Kacper Piorun was the hero as he beat Hikaru Nakamura while his Polish teammates hung on to hand the USA their first defeat at an Olympiad in four years. That result blows the race for gold medals wide open, with China (who beat Azerbaijan), Armenia (who beat India) and England (who beat Norway) joining the US team just a point behind Poland with two rounds to go. In the women’s section defending champions China took the sole lead with a 3:1 win over Kazakhstan.
You can replay the Round 9 commentary, which as well as IM Sopiko Guramishvili and GM Ivan Sokolov featured cameo appearances by GMs Paco Vallejo and Sagar Shah, below:
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We keep waiting for Poland to falter, and at first it seemed as though this might be the day. On bottom board Jacek Tomczak spent 17 minutes on move 5 of an Exchange Caro-Kann, and on move 8 he was hit by the kind of move no-one wants to see in a vital match for their team – 8.Ne5!
It’s a real queen sacrifice, as after 8…Bxd1 9.Nxc6 Black
doesn’t have to give back the queen immediately with 9…bxc6 10.Bxc6+ Qd7 but
can instead play on with 9…Qb6!?. That looks no fun for Black at all, though,
and after 16 minutes Jacek decided to concede “defeat” and play 8…Bd7, hunkering down for a long
defence. It looked doomed to fail, given Shankland’s wonderful technique in
previous games, but in the end Tomczak managed to hold on, and it was even the
first game to finish.
Tomczak, who earlier beat Vladimir Kramnik, has the Polish team’s top rating performance of 2837. All of the “bottom 3”, expected to be Poland’s weak link before the tournament, are unbeaten, with Kamil Dragun performing at 2753 and Kacper Piorun at 2797!
That performance rating owes a lot to the fact that Piorun, whose name means “lightning” in Polish, struck the killer blow in Round 9. Hikaru Nakamura had been having a frustrating event with six draws in a row after beating a 2300-player in Round 1, and he decided it was time to take drastic measures by meeting 1.e4 with 1…d5, the Scandinavian Defence. He would go on to regret it, with Kacper already missing a good chance to seize the initiative with 24.c5!. Structural problems remained, and Black’s position crumbled around the time control:
Nakamura’s problem is that he can’t take on g4 or play f4 without allowing an instant win with Qd3+. Instead he seized perhaps his best chance by exchanging queens with 42…Qc4 43.Qxc4 bxc4 44.Rxf5, but that left White both a pawn up and with much healthier pawns. If Piorun had shown any nerves the game might still have slipped away from him, but the 5-time World Chess Solving Champion approached the position as he would any other chess puzzle. He met 44…c6?! swiftly with 45.Re5! Rd7 46.Re4!, and everything was under control. There was nothing Hikaru could do about the outcome of the game:
At that point, though, there still seemed no reason for despair for the USA, since they were doing well on the remaining two boards. Wesley So was trying to convert an extra pawn against Radek Wojtaszek, but in the end the drawish tendency of opposite-coloured bishops in the ending prevailed. Wojtaszek revealed a curious fact afterwards:
My opponent offered me a draw on move 26, even though you can't offer a draw before move 30. I'm not sure if he didn't know that or he wanted to unsettle me.
That quote comes from the Polish Chess Federation’s video report on the match, which Radek described as, “one of the days I'll most remember from my chess career in my old age”. The players speak Polish, but the video is worth a look even if you don't understand a word. The exclusive footage includes time-lapse video of the final game at the end:
Wesley may have wanted to get back to his reading
The final game was Duda-Caruana, and it was a thriller. The initiative kept shifting from side-to-side, but around the time control Fabiano Caruana outplayed his young opponent and ultimately won a bishop for two pawns. It was an open question as to whether Duda had a fortress, but what’s certain is that with the way he played in the game he gave Fabiano a brief window of opportunity to save the day for the USA:
Tablebases tell us 65…Be4! is mate-in-27 against perfect play. No flesh-and-blood player could be criticised for missing that, though, and after 65…Bg4 66.Rf8+ Kg3 67.h5 Bxh5 Caruana had the famous Rook + Bishop vs. Rook ending that while theoretically drawn is often won in practice. Duda was up to the task, however, and held on for the next nerve-wracking 50 moves to earn a draw and a fantastic victory for his team. Magnus Carlsen can relax as world no. 1!
Ironically, after his Round 2 slip-up, Duda is the one Polish player underperforming with a 2686 rating performance, but since Round 4 he’s held his own against the toughest opposition anyone has faced in the Olympiad:
As you can see, it’s not getting any easier, since he faces Ding Liren of China, his 3rd 2800 opponent in four games, next. The world no. 4 looked in danger of losing his 14-month unbeaten streak to Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in Round 9, but he survived and then a win for Bu Xiangzhi over Eltaj Safarli gave China a 2.5:1.5 victory over Azerbaijan.
The US team, meanwhile, last tasted defeat at an Olympiad on the final day of Tromso 2014, when Nakamura lost to Mamedyarov. They still have excellent gold medal chances if they can bounce back in their next match against Armenia, who they outrate on all boards despite dropping Nakamura.
Armenia are never easy to play at an Olympiad, though, and in Round 9 they overcame the powerful Indian team. Anand-Aronian and the other top boards were drawn, allowing Haik Martirosyan to seal victory with a 4th win in 4 with White to beat Sasikiran on the bottom board.
The other team only a point off first place is England, who overpowered the young Norwegian team with wins for David Howell and Gawain Jones on the bottom boards. They’ll face a tough test in the next round against a Russia finally firing on all cylinders again and sensing a chance to salvage a medal from a poor event by winning their last two matches. The other teams two points off the lead are Croatia, who beat Austria 3:1, and Germany and France who played out a 2:2 draw.
Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu shocked Maxime Vachier-Lagrave on top board, but Christian Bauer survived a dangerous attack to go on to beat Rasmus Svane and save the match for France. It’s a curiosity that Germany are now the only team other than Poland to have gone through the open section of the Olympiad unbeaten.
The standings at the top look as follows (10 teams, including Azerbaijan, India and Ukraine, are on 13 points and need two wins and some help to fight for medals):
China are the defending champions in the women’s section, but their team this year, without Hou Yifan and Tan Zhongyi, made them only third seeds for the tournament. Nevertheless, they go into the final two rounds as the sole leaders and the only unbeaten women’s team after a 3:1 victory over Kazakhstan in Round 9.
Ukraine, the co-leaders before the round, could only draw 2:2 with Azerbaijan despite a fine win for Anna Muzychuk over Gunay Mammadzada on top board. 19…f4! suddenly put the white queen on h6 in extreme jeopardy:
That win was cancelled out by another endgame loss for Anna Ushenina, this time against Gulnar Mammadova.
The most dramatic match in the women’s section was USA-Hungary. The US side took the lead with a second win in a row for Tatev Abrahamyan, but Irina Krush was losing to Anita Gara as the game crossed the 100-move mark. After 106…h4 victory was in sight:
107.Rg8! now, and the rest should be easy, but instead 107.Ke5!? Kg3 108.Rg8+? (108.Kf5! with 109.Ra3 to follow is still a win) was played, when the position after 108…Kf3! was only a draw. Irina Krush didn’t miss her chance, giving US fans something to cheer about despite the loss for their all-star male team. And that’s not all:
That leaves the standings at the top of the women’s section as follows:
China-USA, Ukraine-Russia and Azerbaijan-Armenia promise to be a feast of chess and geopolitical action in Round 10! Meanwhile in the open section, it’s all to play for, with Poland perhaps the only team that would be satisfied with a draw:
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