News & Reports Aug 12, 2014 | 10:27 AMby Colin McGourty

Round 10 Preview: Penultimate chance

The old and new FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and his ties with the Russian Chess Federation were instrumental in assuring Kateryna Lagno and the Russian team played in Tromsø - her greatest achievement so far was to beat the World Champion Hou Yifan | photo: Georgios Souleidis, chess24

Sometimes the pairings system throws up oddities during big team events, but in the penultimate round of the 2014 Chess Olympiad we have exactly the heavyweight battles we’d hope for. In the Open section leaders France and China clash on the top table, while third and fourth placed Ukraine and Azerbaijan meet on the next. In the women’s event we have the showdown people were anticipating before the tournament began: Ukraine-Russia.

After the politics, chess...

Let’s start with the women’s section, where the situation is crystal clear. Russia have a perfect score and have already defeated their key rivals China and Georgia, so that 3rd seeds Ukraine are now the final barrier to the Russian women winning Olympiad gold for a third time in a row. Of course there’s also added spice – Kateryna Lagno’s acrimonious transfer from Ukraine to Russia and the late registration of the Russian team connected to it almost derailed the whole Olympiad, with FIDE threatening to cancel the event. In the end disaster was averted after the Russian team was allowed to take part.

Since then there’s been no looking back for the team or their new leader, Kateryna Lagno, and although diplomacy might have suggested resting her for today's game top-level sport is no place for sentiment. Today she has the black pieces against her replacement, Anna Muzychuk, who returned to Ukraine after many years spent playing for Slovenia. The battle promises to be fierce on every board.

Bo.3Ukraine (UKR)Rtg-2Russia (RUS)Rtg0 : 0
1.1GMMuzychuk, Anna2555-GMLagno, Kateryna2540
1.2IMMuzychuk, Mariya2530-GMGunina, Valentina2524
1.3GMUshenina, Anna2487-GMKosteniuk, Alexandra2531
1.4GMZhukova, Natalia2468-WGMGirya, Olga2484

On board 3 Spain's Ana Matnadze lost her first game but has won four and drawn three since | photo: David Llada

Even if Ukraine win it’s highly unlikely they could challenge Russia for gold medals, but they would allow the top seeds China to catch up with Russia. For that, of course, China need to defeat Spain today, although that might be easier said than done. The Spanish 11th seeds are punching above their weight, suffering only a single narrow loss to Holland while drawing against Ukraine and India. Amalia Aranaz on board four has seven wins and one loss and today takes on former World Junior Champion Guo Qi.

Germany-Romania and Georgia-Poland are other big matches that will help determine the medal winners.

Solidity vs. Flair? 

On a roll! France's Etienne Bacrot has won his last three games to push his rating performance up to 2790 | photo: Georgios Souleidis, chess24

While China were top seeds in the Women’s section they were only 7th in the Open, but have been exceeding expectations. Their secret so far has been extreme solidity – they’ve lost one game in 36 (Wang Yue against Peter Leko), while everyone but the winless Wang Yue on top board has been posting regular wins. Although the temptation is to contrast the Chinese approach with French flair, the truth is that France themselves have only lost two games, with the misfortune that one of those losses – Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 0-1 Shakhriyar Mamedyarov – cost them a match.

Bo.3France (FRA)Rtg-7China (CHN)Rtg0 : 0
1.1GMVachier-Lagrave, Maxime2768-GMWang, Yue2718
1.2GMBacrot, Etienne2720-GMDing, Liren2742
1.3GMFressinet, Laurent2708-GMYu, Yangyi2668
1.4GMEdouard, Romain2680-GMNi, Hua2666

If either France or China wins they’ll be in with a wonderful chance of gold medals, but if they cancel each other the five teams a point behind can catch up to make the final round a thrilling finale to the tournament. Ukraine-Azerbaijan (Ivanchuk-Mamedyarov, Ponomariov-Radjabov) will be a big contest to watch, but the matches involving the other teams on 14 points may be just as crucial for the medal placing.

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov has often found himself tasked with adding some firepower on the bottom boards in team tournaments for Azerbaijan, but he's doing a fine job on top board this time round - despite a single loss to Leinier Dominguez he's performing above his rating | photo: Georgios Souleidis, chess24 

5th seeds Hungary have a great chance on paper against 32nd seeds Romania, though the latter have managed to hold the Czech Republic and Azerbaijan to eight draws in the last two matches. Hungary drop Judit Polgar for a second match in a row, but they seem to know what they’re doing with their line-up – surprise board two, 2637-rated Csaba Balogh, has 5 wins in 7 games for a 2841 performance.

Team Poland in Tromsø - Bartosz Socko, Mateusz Bartel, Jan Krzysztof Duda and Grzegorz Gajewski (only Wojtaszek is missing here) | photo: Georgios Souleidis, chess24 

Bulgaria (14 match points) - Poland (13) is another fierce encounter, with Topalov-Wojtaszek on top board, but also a battle between the form players, Iotov-Duda, on board 3.

Below that a number of pre-tournament favourites – Russia (vs. Serbia), Armenia (vs. Vietnam) and the US (vs. Argentina) – have very winnable matches to try and put themselves in medal contention on the final day. Games to look out for include: Giri-Kasimdzhanov, Le Quang Liem-Aronian, Dominguez-Jobava and Shirov-Gelfand.

Norwegian number ones

Magnus Carlsen is again in action for the home team, taking on one of the surprises of 2014, Ivan Saric of Croatia. Carlsen remains on course to claim personal gold on Board 1, although he’s performed slightly below his rating. It’s not easy being head and shoulders above the rest! Today Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg is set to make the first move on his board.

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