The Polish men’s team has the only 100% score in either section of the 2017 World Team Championship, with Radek Wojtaszek making up for his first round defeat by crushing Sam Shankland in Round 2. Behind them are China and Russia on 5/6, with China drawing the USA and Russia held by the unbeaten Turkish team. Russia's hopes of overall victory were boosted by Ian Nepomniachtchi demolishing Anton Korobov to beat Ukraine. In the women’s section Russia and Ukraine both have 5/6, with top seeds China a full two points back.
After a first round in which Russia and China scored crushing victories the next two rounds have been much tighter in the Open section, with Egypt 1:3 Poland in Round 3 the only match won by more than the smallest of margins. In Round 2 we got two significant drawn matches, though Belarus 2:2 Ukraine was a mystery. For the second day in a row the Ukrainian team stood out for fast draws, with the games ending in 15, 20, 13 and 22 moves. Was it a protest from a team lacking Vassily Ivanchuk and Pavel Eljanov, or simply a decision to save energy for bigger challenges ahead?
The Russia-Turkey match had the same scoreline, but only Yilmaz-Vitiugov ended fast, with Mustafa Yilmaz forcing a 24-move draw against Nikita Vitiugov that had been seen dozens of times before, including in the game Yilmaz-Lupulescu from last year. It all came down to Vladimir Fedoseev’s attempts to convert an extra pawn in a minor piece ending against Vahap Sanal. The new member of the 2700 club again and again managed to inject life into the game, but ultimately couldn’t win a Queen + Knight vs. Queen + Pawn ending and drew in 93 moves.
Russia’s slip was seized upon by two of their rivals. China beat India 2.5:1.5 after Yu Yangyi inflicted a second defeat in a row on Adhiban, whose careless 18.h3 (18.c4!) allowed 18…Nf5!
The immediate threat is Nxg3, which is not as easy to parry as you'd imagine. For instance, 19.Kf1? Nxg3+! 20.fxg3 Bb5+ is crushing. Adhiban played 19.Nd4, which after 19…Bxd4 20.cxd4 left him with a ruined structure. It was an uphill struggle after that, although the losing mistake came much later. The consolation for Adhiban is that after two tough days he scored the only win as India beat Belarus in Round 3.
Poland’s victory over the USA saw redemption for Radek Wojtaszek, who beat Sam Shankland even faster than he’d lost to Vidit in the first round. Sam played the opening too optimistically and even his stares didn’t help:
19.Qg5! attacks the g4-bishop and threatens Nf6+ and winning the rook on a8. The bishop moved to e2 but was soon chased away again, with the game ending after 25.Bd5:
“Too many enemy”. Once again Mateusz Bartel had to fight for his life on the bottom board to make sure that game counted, and he succeeded, holding World Junior Champion Jeffery Xiong to a draw.
In Round 3 China dropped their first point as they were held to four draws by the USA, with Russia seizing on that chance to catch them with a 2.5:1.5 victory over Ukraine.
It all came down to a wild 6.Bg5 Najdorf on board 2 between Ian Nepomniachtchi and Anton Korobov. The critical moment was move 22, when Korobov sank into a 32-minute think:
Anton eventually played 22…d5?, which Nepo called “a terrible blunder”, allowing White to gain a full tempo, and winning position, with 23.Qg2!. Instead he’d been expecting 22…Qa6! and nothing would yet be decided.
The rest was easy for one of the most gifted tacticians in world chess, with Ian unleashing sacrifice after sacrifice:
30.Nxb4! Offering a piece to gain immediate access to Black’s position. 30…Qxb4 Other moves only delay the inevitable. 31.Rd7+ Ke8 32.Rgd1 Nf8 33.Qe2! Ng3 34.Bc5+!
Even in a team competition it’s ok to resign with mate-in-2 on the board! You can watch Nepomniachtchi talking about the game below:
That was a repeat of Nepomniachtchi’s victory over Korobov in the 2016 Olympiad in Baku (though there Nepo had Black), and sweet revenge for the Russian team. Wins for Ponomariov over Tomashevsky and Volokitin over Grischuk had given Ukraine victory in that Round 4 match and, it turned out, destroyed Russia's chances of winning the event (they took bronze, two points behind Ukraine and USA).
Michal Krasenkow-led Turkey deserve a mention for drawing against both Ukraine and Russia and then scoring a narrow win over Norway. That was tough luck in turn for the Norwegians, who have one win and two 2.5:1.5 defeats. Their team captain commented:
The standings with six rounds still to go are as follows:
Top seeds China lost 3:1 to Russia in the first round and didn’t see their fortunes improve much in the second. They were held to a draw by Ukraine, despite Tan Zhongyi winning a nice game over Natalia Zhukova:
Zhukova’s f6-knight is en prise, but so is the knight on e1. However, after the simple 30.Kf1! it turns out Black is lost, as there’s no way to both defend the f6-knight and avoid the loss of the queen after Rd3. The game continued 30…Nxd5 31.Rd3 and although it went on to move 43 the result was never in doubt.
The Ukrainian team is missing the Muzychuk sisters, for reasons that remain a mystery (their team coach Michail Brodsky declined to offer an explanation when interviewed during the Round 3 broadcast), but 40-year-old Inna Gaponenko has made up for their absence so far.
She levelled the match against China by defeating Lei Tingjie:
For now 35.b3 would just be an exchange operation after 35…Bxc3, but Inna set about changing that with 35.h5! Bf5 36.Be4 g6 37.hxg6+ fxg6 38.Bxf5 gxf5:
And now 39.b3! is the winning move, since 39…Bxc3 can simply be met by the zwischenzug 40.Re7+. Black resigned a dozen moves later.
Gaponenko went on to score the only win, over Tania Sachdev, as Ukraine beat India 2.5:1.5 in Round 3, a bitter change of fortunes for Tania, who had scored the only win, over US Champion Sabina Foisor, to win their Round 2 match.
There were tough fights everywhere. Although Russia and China both beat Vietnam neither match was easy. Poland were held to two draws, with Foisor beating Szczepkowska to cancel out a win for Klaudia Kulon in the match against the USA, while all four games against Georgia were decisive.
The Russian women lost their 100% record in a Round 3 draw against Azerbaijan, with Gunay Mammadzada scoring an impressive win over Valentina Gunina. Olga Girya saved the day with a 63-move win over Ulviyya Fataliyeva on bottom board.
The standings in the women’s section look as follows:
The teams play another two rounds before the event’s only rest day on Thursday – while the Paris Grand Chess Tour with Magnus Carlsen and co. starts on Wednesday!