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    Entries in 2016 Chess Olympiad (19)

    Tuesday
    Sep062016

    Baku Olympiad, Round 5: Ukraine Beats China; Leads with India and the Netherlands Going into the Rest Day

    There's a long way to go yet in the 42nd Chess Olympiad, but so far Ukraine has marked itself as the team to beat after defeating top-seeded Russia and third-seeded China. (Next up: they'll play the second-seeded U.S.A. team on Thursday, after the rest day tomorrow.) Against China there was only one decisive game, and that was Yuriy Kryvoruchko's win with White against Yu Yangyi.

    The Ukranians are joined in first by the Netherlands, who defeated Belarus 2.5-1.5, and by India, who were slight underdogs against the Azerbaijani A-team but won 3-1 nevertheless. In both matches the winners went undefeated and achieved their wins with the black pieces.

    The teams that are half a point (technically a point behind, since they're using 2-1-0 scoring) behind include the U.S., 3-1 winners over Austria; the Czechs, who defeated Slovenia 2.5-1.5; and Georgia, which was a slight underdog against Spain but crushed them 3.5-.5.

    In the women's section Russia and Ukraine are both 5-0 after wins against wins against Kazakhstan (3.5-.5) and Serbia (3-1), respectively. Romania, China, and Azerbaijan each have 4.5-.5 scores (or again, 9 out of 10 on 2-1-0 scoring), while 11 teams have 4-1 scores, including the United States, who will play Turkey in round 6.

    Here are a bunch of games from the round, some relevant to the battle for first, and others just for the own sakes. Enjoy.

    Tuesday
    Sep062016

    Baku Olympiad, Round 4: Ukraine Beats Russia

    As is well known, the Russian team has not won an Olympiad since 2002, back when Garry Kasparov was playing. Although there's always the top seed, that hasn't translated into gold medal success in a long time, and after round 4 it's clear that taking first isn't going to be easy this time around either. The Ukranian team may well have had a chip on their shoulder based on what their neighbors to the east (and north, and southeast) have been up to lately; if so, it showed. (Interesting side note: Sergey Karjakin didn't play. Maybe it would have inspired the Ukranians even more?) Ukraine won 2.5-1.5, and Pavel Eljanov might have pushed for more in a better position against Vladimir Kramnik, had that not sealed match victory.

    The other three games were all decisive, all won by Black. On board 3 Ian Nepomniachtchi defeated Anton Korobov pretty comfortably, while on board 4 Andrei Volokitin (co-author of Perfect Your Chess, one of the best tactics books around for masters and up) took advantage of Alexander Grischuk's flawed attempt to play for a win. The deciding game was between Evgeny Tomashevsky and Ruslan Ponomariov, and it turned on a dime. Through 32 moves Tomashevsky had enjoyed a serious advantage, and the main question was whether he'd manage to convert it. His 33rd move was a big error, allowing Black to take on g4 without worrying about h5 in reply. As a result Black was able to safely grab a pawn and bring his previously bad bishop to life. Ponomariov's advantage wasn't as big as Tomashevsky's had been, but his technique was more convincing and he brought home the point.

    Things went better for the second seeded Americans - but not much! On paper the U.S. team was a big favorite against the Czechs, but all four games were drawn. Wesley So had some winning chances against Zbynek Hracek, but failed to convert them in the last game of the match to finish.

    In other top matches, India beat Cuba thanks to Santosh Vidit's win over Yuniesky Quesada Perez on board 3; the top Azeri team went +2=2 against Romania and the Chinese did the same against Italy. The Dutch team crushed the English by a very surprising 3.5-.5 margin; especially surprising since they were slight underdogs. Belarus beat Latvia 2.5-1.5 thanks to Sergei Zhigalko's victory over Alexei Shirov. Finally, had Slovenia beat Serbia or vice-versa, the winner would have gone to 4-0, but they drew.

    In the next scoregroup - teams with two wins and a draw coming into the round - I'll mention the match between France and Greece. The French were significant favorites, and in both of their white games they had the brothers Mastrovasilis - Dimitrios and Athanasios - in trouble. Both survived, and the plucky Greeks eked ("Greeked"?) out a 2-2 draw.

    A couple of individual results of note: Baadur Jobava of Georgia beat Veselin Topalov, while Magnus Carlsen was even a bit lucky to draw with David Smedon of Australia. Those games are several others can be replayed here.

    The top matches for round 5 are: Ukraine-China, Netherlands-Belarus, Serbia-U.S., and Azerbaijan-India. The Russians will have their chance to start a comeback on board 8, against Egypt.

    In the women's event there were some surprises. Russia's 2.5-1.5 victory over Hungary was not one of them, nor was Ukraine's 3.5-.5 mauling of the French. Israel's managing a 2-2 tie with India was very surprising, however, and going down a few boards it was incredible to see Hou Yifan get completely outplayed by a player rated 2243. Fortunately for her sanity and that of Chinese fans everywhere, their team avoided a second straight surprise and won 2.5-1.5. As for the U.S. women, they won by the same score, 2.5-1.5, over the team from Bosnia & Herzegovina thanks to victories on the last two boards by Anna Zatonskih and Sabina-Francesca Foisor.

    Event website here.

    Monday
    Sep052016

    Baku Olympiad, Round 3: The Plot Thickens

    The biggest of the big dogs aren't facing off yet, but the matches are already getting competitive even on the top boards. Russia was a comfortable winner over Moldova, but they did surrender a pair of draws.

    On board 2, Cuba-Poland was a heavyweight battle won by the Cubans 2.5-1.5. Board one was drawn, and the remaining three games were all incredibly sharp and finished with winners and losers.

    India won 3-1 against Azerbaijan's B-team, while the top Azeri team beat Hungary 3-1 in another heavyweight battle. The Dutch barely beat Vietnam 2.5-1.5, and Italy and England squeaked by Turkey and Canada by the same margin.

    The United States and China both won their matches with undefeated 3-1 scores (against Argentina and Brazil, respectively), but in both cases the scores could have been even closer. Hikaru Nakamura was simply lost, and lost for a long time, against Sandro Mareco. Fortunately for the U.S. Mareco went wrong with 64.c7?(?), missing the nice shot 64...Nc1!, forcing a draw. Had he first played 64.f5! and only then 65.c7 he would have achieved a well-deserved win. The point is that f4-f5 clears f4 for White's king to escape Black's rooks, a resource which was unavailable in the game.

    As for the China-Brazil match, the Brazilians had opportunities galore. On board 4 Diego De Berardino was winning against Li Chao, albeit in a very complicated position. That game finished in a draw. On board 3 the position was about even when Evandro Barbosa walked into a pretty obvious mate in two. (Not technically - White could throw away his rook and delay the game for a few moves, but the simple mate is the nub of it.) Finally, on board 1, Alexandr Fier looked to be drawing against Wang Yue 90-some-odd moves in, but got worn down and finally resigned instead of making his 115th move.

    Two other results that are especially worthy of note: Ukraine squeaked by Germany 2.5-1.5, and France - with MVL playing - only drew their match against Spain.

    Here are the top matches for round 4: Russia-Ukraine(!), India-Cuba, USA-Czech Republic, Romania-Azerbaijan, China-Italy, and England-Netherlands. Okay, one more: on board 9 there's Greece vs. France.

    In the women's tournament there was a huge result on board 1: the top-seeded Chinese drew their match with Vietnam. Hou Yifan did her job, winning with white on board 1, but on board 3 Zhao Xue got a lousy position straight out of the opening - again, with white - against Thi Mai Hung Nguyen, and was soundly beaten.

    This means the Russians, who are the three-time defending champions, are in the lead after their 3-1 victory over Uzbekistan. In other top matches Lithuania beat Cuba 2.5-1.5, Azerbaijan upset Poland by the same score, and down on board 7 Ukraine defeated the U.S. 2.5-1.5. Boards 1-3 saw draws, and on board 4 Anna Ushenina had an unfortunately easy time of it against Katerina Nemcova whose opening preparation (or maybe her coach's preparation?) simply wasn't up to par.

    Saturday
    Sep032016

    Baku Olympiad, Round 2: Still Business As Usual, Except for the Georgian Women

    The matches got a bit more interesting today, but for the top teams there still wasn't too much trouble. The Russians won 4-0 against a feisty team from Turkenistan, and while the U.S. and China both gave up a draw (to Scotland and Belgium respectively) they weren't threatened at all. Azerbaijan went 4-0, Ukraine went 3.5-.5, and only England among the upper echelon teams had a bit of a scare, winning only 2.5-1.5. There were a couple of mild upsets of note, with Georgia and Greece being held to 2-2 draws against Iran and Slovakia, respectively, but neither result could be described as shocking. Surprisingly, the victims of yesterday's big shock, the Bulgarians, weren't particularly impressive today, either, in defeating the Faroe Isles 3-1 (both Veselin Topalov and board 2 Momchil Nikolov were held to draws).

    In the women's event, there were upsets. The Chinese (board 1) and the Russians (board 3) did their jobs, winning their matches 4-0, and on board 2 Ukraine won comfortably with a 3.5-.5 score. After that, things were tougher. The fourth-seeded Georgians (Azerbaijan is board 4, but this appears to be an honorary placement for them as the home team; they are not fourth in the ratings or anywhere close to it) were shocked by a heavily-outrated team from the Philippines 2.5-1.5. India defeated Brazil despite losing a game, and the U.S. had a really difficult time against Norway, drawing three tough games but winning the fourth rather than nicely thanks to U.S. Women's Champion Nazi Paikidze.

    The event website is here, and I've put together a selection of interesting games here.

    Friday
    Sep022016

    Baku Olympiad, Day 1: Business As Usual, Except for Bulgaria

    The first round of an Olympiad, as is generally the case with any Swiss System event, is typically full of mismatches. The big three (Russia, the U.S., and China) all flattened their opponents with 4-0 shutouts, and so did the Azeris, the Ukranians, the Poles, the French, and the Indians (for starters). Some individuals on some strong teams were nicked for draws - Zoltan Almasi of Hungary, Jon Ludwig Hammer of Norway, Georg Meier of Germany, and Ivan Salgado of Spain were among those giving up half points against considerably lower-rated opponents. Overall though, the favorites performed as expected given the mismatches.

    One big exception: the Bulgarian team. The team is lacking Ivan Cheparinov and Kiril Georgiev and isn't as strong as it could be, but Veselin Topalov is playing and their team rating of 2596 still ought to be enough to dispense with the Sudan (average rating 2174). Topalov did his job on board 1, defeating 2199-rated Samir Nadir with White in 31 moves. No problem. Bulgaria's other White game was also a success, as GM Krasimir Rusev (2548) won easily against Asim Ali Elobeid (2109).

    Unfortunately for the Bulgarians, they didn't have any more success than the Sudanese when it came to playing Black. FM Abubaker Tagelsir (2216) simply crushed GM Momchil Nikolov (2585) on board 2, and Abdelazeez Mohamed Abdalla (2183) convincingly outplayed IM Martin Petrov (2458) on board 4. Very impressive.

    On the women's side it's really a big four, and they - China, Ukraine, Russian, and Georgia - all got through with 4-0 scores, as did other favorites like the Azeris, the Indians, and the Americans.

    Look for plenty of blowouts in the round 2 action as well - it takes a little while before the big teams start to meet in this 11-round event.

    Friday
    Sep022016

    The Baku Olympiad Starts Today

    The action begins in several hours, as of this writing, at 3 p.m. CEST (= 7 a.m. ET).

    The Russians are the top seed, with a team average rating of 2768 (middle-aged folks like me can remember a time not all that long ago when not even one person, except for the retired Bobby Fischer, had a rating anywhere near that figure), with the United States just a hair behind at 2765. The defending champions from China are a very strong third seed, with a rating average of 2740, while the top team from the host nation, Azerbaijan, is fourth with a 2717 rating. Other notables include India, which is still 9th despite Viswanathan Anand's customary absence, and Norway, which does have Carlsen and is seeded 12th.

    The most noteworthy absence is the Armenian team thanks to their perpetual conflict with Azerbaijan, and on the individual level (aside from Anand and Aronian) Boris Gelfand and Vassily Ivanchuk (playing checkers?!) will also be missed.

    More info here, and on the women's event too.

    Wednesday
    Aug312016

    Kasparov Coaching the U.S. Olympic Team? (Almost Certainly Not)

    Garry Kasparov has regular interactions with U.S. chess players, especially juniors, but this bit of conjecture/rumor-mongering by Russian Chess Federation President Leonid Filatov seems based on a misunderstanding of Kasparov's activities in the U.S. Or, perhaps, he's just stirring the pot for some reason. If it turns out to be true, though, I for one would be quite happy about it.

    Saturday
    Jun182016

    The 2016 U.S. Olympic Team

    The identities of the first four players offers nary a surprise: Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, Wesley So, and Ray Robson. The reserve spot was more closely contested, but in the end Sam Shankland earned his place on the team. It could have been an even stronger team if Gata Kamsky had maintained his level from just a few years ago, but short of Garry Kasparov taking U.S. citizenship and coming out of retirement it's about the best the U.S. can do - and it's very good.

    More here. (HT: Daniel Parmet)

    Tuesday
    May122015

    United States Wins 2016 Chess Olympiad

    Also the 2018 Olympiad, according to this report.

    (HT: Allen Becker)

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