Fabiano Caruana, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Vladimir Kramnik, Ding Liren, Vishy Anand, MVL and more stars were rested for Round 1 of the Batumi Olympiad, but it didn’t stop a massacre. The favourites won in all 162 matches in the Open and Women’s sections, with none of them dropping more than a point. Some of those points were dramatic, though, with China’s Li Chao the highest rated casualty as he fell to 464 points lower rated Candidate Master Mohamed-Mehdi Aithmidou from Morocco.
The logistical challenge of the Chess Olympiad, with 1600 players accompanied by captains, coaches and FIDE delegates, means that the first day seldom goes smoothly. The Batumi Olympiad was no exception, with Round 1 a return to earth after an Opening Ceremony that received universal praise.
That took place in the 10,000 seat Black Sea Arena 45 kilometres from Batumi, while the venue, or rather venues, for the Olympiad itself proved less spacious. The newly built Batumi Sport Palace came in for criticism from various teams, with US Grandmaster Alejandro Ramirez commenting for uschess.org:
The playing hall in which our teams were playing, called “playing hall one” which is for the top boards, was quite a disaster. The players are very close to each other, with little room to breathe. The main hall is always extremely crowded, it is noisy and hot.
The majority of teams are playing in another larger but more makeshift venue connected by a tunnel. The main criticism, though, was reserved for the waiting involved in passing through security to get to your board:
The most dramatic impact was on the tournament’s top seeds, USA, who took almost an hour from arriving at the venue to reaching their boards.
If play had started on time they could have forfeited their match, since there’s only a 15-minute grace period for late arrival, but in fact the start of play was delayed until around 15:15. Controversially, when the games did start, the US players were still penalised around 7 minutes on the clock on each board, but this wasn’t a match-up where it was ever likely to matter. Panama qualified for the 2018 Football World Cup at the expense of the US team, but their chess players were mercilessly dispatched 4:0.
Nakamura is something of a specialist in beating weaker opposition, as he’s demonstrated for instance in Gibraltar, and put Jorge Baules to the sword in style:
The prosaic 25…Rxg1+ is also completely winning, but 25…Qe1! was mate-in-3.
You can play through every single game in the open tournament, with computer analysis, using the selector below:
You can also replay the commentary from IM Sopiko Guramishvili and GM Ivan Sokolov, though on Day 1 the star was Eugenio Torre. Asia’s first grandmaster is now 66, but it’s still a disappointment that he’s captaining rather than playing for the Philippines this time round, since in Baku in 2016 he won an individual bronze medal for a stunning 10/11 that Peter Svidler described as “frankly beyond belief”. He appeared on the live show to talk about his friendship with Bobby Fischer in the years when the 11th World Chess Champion was living in Japan. He revealed that Bobby was seriously considering moving to the Philippines if he hadn’t been given asylum in Iceland. And then he started to sing!
Torre’s rendition of Don McLean’s Vincent with lyrics dedicated to Fischer and his Chess960 was perhaps the standout moment of Round 1 – don’t miss it:
By and large the other favourites found things as easy as the US team. The Russian players dispatched their Ugandan opponents in various cruel and unusual manners, with Dmitry Jakovenko’s pawn centre after he sacrificed a piece catching the eye:
The Netherlands captained by Jan Gustafsson and led by Anish Giri were the first top team to post a 4:0 win, before they were joined by the likes of Israel, Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany, Croatia, Peru, Argentina, Spain and the list goes on.
France bulldozed their way to victory over Yemen, with Etienne Bacrot on top board finishing off Basheer Al Qudaimi with a flourish:
Other moves win easily too, but 38.Qxg6+! was a nice queen sacrifice. 38…fxg6 39.Nh6+! Kh8 40.Rxf8# is the point. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave wasn't playing, but he gave priceless advice from the sidelines...
There were fun tactical finishes everywhere you looked, with Leonhard Mueller of Namibia’s 25.h3 running into a brutal refutation (to be fair, only the less than obvious 25.f3! held the balance):
Johan-Sebastian Christiansen helped Norway to a 4:0 win with 25…Qxf4! and White resigned, since 26.Qxf4 runs into 26…Ra1+ 27.Kh2 Bxe5 and Black wins a piece.
England were held to two draws, and after missing a win Luke McShane had to fight hard for one of those. There were also some much nearer misses. South Korea’s FM Lee Jun Hyeok (2263) had Moldova’s no. 1 Viktor Bologan on the ropes:
38.Qe6+! Kh7 39.Rd1! and it’s a simple win for White. Instead after 38.Qe8+ Kh7 39.Qxd7 (39.Rd1 now can be met by 39…Qf5!) 39…Qxd4 White had no more than a draw.
The biggest scalp of the day was that of China’s Li Chao, rated 2708, who was beaten in surprising fashion by Mohamed-Mehdi Aithmidou of Morocco. It seemed Li Chao was “playing for two results” when he simplified into an endgame position where he was the one pressing, but Mohamed stayed calm, picked up pawns when they were offered and eventually showed nerves of steel as he fought his way to an endgame victory. Li Chao had chances to hold, but his opponent’s victory was thoroughly deserved:
There was a 464 point rating gap in that game, but perhaps the hero of the day was 1937-rated Rijendra Rajbhandari from Nepal, who brought down 555 point higher-rated Canadian GM Aman Hambleton. It had all started so well...
It wasn’t just the final result, but the manner in which the Nepalese player did it. He won a pawn after what was probably just a blunder by his opponent, but the position was still close to level and many people in Rijendra’s shoes would have taken the draw by repetition that was on offer on a couple of occasions afterwards. Instead he fought on and was richly rewarded:
The key moment came after 46.Ke3?
The king is a powerful piece in the endgame and it’s generally good advice to activate it, but on this occasion the popular Canadian grandmaster had overlooked a sharp tactic: 46…d4+! and if 47.Nxd4 there’s 47…f4+!. The pawn advanced to d3 and soon d2 and Rijendra went on to win a fine game in 87 moves.
It was a very similar story in the women’s section, with all the favourites winning comfortably. Some encounters were of course complete mismatches:
The other games
went the same way until Montenegro wrapped up a very quick 4:0 victory over
Gambia in that match.
It was, however, a day on which we learnt not to underestimate players rated below 2000. Russia’s Aleksandra Goryachkina (2535), on top board for the top seeds, had a lost position against 1943-rated WIM Maria Rodriguez from Costa Rica, although in the end she scraped a draw.
1924-rated Rozana Gjergji from Albania performed heroics to beat 6-time French Women’s Champion Sophie Milliet, though that game is perhaps most memorable for this position:
It’s move 100, and Rozana could have wrapped things up with 100…Qe8#. Instead, after 48 seconds, she went for 100…Qc5+. There was no harm done, and Sophie didn’t test her opponent again when she resigned a move away from mate on move 106.
1809-rated WFM Andreina Quevedo from Uruguay also beat a champion, 2017 US Women’s Chess Champion Sabina-Francesca Foisor, when the US star’s central break backfired spectacularly, while Guatemala’s 1922-rated WIM Silva Carolina Mazariegos beat Polish Women’s Championship runner-up Anna Warakomska.
Roza Eynula of South Korea is rated slightly above 2000, at 2030, but it was still impressive when she took down 2475-rated IM Lela Javakhishvili of hosts Georgia. 29…Ba4? proved an unfortunate way to avoid a draw by repetition:
30.Rxe6! Qxe6 31.Nc5, and, after one more mistake, White was winning, with Roza converting with aplomb.
One noteworthy result in the women’s section was Humpy Koneru’s win over Helen Milligan in India’s 4:0 victory over New Zealand – not for the result itself, but since it was Humpy’s first classical game back after a 2-year hiatus from chess. As an inactive player she’d fallen off the official rating lists, but if they were updated today she’d be the women’s no. 3.
In Round 2 of the Olympiad we get to see the return of another Indian superstar, Vishy Anand, who will be playing his first Olympiad game since 12 years ago in Turin! India’s match against Austria isn’t a foregone conclusion, as the pairings are already starting to heat up:
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