India have taken the sole lead in Baku with Adhiban defeating L’Ami to maintain the Olympiad’s only 100% team record. The real challenge starts now, with the powerful US team up next after Fabiano Caruana made himself an American hero by beating Pavel Eljanov and putting an end to the Ukrainian charge. Nerves were obvious everywhere, and nowhere more so than in the crucial women’s showdown. Ukraine looked on course for an easy win over their rivals Russia, but blunders and tenacity saw Russia claw out a 2:2 draw.
For a video summary of the day's action check out GM Ilja Zaragatski's recap:
The key matches in both sections of the Olympiad in Round 6 were deceptive, with the team that first seemed to have the edge going on to draw or lose. The first surprise of the day was for 100% man Vidit to concede a 15-move draw with the white pieces to Loek van Wely.
After that it seemed as though Anish Giri had excellent chances of taking revenge for his Norway Chess loss to Harikrishna, but ultimately he was the one who had to force a draw by perpetual check.
The match turned on Erwin L’Ami’s game with Adhiban. Erwin went for a bold exchange sacrifice which looked to give him a healthy position with some winning chances, but he threw it all away with the careless 36.Rd1? in the run-up to the time control:
Simply 36…Bxc4! left White without a crucial pawn and outpost in the centre of the board. For the next 30 moves Adhiban did everything right and earned a crucial victory for his team.
The other unbeaten team had been Ukraine, who were “rewarded” for wins over China and Russia with another massive test against the USA. Up to a point it all seemed to be going according to plan, with Ruslan Ponomariov reaching a technical position an outside passed pawn up against Hikaru Nakamura. It was the kind of situation Ponomariov enjoys, but then on move 31 he also overlooked a simple tactic with 31.Re4?
31…Rxa4! eliminated White’s pride and joy, since 32.Rxa4 would run into 32…Qd1+ with complete equality. On the surface 32.Re8+ Kg7 33.Qf8+, which followed in the game, looked dangerous for Black, but it turned out White had nothing better than to force perpetual check.
That left the stage clear for Caruana, who had remarked in his recent interview for chess24 that while playing for Italy he hadn’t savoured the experience of winning matches against the top teams at an Olympiad. This was his chance, and against Pavel Eljanov a balanced opening eventually came down to another situation with an outside passed pawn. Fabiano made it count, skilfully combining pushing the pawn with an assault on the black king. In the final position it’s mate-in-5:
That left the USA only a point behind India and facing them in the next round, while no less than ten teams are right in the hunt on 10/12:
Notably absent from that list are hosts Azerbaijan, whose hopes of a famous victory on home soil look slim after they followed their loss to India with a draw against Greece, with Arkadij Naiditsch losing a second game in a row. They’re joined on 9 points by Norway, who drew all four games with the Philippines as one of those encounters garnered quite a lot of attention. First the Azerbaijan President's daughter did the honours...
...and then for a while it seemed a sensation was brewing as Magnus pushed too hard and ended up simply down a pawn to Julio Sadorra. As Peter Svidler noted in his Banter Blitz show, Carlsen’s opponent played very well, “as people generally do against Magnus - they see this as their chance to play someone really great and they motivate themselves very well with that”.
Sadorra commented afterwards:
It was only time trouble that kept me from converting the advantage… It's me against me. The only reason I will lose or not find good moves is me.
Watch the whole of that interview:
Among those who did make it to 10 points Canada were something of a surprise, and especially for the way in which they overcame Belarus. Eric Hansen was in deep trouble against Andrey Zhigalko, until 27…Kc7? happened:
28.e5! won a piece on the spot, since any capture on e5 is hit by 29.Nxe6+, winning the queen.
Among those on 10/12 are favourites China and Russia, though the Chinese did see the famously solid Wang Yue lose on top board. His conqueror was Argentina’s Sandro Mareco, who had come so close to beating Nakamura in an earlier round.
Russia, meanwhile, scored a convincing win over Germany. Ian Nepomniachtchi moved to a spectacular 6/6, with Daniel Fridman unable to resist the Russian’s incessant probing. Nepo, a slightly controversial pick for the side, is now up to world no. 15 on the live rating list.
The other win was for Vladimir Kramnik, who must have felt he was back in Dortmund as he took on Georg Meier. As always in his games against Meier, Big Vlad was willing to take some risks to bring home the full point:
15.0-0-0 was the start of an entertaining attack that while perhaps not perfectly executed still led to an endgame two pawns up. Georg Meier had seen enough and resigned on move 38.
The two standout teams of the women’s section met in Round 6, but what looked like being a famous victory for the Ukraine eventually ended up as an unlikely 2:2 draw:
Anna Muzychuk broke through against Alexandra Kosteniuk early and never let go, bringing the game to its logical conclusion. The same couldn’t be said elsewhere.
Anna’s sister Mariya had skilfully refuted all Valentina Gunina’s tricks, until one last one in time trouble:
Black simply needs to give up the rook here and she’s left with an overwhelming advantage, but instead Mariya played the natural 35…Rd8?? – when 36.Nxe6! Bxe6 37.Qxc6+ Bd7 38.Rxd7 Rxd7 39.Qc8+ followed, and with no escape from the checks on c8 and c6, the game was drawn.
A similar, if slightly less dramatic, story took place in Zhukova-Goryachkina, with Natalia losing an extra pawn to a simple tactical oversight on move 27. That left Olga Girya needing to beat ex-World Champion Anna Ushenina to save the match. She managed, but had Russian and Ukrainian chess fans on the edge of their seats as giving up a crucial pawn on move 40 ("I just missed it") could have swung the game in Ushenina’s favour.
Olga had to win the game again, but to her great credit she managed, posing too many problems and producing the dominant final position you can see in the match view above. Olga told Anastasiya Karlovich how she did it:
That draw between the only maximum scorers in the women’s section was a huge opportunity for China to catch the leaders, but in hindsight dropping World Champion Hou Yifan for the match against Romania proved a big mistake – although who could have predicted Corina-Isabela Peptan would comprehensively outplay women’s world no. 2 Ju Wenjun on top board?
Curiosity of the day: Corina missed mate-in-1 in the final stages, which were obviously played in quite a rush!
The standings at the top of the women’s section are even closer:
As you can see, India are among the group only one point back after Harika defeated Latvia’s now chess famous Finance Minister Dana Reiziece-Ozola to seal a 2.5:1.5 win, while Poland are up in third after beating the dangerous Vietnamese team 3:1. Klaudia Kulon has been the powerhouse behind the team, matching Nepomniachtchi’s 6 wins in 6 but with a remarkable twist – her last five games have all been with the black pieces!
Up next for Klaudia is Natalia Pogonina, as Poland take on Russia in a crucial match. By no means less crucial is China-Ukraine, with Hou Yifan returning as China attempt to leapfrog their opponents.
India – USA is the big match in the open section in Round 7, though Latvia-Netherlands, Russia-Czech Republic and England-China promise exciting chess. With only five rounds to go we’re getting to the crucial stages of this year’s Olympiad, so don't forget to tune in: Open | Women
If you missed any Round 6 action you can rewatch it below, with Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam joining Evgenij Miroshnichenko as a live commentator:
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