Shakhriyar Mamedyarov played a fine attacking game to beat Levon Aronian in Round 5 as Azerbaijan maintained a 100% score at the expense of Armenia. They were joined in the Batumi Olympiad lead by Poland (who beat France), Ukraine (who beat Spain) and - the shock of the round - the Czech Republic, who defeated China. The US top seeds suffered their first setback as another Fabiano Caruana miniature was cancelled out by Emil Sutovsky beating Sam Shankland. The consolation for the US is that their women’s team snatched the sole lead.
With the rest day coming up teams were sparing nothing in Round 5 as only three of the first 40 matches in the open section ended in draws. You can replay all the action below:
And here’s the day’s live commentary from IM Sopiko Guramishvili and GM Ivan Sokolov:
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When these two teams meet it’s always about more than chess, though the players themselves have managed to keep the conflict between their countries out of their personal interactions. On the chessboard it’s Armenia who have managed to punch far above their weight at the Olympiad by winning gold in 2006, 2008 and 2012, while Azerbaijan have yet to lift the trophy. They look to be in with a strong chance this year, however, with Rauf Mamedov in the same form that helped Azerbaijan win the 2017 European Team Championship, while Shakhriyar Mamedyarov just gets better and better on top board.
Although Azerbaijan beat Armenia in that European event, Mamedyarov lost to Levon Aronian, and at the start of this game a repeat seemed a real possibility. Mamedyarov had sacrificed two pawns for at first nebulous compensation, but when Levon perhaps chose the wrong square for his queen the compensation soon became extremely concrete!
23…Bxg2!! was a bolt from the blue, and although objectively White may still have a slight advantage it was already a fight for survival. After 24.Kxg2 Qg6+ 25.Kf1 Bxh2 White is a full minor piece up, but the knight on a4 is not going to come to the aid of the white king anytime soon. Play continued 26.Re1!? Rg5! 27.Ke2 Re8 28.Kd1 Rg1! and White was in deep trouble:
Levon had nothing better than 29.Be5, giving back the extra material, while the white king remained in the firing line. By the end Shak had two extra pawns and eased to victory, setting a new peak live rating of 2822.3.
It had been a hugely impressive performance, and something of a return to the old Shak we knew and loved...
The Armenia team specialise in helping each other out to save matches, but although Hrant Melkumyan opened the scoring by beating Arkadij Naiditsch that couldn’t stop the Azeri momentum. Teimour Radjabov won a piece and then wove a mating net to convert it as he overcame Gabriel Sargissian, while the impression on the bottom board was that Rauf Mamedov could have gone on to win his game against Haik Martirosyan, if required. Instead he took a draw that fixed a 2.5:1.5 victory.
That victory for Azerbaijan gave them a perfect 10/10 match points, and it’s significant that they’re now ahead of top seeds USA, despite another fine game by Fabiano Caruana. The World Championship Challenger followed up his win over Vishy Anand by taking down Boris Gelfand almost as fast.
In a 3.Bb5 Sicilian Boris played an exchange sac to open up the white king, but it backfired badly as Fabiano went on to use the opened files to target the black king instead:
Boris has one trick in this position – the otherwise winning 25.c3? would run into 25…Nf4+!, turning the tables – but here Caruana simply played the cool 25.Kg1! It was then a case of choosing your poison for Gelfand, and he went for 25…Rf8 26.Rxh5! Bxe4 27.Qd7+!, when it was clear Black’s days were numbered. Fabiano isn’t a player who’s likely to miscalculate a mating attack, and he finished in style:
This time, however, a Caruana win wasn’t enough for the US team. Sam Shankland tried to force a draw in a rook ending a pawn down against Emil Sutovsky, but only accelerated the end. Hikaru Nakamura looked as though he might save the day by beating Tamir Nabaty, but although he avoided a repetition he couldn’t stop the game fizzling out into a draw.
When Radek Wojtaszek was interviewed after beating Etienne Bacrot he commented that you could either win the Olympiad by having three individuals who are in the Top 10 (who could he have been thinking of?), or, Poland’s hope, by having a weaker team but wonderful team spirit.
We noted in our preview:
Poland, with Radek Wojtaszek and Jan-Krzysztof Duda, are the one team outside the first six with two 2700 players, and could be dark horses.
So far the 2700 players have had mixed results on the top boards, but the rest of the team has been a revelation. Kacper Piorun, Jacek Tomczak and Kamil Dragun have conceded a single draw between them for 11.5/12!
Against France things initially went badly for Poland when Duda lost his way in a Petroff middlegame. It was threatening to become a game that would resurface in textbooks and tactics trainers:
29…f6 stopped that, but Duda was nevertheless forced to head for a hopeless ending. Poland went on to win on the other boards with remarkable ease, however, with Jacek Tomczak following victory over Vladimir Kramnik by ending Christian Bauer’s 4-game winning streak. 33.Rff1 had a very obvious intention:
The threat is Bf2, winning the queen. Black needs to do something about it, but Christian’s 33…Rxf3? turned out to be the losing move – it was first necessary to give up the strong bishop for the rook on f1.
Suddenly people were missing from the daily tweet by the French team:
The Chinese team were the big casualties of Round 5. We said in our preview that a lot would depend on the form of Wei Yi, and it’s not looking good. Against the Czech Republic (or Czechia, if you prefer!), Wei Yi lost a second game in three, and in a manner we’re not used to seeing. Jiri Stocek took his life in his hands as he played the Sicilian against the young Chinese star, but this time there was no deeply calculated attack from White – just a desperate flinging of pieces at the black king when it was already far too late. Stocek showed no mercy:
At a glance it looked as though Ding Liren might level the score on top board, but David Navara had correctly seen that, two pawns down in a rook ending, he had a theoretical draw.
Instead China’s day got worse, since Czech no. 2 Viktor Laznicka followed up beating Parham Maghsoodloo by claiming the scalp of Yu Yangyi. That completed a famous 3:1 victory for the Czechs, who face the might of Azerbaijan in Round 6.
The other team to remain perfect are Ukraine, who beat Spain despite a second loss in a row for Pavel Eljanov. Yuriy Kryvoruchko beat Josep Lopez and then Vassily Ivanchuk wrapped things up with a brilliant strategic win over David Anton. It was all the more impressive since Vassily had to play the last 15 moves on increment with the knowledge that the game was critical for his team. He didn’t flinch, and now Ukraine will take on their western neighbours Poland in Round 6.
Germany joined the USA and Israel just a point off the leaders as they beat Moldova 2.5:1.5, despite Georg Meier losing to Viktor Bologan on top board. The heroes were Daniel Fridman (4/4 in Batumi) and Rasmus Svane (3.5/4).
Behind them the teams who had suffered misfortunes in earlier rounds played catch-up, with convincing wins for the Netherlands, India, Iran, England, Hungary and Georgia. Russia bounced back from their Poland shocker to beat Peru 3:1, but the scoreline doesn’t tell the whole story.
The wildly un-politically correct Evgeny Bareev described the Peru team as “Peruvian peasants” back at the 2010 Olympiad when he was the head coach of Russia. This year as a player he has 2.5/4 for the Canadian team, while the Russian men could easily have lost to the Peruvians.
Ian Nepomniachtchi took a very quick draw with Black against Jorge Cori, Nikita Vitiugov took a much slower one on the bottom board, while nothing was clear in the games of Sergey Karjakin and Vladimir Kramnik. Vlad sacrificed a piece on move 19 and could have been in deep trouble, again, if Jose Martinez had chosen differently on move 25:
25…Qg4! would have left the threat of a knockout blow for Kramnik and his team looming large, but 25…Nd3!? in the game was the start of simplifications that led only to Big Vlad getting to demonstrate his endgame brilliance. Resignation came when it was clear that his passed pawns were yet again going to queen:
When that game was over the pressure lifted on Sergey Karjakin, who eventually went on to win a double-edged position against Emilio Cordova. The standings at the top of the open section look as follows:
It was a big day in the women’s section, as six leaders were reduced to one. Defending Champions China were held by Armenia after a win for Lei Tingjie was cancelled out by Lilit Mkrtchian’s victory over Shen Yang. Mongolia, meanwhile, reached the time control with a winning position against the USA, only to throw it all away. 18-year-old Nomin-Erdene Davaademberel picked the wrong plan against Irina Krush, while 16-year-old US youngster Jennifer Yu pulled off a great escape against Batchimeg Tuvshintugs:
A once proud +14 position has gone, and here Jennifer was able to strike with 48…Rf7! White might still have kept an edge with 49.Bxg6+!, but it was hard to adjust to the new situation and Black went on to win, giving the USA a 3:1 victory.
That looked certain to mean a share of the Olympiad lead with Ukraine, who were about to beat Georgia after a win for Anna Ushenina over Nino Batsiashvili. All Natalia Zhukova needed from her game against Bela Khotenashvili was a draw, but in fact she was totally winning:
Simply 53.f5! would shut out the g8-bishop and maintain a huge edge, but with 53.Nf5?! it seems Natalia had decided that in time trouble it was better to simplify the position even at the expense of half a point. That was the first of many sub-optimal decisions, and soon Bela’s eyes began to light up. Objectively it was still a draw, but when the losing blunder came on move 77 it was no longer a great surprise:
How do you get over a game like that? Well, it seems Natalia found a way the following morning...
That was a huge missed chance for Ukraine, but good news for the teams playing catch-up.
One of those is of course top seeds Russia, who with a 3.5:0.5 win over Germany are now only one point behind most of their rivals:
In Sunday’s Round 6 the top match in the women’s section is India-USA, while for the men apart from the clashes of the leaders, Azerbaijan-Czech Republic and Poland-Ukraine, we have intriguing battles such as Iran-China, Russia-India and England-France.
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