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Reports Aug 9, 2022 | 3:42 PMby Colin McGourty

Uzbekistan and Ukraine win Chennai Olympiad

The young Uzbekistan team has won the 2022 Chess Olympiad in Chennai, though it was 27-year-old Jakhongir Vakhidov who clinched victory against the Netherlands. Armenia missed out on tiebreaks after defeating Spain, while India 2 took bronze. The women’s event saw an emotional victory for Ukraine, who edged out Georgia, after India fell at the final hurdle to the USA, but still took bronze.

The 44th Chess Olympiad is over and it’s confirmed: the future is now! If ratings favourites Germany, Spain, Netherlands and USA had won their last-round matches pre-tournament favourites USA would have taken gold — but instead the young stars, and the Armenian giant killers, continued their fine form.

When the dust had settled it was Uzbekistan, recently confirmed as the hosts of the 2026 Olympiad, who took gold. When they last reached the Olympiad podium, winning silver in 1992, none of the current team had yet been born!

Going into the final round Armenia and Uzbekistan were the co-leaders, and it didn’t take long before Armenia, the Olympiad winners in 2006, 2008 and 2012, were on the road to win their match and take at least silver medals.

Alexei Shirov’s 15…g6? was the kind of move that was hard to explain except for the early start in the final round. Alexei hadn’t blundered 16.Bg5!, since after 16…Qh5 if you follow up with 17.Bxd8? Bh6! Black is still in the game, but after 17.Be2! it really was all but over for Black.

Gabriel Sargissian finished “only” 4th on top board, below GukeshAbdusattorov and Carlsen, but his contribution, as in previous Olympiads, was priceless.

The other games were drawn and Armenia won their match, and while it wasn’t quite enough for gold, Levon Aronian, who played eight Olympiads for Armenia, was among the first to congratulate them.

Armenia were denied gold by Uzbekistan, who came into the final round with better tiebreaks and went on to score a win over the Netherlands that was much more convincing than the final 2.5:1.5 scoreline suggests.

Nodirbek Abdusattorov took mercy on Anish Giri this time! | photo: Lennart Ootes, FIDE

17-year-old World Rapid Champion Nodirbek Abdusattorov knocked Anish Giri out of the 2021 World Cup and was close to beating Anish again. His advantage eventually fizzled out into a draw, which meant he missed out on entering the 2700 club for the first time, but Nodirbek’s further rise is inevitable. He took individual silver on Board 1.

16-year-old Javokhir Sindarov got winning chances against Benjamin Bok, but showed the wisdom to play carefully and take a draw when it made sense, since 27-year-old Jakhongir Vakhidov gained an early advantage against Max Warmerdam and, despite the inevitable stress of the situation, nursed the advantage to victory.

Jakhongir’s 5 wins and 3 draws gave him a 2813 performance and an individual gold medal on Board 4.

Jakhongir Vakhidov deserved all the congratulations | photo: Lennart Ootes, FIDE

The wins for the pre-round leaders meant no-one could catch them, but the battle for 3rd place was intense. It could have gone to a winner in the battle of the 1st and 2nd seeds, India-USA, but they played out a 2:2 draw.

None of the US all-stars won a board medal, with Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So ending with draws.

Harikrishna and Fabiano Caruana made a relatively quick draw | photo: Lennart Ootes, FIDE

Sam Shankland ended a tough tournament for him with a win over Narayanan, while Aryun Erigaisi, the one kid smuggled onto the Indian first team, won his 6th game, giving him individual silver on Board 3, but perhaps more significantly taking him above 2700 for the first time.

It’s been a phenomenal rise.

The match draw helped neither team, however, with India 1 having to settle for 4th place and top seeds USA taking 5th.

It was absolutely fitting, however, that the teen stars of India 2 made it onto the podium. They, and particularly Gukesh, had suffered heartbreak the day before to miss out on a win over Uzbekistan.

Nihal Sarin, who beat Germany’s Matthias Bluebaum to take gold on Board 2, commented:

Initially we were all very upset, of course, and that was really painful, but it’s ok, it happens, and it made sense to try. [Gukesh] was really in such great form, he was carrying our team. Okay, he was winning earlier, so I guess he just wanted to win at all costs, which backfired.

“Anand sir, he really cheered us up!” added Nihal, and it was revealed Vishy had joined the young team in a late-night visit, sharing some of his own setbacks.

It worked, with Raunak Sadhwani making it a 3:1 victory over Germany when he seized an early advantage against Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu and never let go.

Raunak Sadhwani calmed nerves by immediately getting a big advantage against Nisipeanu | photo: Lennart Ootes, FIDE

India 2 had justified many pre-tournament predictions that they might be the more dangerous of the Indian teams, ultimately taking bronze medals without the need for any tiebreaks.

Gukesh came back after the previous day’s loss to Abdusattorov, drew against Vincent Keymer, and took a richly deserved gold medal on Board 1 for a 2867 performance, ahead of Abdusattorov and Carlsen, who both performed at 2803.

There’s no space for a full review, but 48th seeds Moldova stood out for finishing 6th after following up a win over Norway by defeating England in the final round.

England were left in 14th, but could celebrate something else. David Howell, who sat out the final three rounds, didn't win just the Board 3 prize but, at 2898, had the best performance of anyone in the Olympiad.

He was interviewed during the final round.

35th seeds Lithuania finished 10th, with Paulius Pultinevicius scoring 8.5/10 and taking silver on Board 4. Mateusz Bartel also scored 8.5/10, including five wins in a row at the end, to give Poland 9th place after a tough event.

The Women’s Chess Olympiad was India’s to lose going into the final round, since they led by a point and knew that a win over the USA would give them gold medals, while even a draw might be enough. Alas for local chess fans, it wasn’t to be!

When it was all over Ukraine had taken gold on tiebreaks over Georgia, though at least India still gained bronze medals, by the slimmest of margins, with the USA and Kazakhstan also scoring 17 points.

The Indian women’s team had been rock solid, but fell at the final hurdle against a resurgent US team. India got nothing on the top two boards, and Tania Sachdev, who played all games and was on an unbeaten +6, lost to Carissa Yip, who had a tough tournament but won her last five games.

Tania fell from winning a gold to a bronze medal on Board 4, but double bronze was some reward for a fantastic event.

Bhakti Kulkarni also suffered her first defeat, after four wins, losing to Tatev Abrahamyan. Tatev had an unusual explanation for the US team’s revival:

I think we started playing way better after the Bermuda party, so that was the breaking point for us. After that our team was just killing it.

The loss for India suddenly meant gold was up for grabs in the other matches. Nino Batsiashvili (gold on Board 2) and Meri Arabdize gave Georgia victory over Azerbaijan, which would have been enough for gold if not for Ukraine’s victory over Poland.

Mariya Muzychuk caught Alina Kashlinskaya in the opening to win on the top board, which meant that Oliwia Kiolbasa felt compelled to win against Anna Ushenina, even when she ended up a pawn down.

Anna Ushenina confirmed gold medals for Ukraine | photo: Lennart Ootes, FIDE

Perhaps inevitably, the game ended in a win for Anna, which gave a boost to Ukraine’s tiebreaks, but Oliwia, who started with 9/9, still took individual gold on Board 3, while Anna took silver.

When it comes to board prizes we can’t end without mentioning the legendary Pia Cramling, who snatched gold on Board 1.

It was close, however, with Eline Roebers matching Pia’s 2532 performance but being edged into silver because she played one less game.

The last medals to be mentioned before we end our Chess Olympiad coverage are for the Gaprindashvili Cup that combines the Open and Women’s sections. The curiosity there is that India took gold, the USA silver… and India 2 took bronze. The future of Indian chess is bright!

We hope you enjoyed our coverage of the 2022 FIDE Chess Olympiad. The next big event on the horizon is the FTX Crypto Cup, featuring Magnus Carlsen and Alireza Firouzja, that starts in Miami in just six days' time! 

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