Vladislav Artemiev celebrated his 21st birthday with victory over 15-year-old prodigy Alireza Firouzja to give Russia a narrow win over Iran as the 2019 World Team Championship got underway in Astana, Kazakhstan. The other big favourites China scored a 3.5:0.5 victory over a weakened Azerbaijan team, while there were also wins for India, USA and England in the open section. The day’s biggest upset was the US women’s team holding 2nd seeds Ukraine to a draw after 15-year-old Carissa Yip outcalculated Anna Ushenina in mutual time trouble.
The World Team Championship is the sister event to the Chess Olympiad and takes place as a 10-team round-robin every two years, but we have to start this year with the elephant in the room – many of the teams are appearing in far from their strongest line-ups. The main explanation for that is the late announcement of the event. It was only in early January that dates were given for the tournament, with the process of looking for a venue just beginning. At the start of February Kazakhstan’s modern capital Astana was announced as the host city.
The participant teams were named (note the choice of India as wild cards was based on their 2018 Olympiad finish just below the teams that automatically qualified):
Of all the teams listed it was only Poland who declined their invitation, with the likes of Radek Wojtaszek, Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Mateusz Bartel already committed to playing in the Prague Chess Festival that starts today. Mateusz wrote on Facebook:
We would later learn that with the FIDE Grand Prix and the Grand Chess Tour the schedule from spring onwards leaves very little room for manoeuvre (check out our 2019 Chess Calendar). When Poland withdrew, their last-minute replacements were none of the four teams FIDE named as reserves (Vietnam, Armenia, France or Ukraine), but Sweden, who finished just below them in 11th place at the 2018 Olympiad in Batumi.
While the other invited teams play, a host of star names are missing. India are without Anand, Vidit and Harikrishna (the last two play in Prague), Azerbaijan are missing Mamedyarov and Radjabov, and the US team features none of those who played in the Olympiad. A factor there is no doubt the gap of less than a week between the end of the World Team Championship and the start of the US Championship in Saint Louis, with only Samuel Sevian and Aleksandr Lenderman set to play in both.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though, with the big guns of Russia and China taking the event very seriously and few glaring absences in the highly competitive women’s section.
The favourites all won in Round 1 of the open section, but it wasn’t always easy:
So far 2019 has been the year of Vladislav Artemiev, who finally began to deliver on his great promise with victory in the Gibraltar Masters. He turned 21 on Tuesday and single-handedly gave Russia victory over the dangerous young Iranian team after Sergey Karjakin, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Dmitry Andreikin were all held to draws. Artemiev commented:
My opponent is a very talented chess player, but still very young, so before the game I had certain hopes of success.
Artemiev felt Firouzja was taking big risks with 16…Qe6 and set out to punish him:
17.Bxh6!? Nxg4 18.Bxg7 Kxg7 19.hxg4 Qxg4 20.Nb5! won a pawn for White, though Black had close to full compensation as the white knight ended up as a potential weakness on d6. More complications followed, however, and it would eventually be that knight that determined the outcome of the game. 27…Qxe5 would have kept the intrigue in the game, but 27…Bb7? allowed a little winning trick:
28.Ne8+! Kg8 (28...Rxe8? 29.Rxd7 Qxd7 30.e6+ wins the house) 29.Rxd7 Qxd7 30.Nf6+ Nxf6 31.exf6 and White was two pawns up. Both players were down to around a minute on the clock at this point, but Artemiev made no mistake converting his advantage.
On paper China made light work of Azerbaijan with a 3.5:0.5 victory, but while the outcome of the match was never in doubt Wei Yi needed 86 moves and Yu Yangyi 92 to win their games. Ding Liren’s “quick” 54-move win over Rauf Mamedov leaves him just 3.5 points behind 2nd-placed Fabiano Caruana on the live rating list.
USA were favourites to beat Egypt, but not on top board, where Dariusz Swiercz (2655) impressively beat Bassem Amin (2709) with the black pieces on his debut for the American team after recently switching from the Polish Chess Federation. Zviad Izoria also won for a comfortable 3:1 victory.
There was also a surprise on the top board of England-Kazakhstan, where Rinat Jumabayev exploited a moment’s carelessness from Mickey Adams:
Mickey should have exchanged rooks, because the sharp 25…Qd6! now both prepared Nxb7 and stopped the bishop escaping to a6. There was no choice but to go for 26.Be4 when after 26…Nxe4 27.Rxe4 Qxa3 28.bxa3 White is temporarily up a pawn but his ruined structure enabled Jumabayev to grind out a win in 50 moves. That loss didn’t prove costly for England, however, as David Howell and Gawain Jones did the business on the bottom boards.
The most spectacular match was India-Sweden, where the Indian team, who arrived early enough in Kazakhstan to have some fun…
…showed a ferocious appetite on the way to a 3.5:0.5 mauling of the Swedes. The first game to finish in either section saw Ganguly mate Axel Smith:
Surprisingly 20…Bxb3? is already the losing move, with 20…f5! required. After the move in the game by the time Black had created some “luft” for his king White’s pieces had already cut off the oxygen supply:
That pattern was repeated on the top board, where Nils Grandelius missed his chance to escape on move 27:
This time 27…Ne3!! would have thwarted Adhiban’s dastardly plans, but after 27…Ne7? 28.Qg3! there was again no stopping a mating attack on the kingside.
The women’s section also saw convincing wins for Russia and China, though hosts Kazakhstan put up more resistance against Russia than the 3:1 scoreline suggests. Zhansaya Abdumalik found some ingenious tactical resources against Kateryna Lagno, but ultimately got a little too clever for her own good. Things went smoother for Aleksandra Gorachkina, while Valentina Gunina couldn’t overcome 15-year-old Bibisara Assaubayeva despite trying for 109 moves. Some spice was added to that match-up since Bibisara recently switched back from the Russian to the Kazakhstan Chess Federation after a turbulent couple of years.
Armenia expectedly crushed Egypt, but the remaining two matches ended in draws. That was a good result for India, who held Georgia, but especially for the US team without Irina Krush or Anna Zatonskih, that held the second seeds Ukraine. Mariya Muzychuk beat Tatev Abrahamyan on top board, but 15-year-old Carissa Yip hit back on board 2. Former World Champion Anna Ushenina had a promising position, but she played 36.Qb1? with just 12 seconds remaining on her clock (36.Nc1! would have kept all White’s advantages):
Carissa had just over two minutes on the clock herself, but found 36…b4!, after which White’s position rapidly fell apart: 37.axb4 Qxb4 38.Qa2? Nxb3 39.Qxa7 Nd4 40.Qxd7 Qxc3! The weak back rank decides the game:
On paper China and Russia are likely to overpower USA and Egypt in the open section in Round 2, but the remaining matches are nicely balanced: Sweden-Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan-England and India-Iran.
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