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).