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    Entries in 2012 Chess Olympiad (9)

    Sunday
    Sep092012

    Olympiad Finishes: Armenia Wins, Russia Second, Ukraine Third

    And so the 2012 Olympiad in Istanbul comes to a close after an exciting finish. Three teams were tied for first entering the last round: China, Armenia, and the top-seeded Russian - in that order, on tiebreaks. All three teams had played each other, so all they could do was try to win their match and hope for the best.

    The Chinese had the toughest time, as they were paired with the very strong - and motivated - Ukranian team, as the latter could assure themselves of a medal by winning. And indeed, Ukraine did. Vassily Ivanchuk won a spectacular attacking game against Wang Hao, boards 2 and 3 drew, and for good measure Pavel Eljanov beat Bu Xiangzhi to round off a 3-1 victory.

    The Russians continued their comeback after losing to the Americans in round 9, defeating the Germans 3-1. Vladimir Kramnik bounced back with an interesting win over Arkadij Naiditsch, and on board three Sergey Karjakin ground Daniel Fridman down to collect a second win. That was more than enough for match victory, as the Germans unaccountably drew quickly in their white games on boards 2 and 4. Khenkin-Grischuk was especially preposterous, with Khenkin drawing by repetition in a well-known theoretical line in just 15 moves.

    With the victory, the Russians assured themselves of at least silver, so it all came down to the match between Armenia and Hungary. On board 1, Levon Aronian held with Black against Peter Leko's Catalan, finding a nice way to reach a draw by perpetual check. On board 2 Sergei Movsesian beat Zoltan Almasi in a slow Ruy (5...Be7 6.d3), again winning when it counted most. Overall his event was fairly poor, and he won only two games. But what games! His win over Grischuk in round 6 allowed Armenia to draw the match with Russia, and then he won again over Almasi. On board 4 Sargissian-Berkes was a draw, and it came down to a long battle between Judit Polgar and Vladimir Akopian. Both players had been doing very well all tournament, with Polgar having a bigger score and Akopian the bigger TPR. In the game, Polgar obtained some advantage, but they soon reached a very blocked position with rooks and opposite-colored bishops. Akopian had a couple of weak pawns, and Polgar looked and looked to find some way to take advantage. Finally, after 94 moves, she gave up. The game was drawn, Armenia won the match, and in the process won the gold medal as well. Congratulations!

    China finished in fourth place, tied with the U.S.A. but with a better tiebreak score. The U.S. team beat the Poles 2.5-1.5 in the last round, and the way they won showed perfect poetic justice. Gata Kamsky and Ray Robson won on boards 2 and 4, respectively, while Alexander Onischuk managed to sweat out a draw on board 3. Meanwhile, guess who lost? Here's part of his tweet on the final round: "I carried our team through the Olympiad and today, they carried me." Incidentally, the highest TPR on the team was Kamsky's 2796, two points ahead of Hikaru Nakamura's 2794. Of course, Nakamura's TPR was higher coming into the round, but Kamsky, who also lost just one game, could just as easily say "I carried our team through the Olympiad", making a special exception for round 4 against India. Just as easily, and just as inappropriately. You do your best, you help your teammates do their best, and leave it at that. Let others pat your back for you. They will, and not only when you succeed, but also when you don't but have given it your all.

    In the concurrent women's event China and Russia were tied coming into the last round, with the Chinese having the advantage on tiebreaks. Both teams won their matches, but the tiebreaks were flipped. Russia won the gold, China the silver, and Ukraine won its second bronze of the event.

    Finally, for those interested in board prizes, the men's TPRs are here; the women's, here. Interestingly, the best TPR of the event was on Shakhriyar Mamedyarov's 2880 on board three; the second best was David Navara's 2869 on board 2. Aronian won the gold on board one, but his TPR was "only" 2849 - just 33 points over his rating. (It's pretty nice to have such a rating!)

    Congrats to all the winners; the next Olympiad will be in 2014, in Tromsø, Norway. As for the next super-event, two are coming up in a couple of weeks. There's a FIDE Grand Prix event in London starting September 20 (12 players, including Nakamura, Ivanchuk and Grischuk) and the Bilbao Masters starting on the 24th (a 6-player double round-robin; participants include Carlsen, Aronian, Karjakin and Caruana).

    Friday
    Sep072012

    Olympiad, Round 10: Russia, China and Armenia Lead

    Not so easy come, easy go for the Americans. Boards 1, 2 and 4 were drawn in their match with China, and all that remained was Alexander Onischuk trying to hold against Ding Liren. He was a pawn down in a rook ending, with all the pawns on one side, and with plenty of time on the clock. Normally, the draw should have been routine. Instead, after 54.g4, Onischuk rejected the obvious and sufficient 54...hxg4 for 54...Ra1. In fact this wasn't so bad, but it was the first step in a terrible direction. Onischuk may have missed White's next move, 55.g5, but this was only a trick. First off, the passive 55...Ra6 should be enough to hold the draw, but the best move was the obvious 55...fxg5! After 56.Rd6+ Kf5 57.Rd5+ Kg6 58.Rxg5+ (58.hxg5 h4 59.f4 h3 draws immediately) Kh6 Black has a tenable ending - in fact, it's drawn even without Black's h-pawn. Unfortunately, Onischuk rejected both 55...fxg5 and even 55...Ra6, uncorked the horrid 55...Rh1??, and was immediately and manifestly lost after 56.Rd6.

    Ironically, the Russians won their match against Argentina in part by saving a similar ending. They won one game, when in a normal-looking Sicilian position Diego Flores played 17...b5?? against Sergey Karjakin. It's a perfectly normal kind of move; it's just that here, after 18.Nd5 Bxd5 19.exd5, Black was left to choose between positional capitulation (19...Ne7 20.c3 Nbxd5 21.Rxd5 Nxd5 22.Qxd5 etc.) and the loss of material (as in the game). Two games were drawn pretty routinely, and then it came down to Dmitry Jakovenko holding a pawn-down rook ending against Sandro Mareco.

    Finally, there's the Armenian story. They followed inverse strategy, drawing with White and winning with Black on boards 1 and 3: Levon Aronian and Vladimir Akopian defeated Anish Giri and Ivan Sokolov, respectively.

    Those are the leaders, and the only other team within a point is Ukraine. (They defeated the Azeris 2.5-1.5, with the sole decisive game coming on board 2, with Ruslan Ponomariov beating Eltaj Safarli.) There's one round to go, which comes after tomorrow's rest day, and then on Sunday the final top pairings are these:

    Ukraine 16 - China 17
    Hungary 15 - Armenia 17
    Russia 17 - Germany 15
    Poland 15 - USA 15

    (Remember that 2-1-0 scoring is being used. All other teams have 14 points or fewer.) As the board 1 match will produce a team with at least 18 points, all the 15-pointers are shut out of the race for gold. But silver and bronze could come down to tiebreaks, and I'm not sure what the situation is there. According to reporting in Chess Today - and they weren't completely sure either - the first tiebreaker is the opponent's cumulative score, only then followed by board points. As that first tiebreaker is highly volatile, I'll leave analyzing that to my more industrious readers. Those who want to look up information of this sort may wish to investigate the official site and the full list of pairings.

    Friday
    Sep072012

    Olympiad, Rounds 8 & 9: USA Beats Russia, Four Teams Lead

    U-S-A! U-S-A!

    Naturally, I'm happy as an American that the U.S. team upset the Russians. But everyone else (except the Russians) should be, too, as it turned what was on the verge of becoming a runaway for the gold medals back into a dogfight with lots of teams still in the running.

    First, though, let's get back to round 8. Russia entered the round with a one point lead over their closest pursuers (Ukraine and China), and left it looking like the luckiest team in the world. China drew with Azerbaijan, while Russia came away with a very fortunate victory over Ukraine. Vladimir Kramnik played terribly with White against Vassily Ivanchuk, but escaped in a rook ending a pawn down. (Ivanchuk seemed to think that he had missed a win, and was absolutely distraught afterwards.) Meanwhile, Alexander Volokitin failed to hold a pawn-down rook ending against Sergey Karjakin and lost, and so the Russians escaped with a 2.5-1.5 victory and took a two point lead going into round 9. Just three rounds remained, and they had played all their main rivals. (Or so it seemed.)

    Round 9 didn't work out so well for the Russians. On board 4, Dmitry Jakovenko had a pretty easy time of things with Ray Robson. The game continued to move 71, but the result had seemed inevitable for a long time. On board 3 Alexander Onischuk got nothing against Karjakin, and that game was a quick draw. So it came down to Hikaru Nakamura vs. Kramnik and Alexander Grischuk vs. Gata Kamsky. In both games, the Americans were pressing, but whether it would be enough to win the match or only draw was unclear practically until the very end.

    Kramnik was fine with Black coming out of the opening, and was even fine for a while after sacrificing the exchange. By move 40, however, he was clearly lost, but Kramnik kept hanging in there. On move 45, Nakamura's best was to take the h-pawn, but proably worried about Black's counterplay after 45.gxh4 Bf4 he chose 45.Ra2, surrendering a pawn and losing the lion's share of his advantage. Kramnik's 52nd and 53rd moves lost the progress he had made, and with interest (...Re8 would have been better on either move), and with 54.Rg5+ followed by 55.Rxg3 and 56.c7 the win would have been trivial. Nakamura's method was more complicated, and it seems that he missed some of Kramnik's subsequent defensive ideas, but after 59...Re7 he confidently executed a forced win with 60.Rxe7 Kxe7 61.c7 e2 62.c8N+! After that it was a routine technical task that I'm sure he enjoyed tremendously.

    That game finished just a few minutes after Grischuk-Kamsky, which had gone back and forth between looking like a draw and a win for Kamsky. After 43 moves, Black was up a pawn in a rook and bishop ending, with all the pawns on the same side of the board. I'm not sure if the position then was objectively won or not, but obviously Black would have all the fun.

    A curious moment came on move 48, when Kamsky chose not to play 48...Rxh2. The rook won't get trapped after 49.Kg1 Rh3 because Black has a little trick: if 50.Rh6 Kf7 51.Rh7+ Kg6 52.Rh6+ Kg7 53.Kg2 White would be able to draw, were it not for 53...Be5!, winning. Another interesting line is 52.Rb7 (instead of 52.Rh6+ in the previous variation) h4 53.Rb6. This might have been what concerned Kamsky. If 53...hxg3, 54.Be5 wins the bishop; if Black's king tries to run, then he'll either fail or drop the f-pawn: 53...Kf7 54.Rb7+ Ke8 55.Rb5=. But there is a solution: 53...Rxg3+! After 54.Bxg3 hxg3 55.Rb4 Bg5 followed by ...f4 Black is winning.

    Having rejected this, Kamsky's advantage diminished greatly, and had Grischuk chosen 55.Ke1 rather than 55.Be3 I think the draw would have been achieved without much more sweat. Grischuk's move was objectively good enough, going for rook vs. rook and bishop, but unless you're a computer or a well-rested human with plenty of time, that's a very dangerous decision. Sure enough, just a few moves later, his 61.Re7? lost the game (61.Rd8, 61.Rf8+ and 61.Rh8 would have maintained the draw), and with that and Nakamura's victory a few moments later, the Americans had won and caught the Russians in first.

    But not only the Russians. Armenia beat Germany 2.5-1.5, and China shellacked the Philippines 3.5-.5. Prior to this round, the Philippines had been one of the great surprise stories, and in particular their grand old man Eugenio Torre had enjoyed remarkable success, drawing Ivan Cheparinov in round 6, defeating Ferenc Berkes in round 7 and then Nigel Short in round 8!

    Here then are the leading pairings for today's round 10:

    China 15 - USA 15
    Argentina 14 - Russia 15
    Netherlands 14 - Armenia 15
    Azerjbaijan 13 - Ukraine 14

    Official site here, all the pairings here.

    Tuesday
    Sep042012

    Olympiad, Round 7: Russia Leads

    It has been ten years since they last won an Olympiad, but after seven rounds of this Olympiad the top-seeded Russian team is in the catbird seat. After beating Azerbaijan 2.5-1.5 on the strength of Grischuk's win over Safarli, they found themselves in clear first when the Armenians were upset by the Chinese. That match too was a 2.5-1.5 affair, and was likewise decided by a sole victory on board two - in this case with Wang Yue triumphing over Sergei Movsesian.

    So Russia leads with 13 points (out of 14, on 2-1-0 team scoring) and China has 12, tied with Ukraine for second. Ukraine defeated Spain 2.5-1.5 thanks to Ivanchuk's win over Vallejo. Nine teams have 11 points, including the U.S.A. (convincing winners over Turkey - 3.5-.5). Here are the leading pairings for round 8:

    Russia 13 - Ukraine 12
    China 12 - Azerbaijan 11
    Armenia 11 - Uzbekistan 11
    FYROM 11 - USA 11
    Germany 11 - Hungary 11
    England 11 - Philippines 11

    Monday
    Sep032012

    Olympiad, Round 6: Russia-Armenia Match Drawn; They Co-Lead with Azerbaijan

    After an underachieving start at the 2012 Olympiad (four draws in four games, including two blown wins) Vladimir Kramnik came up big against the biggest fish available. He defeated Levon Aronian on the white side of an Exchange Slav(!), and pretty easily too. That put Russia in great shape, but on board two the Armenians caught up. Sergei Movsesian hadn't been playing well (winless at -1) while Alexander Grischuk had gone 4.5/5, but there's a reason they play the games. Movsesian won, and as Sergey Karjakin got nothing with White while Dmitry Jakovenko had to sweat to achieve a draw, the match was tied.

    Both teams were perfect going into the round, but having given up a point apiece (on 2-1-0 scoring) they've been caught by the Azeris. They defeated the Croatian team 3-1, with Teimour Radjabov and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov both smashing their opponents with White. Mamedyarov is having a great event with 4.5/5, but Radjabov is doing even better: 5/5! If Radjabov's event ended now, he'd join the ultra-elite crowd as one of the very few players in chess history to make 2800. (If I'm not forgetting anyone, the only official members of the group are Garry Kasparov, Kramnik, Veselin Topalov, Viswanathan Anand, Magnus Carlsen and Aronian.)

    So the leaders have 11/12, a point ahead of China (drubbed Bosnia & Herzegovina 3.5-.5), the Philippines (2.5-1.5 winners over Bulgaria), Ukraine (defeated Montenegro 3-1), Hungary (3-1 over Poland), and Spain (nipped the Czechs 2.5-1.5, and this despite losing Alexei Shirov back to Latvia!). The U.S. continued its drawing rut, drawing its third consecutive match (and as in round 5, by drawing all four games).

    Leading Round 7 Pairings:

    Azerbaijan 11 - Russia 11
    China 10 - Armenia 11
    Philippines 10 - Hungary 10
    Ukraine 10 - Spain 10

    On board 7, the U.S.A. has "White" against Turkey, which means boards 1 and 3 will have the white pieces.

    Saturday
    Sep012012

    Olympiad, Round 5: Russia, Armenia Lead

    Now there are just two teams with perfect 10-point scores at the 2012 Olympiad: Russian and Armenia. Russia defeated Hungary 2.5-1.5 on the strength of Grischuk's attacking win over Almasi, while Aronian's crushing victory against Ivanchuk propelled the Armenians to a 2.5-1.5 victory over Ukraine. Russia and Ukraine will play in round 6 on Monday, after tomorrow's rest day.

    Azerbaijan is a point behind, unsurprisingly - they heavily outrated Canada and crushed them 3.5-.5. But what is surprising is that they are currently tied for third-fourth with Croatia, who were serious underdogs against France but won on two boards and took the match 2.5-1.5. They (the Azeris and the Croats) will play on Monday.

    No fewer than 17 teams have eight points, including the U.S., who drew with the Czechs in round 5 with four quick draws. The Americans will take on Germany on board 3 come Monday.

    The rest of the pairings are here - hope my readers' teams are doing well!

    Friday
    Aug312012

    A Quick Olympics Update: Four Perfect Scores After Four Rounds

    The first round of the 2012 Chess Olympiad in Istanbul was all about blowouts. Some elite GMs were nicked for draws and, on rare occasions, for the full point. But it didn't matter at the team level: the heavy favorites won heavily.

    In round two grandmasters started to meet on a regular basis, but for the top teams this still wasn't too big a problem. Players rated 2750 and 2500 may both be grandmasters, but it doesn't mean they're peers, and the top teams continued to roll.

    In round three the matches tightened up a bit, and there were some first signs of drama. Ukraine was in big trouble against Israel, for instance, but with some tenacity on their part and a bit of luck as well in the form of an unforced Israeli blunder allowed the favored Ukranians to escape with a 2.5-1.5 victory.

    Finally, round 4 saw some elite teams start to face off on a more regular basis; as a result, the number of perfect scores has already fallen to four as several top teams drew. The U.S.A. split 2-2 with an Anand-less Indian team, as Nakamura beat Sasikiran in impressive style on the white side of a Scotch, but Kamsky lost on board two to Harikrishna and the other games were drawn. England and France drew all their games, and the Azerbaijan-Germany match was drawn as well. The four teams that have won all their matches so far are Russia (who beat China by an impressive 3-1 margin and could have made it 3.5/4 if Kramnik had converted a winning position against Wang Hao [Kramnik also failed to convert a winning rook ending against Shirov in round 3]), Armenia (who struggled to beat the Philippines), Ukraine (they beat Poland 3-1) and Hungary (also 3-1 winners, over Slovakia).

    In round 5 those teams will face off with Armenia taking on Ukraine and Hungary challenging the top-seeded Russians. Eleven teams are a point behind. (They're using 2-1-0 scoring, so the leaders have eight points, the teams that have won three and drawn one match have seven, and so on.)

    Monday
    Aug272012

    Olympiad, Round 1: Pairings Are Up!

    And you can find them here. Other useful resources include the official site and this live commentary (both Russian and English) site.

    Wednesday
    Aug222012

    The Olympiad's Coming

    We've mentioned some of the controversies surrounding the forthcoming Chess Olympiad, to be held in Istanbul, Turkey, but hopefully the purely chess event will go off without a hitch. As always, it's a colossal event featuring practically all the world's best players (but no Anand again, sadly) as the world's chess super-powers fight for bragging rights and players of vastly differing levels from 160 countries(!) enjoy a great melting pot.

    The event runs from next Monday, August 27 through Monday, September 10. The opening ceremony is on the 27th, play runs from August 28 through September 9 (with rest days on September 2 and September 8), the closing ceremony is late on the 9th and the 10th is the departure day. There are 11 rounds in all.

    Pick your winners now!