of the top performers on each board, but the list of top performances overall, regardless of board that they played, is even more interesting. There were four players who had TPRs of over 2900. One of them, Sami Khader, an international master from Jordan, undeniably had a great Olympiad, but his TPR is in part due to a quirk in the formula when a player has a perfect score, as he did. He had eight wins against players rated under 2300 and his TPR was hundreds of points higher than if he had scored 7.5-0.5. That’s not his fault, of course, but it’s unlikely that the level of his play, as sharp as it was, matched that of the other three players with TPRs over 2900.
Those three players — Andrei Volokitin of Ukraine, Baadur Jobava of Georgia, and Vladimir Kramnik of Russia, the former World Champion — had to earn their TPRs against top opposition.
Volokitin, the fifth-ranked player on Ukraine’s team, played in nine of the 11 rounds, scoring 8.5 points and achieving an immense TPR of 2992. He only played on Board 4, so his opposition wasn’t as strong as Kramnik’s on Board 2 or Jobava’s on Board 1, but as Ukraine was among the leaders from start to finish, he still faced plenty of strong players. His biggest win came in Round 4 against Alexander Grischuk, a teammate of Kramnik’s.
That was an impressive victory, but for sheer entertainment value, it would be hard to top his win in Round 3 over Daniel Fridman, a German grandmaster.
Jobava had the second highest TPR. He is an inconsistent player with a distinctive style and a non-traditional repertoire. One of his strangest games was his roller coaster victory in Round 7 against Constantin Lupulescu of Romania.
Kramnik was the highest-rated player on the Russian team, but perhaps because Sergey Karjakin will be playing Magnus Carlsen for the World Championship in November, Karjakin was placed on Board 1 and Kramnik on Board 2. Kramnik still faced very strong opposition throughout the event, sometimes playing on Board 1. (Indeed, the average rating of Kramnik’s opponents was 2652, only two points lower than the average of Karjakin’s.). Kramnik scored 6.5/8 and finished with a TPR of 2903. With White he was especially effective, winning all four games with that color, including his win in Round 6 over Georg Meier, a super-solid German grandmaster.
There were many other noteworthy performances. Wesley So of the winning squad from the United States finished with a TPR of 2896 on Board 3. Not only did he win seven games (and draw three), his wins were often particularly well timed. He defeated Nepomniachtchi in Round 8 to salvage a 2-2 draw by the United States against Russia and beat Alexandre Lesiege of Canada in the last round to give the United States a 2½ - 1½ victory.
Perhaps most remarkable of all was the performance of Eugenio Torre of the Philippines. His 2836 TPR was good enough for the bronze medal on Board 3. Even more impressive was that he played all 11 rounds — scoring 10 points and not losing a game. Most players took one to three rounds off, but not Torre, despite being 64 years old! To be fair, he had White eight times in the competition, but he delivered. The following win was against Ivan Salgado Lopez of Spain, whose 2662 rating made him Torre’s strongest opponent.
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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