Irina Krush won a game she’d tried desperately to draw against Alexandra Kosteniuk to give the American women’s team a historic win over Russia. That late drama capped a good day for the US, with Wesley So earlier beating Ian Nepomniachtchi to ensure a match draw in the Open section and put the US a point ahead of Russia with three rounds of the Baku Olympiad to go. They have company, though, since India and Ukraine beat England and Georgia to move back into the lead.
Grandmaster Nikolas Lubbe again provides a full recap of the day’s action:
There was only one match that drew all the attention in the Open section, with top seeds Russia going up against their closest rivals the USA.
Before the encounter both team captains had a tricky decision to make and, in hindsight, you might claim they both got it wrong! The top three players for the US team picked themselves – this was one match the three star names couldn’t miss – but would it be Sam Shankland or Ray Robson on board four? Ray got the nod, but went on to lose the US team’s first game of the Baku Olympiad, making the mistake of taking on Alexander Grischuk in a time trouble brawl.
Things had already slipped when on move 38 Ray decided to liquidate… into a dead lost pawn ending: 38.Bxe4? fxe4 39.Qf2? Qxf2 40.Kxf2 The passed e-pawn ensured the black king could infiltrate and decide the game.
For Russia, meanwhile, there was no questioning the top two of Karjakin and Kramnik, but there were options below that. Tomashevsky could have played instead of Grischuk or, and this is hindsight’s choice, they could both have played in order to give a rest to Ian Nepomniachtchi, who had played every round so far. Of course if Russia had failed anyway the decision to leave out a man on 7/7 might have raised some eyebrows, to put it mildly – no-one said being captain was easy
In the match Nepomniachtchi’s run ended with defeat to Wesley So, who scored his third black win in a row with yet another flawless performance where he absorbed his opponent’s pressure and then set about exploiting weaknesses with surgical precision. It was the way people lose to computers… or Magnus!
That win for Wesley meant the match ended in a draw, since points were shared on the top boards. Vladimir Kramnik lost to Hikaru Nakamura with Black in the 2012 Olympiad in Istanbul and wasn’t in the mood to repeat that experience. Nakamura burned up 46 minutes on his 17th move, but could find nothing more than a continuation that led to an utterly drawn position after 22 moves… though the game was played out for another 20 moves.
Karjakin-Caruana, meanwhile, also ended on move 42, but should perhaps have been played out longer by Sergey, if only to keep Nepomniachtchi company. He was no doubt frustrated to have seen a real edge fade away, with computers optimistic about White’s position after 33…Kh8!?:
Fabiano was down on the clock and would have had more questions to answer if his bluff was called with 34.fxg7+, when Black can’t recapture due to 34…Kxg7 35.Qe5+. After 34…Kg8 35.g5 it’s not that White is clearly winning, but the US team would be left worrying about the outcome of the game. Karjakin instead continued the waiting game with 34.Kh1.
As it was, the drawn match was a blow to Russia, who now find themselves a point behind three teams with only three rounds to go. Their destiny is no longer in their own hands, since they’ve already played not only the USA but also Ukraine, whose match against Georgia didn’t get off to the best of starts.
This is one of the most enjoyable positions of the Olympiad so far:
Just what is Jobava’s rook doing on e7? Will it be forced to give itself up for the bishop on e6 next move? No! Baadur had gone for this with the brilliant idea of 17.Bh6!!, when Black is in trouble in all lines. Ruslan spent 27 minutes and saw nothing better than to take the offering, but after 17…gxh6 18.Qxh6 Rxc3? (18…Bd7 was the only way to prolong the game) 19.Qg5+ Kf8 20.Qxf6 Rxd3 21.cxd3 it was time to resign:
White isn’t even down material and the previously hapless rook is threatening 22.Rxf7+ or 22.Rxe6 if the queen moves. That win put Jobava on course for the prestigious gold medal on board 1 (6/7, a 2976 rating performance), but it wasn’t enough to stop a resurgent Ukraine from beating Georgia 3:1. Yury Kryvoruchko got to do some sacrificing on h6 of his own on board 2:
22.Nxh6+! cleared the queen’s path to g6, and Mikheil Mchedlishvili was busted.
The other leaders to join USA and Ukraine are India, who had Sethuraman to thank for beating Nigel Short on fourth board. The Indian grandmaster shrugged off his missed win against Shankland to play a hugely entertaining game. Nigel Short’s queen ended up boxed in on h8 on move 20, but despite the concern shown on social media…
…the lady made her way back out to play a full role in the action. Perhaps the key moment was on move 37:
37.g5! This little multipurpose move transforms the position. The black bishop can no longer come to f6 to block checks on the a1-h8 diagonal, while the h4-pawn is now exposed to attack by a rook on the 4th rank. There followed 37…Kg7 38.Bf4 Bxa3 39.Be5+ Kh7 40.Re4 Ne6 41.Rxh4+ and Black is getting mated.
It was a make-or-break day for the other teams hoping to stay in medal contention. China will not now defend their title as they suffered another defeat, this time to Hungary. That match was decided by Almasi beating Li Chao on board 3, but while it would be tempting to make a scapegoat of Li Chao for losing a second crucial game in a row, Wang Yue has also lost his last two games, while Wei Yi’s 1 win (remember Round 1?) and 5 draws can’t have been what China were counting on when they put him on last board. The whole team has simply been out of sorts in Baku, but the good thing about Hungary’s victory? Rapport now plays Jobava in Round 9!
Poland’s hopes were shattered by their neighbours the Czech Republic, as Duda lost to Laznicka to end a run of 7 wins and 1 draw for the 18-year-old, while a whole host of teams are outperforming expectations, including Slovenia, Chile, Italy and Greece. The latter are still the only team other than the USA to remain unbeaten in the Open section (4 wins, 4 draws).
You can add Norway to the list of over-performers, as a Round 3 loss enabled them to take a very quiet path up to 6th place. In Round 8 they beat Peru 3:1, with Emilio Cordova cracking in time trouble against Magnus in what was still a serviceable position. Jon Ludvig Hammer took another leaf out of Giri’s book by ending a drawing sequence with a loss, but there was no harm done. The easy ride is over now, with the USA up next:
On paper it looks as though Magnus must win with the black pieces on top board to give Norway a fighting chance – even prayer may not help!
Caruana-Carlsen is not quite a match between the world nos 1 and 2, since Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is back up to no. 2 on the live rating list after beating his fellow double-barrelled star Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu. France’s 3:1 win over Germany is probably too little too late to make an impact on the Olympiad, but we can at least hope to see Maxime play one of the top players (other than Vallejo) before the event is over.
Talking of Vallejo, he won as Spain overcame the Philippines 2.5:1.5, but the highlight of that match was unquestionably 64-year-old Eugenio Torre beating Ivan Salgado. It’s been a simply stunning performance from the veteran in his 23rd Olympiad (since 1970 he’s missed only 2008).
The standings at the top look as follows with three rounds to go:
While the USA and Russia are too close to tell apart in the Open section, in the Women’s event Russia have a 100-point rating advantage, with the 6th seeds USA not expected to compete for gold. Here they are, though, sharing the lead after eight rounds, with more match wins (7) than any other team.
Let’s look at how Yasser's players did it.
First blood went to the USA as Olga Girya was overwhelmed by Katerina Nemcova in a French Defence. The root cause of all Olga’s problems was failing to implement the right plan in a critical position:
She needed to play 14…Ndf8! and then swing the queen along the 7th rank and give mate on h1… well, that part of the plan wasn’t very likely to come off, but Black has excellent dynamic chances. Instead after 14.Kf7? 15.Bd3 it was all one-way traffic.
Valentina Gunina hit back to maintain a remarkable record of winning all five of her black games and drawing her two Whites. US Captain Nazi Paikidze was the victim this time round, and when Pogonina and Zatonskih drew it all came down to the two Ks, Kosteniuk-Krush:
Irina half-blundered, half-sacrificed her a-pawn and was soon trying to salvage a draw. When she thought she had a chance on move 40 she claimed a 3-fold repetition, but it turned out it would only be a repetition if Kosteniuk played 41.Nc6. She didn’t – and while objectively there was nothing wrong with that, it turned out to be the slippery slope towards defeat.
dubious exchange sacrifice White was probably still drawing, but then 67.Bg2?
ran into a neat tactic exploiting both the pin and a fork:
67…h5! And Kosteniuk resigned, since 68.Kxh5 is met by 68…Nf4+. Krush understandably described herself as “very happy, probably close to ecstatic” after the game, in a press conference you can watch below:
Up next for the USA are co-leaders China, who swept aside hosts Azerbaijan 3.5:0.5. If that were to end in a draw, Poland and Israel are poised only a point back and ready to capitalise, though they also play each other.
The standings in the Women’s section looks as follows:
With three rounds to go the Olympiad is really heating up, and apart from Caruana-Carlsen we’ve also got games like Eljanov-Harikrishna, Mamedyarov-Karjakin, Radjabov-Kramnik, Giri-Navara and Rapport-Jobava to look forward to. It’ll also be interesting to see how the Iranian youngsters get on against England.
You can rewatch Round 8 below:
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