17-year-old Nodirbek Abdusattorov outplayed Fabiano Caruana as Uzbekistan came within a whisker of beating the top seeds. In the end the USA escaped with a draw, with just five teams now on a perfect score: India 2, England, Spain, Armenia and Israel, who scored a surprise win over the Netherlands.
On paper the US team are huge favourites to win the 44th Chess Olympiad in Chennai, but they’ve failed to convince so far and flirted with disaster in Round 5 against the young talents of Uzbekistan.
At first everything seemed to be going well. 16-year-old Javokhir Sindarov played the Benko Gambit against Wesley So but instead of getting active play for the sacrificed pawn was smoothly crushed.
Levon Aronian shook the hand of his teammate and soon made a draw against Nodirbek Yakubboev, but from there on things went off the rails for the US team.
Sam Shankland was in a lost endgame against Jakhongir Vakhidov, while Fabiano Caruana crumbled just when it seemed he’d found a tactical way out of a miserable position a couple of pawns down against Nodirbek Abdusattorov.
44.Rd7! and Nodirbek would even have to be careful, but Fabiano played 44.Qxf5? and after 44…Rh4! suddenly had nothing better than trading down into a lost rook endgame.
That meant two games, two wins for the 17-year-old against Caruana, since Nodirbek Abdusattorov had also beaten the US star on the way to winning the 2021 World Rapid Championship.
Nodirbek, who we’ve been covering since he beat GMs as a 9-year-old, is climbing fast towards 2700, while Fabi suddenly finds himself below the absent Hikaru Nakamura on the live rating list.
There was better news on the team front for the USA, however, since Sam Shankland was given a reprieve when Jakhongir Vakhidov played 52.a4? and was no longer winning after 52…b3!
Jacob Aagaard replied to Boris to point out that 52.axb4 axb4 53.Rh6 Kg5 is a better try, since 54.Rb6 no longer wins, but 54.Rd6! there would still have won the game and match.
As it was, the USA limited the damage to a draw and losing a single match point, and were helped by the fact things were tight among the other teams on a perfect score.
France-India ended 2:2 with all games drawn, after Narayanan missed some chances against Maxime Lagarde.
All four games were also drawn in Poland-Romania, with Poland looking in trouble at one point, while Turkey-Azerbaijan ended 2:2 after Vasif Durarbayli won on demand to rescue Azerbaijan. Canada also held Iran to a 2:2 draw.
Just five teams have still won all their matches in the Open section, including Israel, who shocked the Netherlands after 54-year-old Ilya Smirin got a close to winning positional advantage by move 15 and scored the only win, over Erwin l’Ami.
Spain inflicted a first loss on an Indian team in the Chennai Olympiad after David Anton defeated Abhijeet Gupta.
Armenia continued to thrive in Levon Aronian’s absence with a 3:1 win over Austria, while the biggest win came for 10th seeds England, who beat Serbia 3.5:0.5 with wins for Luke McShane, David Howell and Mickey Adams.
“Previous games weren’t great for me, but today I had some luck and I managed to win my game, so that was quite nice,” said Mickey, though it didn’t look like luck!
There was a hint of luck as David Howell moved to 4/4 after some drama in mutual time trouble. With just 22 seconds to spare David played 26…Bg4?! against Ivan Ivanisevich.
That allowed White to win with 27.Rb8!, since you can’t take the rook or Ne7# will suddenly be checkmate. Instead after 27.f3? Nxd5! David was winning and never looked back.
The most impressive team so far, however, has been India 2. With Adhiban rested they posted an all-teen line-up in Round 4, and comfortably defeated Norway’s conquerors Italy. Praggnanandhaa and Raunak Sadhwani conceded the team's first draws…
…but Nihal Sarin smoothly defeated Luca Moroni with the black pieces, while Gukesh found a clever way to win a pawn and do what Magnus hadn’t managed — beat Daniele Vocaturo. That 4th win in a row for Gukesh took the 16-year-old up to 2708.8 and world no. 30 on the live rating list.
Setbacks in the Olympiad are often compensated for by the fact that you get paired with a weaker team in the next round, but winning on demand isn’t easy. 8th seeds Ukraine were held to a draw by Cuba in Round 3 only to crash to defeat against Slovakia in Round 4.
Jergus Pechac and Viktor Gazik scored the wins, with Viktor able to choose between any number of study-like finishes.
49…Rh4! was no mouse-slip, with the point that White has no choice but to play 50.gxh4, when the black g-pawn will advance to g1, become a queen and give checkmate from h1 or g2 before the white h-pawn can queen itself.
Andrei Volokitin resigned, with GM Jonathan Rowson wondering if there was a non-chess explanation.
Other teams struggled as well, however, with Norway almost plunging to a second loss in a row despite Magnus Carlsen winning a fine game against Mongolia’s Dambasuren Batsuren.
After 30…gxf6 31.exf7+ or 30…Kxf6 31.Qe5+ it’s all over for Black.
On the other boards, however, Frode Urkedal was well-beaten by Sugar Gan-Erdene, while Aryan Tari was extremely fortunate to escape with a draw against Bayarsaikhan Gundavaa.
The computer says White is crushing, though it’s possible to understand taking a draw a pawn down against a player rated 170 points above you.
That same logic enabled Germany to bounce back by defeating Ireland after wins for Vincent Keymer and Dmitrij Kollars. The match looked set to end in a draw after Matthias Bluebaum got burned in a hyper-sharp opening line against IM Conor Murphy, while FM Tarun Kanyamarala was beating Rasmus Svane.
This is an even more extreme case, since White is rated almost 300 points higher than Black and has an extra piece, but it turns out that after e.g. 44…Rbc8! instead of 44…Qg4+ White is in big trouble.
There is, of course, drama everywhere in the Olympiad, and a couple of results lower down the standings stood out. Zambia had already drawn our attention by beating Denmark in Round 2, and now in Round 4 they took down the top African team, Egypt.
2396-rated IM Gillan Bwalya’s reward for making a draw on top board against Bassem Amin? He plays White against Magnus Carlsen in Round 5!
Elsewhere 133rd seeds Chinese Tapei drew 2:2 against 57th seeds Estonia, after 1900-rated Liu Yeh Yang and Hsu Hsuan-Ming won against 2400-rated opponents.
The Women’s section saw much less drama in Round 4, with 8 teams still on a perfect score, including India, who had Tania Sachdev to thank for their victory over Hungary.
India will now face France, who beat Serbia 2.5:1.5, but not without one moment of panic!
The black queen is attacked, but Jovana Eric here had the crushing 35…Nc3!! when you can’t take the queen because checkmate with 36…Rxd1# would follow. In fact there’s nothing better than to resign.
Black didn’t spot that blow, however, and after the normal 35…Qc7? Sophie Milliet went on to win smoothly.
The first upset in the Women’s section in Round 4 came in the 7th match, where Romania narrowly beat Germany with wins for Mihaela Sandu and Alessia-Mihaela Ciolacu.
In the Women’s section the teams with perfect scores meet in France-India, Ukraine-Azerbaijan, India2-Georgia and Poland-Romania, while in the Open section we’ve got Spain-India 2 (Shirov-Gukesh!), England-Armenia and Israel-USA.
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