Reports Oct 1, 2018 | 8:31 AMby Colin McGourty

Batumi 2018, 6: Azerbaijan and Poland lead

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov’s latest victim was David Navara as his third win in a row helped Azerbaijan to a perfect 12/12 after six rounds of the 2018 Batumi Olympiad. Only Poland could match that pace, though Jan-Krzysztof Duda admitted his victory over Vassily Ivanchuk owed more to his opponent than his own good play. Elsewhere India and Russia drew 2:2, which leaves both teams three points adrift, but that’s a better situation than the Russian women find themselves in after falling to a second defeat, this time against Armenia.

Shakhiryar Mamedyarov set a new peak live rating of 2826.2 | photo: Lana Afandiyeva, official website

Replay the day’s commentary from IM Sopiko Guramishvili and GM Ivan Sokolov:

During the Olympiad if you take out a 1-year chess24 Premium Membership you can get 3 months extra free by entering BATUMI as a voucher code!

Azerbaijan and Russia neck-and-neck

For some time now we’ve stopped asking ourselves when Shakhriyar Mamedyarov is going to return to “normal” (the brilliant but erratic Top 10 player he was for most of his career) and have had to get used to the fact that he’s simply a 2800 player. In fact with his 2925 performance so far in Batumi he’s reached a peak live rating of 2826.2, and he’s done it on top board with wins over star players Mickey Adams, Levon Aronian and now David Navara.

David Navara is most people's pick as the politest man in chess | photo: Russian Chess Federation

The game against Navara saw Mamedyarov repeat the line seen in the only game he lost in the Berlin Candidates Tournament, a defeat to Ding Liren that ultimately ruined his chances of earning a World Championship match against Magnus Carlsen. In that game Mamedyarov over-pressed and fell to a fine counterattack, but this time round his controlled aggression resulted in a relatively easy victory:

29.e6! The pawn can’t be captured without losing a piece, and after 29…Nf4 30.exf7+ Kxf7 31.g3! Black had to decide how to give up material to try and stay in the game. Navara had managed to hold on two pawns down against Ding Liren the day before, but he couldn’t pull off the same trick against Mamedyarov.

Arkadij Naiditsch beat Zbynek Hracek on board 3 to give Azerbaijan a comfortable 3:1 victory and bring the Czech Republic back down to earth after their flying start.11th seeds Poland, meanwhile, just keep on defying gravity, and maintained a 100% record with an impressive 2.5:1.5 victory over Ukraine.

Jan-Krzysztof Duda has had a mixed tournament, but picked up the crucial win in Round 6 | photo: Russian Chess Federation

On top board 20-year-old Jan-Krzysztof Duda beat the legendary Vassily Ivanchuk, but admitted afterwards:

This game was very weird. I didn’t win it, just Vassily lost this game.

In the opening Ivanchuk was playing fast, while Duda burnt up 47 minutes on his 10th and 11th moves, explaining afterwards that he was kicking himself:

I thought he would enter some super-sharp theory after 11…Bd5. I didn’t remember these lines and was very upset that I allowed this position to happen. Then he surprised me with 11…Bf5, when after a couple of natural moves for me I got a much better position.

Play continued 12.e4 Bg4 13.Be2 and soon White’s only real problem was on the clock. Duda ended up down to under a minute, while Vassily had over an hour to navigate the complications. It didn’t matter, though, since this was one of those games this year when we’ve seen the Ukrainian chess legend’s nerves seem to fail him in a bad position with Black. He played needlessly fast and carelessly, with 31…Rh8?? a howler that allowed 32.e6+!

The g6-knight is lost, since 32…Kg7 runs into 33.h5. It was a great result for Duda, but he’s hoping to play better in the coming rounds:

On second board Radek Wojtaszek held Pavel Eljanov to a draw, and at a glance it looked as though the match was going perfectly for Poland, since Kacper Piorun had a queen vs. rook against Yuriy Kryvoruchko and would clinch victory for Poland with a win. Tablebases tell us that he did have that win available – e.g. with 61.Kxe5! for White…

Black loses in 51 moves... | source: Knowledge4IT

…but these things are far from obvious to humans, and after 61.Qe1 Black managed to hold on:

That put all the pressure on the completely unclear game between Anton Korobov and Kamil Dragun on the bottom board. Both players had a perfect 4/4 so far in Batumi, and for a while it seemed it was Korobov who would continue that sequence and save his team. In the end, however, Kamil managed to hold on with some impressive defence.

The “bottom 3” from the Polish team are still yet to lose a game at this Olympiad, and mean that Poland's incredibly tough run continues. After Russia, France and Ukraine it's now a showdown with Azerbaijan in Round 7!

Winning to stay in contention

Below Azerbaijan and Poland the battle to stay in the fight for medals has become fierce, with the US team one of the few to have an easy day at the office. They outrated Bosnia and Herzegovina by an average of more than 300 points on each board and made that count with a 3.5:0.5 victory. Fabiano Caruana got a third win in a row to move within 7.5 points of Magnus on the live rating list, Wesley So won a 4th game in 4 with White, and Ray Robson moved to 2.5/3, with only Hikaru Nakamura held to a frustrating draw. The US defending champions are just a point behind the leaders in sole 3rd place, and on paper have a straightforward match in Round 7 when they take on Croatia, who ended Norway’s fairy tale with a 3:1 victory in Round 6.

With Bosnia & Herzegovina and now Croatia the US team seems to have gotten lucky with the pairings after their draw against Israel | photo: Russian Chess Federation

10 teams are in a group two points behind the leaders. Armenia beat the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia 3.5:0.5 to reach that score, but other teams had tougher battles. China squeezed past the young Iranian team 2.5:1.5, with a single win for Bu Xiangzhi against Tabataei on third board, and it was the same score as Belarus beat Turkey, 40th seeds Egypt beat Slovakia and the Netherlands beat the dangerous youngsters of Georgia 3. Jorden van Foreest lost again on bottom board but Erwin l’Ami and Anish Giri did the business, with Giri currently the star player on board 1. His 5.5/6 represents a 2944 rating performance. What’s not for his captain to like?

Up next for the Dutch are the Deutsch, after Germany drew their match against Israel to leave both teams on 10/12. Daniel Fridman continues to impress and now has 5/5 after beating Tamir Nabaty. Israel’s saviour was Emil Sutovsky, who bamboozled Rasmus Svane with an exchange sacrifice on the bottom board.

Frustrating draws

In 2016 you could drop only two points if you wanted to fight for gold medals in the Olympiad, while now after all games were drawn in Russia-India both teams have already dropped three. It’s not quite game-over, of course, since for instance in 2014 China were able to drop 3 points and finish in sole 1st, while the silver medallists dropped 5 points, but it’s clear that any margin for error is vanishing fast.

Neither team was entirely satisfied with this match! | photo: David Llada, official website

Russia’s best chance to claim victory was on top board, where they decided to rest Sergey Karjakin so that Ian Nepomniachtchi could take on Vishy Anand with White. It came to close to working after Vishy Anand took the eccentric decision to play his king to f7 rather than simply castle. In fact it was only Harikrishna who castled for India all day!

One slip was seized upon by Vishy, however, with Nepo the player required to play accurately at the end to hold a draw.

Dmitry Jakovenko also had to be careful after some ingenious play by Adhiban in the early middlegame, but he was up to the task.

England-France, the World Cup final that might have been... | photo: David Llada, official website

England and France may not have quite the same title-winning aspirations, but they find themselves in the same position three points off the lead after all games were also drawn in their match. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was off target against Mickey Adams...

Most of the excitement centred around Bacrot-McShane, which threatened to explode in the middlegame:

20…Nxe5! 21.fxe5 Nxg3! 22.Kxg3 f4+ 23.Kh2 fxe3 would have been a lot of fun, but objectively may be no better than Luke’s 20…Na5. Later on Etienne briefly had a chance to seize the initiative himself, but the draw was a fair outcome to the game and match.

Spain also joined the teams on 9/12 points, with a curiosity being that Spanish no. 1 Paco Vallejo is coaching the Switzerland team Spain they beat 2.5:1.5:

His replacement David Anton scored the decisive win over Sebastian Bogner.

The standings look as follows at the top with five rounds to go:

Rk.SNo TeamTeamGames  +   =   -  TB1  TB2  TB3  TB4 
31United States of AmericaUSA651011120,517,545
815Czech RepublicCZE650110106,016,044

Russia suffer knockout blow in women’s section

Russia's gold medal hopes may have gone after a loss to Armenia | photo: Russian Chess Federation

If things aren’t going great for the 2nd seeds Russia in the men’s section it’s going even worse for their top seeded women's team. They had been making a smooth comeback after their loss to Uzbekistan in Round 2, but it came to a grinding halt against Armenia in Round 7. Lilit Mkrtchian was applying heavy pressure against Aleksandra Goryachkina, but that didn’t justify the drastic decision the young Russian player took in time trouble:

33…Nxg2? (33…Rd8!) 34.Kxg2 Nh4+ 35.Kf1 left White with no compensation for the piece. Similar misfortune struck Natalia Pogonina on board four, and the remaining players could only draw as Armenia claimed a famous 3:1 victory that takes them into a share of the lead.

No draws in India-USA! | photo: David Llada, official website

The US team found themselves in the same position after Koneru Humpy and Tania Sachdev won with the white pieces against Anna Zatonskih and Tatev Abrahamyan. The US team were able to fight back against India, though, with Irina Krush and Jennifer Yu grinding out victories in similar slightly better endgames. Irina now has 5/5 in Batumi, while 16-year-old Jennifer is on 5.5/6! There’s no problem with team spirit:

2nd seeds Ukraine would now be sole leaders, but for the second day in a row they threw away team victory in the 7th hour of play.

After Natalia Zhukova suffered in Round 5 it was Anna Ushenina who let victory slip in Round 6 | photo: Russian Chess Federation

This time it was Anna Ushenina who needed to hold an ending a pawn down to seal victory for her team, but in a completely drawn ending disaster struck when she played 119.Rb8? (119.Rb3! was still a draw)

After 119…Rg2! Black is finally winning the white pawn and the game, though the battle continued for some time yet. Towards the end Sopiko Guramishvili suggested the slow speed with which Huang Qian played a simple winning position was cruel on her opponent, but Ivan Sokolov countered that Anna had the option to resign! She eventually did on move 144, simply stopping the clock rather than offering her hand. It’s not clear if that was in anger or something that slipped Anna’s mind after a long and painful game:

In any case, that shock result keeps China just a point behind leaders USA, Armenia and Georgia (who beat Georgia 2):

Rk.SNo TeamTeamGames  +   =   -  TB1  TB2  TB3  TB4 
110United States of AmericaUSA651011125,017,544
24Georgia 1GEO1651011119,517,042

Leaders Armenia and USA meet in the women’s section in Round 7, while in the men’s section something has to give in Azerbaijan-Poland!

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