World Chess’s columnist runs down the most outstanding performances from the competition in Baku.

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.

Grischuk, Alexander vs. Volokitin, Andrei
42nd Olympiad 2016 | Baku AZE | Round 4.4 | 05 Sep 2016 | ECO: A05 | 0-1
1. Nf3 Nf6 2. g3 g6 3. Bg2 Bg7 4. c4 c6 5. b3 Ne4 6. d4 d5 7. O-O O-O 8. Bb2 Bf5 Grischuk has had more than one bad day at the office when playing this variation.
8... a5 9. Nc3 Bf5 10. Rc1 Nxc3 11. Bxc3 Be4 12. e3 e6 13. Bh3 Nd7 14. Qe2 Bxf3 15. Qxf3 Nf6 16. Qe2 Ne4 17. Be1 f5 18. Bg2 g5 19. b4 axb4 20. Bxb4 Rf7 21. a3 Nd6 22. cxd5 exd5 23. Rc2 Qd7 24. Qh5 h6 25. f4 Nc4 26. Re2 g4 27. Kh1 Qe8 28. h3 Re7 29. Qxe8+ Rexe8 30. Rfe1 h5 31. Bf1 Re6 32. hxg4 hxg4 33. Rh2 Rxe3 34. Rxe3 Nxe3 35. Bd3 Bxd4 36. Re2 c5 0-1 (36) Grischuk,A (2797) -Radjabov,T (2726) Baku 2014  )
8... dxc4 9. bxc4 c5 10. Nbd2 Nxd2 11. Qxd2 cxd4 12. Nxd4 Nc6 13. Rfd1 Nxd4 14. Bxd4 Qxd4 15. Qxd4 Bxd4 16. Rxd4 Rb8 17. c5 - (17) Grischuk,A (2777)-Nepomniachtchi,I (2732) Moscow 2014 (rapid)  )
9. Nbd2 Qa5 There's also
9... Nd7 and  )
9... Nxd2 for White to contend with.  )
10. e3 Rare.
10. a3  )
10. Nxe4 and  )
10. Qc1 are usual.  )
10... Nd7 11. Qe2
11. Nxe4  )
11... Rfe8 12. Nxe4 Bxe4 13. Bh3 A typical idea when facing the bishop on e4; White prepares Nd2 without allowing the bishops to be exchanged on g2.
13... dxc4!? An ingenious move, plunging into the complications.
13... Bxf3 14. Qxf3 e6 is a conventional "Fort Knox" type of approach, swapping off the light-squared bishop and then putting all the pawns on light squares and hoping that White can't break through.  )
13... Nc5!? is another visually arresting idea, taking advantage of White's overloaded queen. If White can obtain a plus against this, it's with
14. Ne1  )
14. Bxd7
14. bxc4 Qh5 15. Bg2 e5 is better for Black if it's better for anyone, so White plays the principled move.  )
14... Qh5
14... Bd3? is bad here, but this idea will show up later.
15. Qd2 Qxd2 16. Nxd2 Red8 17. Bh3 Bxf1 18. Bxf1 results in a position with nominal material equality, but White's minor pieces are far more effective than Black's rook and pawn. White is likelier to win than Black is to draw.  )
15. g4!
15. Bxe8 Bxf3 16. Qxc4 Rxe8 17. Rfe1 Qf5 followed by ...e6 and ...h5 is equal, maybe just drawn. White's kingside is too precarious for White to have any winning chances, but as long as Grischuk doesn't do anything foolish Black can't win either.  )
15... Qh3 16. Ne1 Bd3 17. Nxd3 cxd3 18. Qxd3 Rad8! 19. Bxc6 bxc6 The forcing series has come to an end. White is a pawn ahead, but his kingside is loose, Black's rooks are raring to go and the ...c5 and possibly ...e5 pawn breaks are lurking, so it seems that Black has sufficient compensation for the material.
20. Qe4 Best, and likewise for Black's next move.
20... c5 21. Rad1 h5! Softening up White's kingside a bit more.
22. gxh5
22. g5!?  )
22... Qxh5 23. f4 Probably played to prevent ...e5, but Black can play it anyway.
23. f3 was probably safer.  )
23... Qe2
23... e5! 24. fxe5 Bxe5 25. Qg2 and now Black can choose between two flashy options,
25... Rd5!? and
...   )
24. Ba1?
24. Bc1 had to be played, shoring up d2 and e3.  )
24... cxd4 25. Rde1 Qg4+ 26. Qg2 Qxg2+ 27. Kxg2 dxe3 Now Black is up a pawn, and while he isn't winning yet the momentum is all in his favor. In time trouble Grischuk doesn't make the most of his defensive resources, and Volokitin puts a cap on a brilliantly played game.
28. Re2 Bxa1
28... Bh6!  )
29. Rxa1 e5! 30. fxe5 Rxe5 31. Rae1?! Kg7! 32. Kg3?! Rde8 33. h3?! f5 34. Kf3? Rh8! 35. Kg3? g5 36. Rh2? f4+ 37. Kf3 Kf6 38. Rc1 Kf5

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.

Volokitin, Andrei vs. Fridman, Daniel
42nd Olympiad 2016 | Baku AZE | Round 3.4 | 04 Sep 2016 | ECO: B12 | 1-0
1. e4 c6 The Caro-Kann came on hard times in this event, and this is just one of many one-sided white wins in the tournament.
2. d4 d5 3. e5 Bf5 4. Nf3 e6 5. Be2 c5 6. Be3 cxd4 7. Nxd4 Ne7 8. O-O Nbc6 9. Bb5 Bg6
9... a6 is the primary alternative.  )
10. c4
10. Na3!?  )
10... a6 11. cxd5 Almost a novelty, and a new move at the GM level.
11. Bxc6+ had been the most common move, and it too had fared pretty well.  )
11. Ba4 has also performed well in more limited outings.  )
11... Qxd5 Rather greedy.
11... axb5 12. dxc6 bxc6 was played in Muminova,N (2312)-Yakubboev,N (2004) Tashkent 2013, and now
13. Nc3 Nf5 14. Qf3! Nxd4 15. Bxd4 gives White a significant advantage.  )
12. Nc3! Of course the e-pawn doesn't matter very much. Black's king is far from castling, so White wants to finish developing and then break through the center.
12... Qxe5 13. Ba4 Rc8 14. Rc1 Nf5 15. Nxc6!?
15. Bxc6+ bxc6 16. Qa4 Nxd4 17. Bxd4  )
15... bxc6 16. Ne2 Nxe3
16... Qe4!  )
17. Rxc6!! This is the point of White's last few moves; without this, he would simply be worse.
17... Ke7
17... Nxd1 18. Rxe6+ Kd8 19. Rxe5 White will regain the piece and emerge a pawn up with the more active position. If Black tries to save the knight on c1, he'll lose the rook on c8 instead.
19... Nxb2? 20. Re8+ Kc7 21. Rc1+  )
18. fxe3 Qxe3+? Again, Black is too greedy.
18... Rxc6 19. Bxc6 f5 had to be tried. White maintains a very dangerous initiative, but Black's king is still reasonably well-covered.  )
19. Kh1 Rxc6 20. Bxc6 Qd3
20... f5 doesn't help now, because after
21. Nd4 White has Re1 next. Getting rid of the e3-pawn did White an enormous favor.  )
21. Qa4! White was still better after 21.Qe1, but this is much stronger, and quite possibly what Fridman missed when he took on e3.
21... e5
21... Qxe2 22. Qb4+ Kd8 23. Qb8+ Ke7 24. Qc7# is why the knight is immune.  )
22. Rd1! Qxe2 23. Qb4+
23. Qb4+ Kf6 24. Qh4+! The only move, but good enough.
24... Ke6 25. Bd7#  )

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.

Jobava, Baadur vs. Lupulescu, Constantin
42nd Olympiad 2016 | Baku AZE | Round 7.1 | 09 Sep 2016 | ECO: D00 | 1-0
1. d4 d5 2. Nc3 A Jobava specialty, often followed by Nc3, producing a sort of hybrid of the London System and the Veresov.
2... c5 3. dxc5
3. e4 is the most frequently played move here, but White has many reasonable options to choose from.  )
3... Nf6
3... d4  )
4. e4 d4 5. Bc4 A little risky - not because the knight is hanging (taking it is a blunder), but because forsaking e4-e5 may leave Black with the better game.
5. e5 dxc3 6. Qxd8+ Kxd8 7. exf6 is equal but dull - not the sort of position Jobava is aiming for with his enterprising opening.  )
5... Nc6
5... dxc3?? 6. Bxf7+ Kxf7 7. Qxd8  )
6. Nd5!? Nxe4 7. Bf4 e5 8. Qe2 White must fight for the initiative, or Black will consolidate his center and push White off the board.
8... Bf5 9. f3 exf4
9... Nf6 was probably best, with equality after
10. Bxe5 Nxd5 11. Bc7+ Qe7 12. Bxd5 Nb4 13. Bxb7 Nxc2+ 14. Kd2 Kd7! 15. Bf4 Qxc5 16. Bxa8 Nxa1 17. Be4 g5! 18. Nh3 gxf4 19. Rxa1 Rg8 20. Bxf5+ Qxf5 21. Ke1 But who goes for such crazy lines - and there are plenty of plausible alternatives along the way too - against an opponent who may have already analyzed all this at home?  )
10. fxe4 Be6 11. O-O-O Bxc5 White is slightly better, but Lupulescu can take solace knowing that he has reached the sort of position where nothing too bad is going to happen to him, where he can just play chess against his opponent and not computer prep.
12. Nxf4
12. Nf3  )
12... Qg5 13. g3 Bxc4 14. Qxc4 Bd6 15. Kb1 Bxf4 16. Nh3 Qg4 17. Nxf4 O-O White's position is still a very little bit more comfortable, but Lupulescu has done well to reach a normal position without getting blown up in the opening.
18. Qb5
18. Qb3  )
18... Rab8 19. Rde1 Rfe8 20. a3 Re5 21. Qb3 Na5 22. Qd3 Nc6 23. Re2 Rbe8 24. Rhe1 Qd7 25. Nd5 Qg4 The position is equal, but Jobava prefers not to repeat and accept a draw.
26. Ka2 h6 27. Kb1 Kh8 28. Nc7 R8e7 29. Nd5 Re8 Another opportunity for a draw, again declined. The position remains completely equal, but with time trouble brewing it's a good time for Jobava to unbalance the position.
30. Nf4 Qd7 31. Qd2 Qg4 32. Qd3 Qd7 33. h3 Rc5 34. Nd5!? Jobava is not a player who is afraid of taking chances, and this is a risk. Black can safely take the h-pawn, and although White will have some compensation there's always the risk that by the end of the time control he'll just be a pawn down, and then Black can try to grind out a victory.
34... Qxh3! 35. Qd2 Threatening Rh2 followed by Rxh6+.
35... Qg4! 36. Rh2 Kg8? Sometimes obvious moves are good moves - Black should have played
36... Re6  )
37. b4? It was best to play
37. Rxh6! immediately.
37... Qxg3? 38. Rhh1 Next up is Reg1, and White has more attackers than Black can handle.  )
37... Rc4?
37... Rb5! 38. Rxh6 Qxg3 39. Rhh1 Qxa3! is the problem with 36.b4. Now White must force a draw, as Black is ready to crash through on the queenside.
40. Qh2 Rxb4+ 41. Nxb4 Qxb4+ 42. Kc1 Qa3+ 43. Kb1 Qb4+ 44. Kc1 Qa3+ 45. Kd1 f6 46. Reg1 Qf3+ 47. Kc1 Qa3+  )
38. Rxh6! Ne5
38... Qxg3 39. Rhh1 Qxa3 looks practically identical to the 37...Rb5 variation, but it isn't. Here's the crucial difference:
40. Nf6+! gxf6 41. Rh8+! Kxh8 42. Qh6+ Kg8 43. Rg1+ This is mate in one, but put the rook on b5 rather than c4 and ...Rg5 wins for Black.
43... Qg3 44. Rxg3#  )
39. Reh1 Ng6 40. Rh7? As often happens, an error is committed on the last move of the time control, and Black will make one in return.
40. Qh2 forces Black to cough up his queen, as there's no other way to avoid mate.
40... gxh6 41. Nf6+  )
40. Rh8+ Nxh8 41. Qh2 also does the trick.
41... f6 42. Nxf6+! gxf6 43. Qxh8+ Kf7 44. Rh7+ Ke6 45. Qxe8+ etc., mating. As in the previous variation, Black could have avoided the coming mate by surrendering the queen, with equally hopeless prospects.  )
40... Qxe4? After
40... Qf3! it isn't even clear that White has any advantage alone, never mind a decisive one.  )
41. Rxg7+! Kf8
41... Kxg7 42. Qh6+ Kg8 43. Nf6# would win lots of material, were it not mate.  )
42. Rg8+! The only winning move, but it wins the house.
42... Kxg8 43. Nf6+ Kg7 44. Nxe4 Rxe4 45. Qd3 White would still be winning even without this, but this ends the game straight away.

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.

Kramnik, Vladimir vs. Meier, Georg
42nd Olympiad 2016 | Baku AZE | Round 6.2 | 08 Sep 2016 | ECO: C11 | 1-0
1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 Meier more often plays the solid
3... dxe4 4. Nxe4 Nd7 5. Nf3 Ngf6 , which tends to result in lots of draws and some White wins. Against a great technical player like Kramnik Meier might have felt this was too passive an approach, and opted for the more complicated lines instead. Not a bad decision, considering that Meier plays the French regularly while Kramnik almost never plays 1.e4.  )
4. e5 Nfd7 5. f4 c5 6. Nf3 Nc6 7. Be3 a6 8. Qd2 Be7
8... b5 is the absolute main line.  )
9. a3 Rare in this exact position, but a fairly normal move for White in the Classical French. One point is to keep Black's knight from b4 when White plays Bd3, and indeed White's next several moves aim to play Bd3 without allowing ...Nb4, ...c4, or a knight on c5 to attack it.
9... O-O 10. dxc5 Nxc5 11. Qf2 b6
11... Qa5 was played in all the previous games to reach the position after 11.Qf2; we'll have to wait for another day to see what Kramnik intended there.  )
12. b4 Nd7 13. Bd3 Mission accomplished.
13... f6
13... b5!? makes sense, fixing the pawn on b4 so it can't run away in case of ...a5. It also clears b6 for the knight on the way to c4 (after being prepared by ...Rb8). This would at the very least dissuade White from castling queenside.  )
14. Qg3 d4!? Blowing up the center looks logical, and if White doesn't play accurately he could easily end up worse.
15. O-O-O!?
15. Bxd4 Nxd4 16. Nxd4 Nxe5 17. O-O-O Nxd3+ 18. Rxd3 looks like a relatively risk-free path to an advantage.  )
15... dxe3 16. Bxh7+! Kxh7 17. Qh3+ Kg8 18. Qxe6+ Kh8 19. Qxc6 White is down a piece for two pawns, but threatens Black's rook, e5-e6, Nh4 and Nd4 - for starters. Black's position is more resilient than it might seem at first glance, but White is definitely better.
19... Ra7!
19... Rb8? 20. e6  )
20. Nh4! The tempting
20. e6 lets Black escape.
20... Rc7! 21. Qd5 Rxc3 22. Qh5+ Kg8 23. Nh4!! Rxc2+!! 24. Kxc2 Qc7+ 25. Kb1 Qc3 26. Qd5! Ne5! 27. Nf5 Bxb4 28. axb4 Qxb4+ 29. Kc2 Qa4+ 30. Kb1 Qb4+  )
20... Qe8 21. Nd5!?
21. e6! Nb8 22. Qxe8 Rxe8 23. f5 /+/- brings White no immediate, tangible results. It's enough that Black can't get out of the box, and White will win the e-pawn to collect his third pawn for the piece.  )
21... Kh7 22. Nxe7 Qxe7 23. Nf5 Nxe5? The patient
23... Qe8 apparently keeps the balance, e.g.
24. Nd6 Qe6 25. Rhe1 fxe5 26. Rxe3 Bb7 27. Qc3 Rxf4 28. Rh3+ Kg6! 29. Qd3+ e4 30. Qc3 Qe5 31. Rg3+ Kh7 32. Rh3+ Kg6  )
24. Nxe7 Nxc6 25. Nxc6 Rc7 26. Nd4 Having regained his piece White is up a pawn, and although White's pawns are a bit far-flung Black's e-pawn is endangered too. White has very good winning chances, and in likely time trouble Meier was unable to put up his best resistance.
26... Re8 27. Rd3 Bb7 28. Re1 Bxg2 29. Rdxe3 Rxe3 30. Rxe3 Bd5 31. Nf5 g5?! 32. fxg5 fxg5 33. Re5 Bf7 34. Kb2 b5 35. Nd4 Winning the g-pawn and the game.
35... Kg6 36. Nf3! g4 37. Rg5+ Kf6 38. Rxg4

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.

Torre, Eugenio vs. Salgado Lopez, Ivan
42nd Olympiad 2016 | Baku AZE | Round 8.2 | 10 Sep 2016 | ECO: A45 | 1-0
1. d4 Nf6 2. Bg5
2. Nf3 e6 3. Bg5 is the Torre Attack, but it's named after Carlos Torre, a Mexican GM whose peak years were in the early 20th century.  )
2... g6 Black invites White to surrender the bishop pair to damage Black's structure. The problem with Black's structure after the exchange isn't that the pawns are weak, but that they lack flexibility. White will have control over what pawn breaks are played, while Black's position is rather static.
3. Bxf6 exf6 4. e3 Bg7 5. Ne2 f5 6. g3 d5 7. Bg2 c6 8. O-O h5 9. c4 dxc4 10. Na3 h4 11. Nxc4 hxg3 12. hxg3 Be6 13. Qd3 Bd5 14. Rfe1
14. Nf4  )
14... Na6 15. Rac1 Bxg2
15... Qd7  )
16. Kxg2 Qd5+ 17. f3 O-O 18. Nf4 Qb5 19. a3 As is usual in this variation of the Trompowsky, White's position is very safe, but Black's position is as well. Perhaps motivated by the rating difference, Salgado decided it was time to mix things up against his older and lower-rated opponent.
19... c5?! Black obtains two benefits from this move. First, his bishop enters the action; second, he can mobilize the queenside majority he has just created. There's only one drawback, but it's a big one: White gets a strong passer.
20. d5 Qd7 21. d6 b5 22. Na5 Rab8?
22... Rad8  )
23. Rcd1?
23. e4! followed by e5 offered a much better way to protect the pawn on d6.  )
23... Rfd8? 24. e4! Torre grabs his second chance.
24... fxe4 25. Qxe4!
25. fxe4 Be5 26. Nxg6 Qxd6! keeps Black kicking.  )
25... Rb6 26. Nd5! Everything is perfectly calculated by Torre.
26... Rxd6 27. Ne7+ Kf8 28. Rxd6 Qxd6 29. Nb7 The crucial point that Black must have missed when he played 23... Rfd8. White is completely winning now, and finishes strongly.
29... Qd2+ 30. Re2 Rd4 31. Nxg6+! Kg8 32. Qe8+ Kh7 33. Rxd2 Rxd2+ 34. Kh3 fxg6 35. Qxb5 Rxb2 36. Qxa6 c4 37. Nc5 c3 38. Qxa7 Re2
38... c2 39. Ne6  )
39. Qc7 c2 40. Nd3 With the time control made there's nothing for Black to play for.


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 Between 1995 and 2006, he taught philosophy, including a four-year stint at the University of Notre Dame.