Top seeds Russia fell to rivals Ukraine in Round 4 of the Baku Chess Olympiad, but that was just one of the storylines on a spectacular day. Phiona Mutesi’s story continued with a first game and win in Baku, but the Disney film plot was Latvian Finance Minister Dana Reizniece-Ozola beating the Women’s World Champion Hou Yifan. David Smerdon came closer than he may have thought to doing the same to Magnus Carlsen, but a draw also wasn’t a bad outcome. Oh, and the Netherlands obliterated England.
For grandmaster analysis of the Round 4 action check out Ilja Zaragatski's video recap:
In terms of sporting and political significance there’s only one place to start:
Everything seemed to be going right for Russia in Baku, but that worried commentator Sergey Shipov, who wrote on the KasparovChess forum:
I have a bad feeling about the performance of the Russian team at the Olympiad. Everything’s just started painfully smoothly and harmoniously! Our teams have crushed their opponents for three rounds, giving no chances. Our direct rivals have looked paler, while in the women’s tournament they’ve even been losing match points. Yesterday Georgia lost, and today in the third round China unexpectedly drew with Vietnam.
Nothing good will come of this…
They say that, as the years go by, you gradually and inevitably turn from an optimist to a pessimist. That’s probably it. You accumulate statistics on unexpected losses against a backdrop of complete serenity. And when things are going well, you again expect trouble.
Up to a point, all did seem fine for Russia in Round 4 as well. Kramnik had a position with no winning chances, but few losing ones, which is job done with Black on Board 1 of a close match. Tomashevsky had a comfortable edge with White and looked as though he might justify playing him on that board and benching Karjakin. Nepomniachtchi was soon applying pressure and would go on to score a 4th win in a row when he spotted a mating net at the end. The only cause for concern was perhaps Grischuk, who had spent well over an hour on moves 10-12, but then again, this was Grischuk!
After that though, events intervened, and it was a blur even for the players. Ruslan Ponomariov told Chess-News:
I was playing my game with Tomashevsky and time trouble began. I only managed to see that Anton [Korobov] had lost, and thought: “Damn, we lost with White!” But we keep on playing – what else was there to do? Then I suddenly see – oh, Andrei [Volokitin] has won! I don’t know how he won, it’s true, but he won. Well, I thought, life was getting better! And then my opponent also blundered a pawn – even better!
Ruslan’s nerve held, while you can only imagine the pressure the Russian men’s team is under at Olympiads – the failure to win since 2002 is a weight around their neck, and having Russian Chess Federation President Andrei Filatov as the team captain can hardly help to lessen the sense of expectation.
Throw in the fact that Ukraine are currently the last team Russia would want to lose to and you can perhaps explain how such top players as Tomashevsky and Grischuk suffered such ugly defeats. Just to rub a little salt in their wounds, the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko lost no time in hailing the victory:
Translation: "Today our men's chess team beat Russia. Good luck in the upcoming matches in Baku. We'll keep our fingers crossed!"
The consolation for Russia? The women’s team continued their winning ways, and since Serbia and Kazakhstan also have maximum points a showdown with Ukraine there has been delayed to some time after Wednesday’s rest day. And in the men’s section second seeds USA also dropped a match point, with four draws against the Czech Republic despite playing the dream trio of Caruana, Nakamura and So. France also drew all their games, with a third draw for Maxime Vachier-Lagrave seeing him leak another rating point or two.
Before the round began one player to watch was Queen of Katwe star Phiona Mutesi, who was playing her first game of her fourth Olympiad. It didn’t go too badly for her!
The Hollywood star this time, though, was for Dana Reizniece-Ozola. The 34-year-old was playing her eighth Olympiad, but as well as being an accomplished chess player she also happens to be the current Latvian Minister of Finance! In an interview before heading to Baku she commented:
What can we expect from it? They say that you have to shoot for the stars to get to the moon. However, an objective assessment of the situation is that we’re not ready to win medals, but we’ll work with a common goal – to represent Latvia strongly, sincerely and vigorously. Remember a rule that doesn’t disappoint: If you’ve done everything in your power, you also deserve good fortune.
Well, it doesn’t get much better than this! Not only did Dana beat the World Champion, but it was a crushing win, with a kingside attack that couldn’t be stopped.
39.Bxf5+! was the kind of move that if you play it against a World Champion you need to pinch yourself to check it's really happening. Hou Yifan played on out of inertia (or team spirit), but it was utterly hopeless. When she finally offered her hand in resignation, Dana had a priceless reaction:
Hou Yifan, meanwhile, may want to get some financial tips from Dana before she takes on her upcoming €100,000 investment challenge! No real harm was done, since China went on to win the match, with Ju Wenjun and Guo Qi saving the day.
Australian Grandmaster David Smerdon has (or is completing) a PhD in Economics, but it might have been too much if he'd also beaten the World Champion with an unstoppable kingside attack.
It came very close, with Magnus stopping to think for three minutes after 1.e4 c5 2.c3 and ending up in a spot of bother when queens weren’t exchanged early on:
Here David decided it was time to “cash in” his swashbuckling attack with a draw against the World Champion: 21.Rg1 h6 22.Rxg5 hxg5 23.Bh7+ and the bishop swung to and fro to force perpetual check. If someone else was sitting on the other side of the board you can't help thinking that something like 21.Bxh7! Kh8 22.Nf3 Bh6 23.Bc2 would have followed, when White looks to be much better.
Dream result or missed opportunity of a lifetime? You decide!
If this 3.5:0.5 victory was a film, it would be R-Rated. We noted in the previous report that England had rather stumbled to a perfect score after three rounds, and in Round 4 it all fell apart. Bok and L’Ami demolished Jones and Howell with the white pieces, while the resting Nigel Short could barely look:
Loek van Wely won the battle of the Lukes, when he twisted the knife with a 73-move endgame win over McShane that ended long after the match outcome was decided.
On a perfect day for the Netherlands Anish Giri also finally got a draw!
With all that drama, some heavy guns made easier progress in Round 4. India moved past Cuba with a win for 21-year-old 4/4-man Vidit. Azerbaijan have two 4/4 stars of their own in Mamedyarov and Naiditsch, with their wins over Romania taking Mamedyarov into the world top 10, while Naiditsch is back up in the 2700 club. China are also looking good, with Wang Yue and Ding Liren scoring against Italy, while Belarus are the surprise in the 100% club, with Sergei Zhigalko beating Shirov for a 2.5:1.5 victory over Latvia. The standings at the top look as follows after 4 rounds:
In Tuesday’s Round 5 something has to give, since the pairings are Ukraine-China, Netherlands-Belarus and Azerbaijan-India, while Russia will bid to bounce back against Egypt. In the women’s section the four perfect teams meet, with the matches Serbia-Ukraine and Russia-Kazakhstan likely to produce a Ukraine-Russia showdown in Round 6.
The Round 4 commentary can be rewatched below:
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