Reports Sep 5, 2016 | 10:21 AMby Colin McGourty

Baku 2016,3: The battle begins

Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin were both held to draws on Sunday, with no team in either section now able to boast they've won every single game in the Baku Olympiad. Heavyweight outfits like Poland, Hungary, Germany and Norway tasted defeat for the first time, while in the women’s section top seeds China were lucky to drop only a point against Vietnam. It’s looking good for Russia, whose men’s team takes on Ukraine in Round 4.

The Russian women's rivals are dropping like flies - can Alexandra Kosteniuk and co. make it four Olympiad triumphs in a row? | photo: Eteri Kublashvili, Baku Chess Olympiad

After two rounds in which the strong teams could take things easy, Round 2 was much more interesting – Grandmaster Niclas Huschenbeth summarises the action, focusing on Moldova 1-3 Russia, Azerbaijan 3-1 Hungary, Netherlands 2.5-1.5 Vietnam, USA 3-1 Argentina, Brazil 1-3 China, Carlsen’s draw with Lupulescu and Vietnam’s 2-2 draw with China in the women’s section:

Russia and Azerbaijan are so far looking very impressive, but there were perhaps two matches that most caught the public imagination: USA-Argentina and England-Canada. In the first the sensation was that Hikaru Nakamura was almost busted right out of the opening against talented 29-year-old Argentine Grandmaster Sandro Mareco. Later on he really was busted, but Nakamura escaped like Sam Shankland the day before:


If Mareco had played 64.f5! now, giving the king an escape route, it was all over bar the shouting. Instead 64.c7? Nc1! forced a draw, with 65.c8=Q? now even losing! Although the 3:1 scoreline eventually looked smooth, Fabiano Caruana’s win over Fernando Peralta was anything but, involving some hair-raising tactical sequences in mutual time trouble. Caruana’s manager could breathe a sigh of relief:

The whole Caruana clan is in Baku:

Things went better for Caruana than for coach Rustam Kasimdzhanov, who couldn't prove his compensation for a piece against David Navara's ruthless technique | photo: Eteri Kublashvili, Baku Chess Olympiad

England, meanwhile, had a thrilling encounter with Canada, whose top board, Evgeny Bareev, was once a top Russian grandmaster. In fact, he last played his Round 3 opponent Mickey Adams 12 years ago in Wijk aan Zee 2004. After that he spent a long time as the Russian team captain, and was famous for his acerbic comments about his own players (for instance: “Malakhov came up against a “novelty” that even the building’s cleaning lady knew about…”). 

Four-time Olympiad gold medalist (those were the days for the USSR/Russia!) Bareev, now playing for Canada | photo: Paul Truong, Baku Chess Olympiad

If he was Canadian Team Captain he might have been less than impressed with how he tried to break out early in a French Defence, and only ended up tangled in Adams’ webs:


32.Rf4! was a nice quiet move to force resignation, since the threat of Bxh7 and Rh4 can’t usefully be parried.

When Gawain Jones then swept to victory on board 2 it was looking very good for England, but Anton Kovalyov hit back against David Howell and Canada would have claimed a draw if Eric Hansen could convert a big edge against Nigel Short. He couldn’t, so after two narrow wins England maintain their perfect score as they go into what should be a fierce and balanced encounter with the Netherlands. 

Anish Giri moved to 3/3, despite his Vietnamese opponent Le Quang Liem being absolutely no pushover | photo: David Llada, Baku Chess Olympiad

Jan-Krzysztof Duda, 18 years old and closing fast on 2700, is another 3/3 man after a fine win over Lazaro Bruzon of Cuba, but defeats on the bottom two boards saw Poland fall to defeat. Team spirits probably weren’t helped by the Polish women also losing to an upset win by hosts Azerbaijan.

With Magnus Carlsen unable to squeeze out a win on top board a single loss for Tari Aryan to Bogdan-Daniel Deac was enough to give Romania victory over Norway, while Germany-Ukraine was also decided by a lone win. Andrei Volokitin caught Daniel Fridman’s king in the centre and brought down the guillotine in 23 moves.

Fridman with a lot to think about against Volokitin | photo: Paul Truong, Baku Chess Olympiad

One match that couldn’t be decided was France-Spain, with four draws led by Paco Vallejo holding the Berlin Defence (check out his chess24 Berlin video series) against world no. 2 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

The infamous Berlin Wall!

We say world no. 2, but that kind of depends on your perspective (before/after, official/live), since two draws have seen Maxime tumble to fourth on the live rating list:

Source: 2700chess.com

It could have been worse, since Ivan Salgado had a good chance to win the match for Spain.

Everything going the Russian women’s way

In Round 2 fourth seeds Georgia fell to defeat, while in Round 3 even the first appearance at the board for Women’s World Champion Hou Yifan couldn’t help top seeds China to victory over Vietnam:


Hou Yifan looked raring to go, utterly paralysing her opponent at the end of the game, but Zhao Xue suffered the indignity of getting mated by Thi Mai Hung Nguyen. As Niclas noted in his video, the match was closer to a Vietnamese win than to a Chinese one.

After two days of interviews, World Champion Hou Yifan was back at the board for China | photo: Lana Afandiyeva, Baku Chess Olympiad 

With dark horses Poland losing, Russia’s title chances are looking excellent after a straightforward win over Uzbekistan, but the major test looming in the distance is a clash with Ukraine. Anna Ushenina’s win over Katerina Nemcova was all that decided a very tense match against the USA, but with the Muzychuks and Natalia Zhukova they have a team that can beat anyone.

Former World Champion Mariya Muzychuk pauses for thought | photo: Maria Emelianova, Baku Chess Olympiad

In the Olympiad as a whole, though, we don’t have to wait so long to see Ukraine-Russia, since they’ve been paired in Round 4. Former Ukrainian player Sergey Karjakin is dropped, but Russia have a useful replacement in the form of Vladimir Kramnik, who takes on Pavel Eljanov on top board. On pure Elo the games to watch in Round 4 are:

We wouldn’t dispute that, especially given the form of Navara and Caruana so far in Baku, but there’s a lot more action going on. Before the Olympiad Magnus Carlsen had said Plan A was to win all of his games. Now it’s on to Plan B, though we’ve a sneaky suspicion that might look a lot like Plan A, just with a different start date. His next victim opponent is Australia’s GM David Smerdon, who shared his preparation:

If the round needs a different soundtrack you could do a lot worse than this:

Phiona Mutesi, who as we mentioned in our preview is probably about to become the best known player in the event, will play her first game of the 2016 Olympiad today, as Uganda take on Honduras.

Don't miss Monday's Round 4! Open | Women 

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