After wins in Round 9, the United States and Ukraine lead Russia by a point. In the women’s section, China beat the United States to become the sole leader.
The fight for the gold medal at the 42nd Chess Olympiad in Baku, Azerbaijan, has become a two- and perhaps a three-way race. The United States and Ukraine both won in Round 9 and are now tied atop the leaderboard of the open section.
Russia sits alone in third, just one point behind. But since Russia has already played both the leaders, it must rely on other teams to knock them off if it is to overtake them.
In the women’s section, China is now the sole leader after it beat the United States in Round 9. The surprise of the tournament is that Poland, the No. 7 seed, is alone in second, one point behind.
Pentala Harikrishna of India, left, and Pavel Eljanov of Ukraine during Round 9.
The United States, Ukraine and India were tied for the lead in the open section after Round 8. In Round 9, Ukraine faced India and pulled out a narrow victory, 2.5-1.5. The top three boards were drawn, so it came down to the game between Anton Korobov of Ukraine and S.P. Sethuraman of India. Coming out of the opening, Sethuraman, who was White, had a decent position but then he acquiesced to a trade of queens, leaving Korobov with the long-term strategic advantage of having the bishop pair on an open board. Though there were mistakes on both sides, Korobov finally got the upper hand.
17. Qd4?!A suspect strategic decision. White's plan in this position must be
to attack the king, so 17. Qh6 made more sense. In addition, while the
middlegame is okay for White, the endgame is bad as the Black bishops will be
very powerful. 17... Qxd418. Rxd4Ne5Black has arrived at just about the
perfect arrangement of pieces. His advantage is small, but it will be
persistent. 19. Bg2a520. Re1Rc821. Rdd1Kf722. Nf4Ng6?!An odd
decision. Black should not have removed the knight from e5. 23. Nxg6hxg624. e5!?Good and thematic. The pawn is poisoned as 24... fe5 25. Ne5 de5 26.
Rd7 Rh2 27. Be4, would give White at least equality. 24... d525. exf6Bxf6Chances are roughly equal. 26. h4Rh527. Bh3Rc428. Re3d429. Re2Rhc5?An error, but ... 30. Ne1?!White misses the correct move. After 30. Rf2!
Ke7 31. Bf1! d3 32. Bd3 Rg4, White has won a pawn and has a clear edge. 30... Re531. Rf2Rf5?!A risky sacrifice at best. 32. Re2?Why not 32.
Bf5 gf5? Yes, the pawns look dangerous, but Black would have to prove that
they are and that is not so easy. 32... Bc6?!The errors continue; Black
should have played 32... Re5. 33. g4?Re5?Now 33... Rf3! was better. Then
34. Nf3 Bf3 35. Bf1 Rc8, and Black would have an edge. 34. Rf2Finally the
right move. 34... Ke735. g5Bh836. Nd3Re337. Bf1?!37. Nf4 first was
stronger. 37... Be438. Nf4A little too late. 38... Rc839. Bd3Rg840. Ng2?!Another less than optimal move. Now Black finally begins to take
control. 40... Rf341. Re2Bd542. Be4White starts to realize that he
needs to trade pieces to try to survive. 42... Bxe443. Rxe4Kd644. Ne1?!Another error. White voluntarily walks into a pin. 44... Rf145. c3?An
error. White misses Black's follow-up. 45... bxc346. bxc3Rb8+47. Kc2Rf2+48. Kd3?!Another small error; 48. Re2 as a bit better. 48... Rxa249. Nc2dxc3White is down two pawns and they are passed and powerful. White
is losing. 50. Rde1Rd851. R1e2Kc5+52. Ke3Rd653. Rh2Bg754. h5gxh555. Reh4Rd556. Rxh5Kc457. Rh7Rxg558. Ke4Kb359. Rxg7Rxg760. Nd4+Ka361. Nb5+Kb4And White had enough.
Magnus Carlsen, back to camera, making a move against Fabiano Caruana during the match between Norway and the United States.
The United States had an easier pairing than Ukraine and India in Round 9: it faced Norway. While Norway was led by Magnus Carlsen, the World Champion, the drop-off in the quality of the rest of Norway’s team gave the United States a substantial edge. Indeed, the United States had little trouble, winning 3-1, powered by wins on Board 2 by Hikaru Nakamura, and Board 4, by Sam Shankland. Shankland’s win over Frode Urkedal was particularly brutal:
1. e4c5Shankland is one of the most difficult players to prepare for
because he seems willing and able to play just about anything. In this case,
he chooses the Sicilian Defense. 2. Nf3d63. d4cxd44. Nxd4Nf65. Nc3a6The Najdorf which is one of the sharpest variations in the Sicilian. 6. Bg5Nbd7Not as common as 6... e6 or 6... e5, but not bad. This variation is
called "De Verbeterde List" in Dutch. The idea is to postpone moving the
e-pawn until Black has a better idea of White's plan. 7. Qe2A slightly odd
move, but also not bad. White plans to castle queenside and now, when he does,
his rook will be on the same file as the Black queen, unimpeded by his own
queen. In addition, the White queen supports the e-pawn and may even support
an eventual advance by that pawn. 7... h68. Bh4g6A somewhat dangerous
move as it creates another target for White on the kingside. 9. O-O-Oe5In
conjunction with his previous move, this is really a strange decision. Black
played g6, apparently to fianchetto his bishop, but with his last move, that
would seem to be impossible as his d-pawn is now backward and weak and will
need to be protected by the dark-squared bishop. 10. Nb3Be711. Kb1Often
a useful move, perhaps White should have thought about attacking before Black
has time to consolidate his position. One possibility was 11. f3 to support
g4. Another was to try to slow Black's counterattack on the queenside by
playing 11. a4. 11... b5Black does not wait to start his counterattack. If
he does, he will be steamrolled. 12. a3Qc713. f3Kf8Shankland seems to
be developing a predilection to move his king in the opening rather than
castle, as per his last game against S.P. Sethuraman in Round 7. 14. Bf2White clears the route for a pawn storm on the kingside while also eyeing the
queenside to slow down Black's potential attack. 14... Kg715. h4Nb616. g3?!A difficult move to explain. Why not 16. g4? to continue the attack. 16... Rb817. Bxb6?!Another strange decision. There was no need to rush to
do this, if it even was necessary. White is losing the thread of the game. 17... Qxb618. Bh3?!Again, why? This only seems to help Black by helping him
bring his king rook to c8. 18... a519. Bxc8Rhxc8The initiative has
definitely passed to Black and his attack is far in advance of White's. 20. Nd5White may have been counting on this move to diffuse Black's attack, but
it is not enough. Indeed, it only makes Black's task easier as he no longer
has to worry about his d-pawn. 20... Nxd521. Rxd5a422. Nc1b4Black's
attack is coming quickly and White really has no answer. 23. axb4Qxb424. Nd3Qc325. Kc1Qc426. Rh2?A last critical error. White needed to run his
king to the kingside as quickly as possible with 26. Kd1. Now Black's attack
breaks through. 26... a327. bxa3Qa228. Kd1Rb1+29. Nc1Qxa3Black's
attack flows and White is helpless. 30. Qd2Qxf3+31. Re2Qxg3Black is up
two pawns, White has no compensation and, indeed, he has no way for his king
to escape the cross-fire of Black's pieces.
Russia moved into third place by beating Azerbaijan, the host country, 3-1. On Board 2, Vladimir Kramnik, the former World Champion, had little trouble with Teimour Radjabov, who barely put up a fight. Radjabov made some questionable decisions in the opening and was essentially dead lost after 25 moves.
Sergey Karjakin, left, against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (back to camera) and Vladimir Kramnik playing Teimour Radjabov (back to camera), while Andrei Filatov, center, the Chairman of the Russian Chess Federation, watches.
On Board 4, Alexander Grischuk had to work considerably harder to beat Arkadij Naiditsch, a German-born grandmaster who switched federations to play for Azerbaijan. It was an interesting game arising out of a French Defense:
1. e4e6The French Defense can either sharp or fairly uneventful. 2. d4d53. Nc3Bb4The Winawer Variation, which is often very tactical. 4. e5c55. a3Bxc3+6. bxc3Ne77. a4An old idea in the Winawer. White wants to
play his dark-squared bishop to a3 and also have Black advance his c-pawn to
c4. White will then control the dark squares from a3 to f8. White then tries
to attack on the kingside, where the defense is harder because of the weakness
on the dark squares. The drawback to this strategy is that the pawn on a4 is
almost always lost, after which Black has a queenside pawn majority. If he can
organize an advance of his a- and b-pawns, he can usually overwhelm White's
defenses on the queenside. 7... Qc78. Nf3b69. Bb5+An important move.
Part of White's strategy is also to preserve his light-squared bishop. This
check allows White to do that by preventing Black from playing Ba6. 9... Bd710. Be210. Bd3 is also possible, but the bishop will have to move again
at some point after Black plays c4. The bishop is just not as actively placed
on e2. 10... Nbc611. O-ONa512. Re1h6The square g5 can be useful for an
invasion by the White knight, so Black stops it. 13. h4Rc8Black is trying
to wait as long as possible before committing to castling. The text threatens
14... cd4. 14. Ba6Obviously, White does not want to lose a pawn, which is
what would happen after 14...cd4. 14... Rb815. Bd3Trying to provoke Black
into playing c4. 15... Bc616. h5c4Finally. Now the battle lines are more
clearly drawn. 17. Bf1Qd7The a-pawn will fall, but White's initiative on
the kingside is about to become very dangerous. 18. Nh4Bxa419. Ra2b520. Qg4Rg821. Ba3The White bishop takes up its ideal location. For the moment,
Black is okay, but that bishop creates many problems for Black. 21... Rb622. g3Nb7Black wants to play a5 and b4. White must hurry with his attack. 23. Bh3Kd8It is understandable that Black wants to get his king to
safety, but perhaps he should have continued with his plan and played 23...
a5, which would have given White something to think about. Now White's attack
continues unchecked. 24. f4a525. Rb1Of course White does not want to
allow Black to close the a3-f8 diagonal. 25... b4?A pawn sacrifice to
improve the security of his king, but it gives back the one advantage that
Black had -- his extra pawn. 26. cxb4Nc627. f5!White's attack arrives
just in time and now Black is in deep trouble. 27... Nxb428. fxe6fxe629. c3Bb329... Na2 30. Rb6 is hopeless as White's pieces break through and
swarm the king. 30. Rf2Nd331. Rf6!A nice move that overwhelms Black's
defense of e6. 31... Kc732. Rxe6Rxe633. Qxe6Qxe634. Bxe6Material is
equal, but White's bishops are cutting Black to ribbons. Black is helpless. 34... Rd835. Nf5Bc236. Rb5The computer prefers 36. Ra1, but at this
point, it almost does not matter. 36... Kc637. Rxd5A petite combination. 37... Rxd538. Ne7+Kb539. Nxd5Ka440. Be7Kb341. Bc8After 41... a4 42.
Bb7 a3 43. Ba3 Ka3 44. e6 Bd1 45. e7 Bh5 45. Bc6, white will win easily.
Though they almost certainly cannot win gold, two other teams, in addition to India, remain in contention for medals: Georgia and the Czech Republic. Both have been surprises at the Olympiad as they began the competition as the Nos. 20 and 17 seeds, respectively.
Georgia kepts its medal hopes alive in Round 9 by beating Hungary, 2.5-1.5. As might be expected with these two teams, it was an entertaining match, with three decisive results, among them the following game between Mikhael Mchedlishvili of Georgia and Ferenc Berkes of Hungary:
1. c4Nf62. Nc3e63. d4Bb4The Nimzo-Indian Defense. 4. e3O-O5. Ne2Not a popular move because Black usually has few problems equalizing. The
biggest problem is that White's king knight often ends up on g3, where it is
not well placed. Instead, 5. Bd3 is normal and better. 5... c66. a3Ba57. Qc2d58. Ng3White's knight is rather useless on g3. Black is already equal. 8... Nbd79. Be2dxc410. Bxc4e5If the White knight were on f3, as it usually is, this counterattack against White's center would not be possible. 11. O-OBc7The bishop has done its job and is repositioned on a more useful diagonal. 12. Ba2Re813. Rd1exd414. Rxd4Qe715. Nf5Qe516. f4Qc517. b4Qf8Black's queen might look silly on f8, but it is a temporary
problem. Meanwhile, White's pawn advances, while grabbing space have also
created weaknesses that he must defend. Chances are still about equal. 18. Bb2Nb619. Re1Bxf5Black's first somewhat questionable decision. It might
have been better to defer a decision on such a trade and play 19... a5
instead, attacking White's queenside. 20. Qxf5Rad821. Rxd8Bxd8?!An
artificial looking move; 21... Rd8 seemed natural and good, with the threat of
22... Rd2. After 22. Ne4 Ne4 23. Qe4 Qd6, Black should be fine. 22. Qd3c5?!On one level, an understandable move -- Black wants to bring his queen to an
active square. But it also gives up control of d5, which can be useful for
shutting down the a2-g8 diagonal. Black's position is beginning to a look a
little suspect. 23. bxc5Qxc524. Nb5Be7?!Blocking the rook. Black should
have tried 24... Nbd5 to put more pressure on e3 and if 25. Bd4, then 25...
Qe7, threatening Nf4. 25. Rc1Qh526. Bxf6!Counter-intuitive, but
well-timed. 26... gxf6?An error. Black was worried about 26... Bf6 27.
Nd6, but after 27... Rd8 28. Rc7 Qa5 29. Kf2 Nd5 30. Nf7 Qc7 31. Nd8 Qd8 32.
Bd5, Black would still have a fighting chance because of the opposite-colored
bishops. Now, he has too many weaknesses around his king. 27. Nd4!Rc8?Usually, trades help the defending side when he is being attacked. In this
case, it allows White to infiltrate Black's position more easily. 28. Rxc8+Nxc829. Nf5Bf830. h3Qg631. Qd7Black is helpless. The rest is easy. 31... Nb632. Qe8!In addition to threatening 33. Ne7, White also has 33. Bf7
Qf7 34. Nh6 and Black cannot stop it.
The Czech Republic also had a narrow victory — over the Netherlands. Three of the four games were drawn so the match came down to the game between Viktor Laznicka of the Czech Republic and Erwin L’Ami of the Netherlands. L’Ami got into a little trouble early in the game, but he defended well until he got a little too complacent:
31. Qc2Qb732. Bf1L'Ami had been defending a difficult position for a long
time. He now became complacent, not sensing the danger. 32... Kg732... Ne8
is better. 33. Qc3Kf7L'Ami thinks he can shuttle his king back and forth.
He is wrong. 34. Be2Kg735. Nf4Kf7??One too many times. Black had to
play 35... Nb4. 36. Ba6!If 36... Qa6, then 37. Qc6 Qa7 38. Qd6 Qb7 39. Ne6
Qd7 40. Ng5 Kg7 41. Qb6, etc. Or, 36... Qa8 37. Bb5 Ne7 38. Qc7 Qc8 39. Qb6,
In the women’s section, the United States and China were tied for the lead after Round 8 and faced each other in Round 9. The United States, the No. 6 seed, was fresh off an upset of Russia, the No. 3 seed, but in China, the No. 1 seed, the American squad faced an even bigger hurdle. They almost made it over it.
Hou Yifan, left, against Irina Krush, and Ju Wenjun against Nazi Paikidze during Round 9.
The United States drew three of the four games, including Irina Krush holding off Hou Yifan, the Women’s World Champion. But Nazi Paikidze, the reigning United States Champion, made an error early in her game against Ju Wenjun that she was never able to overcome:
9. Nd3Bxd2A questionable decision. This bishop is useful and taking the
knight only helps White's development; 9... Bd6 was better. 10. Bxd2Ne411. cxd5Nxd212. Qxd2exd5After the trades, Black has a passive position. Her d
pawn is a target and White also attack rather easily along the c-file. 13. Rac1c614. Rc2Qe715. Rfc1Rac816. a4Nf617. Qb4Qc718. Qb3Ba6?A
blunder that loses a pawn; 18... a5 was preferable. 19. Bh3Bc420. Qa3Rce821. Ne5c522. Nxc4dxc423. e3Ne424. Rxc4And that was it. Black
managed to fight on for 60 moves, but she could never overcome that pawn
deficit and it eventually decided the game.
Poland continued its surprising run by overcoming an overmatched squad from Israel. Next up for Poland? China. It might be the last obstacle standing in the way of China claiming the gold medal in the women’s division.
In the open section, the United States will play Georgia, Ukraine will face the Czech Republic and Russia plays India. No matter what happens, it looks like the gold medal will not be decided until the final round on Tuesday.
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 WorldChess.com.
FIDE and World Chess announces today that the 2018 World Chess Championship Match will take place in London in November 2018. The world’s most prestigious chess tournament is to be the climax of a season of high-profile activity to extend the sport’s appeal among global audiences – and make 2018 the Year of Chess in the UK.
After 9 days of intense chess battles at the last leg of the World Chess Grand Prix series 2017 in Palma de Mallorca, the two winners of the series were finally determined: Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan, overall 340 points in the series) and Alexander Grischuk (Russia, 336,4 points). They qualified for the Candidates Tournament – the next part of the World Chess Championship cycle, which leads up to the Championship match.
The sole leader of the Palma de Mallorca Grand Prix Levon Aronian made a quick draw with Evgeny Tomashevsky today, inviting the group of rivals to join him at the top. But same as in the previous rounds all games on the top boards finished peacefully and not a single player came close to catching up with him.
After seven rounds Aronian is in the lead with 4,5 points. A group of 8 players is half a point behind, including Vachier-Lagrave. In order to qualify for the Candidates, the Frenchman needs to win at least one more game. Boris Gelfand defeated Alexander Riazantsev, Pavel Eljanov won against Jon Ludvig Hammer, while Teimour Rajabov outplayed Li Chao. After the victory the Azerbaijani Grandmaster still hopes to qualify, but in that case has to win both games.
Javier Ochoa, Honorary FIDE Vice President and President of the Spanish Chess Federation, made the first symbolic move to start the fourth round, which turned out to be the most exciting round of the tournament so far, with six decisive games out of nine.
In the Third Round of the FIDE Grand Prix in Palma de Mallorca games between the four leaders, Vachier-Lagrave-Aronian and Rajabov-Giri, finished in a draw. Peter Svidler joined the group of leaders by beating Jon-Ludvig Hammer in the third round.
The world’s best chess players and chess establishment came together in Bellver Castle to celebrate the opening of the final leg of the FIDE 2017 World Chess Grand Prix Palma de Mallorca – a prestigious qualifier for the World Chess Candidates Tournament.
Katerina Lagno, one of the strongest Russian women-grandmasters won the historic Moscow Blitz Tournament, beating her fellow Russian Olympic team members Alexandra Kosteniuk, Valentina Gunina and Olga Girya.
After a draw against Ian Nepomniachtchi, Teimur Rajabov won the tournament. One of the strongest players, Rajabov had not won a major tournament lately, but has shown phenomenal form in Geneva and managed to overpower some of top world’s players