The Chinese men’s team didn’t lose a single game in Khanty-Mansiysk on their way to retaining the World Team Championship title. Russia only lost one game, but that defeat for Vladimir Fedoseev at the hands of Li Chao meant Russia had to settle for silver medals. Poland’s bronze was their best team performance since 1939, while Turkey stunned the world with their ability to compete with the top teams. In the women’s section Russia won their first World Teams title in style, finishing three match points clear of China. Russia’s last round victims Ukraine plummeted to fifth as Georgia snatched bronze.
China finished a hugely disappointing 13th at the 2016 Olympiad, so no doubt it was time to draw conclusions. Their only change for the World Team Championship in Khanty-Mansiysk? Replacing 2737-rated Wang Yue, who had led China in Baku, with 2617-rated Wen Yang, who played exactly one game, a draw in their 3.5:0.5 win over Egypt! The formula seems to work, though, since China did exactly the same as they won the last World Team Championship in 2015, with Wang Chen the player who got to play one game (and also drew).
The Chinese team was solidity personified, with as brilliant an attacker as 18-year-old Wei Yi contenting himself with 3 wins and 6 draws. Yu Yangyi had the same result, Ding Liren had 2 wins and 6 draws, while Li Chao was the team’s hero at the event with 5 wins and 4 draws. He scored what became the crucial win of the whole event when he toppled Vladimir Fedoseev’s Berlin Wall in the only decisive game of the Russia-China match in Round 7.
It has to be said that with six isolated pawns by move 18, three of them tripled, it wasn’t the most convincing wall ever constructed:
It wasn’t just that, though. In the final round it turned out China had to beat Poland to gain gold medals. Once again, it was Li Chao to the rescue, as he scored the only win while the other three games were drawn. The curiosity of his victory over Mateusz Bartel was that until move 15 the game was identical to Yu Yangyi–Duda in the same match.
Yu Yangyi went for 15.Rd1, queens were soon exchanged, and Duda held with relative ease. Li Chao picked 15.Re1, allowing him to put the other rook on d1, and soon Black was in deep trouble. 28.Qf4! was a creeping but crushing move:
The main threat is simply Rf3, with an overwhelming attack on f7. Bartel played 28…g5, but after 29.Qg3 it was clear the black king had no future, or at least no future without pain, suffering and an early demise.
China did concede two match points after all games were drawn against USA and Turkey, but in the end it didn’t matter. The final standings looked as follows (click on any match result to go to the top game in that match with computer analysis):
If Poland had held China to a draw in the final round Russia could have snatched victory with a 3:1 victory over the USA. That looked a difficult ask against a team that, while underperforming and lacking the big three of So, Caruana and Nakamura, was still formidable. In the end, though, Russia claimed the only 4:0 whitewash of the whole Open tournament!
The player missing was 41-year-old Peter Svidler, who you might imagine from his comments had a terrible tournament, though in fact he scored six draws on top board, with four of those games with the black pieces.
He did look dead and buried at one stage in his game against Vidit, but he fought on, survived and saw the team pull off an unlikely victory thanks to Vladimir Fedoseev:
Peter skipped Round 1 (Egypt) as it was his birthday, then was dropped for the match with China. That gamble didn’t pay off, but dropping him for the last-round match with the USA worked out for all concerned, since we got a long cameo from him in the commentary booth with Anna Rudolf! (from 4:29:28 onwards)
Peter commented on the event for Russia:
The youngsters are even catching up with Peter on social media:
It’s not that the team is so young, but two players whose promise has been known about for a long time have started to shine. Maxim Matlakov first hit 2700 in 2013, but the 26-year-old, who has also worked as a second for Peter, has been flying recently, winning the 2017 European Championship. His live rating after the World Team Championship is 2730, putting him at world no. 26.
There’s no need to say much more about 22-year-old Vladimir Fedoseev, who has had a dream year, crossing 2700 for the first time after starting the year at 2658. He’s now up to 2726.3 and world no. 29. Although he lost the key game of the tournament he put in another impressive performance:
Ian Nepomniachtchi, meanwhile, showed the brilliance and self-confidence he did as a teenager, winning four and drawing four. The likes of Kramnik, Grischuk, Karjakin and of course Svidler himself aren’t likely just to step aside meekly, but Russia have shown what the future might hold.
The last time a Polish men’s team won medals at a major chess team competition was in 1939 in Buenos Aires, when a team including Tartakower and Najdorf took silver in an event utterly overshadowed by the outbreak of World War II. Najdorf would remain in Argentina and is now perhaps remembered more as an Argentinian player.
It was understandable, therefore, that Poland celebrated their narrow loss to China in the final round as a triumph, since it ensured bronze medals. Polish no. 1 Radek Wojtaszek summed things up on his Facebook page:
I hope you’ll all forgive me that I didn’t post recently, but I felt it was necessary to wait for something really big!
After great drama right up until the last day ultimately we won bronze medals at the World Team Championship!
After so many years of coming close to good results our moment finally arrived! I’m incredibly proud of the team we created, a wonderful thing One of my chess dreams – achieving a great result with the Polish national team – has just come true #moved
True, the final match didn’t go our way, but over the whole course of the tournament I think that medal belonged to us – each of us had better and worse moments, but we showed good form and that we’ve matured as a team and are capable of ever better results.
Congratulations are due to all those who helped us, and I’d like to thank:
Jan (-Krzysztof Duda) – for confident play. Playing on the board next to him was a pure pleasure! I’d like to take this opportunity to offer my big congratulations on crossing the 2700 barrier. We were all waiting for that for a long time and I’m not going to hide the fact that it’s great to finally have a colleague in the 2700+ club!
Kacper (Piorun) – for rescuing the match with the Indians
Mateusz (Bartel) – that despite poor form he was always ready to play, he won in the important match with the Norwegians and also saved some very tough positions, which contributed to our winning matches. For taking on himself the responsibility of playing today against the Chinese, when we knew that the toughest clash was awaiting us on the fourth board.
Grzesiek (Grzegorz Gajewski) – for wins against Ukraine and Belarus as well as for his dedication i.e. his direct arrival from Norway, where he seconded Vishy Anand. Grzesiek didn’t complain, got on the flight and played a decent event
The Oscar speech goes on to mention far more people, but in chess terms Wojtaszek singled out his win against Sergey Zhigalko of Belarus as his best game. There was a neat conclusion to the final combination:
46…g3+! 47.Kxg3 Ne2+ and the rook is lost.
Jan-Krzysztof Duda, meanwhile, will now officially become a 2700 player on the next rating list, and at 19 years old is the youngest player in that club apart from Wei Yi. His best game was perhaps his first against Adhiban, while he only had one real stumble, against Nepomniachtchi. Duda seemed to have weathered the storm in a Najdorf Sicilian but lived to regret grabbing another pawn with 31…Qxa2?
Alas, 32.Rxf6! was a simple win, as if 32…exf6 33.Nf5 there’s no stopping mate.
For the first six rounds at least, the absolute revelation of the tournament was the Turkish team. Four draws for a 2:2 result against Ukraine was already a surprise in the first round, but they showed it was no coincidence by doing the same to Russia the very next day! They then beat Norway and Poland by drawing three games but winning the last, then managed to draw all games again when they played China. In Round 6 they took a traumatic experience – finally losing a game as Sasikiran beat Can – in their stride, with Yilmaz beating Adhiban to ensure the familiar 2:2 scoreline.
Alas, they returned to earth in the finishing straight. The United States, who would finish 8th, were the only team in the event who managed to win two games against them on the way to a 3:1 victory. Then, after a routine win against Egypt, they went into the final round with realistic medal chances. They needed to beat Belarus while Poland lost to China, with the scoreline they needed depending on the other match. Instead, though, they ended with a whimper, losing 2.5:1.5 to Belarus, though 5th place was still a highly creditable result.
The other team with most cause to feel hard done by was India, who lost to the three medallists by a narrow 2.5:1.5 margin, with multiple misses, especially in the match against Russia.
They entertained us all, though, with a very different top two. Vidit drew 8 games in a row after beating Wojtaszek, while Adhiban won 5, lost 3 and drew only 1 of his tempestuous 9 games.
We’re used to the Russian women’s team winning whatever happens to their men, but curiously in the five times the Women’s World Team Championship had been held before Russia had failed to take gold medals, though they did get silver on four of those occasions. This time they ended that anomaly. The writing was on the wall as early as Round 1, when blunders abounded as Russia crushed their key rivals China 3:1, before China were held to a draw by Ukraine in Round 2. All Russia needed to do was perform as they knew they could and the title would be theirs, and sure enough, they would only concede draws to Azerbaijan and the USA.
Alexander Kosteniuk and Kateryna Lagno were wonderfully solid, collecting six important wins between them and drawing all their remaining games. Valentina Gunina, meanwhile, played the event in her trademark all or nothing style – not conceding a single draw in her 8 games!
Before the final round all Russia needed to win gold was to avoid a 4:0 defeat to Ukraine, but it was testimony to how well the Ukrainian team without the Muzychuk sisters had performed that they entered the last round with a mathematical chance at all.
Unfortunately for them, defeats followed on the bottom two boards, and while Russia won gold by a full three points, the result sent Ukraine tumbling out of the medal places. In fact, the top three seeds ended up claiming gold, silver and bronze, just as they had done in 2015 (back then it was 1. Georgia, 2. Russia, 3. China):
That was bitter for India as well as Ukraine, but also testimony to the recovery of the teams above them.
Georgia started with 4 points out of the first 10, but then took 8/8 in the finishing stretch. For China the last round was always likely to be a walkover against Egypt, but Mona Khaled’s win on top board against Ju Wenjun was one of the day’s most memorable moments. Wenjun’s 39.Nh3? was not a good idea!
39...Qe3+! 40.Qxe3 Rg2+ 41.Kh1 Rxh2+ and White resigned, with mate next move.
For some what followed was a hero’s welcome back home...
...while for others there were other places to be!
The Your Next Move Grand Chess Tour stage in Leuven starts today, with three rounds of rapid games from 14:00 CEST!