Fabiano Caruana beat Vishy Anand in 26 moves as the USA lived up to their status as top seeds to beat India in Round 4 of the Batumi Olympiad. The sensation of the day, however, was Vladimir Kramnik and Dmitry Jakovenko both losing to players they outrated by almost 200 points as Russia crashed to defeat against Poland. 9 teams still have a perfect score with Armenia-Azerbaijan and France-Poland the matches to watch in Round 5.
You can replay all the games from the open section using the selector below:
And here’s the day’s commentary from IM Sopiko Guramishvili and GM Ivan Sokolov:
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It had all started so well for Russia. Sergey Karjakin neutralised Jan-Krzysztof Duda with Black on the top board, while Ian Nepomniachtchi built up pressure against Radek Wojtaszek on board 2 that culminated in a mating attack when Radek went astray in time trouble. Russia had a huge rating advantage on the bottom two boards, and by move 11 Vladimir Kramnik already looked a heavy favourite to beat 28-year-old Jacek Tomczak. The Russian team tactics seemed to be working to perfection…
The first signs that it might not be such an easy day at the office began when Kramnik missed a sharp chance to retain a big advantage (13…Qg6!, threatening 14…Qe4+) and then took a risky decision on move 18:
In a team event most players would seize the chance to play 18…Qd5!, forcing off queens for an ending where the only question is whether Black will win or draw. 18…c2! was also a good option, forcing White to spend time on capturing the pawn. Instead Kramnik went for 18…Rd8!? 19.Qxc3 Qd5, and although objectively Black was still doing well things soon became double-edged.
Kramnik’s healthy advantage on the clock had evaporated by the time 25.Bg5 appeared on the board:
To retain an advantage Kramnik needed to find 25…Bd4! 26.Qc2 Rg6!!, and White can’t take the d8-rook due to the killer Rxg3+. Instead Kramnik went for the imprecise 25…Qa2?! 26.Rh2 and now the outright blunder 26…Rd5? Jacek Tomczak is no weak player, having finished tied for first in the 2017 Polish Championship and clear 3rd this year. He’s also an U16 World Youth Champion, a title he won in 2006… in Batumi! (the girls’ champion back then was a certain Sopiko Guramishvili) He quickly played a killer move:
Kramnik thought for over 7 minutes here, but it’s likely some of those minutes were spent kicking himself for not stopping this with 26…Rd4! on the previous move. Now it’s too late, since there's no way to stop both mate on f8 and the queen swinging over to h4. Kramnik gallantly decided to play on to the bitter end: 27…c5 28.Qh4 h6 29.Bxh6 Qb3 30.Bd2 Kxg7 31.Qh8+ Kg6 32.Qh7#
If Kramnik was on Twitter…
That left the match depending on Dmitry Jakovenko’s game against 23-year-old Kamil Dragun, another U16 World Youth Champion (Porto Carras, 2010). Understandably, perhaps, Jakovenko seemed to be under orders to try and overpower his young opponent, but his hyper-aggressive approach against the Caro-Kann saw him in all kinds of trouble. He was dead lost, with White, by move 20:
The killer move here was 20…Qf4!, with the main threat being Qg3 (exploiting the pinned f2-pawn) or Qg4 next, though f6 is also food for thought for White. In short, Jakovenko's position is a total shambles, but with only 25 minutes for 20 moves Kamil quickly played 20…Nf5?! and soon afterwards the position was roughly equal again.
That wasn’t the end of Jakovenko’s woes, however. If Dragun had struggled in the complications he proved almost flawless when the game became more technical. Queens were exchanged and then 30…Re8! was close to a winning move:
White would love to keep all the rooks on the board, but 31.Rb5?? runs into 31…Nd4!, hitting the rook but also threatening a fork on e2. 31.Rxe8 was therefore forced, but it left Jakovenko in the miserable position of knowing he had to draw at all costs – since Kramnik’s game had ended in disaster – but that long term the rook was unlikely to be a match for his opponent's bishop and knight.
Ultimately it came down to Jakovenko testing whether his opponent could give mate with that bishop and knight, and when Kamil showed he knew what he was doing Dmitry decided to resign (unlike Gawain Jones, who on the same day played on until he was mated by Rauf Mamedov!):
Billionaire Russian Chess Federation President Andrey Filatov has taken on the role of men's team captain since 2016, with Ivan Sokolov commenting on the above footage:
I see that his team captain is explaining something to him. Ok, it is good to see a 2200-player explain something to a 2750… but alright!
The stress of team chess is hard to exaggerate, and nowhere is that more obvious than with Russia, who’ve failed to win an Olympiad since 2002, despite having the talent available to pick two or three competitive teams. Perhaps that presence of alternatives is one of the problems, since the players know they took away someone else's chance, and the captain knows he could have chosen differently. Russia also lost in Round 4 in 2016 (again, a win for Nepo and two strange losses for his teammates), and it turned out 2 points were the maximum you could drop to finish tied for first. Russia fought back, but 5 wins and 2 draws in their remaining matches was only enough for bronze medals behind USA and Ukraine. It’s going to be an uphill struggle this year as well.
Those are Russia’s problems, though, while in a Polish Chess Federation video on the match Kamil Dragun explained that Poland went into it with “nothing to lose”:
Kamil, now on 4/4, noted that Jakovenko was the highest-rated opponent he’d ever beaten, and to do it with Black was something he’d have considered “unrealistic” before the event. He was asked if he felt stress:
The stress was earlier, when the position was unclear, but after I managed to exchange rooks I knew it was already good. I definitely wouldn’t lose the game and probably I have very good chances to win. When my opponent exchanged almost all the pawns and I was left with a bishop, knight and pawn I already knew it must be technically won and I played quite quickly.
He’d even recently practiced mating with knight and bishop with a friend!
Wesley So had been doing the heavy lifting for the United States in Batumi, but Fabiano Caruana stepped up to deliver a huge win when it mattered in Round 4. Harikrishna-So, Nakamura-Vidit and Sasikiran-Shankland were solid draws on the lower boards, while Fabi had the initiative right from the start against Vishy Anand when he played the novelty 7.Be3:
In Tata Steel Anish Giri had continued with the mainline 7.Qc2, which was met by 7…c5, the move stopped by Fabi’s awkward looking move. 7.Be3 is also the computer’s first line, though, so not a novelty to catch a player like Vishy entirely off-guard. He thought just 4 minutes before playing 7…Bd6, but in the play that followed White retained a nagging initiative.
Vishy eventually lashed out with 15…g5!?, which proved a target when five moves later 20.f4! appeared on the board:
White’s pawns pose serious danger to Black in any case, but with 20…Bxd4+! 21.Rxd4 Rad8 Vishy would still have been in the game. Instead 20…gxf4? 21.Bxe5! (not giving Black a second chance) 21…Qxe5 22.gxf4 simply looks to be game over. Vishy had made it look easy as he pinned and beat Eric Hansen the day before, but now it was his turn to suffer: 22…Qc5 23.Kh1 Nxe4 24.Nxe4 Rxe4 25.Rg3 Rd4 26.Qe3!
f5 is coming, and there’s nothing Black’s pieces can do about it.
The USA and Poland are joined by another seven teams who’ve scored 8/8 so far, and they largely did it convincingly in Round 4. France settled for victory by a single win on the bottom board, but Christian Bauer’s final position against Anh Khoi Nguyen was worth the wait:
France also continue to lead the social media race:
France will play Poland in Round 5, while the USA take on Israel after Boris Gelfand lost on top board to Nils Grandelius but his teammates did the business with three wins against Sweden.
Victor Laznicka proved that even superheroes can be stopped…
…as his win over Parham Maghsoodloo gave the Czech Republic victory over Iran. Azerbaijan-Armenia will be the big clash in Round 5 after Azerbaijan steamrollered England 3.5:0.5. David Howell was right to think he might have had some chances at the end against Arkadij Naiditsch…
…but it’s unlikely it would have made too much difference, as Mamedyarov, Radjabov and Mamedov all won.
Shakhriyar Mamedyarov’s win over Mickey Adams was a tour-de-force:
Armenia eased to a 3:1 victory over Greece, while China crushed Croatia 3.5:0.5, with Ding Liren continuing his inexorable rise:
Ukraine had to work harder to keep their 100% record after Pavel Eljanov lost an interesting game to Argentina’s Diego Flores, but Anton Korobov won his 4th game in a row and, on a day when his contemporaries Kramnik, Anand and Gelfand had all lost, Vassily Ivanchuk stepped up to get the final win over Sandro Mareco.
As always, there’s too much to even think about covering it all, but Norway’s 4:0 win over Iceland, in what should have been a close encounter, is worth a mention:
The opening of the day was perhaps in Baadur Jobava vs. Sarunas Sulskis, where 1.b3 was met by 1…a5, a move that can’t be all that bad since Magnus Carlsen himself has played it! Played continued 2.a4!? e5 and then the advantage swung from side to side too often to summarise. Jobava eventually blundered with 44.Rc7? Qh4! 45.Bxd5:
White would be winning, if not for 45…Qh2+! 46.Kd1 and Baadur resigned before 46…Rxe1+ 47.Kxe1 Qe2 mate. That result gave Lithuania a shock 3:1 victory over hosts Georgia.
Another minor upset saw Germany beat Hungary 2.5:1.5, when Daniel Fridman outplayed Zoltan Almasi in a technical game on the bottom board.
It was a good day all round in the Fridman household, since his wife Anna Zatonskih managed to bring home a 2.5:1.5 victory for USA against Azerbaijan with a 106-move win over Gunay Mammadzada. She won the theoretically drawn Rook + Knight vs. Rook ending after her opponent went astray on move 105 (105.Kh2! still holds). The final position:
White is in a mating net after 106…Kf3!. 107.Rg7 would be a last desperate stalemate trap, but e.g. 107…Rh1+ 108.Kg5 Ne6+ finishes the job.
USA are joined by China, Ukraine, Mongolia, Armenia and Georgia on 100%. The key result below them was in the battle between two strong teams who dropped a point the day before. India got straight back on track by beating Poland 3:1, with wins for Harika Dronavalli and Tania Sachdev.
The big match in the women’s section in Round 5 is Ukraine-Georgia, while in the men’s section it’s the classic grudge match Armenia-Azerbaijan, with Aronian-Mamedyarov on top board. Azerbaijan have never won the Olympiad, but look to be hitting form at just the right time:
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