Reports Oct 2, 2018 | 10:52 AMby Colin McGourty

Batumi 2018, 7: The tension builds

Four of the top five matches finished drawn in Round 7 of the Batumi Olympiad, allowing the USA to catch leaders Poland and Azerbaijan with just four rounds to go. Russia continued to struggle and could only scrape a draw, but India, France, Spain and England all won to move within two points of the leaders, while Armenia are poised just one point back. The Armenian women’s team, seeded only 12th, are doing even better, and are now the sole leaders of the women's section after inflicting a first defeat on the USA.

Wesley So led the way as the USA returned to the lead in the open section | photo: David Llada, official website

Round 7 of the Batumi Olympiad had an embarrassment of riches when it came to commentary. None other than World Champion Magnus Carlsen joined Pepe Cuenca on the Spanish show for 90 minutes of insightful commentary (read some quotes from that appearance here):

Meanwhile the English show was taken over by not just one but all three of the Polgar sisters!

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Tense at the top

The desire to avoid being the player to let your team down at an Olympiad is strong, and that was perhaps in evidence in the top match, where Poland and Azerbaijan both lost their 100% records as they drew on all four boards. The first three draws were swift, with only Duda-Mamedyarov threatening to break the deadlock. When Mamedyarov got in the 28…c5! break it was Black who had any winning chances, but the Polish youngster defended accurately for a 43-move draw. The result was a small triumph for the 11th seeded Polish team. As Magnus summed up, “That’s a good result for the Poles, for sure. They’re hanging on!”

Jan-Krzysztof Duda stopped Shakhriyar Mamedyarov's winning streak | photo: Goga Chanadiri, official website

That was the chance defending champions USA needed to return to the leading pack, and they duly beat the 18th seeds Croatia 3:1, with wins with the white pieces for Wesley So and Sam Shankland. That made it 5 games with White, 5 wins for Wesley at this Olympiad!

The best chance of putting up resistance was on top board, where Ivan Saric won a pawn but couldn’t put serious pressure on Fabiano Caruana. Magnus could breathe easily for one more day!

The match and individual draws in the other encounters sometimes gave a deceptive impression of the day’s play. China's Yu Yangyi and Bu Xiangzhi did their job by drawing comfortably with Black against Ukraine's Vassily Ivanchuk and Ruslan Ponomariov, but despite the positive computer evaluations for their players with the white pieces, Magnus Carlsen soon spotted danger ahead.

Wei Yi-Eljanov had a very interesting opening, with 12.d5, played after 20 minutes, the reason Magnus said people hadn’t been playing Eljanov’s 11…Re8!? When he joined the commentary we were waiting for Wei Yi’s 23rd move:


He would eventually play 23.a5 after a 22-minute think, leaving 7 minutes on his clock to Eljanov’s 10. Carlsen called Wei Yi “a well-known time trouble addict”, and predicted an interesting game ahead:

You can have what he has – slightly less than 8 minutes for 18 moves, and you could be completely ok, because the position is clarified and you know that there aren’t going to be any major turning points before move 40, but here the game has just started. They’re going to be playing fast rapid chess for 18 moves and anything could happen.

Sure enough, when things got critical, time was a major issue:


35.Rd1 or 35.b8=Q are options, but with 4 seconds remaining Wei Yi played 35.Qf1!? (“clearly that’s an admission that something has gone quite horribly wrong” – Magnus), and then after 35…Bd6 his 36.b8=R+?! led by force to a position where he was down a passed pawn on d2. The World Champion assessed it as hopeless for White long-term, but Wei Yi, and with him China, managed to survive after Eljanov stumbled at the end. 

Li Chao-Korobov had a similar storyline.

The “local derby” Germany-Netherlands also ended in four draws. If Jorden van Foreest (two losses in Batumi) had beaten Daniel Fridman (5/5) on the bottom board it would have been a triumph for German Dutch team captain Jan Gustafsson. The choice to play the youngster was less than obvious, but Jorden was unable to make an extra pawn count in 67 moves.

Jorden van Foreest has lost two games in Batumi, but came close to being the hero in Round 7 | photo: Lana Afandiyeva, official website

After 12 draws in 12 in those three big matches the Czech Republic-Israel tie was a change of pace – all four games were decisive, including a shocker on top board for Boris Gelfand, who played 31…f5??:


David Navara may be polite, but he's not polite enough not to play 32.Rd7+! Kg8 33.Rc2!, and, since immediate mate can only be stopped by giving up a rook, Gelfand resigned. The veteran is struggling in Batumi, with 3 losses in this last 4 games.

Closing the gap

The drawn matches at the top were a big chance for other teams to move into medal contention, and many seized it! 3-time Olympiad Champions Armenia are just a point behind the leaders after wins for Gabriel Sargissian and Robert Hovhannisyan gave them a 3:1 victory over Belarus. Teams to move within two points of the lead included England, who beat Argentina with a win for Luke McShane, India, who beat Egypt with wins for Harikrishna and Sasikiran while Vishy Anand drew against Bassem Amin on top board…

…and Spain, whose 3.5:0.5 win over Algeria got off to a flying start after a move 7 blunder on board two:

8.Nb5! (8…Qd8 9.Nd6#) is a knockout blow over a dozen players have had the pleasure of playing before.

France also moved up with a 3:1 victory over Hungary, with wins for Christian Bauer over Ferenc Berkes on bottom board and for Maxime Vachier-Lagrave over Peter Leko on the top. That Najdorf encounter was perhaps the game of the round, full of fantastic sacrifices either played or possible on the board:


Maxime here decided to launch an all-out assault on the white king with 23…Nxa4!!? 24.Bxa4 b5 25.Bxb5 a4 26.Nd4 a3, when Black’s initiative came at the cost of a full piece. There were later chances for Peter to consolidate an advantage, but instead the game reached a position where Black, now a rook down for two pawns, seemed to need to force a perpetual check:


But no… Maxime had spotted the manoeuvre 41…Bf6! followed by Bh4-g3 and b1=Q, which turned out to be winning. “Very, very nice”, was Carlsen’s verdict.

Russian woes continue

The one big team not to take the chance to improve its position was 2nd seeds Russia, who came up against a Serbian team that on paper they should have brushed aside. As the commentators put it:

Pepe: Russia are suffering against Serbia, a team that didn’t bring their best players…

Magnus: I’m not sure they even brought their second best players!

It sounds harsh, but the line-up that played on Monday had the following rankings on the FIDE rating list for Serbia:

  1. Popovic (no. 11)
  2. Roganovic (no. 9)
  3. Zajic (no. 16)
  4. Nenezic (no. 13) 

Nevertheless, they came very close to beating Russia! The 2nd seeds followed the standard approach (perhaps that needs a rethink?) of playing strictly to draw with the black pieces, with Sergey Karjakin (25 moves) and Nikita Vitiugov (21 moves) accomplishing that task with a minimum of fuss. 

Vladimir Kramnik's 3.5/5 has been eventful... | photo: Lana Afandiyeva, official website

That meant the pressure was on the players with White to make it count, and since Vladimir Kramnik seemed to have let a big advantage slip by the time he made the time control Dmitry Jakovenko had the weight of Russia’s medal hopes on his shoulders. As against Poland, it didn’t go well for him, and by move 45 he was dead lost. Dmitry had no choice but to throw everything towards the black king... which almost worked!


56…d1=Q is the computer’s brute-force recommendation, but with 10 seconds left on his clock Marko Nenezic went for 56…Bxf7?!, and when the dust had settled Black was only a bishop for two pawns up. There was to be no happy ending for Jakovenko, however, as Marko went on to win the game. Or to put it another way...

The consolation for Russia was that Vladimir Kramnik did win in the end:


Grabbing a pawn is tempting – even Magnus Carlsen tried it in commentary – but 43…Qxa3? by Milos Roganovic lost quickly to 44.Qc7+ Rg7 45.Qc2+ and Black resigned, since Ra7+ will soon win a rook, with mate to follow.

Given the draws above them Russia are still in with a medal chance if they improve for their final four matches, but it’s not too early to say that failing to pick Alexander Grischuk and Peter Svidler has gone badly for them. As Magnus put it:

They’re not doing themselves any favours this year by excluding two of their strongest players… a luxury that most teams cannot afford. And it may turn out it’s a luxury they cannot afford either!  

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

Rk.SNo TeamTeamGames  +   =   -  TB1  TB2  TB3  TB4 
14AzerbaijanAZE761013189,021,066
211PolandPOL761013175,520,561
31United States of AmericaUSA761013160,520,559
48ArmeniaARM760112157,519,561
55IndiaIND751111155,520,059
624SpainESP751111153,520,557
710IsraelISR743011152,520,060
87FranceFRA751111150,520,060
93ChinaCHN751111149,018,559
106UkraineUKR751111142,017,061
1116GermanyGER743011139,518,558
1215Czech RepublicCZE751111137,018,059
1313NetherlandsNED751111135,021,053
149EnglandENG751111131,017,058

Russia are one of 18 teams on 10 points

Armenia take the lead

It was a tough day off the board for Armenia as French-Armenian singer Charles Aznavour, a man who’d been known to come to watch Levon Aronian play, died at the age of 94:

On the board, though, things couldn’t have gone better. The men moved within a single point of the lead, while the women, who started as only 12th seeds, have now followed a draw with China by beating Russia and the USA to snatch the sole lead.

Armenia won both white games convincingly as Elina Danelian overcame Anna Zatonskih and Anna Sargsyan beat Sabina Foisor. 

Jennifer Yu was the star on a tough day for the US team | photo: Lana Afandiyeva, official website

The US team dropped all the way from 1st to 6th, but the consolation was another fantastic day for 16-year-old Jennifer Yu:


42.Ne6! is suddenly winning:


The threat is 43.Rd7+! Qxd7 44.Nf8+, and 42…Kg8 just runs into 43.Rd8+ and the same problems. So Maria Kursova tried 42…Kg6 instead, but after 43.Rd6! the game ended a few moves later with her king about to be mated on g4!

With the other top seeds winning or drawing things are very tight at the top of the women’s section!

Rk.SNo TeamTeamGames  +   =   -  TB1  TB2  TB3  TB4 
112ArmeniaARM761013158,020,059
23ChinaCHN752012176,520,064
32UkraineUKR752012165,020,063
44Georgia 1GEO1752012153,019,062
520RomaniaROU760112130,019,552
610United States of AmericaUSA751111158,519,062
75IndiaIND743011157,520,559
811AzerbaijanAZE751111149,020,055
918ItalyITA751111149,019,060
1013HungaryHUN751111148,019,554
1114Georgia 2GEO2751111146,520,057
128KazakhstanKAZ743011141,520,054

Russia are one of 11 teams on 10 points

In Round 8 Armenia face the tough challenge of Ukraine in the women's section, while in the open we might have a potential Olympiad decider...

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