India had been the last unbeaten and untied team. In the women’s section, five teams are tied for the lead.

The United States grabbed the sole lead of the open section of the Chess Olympiad in Baku, Azerbaijan, with a crushing 3.5 – 0.5 win over India in Round 7. India had been the sole leader after Round 6 and the last unbeaten and untied team. 

There were two other equally lopsided victories on the top boards as Russia beat the Czech Republic and Azerbaijan beat Croatia. In an upset, England downed China, the defending gold medalists, 3-1. It was China’s second defeat of the tournament and almost certainly ended any chance the team had to repeat as champion.

In the women’s event, Russia was held to a by Poland. That allowed four other teams — China, the United States, Azerbaijan and the Netherlands — to catch up to them. China, the top seed, did it the hard way with a hard-fought win over Ukraine, the No. 2 seed, and a co-leader after Round 6. 

Despite the 3.5-0.5 score, the United States-India match wasn’t nearly so clear cut. On Board 4, America’s Sam Shankland, playing White, had gone horribly wrong very early in the game against S.P Sethuraman. Black had a huge advantage — the computers evaluated White’s position with a score of -10, meaning that it was the equivalent to being down 10 pawns, or a queen and a pawn! Surprisingly, the winning moves weren’t so clear or easy to find and Shankland kept finding ways to throw up obstacles and stay alive until Sethuraman lost his way:

Shankland, Samuel L vs. Sethuraman, S.P.
42nd Olympiad 2016 | Baku AZE | Round 7.4 | 09 Sep 2016 | ECO: D11 | 1-0
Rxa2 The position looks so ugly for White. His king is stuck on d3 and the computer even says it is almost -10.00, the equivalent of white being down 10 pawns. Usually when one side has such a huge advantage, the player on the worse side immediately resigns. But how Black should win is not clear so Shankland fights on:
27. Rh8+ Ke7 28. Re8+ Kf6 29. Be1 Kg7 30. f4 f5 Qc4 is a mating threat!
31. Qb3 In the next few moves Black had many ways to win but he had to find one of the right ideas. Sethuraman's moves don't look so bad, but his position becomes increasingly more difficult to play:
31. Bh4 Qc4+! 32. Bxc4 dxc4#  )
31... Qf7?! Black had to find a subtle way to make Ra3 possible:
31... Ra3 32. Rb2!! Rxb3 33. Rxg2+ would lead to a draw!  )
31... Rh2! or Kh7 and Ra3 next would avoid the White trick with Rb2 and it seems that Black should then win rather easily. But finding Kh7 is actually very difficult.  )
32. Qd1 Nc4?! 33. Rd8 Be7?
33... Nxe3! was now the only way to win but, like some of the early winning moves, this was not so easy to find.
34. Kxe3 Bxf4+ 35. Kxf4 Rg4+ 36. Ke3 f4+ 37. Kf3 Rg3+ 38. Bxg3 Qh5+ 39. Kxf4 Qf5+  )
34. Rd7! Rab2 35. Bxc4 dxc4+ 36. Kxc4! Qe8 37. Rxb2 Rxb2 38. Qa1! Black's initiative is gone and White is basically better. Shankland eventually won the game.

As it turned out, even if Sethuraman had won, the Indian team would have probably lost. The top three players for the United States Fabiano — Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, and Wesley So, all of whom are ranked in the top 10 players in the world — was just too strong for India.

Caruana, who had Black on the top board, didn’t face many problems in drawing against Pentala Harikrishna, who is ranked No. 15 in the world. On Board 2, Nakamura dominated Baskaran Adhiban from the start. On Board 3, So played Black against Vidit Gujrathi, who is usually very solid. Vidit seemed to be doing fine after the opening, but then he chose a very questionable strategy that let So take control:

Vidit, Santosh Gujrathi vs. So, Wesley
42nd Olympiad 2016 | Baku AZE | Round 7.3 | 09 Sep 2016 | ECO: D02 | 0-1
Qc7 15. Bf4?! Going for an ambitious but dubious plan. It ends f helping Black develop quickly.
15... Qc8 16. cxd5 Nxd5 17. Bxb8 Rxb8 18. Nd2 If White had a couple of moves, he could deploy his knights perfectly on c4, etc. But there is not enough time:
18... Ba6! 19. Nc4 Nb4! 20. Nxb4 cxb4 21. b3 Bxc4 22. Qxc4 Qxc4 23. bxc4 Rfc8 Despite the opposite-color bishops, Black has a huge advantage because of his passed b-pawn. White had some defensive chances, but So kept the pressure up and eventually won.

Russia’s win over the strong Czech team was reflected in the score, as Russia dominated the match. The team’s top board, Sergey Karjakin, who will play Magnus Carlsen for the World Championship in November in New York City, won very smoothly and quickly against David Navara:

Karjakin, Sergey vs. Navara, David
42nd Olympiad 2016 | Baku AZE | Round 7.1 | 09 Sep 2016 | ECO: C50 | 1-0
18. Ree1 White has had a pleasant edge throughout the game, and now Navara collpases:
18... Nh5? 19. exd5! Rxd5 20. Qa2 The threats of axb5 and Qxd5 can't both be defended at the same time:
20... Nf4 21. axb5 Rd6 22. bxc6 Rg6 A desperate try it's very easy to parry the Black threats:
23. Nd7 Nxg2 24. Nfxe5

On Boards 2 and 3, Evgeny Tomashevsky and Ian Nepomniachtchi, respectively, also had little trouble with their opponents. With his win, Nepomniachtchi moved to a perfect score of seven wins in seven games. [Editors’s note, see Dennis Monokroussos’s column this week for more on Nepomniachtchi’s games and performance.]

Azerbaijan’s win over Croatia wasn’t quite as smooth. On Board 2, Teimour Radjabov of Azerbaijan, had a losing position against veteran Mladen Palac for a long time before pulling off a surprising turnaround at the very end:

Radjabov, Teimour vs. Palac, Mladen
42nd Olympiad 2016 | Baku AZE | Round 7.2 | 09 Sep 2016 | ECO: E00 | 1-0
46. Qg4 g5? It seems that Palac thought he had already lost his advantage. Instead, playing g6 would probably have given him a huge advantage. Now, he probably expected a draw by perpetual check, but he is probably losing!
46... g6 47. Qh4 h5 48. Qg5 Qa8! Black has an advantage that should be big enough to win easily.  )
47. Qh5! Kf8 48. Qxh6+ Ke8 49. Qxg5! Rxf2 50. Qg8+ Kd7 51. Qxf7+ Kc8 52. Qg8+ Kc7 53. Qh7+! The little tactic that Palac probably missed. The rook on b1 is lost.

This game probably didn’t affect the outcome of the match as Azerbaijan had little trouble on the other boards.

China’s loss to England by a score of 3-1 was the surprise of the day.

In the 2014 Olympiad, when China took the gold, the team’s players lost just one game the entire tournament. This time, they have lost many games between them. The top board, Wang Yue, is usually very solid, but in Round 6 he was outplayed by Michael Adams, who displayed some nice technique.

The most exciting game of the match was on Board 4 between Li Chao and Nigel Short, the former World Championship contender. At 51, Short is well past his prime, but in this game he kept his calm in an amazingly complicated position:

Li, Chao b vs. Short, Nigel D
42nd Olympiad 2016 | Baku AZE | Round 7.4 | 09 Sep 2016 | ECO: E21 | 0-1
Re7 33. Ne5!! fxe5 34. Bxe7?
34. f6!! gxf6 35. Bxe4 Is the key move. The threats along the g-file would be very strong.
35... Bc4 White now has a lot of ways to win, including playing Qg4, but the computers suggestion is particularly entertaining:
36. Qe6!! Bxe6 37. Bxf6+ and mate next.  )
34... exf4 35. Bxf8 Bxd4! 36. Qg4 Once again the correct move was
36. f6! Bxf6 37. Qd7! Qxe3+ 38. Kh1 Qd4 39. Qe8! Kxh7 40. Bd6!! The only move! White had to stop Re6 which would have prevented the perpetual.
40... Rxd6 41. Qh5+ Kg8 42. Qe8+ and a draw.  )
36... Rc7! Black has defended everything.
37. Qh5 f3! 38. Rg4 Be5? 39. Bc5? The right idea of a perpetual with Qe8 - Qh5, but the wrong move order.
39. Qe8! would still have led to a perpetual check
39... Qxe3+ 40. Kh1 Qe1+ 41. Rg1 Kxh7 42. Bc5! f2 43. Qh5+ Kg8 44. Qe8+ and a draw.  )
39... Qh6! This move prevents the perpetual.
40. Qe8+ Kxh7 41. Qxe5 Rxc5 42. Qe7 f2+ 43. Kg2 Bc4 44. Kxf2 Qxh2+

Another surprise was that the Netherlands, who were were among the co-leaders after Round 5, lost to Latvia. Latvia isn’t particularly strong on paper, but they have been powered by great performances on Boards 2 and 4 by Igor Kovalenko and Nikita Meskovs, respectively. In Round 7, they came through again to upset the Dutch team.

Elsewhere in the tournament, Carlsen, who has struggled a bit so far, won a crushing game with Black against Dragun Solak of Turkey to help Norway win, 2.5-1.5. And Jobava Baadur, the top board for Georgia, beat Constanin Lupulescu to help lead the Georgian team over Romania, 3-1. Baardur now has 5 points in the six rounds that he has played. 

In the Women’s section, the big surprise of the day was Poland holding the formidable Russian team to a draw. Actually, the Russians were very lucky to have escaped with such a result. On Board 3, Aleksandra Goryakchina of Russia, who is only 16 years old, was completely outplayed by Horowska Szczepkowska:

Goryachkina, Aleksandra vs. Szczepkowska-Horowska, Karina
Olympiad Women 2016 | Baku AZE | Round 7.3 | 09 Sep 2016 | ECO: D97 | 0-1
20. Bd3 Black has played rather well to increase the pressure on White despite being a pawn down in the endgame. She continues dominating the position in the next few moves:
20... g5 21. Bxe4 Bxe4 22. Nc3 Bd3 23. Rd1 Bc2 24. Rf1 Rcd8 25. a4 Bd3 26. Rd1 Bc2 27. Rf1 Bb3! After Black plays Bc4, White can't play Rd1
28. Kh1 Bc4 29. Rg1 Bd4! 30. Nd1 Re2 Black completely controls the board.
31. a5 Rc2 32. Re1 Kg8 33. h4 h6 34. hxg5 hxg5 35. Kg1 Kf7 White has no good moves and she just collapses:
36. g3 Rh8! and Bd5 and Rh1# next can't be stopped.

The Russians saved the match after Valentina Gunina got a good break on Board 2 against Jolanta Zawadzka:

Zawadzka, Jolanta vs. Gunina, Valentina
Olympiad Women 2016 | Baku AZE | Round 7.2 | 09 Sep 2016 | ECO: B18 | 0-1
Qf7 White had an edge for a while - not too much, but enough to not have to take any risks. But gradually the situation had changed and she wanted to restore her former edge all at once, so she played the very ambitious move
31. g4 she probably didn't expect that g7 could be defended. Instead, White could have played
31. Qf3 and she would have been perfectly fine.  )
31... Be5! 32. Qxc4
32. Bxe5 Qxf2+ was White obviously missed in her calculations.
33. Kh1 Nxe5 34. Rxd8 Qe1+ 35. Bf1 Qxf1#  )
32... Bxd4 33. cxd4 Qxf2+ Black is winning.
34. Kh1 Rxd4 35. Qc3 Nf4 36. Rg1 Qxg1+

The Chinese women, who have yet to come through with a dominating performance so far, managed to squeeze out a crucial win against Ukraine. All the games were close, and ended in draws, except on Board 3. There, Tan Zhongyi won a rather easy game against Natalia Zhukova:

Tan, Zhongyi vs. Zhukova, Natalia
Olympiad Women 2016 | Baku AZE | Round 7.3 | 09 Sep 2016 | ECO: A73 | 1-0
Kh7 White has had a solid edge for a long time, and Black really shouldn't be just ignoring the d-pawn like this. It was time for Black to try to play defense:
23. d6! Qc6 24. d7 Rf8 25. Nb6 f5 26. Qd6 Rf7 27. Nca4 Qxd6 28. Rxd6 Black's position is too cramped and uncomfortable and White had no trouble converting her advantage.

Round 8 should be very exciting as both sections feature match-ups on the top board between the United States vs. Russa. The Russians are clearly the favorites in the women’s section, but as Round 7 showed, anything can happen. The confrontation in the open section is perhaps the most anticipated of the whole tournament!


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.