The Chinese women’s team take a 3-point lead into the final two rounds of the World Team Championship after Ukraine held Russia to a 2:2 draw in Round 7 in Astana. The battle in the open tournament is much closer, with Russia just a point ahead of England after Vladislav Artemiev gave them a narrow victory over the USA. India, who play Russia in the final round, are two points back, while China have failed to close the 4-point gap that opened up after their disastrous start.
Let’s start this time with the women’s section, where China have their fate firmly in their own hands. They hold a 3-point lead that means victory over a USA team that lost 4:0 to India in Round 8 would guarantee them gold medals with a round to spare. If they lost or drew that match it’s still not all over, however, as they face the tricky Ukrainian team in the final round.
We got to that position after all the favourites won in Round 6 in Astana, though not without some curious moments. Russia won thanks to a 6th win in a row for Aleksandra Goryachkina, this time over 15-year-old Carissa Yip, although the match win could have been more convincing if Kateryna Lagno had played on rather than taken a draw by repetition in a winning position against Tatev Abrahamyan.
Something even stranger happened in China’s match against India. In the only decisive game Lei Tingjie had an overwhelming position against Kulkarni Bhakti, but then she went astray at the very end and after 46.b6 the result was in the balance:
Or at least it would have been, if Black hadn’t resigned here! Perhaps the Indian player saw no defence after 46…Bxa4 47.b7, but in fact 46…Bc2+! first makes all the difference. After 47.Be4 Bb3! Black is probably even winning, while if the king moves Black can take on a4 and the Bh2 resource will stop the b-pawn in time.
China would go on to make no mistake in Round 7, when they scored a 4:0 sweep against Egypt, while Russia were held by Ukraine in the match of the day.
Anna Muzychuk paid heavily for a pawn grab against Alexandra Kosteniuk, but her sister Mariya levelled the score with a win over Kateryna Lagno. 24…Qe7?? was the fatal mistake (24…Qc7 was one of a number of perfectly good moves for Black):
The problem? 25.Bxh7! and it’s clear Black can’t take the bishop e.g. 25…Kxh7 26.Bxf6+ would be curtains. Kateryna played 25…d4 and, according to Mariya, “she tried to play normally like she calculated it”, but after 26.Re1 Qxe1+ 27.Bxe1 Nxh7 the black pieces were no match for the power of White’s queen and bishop against the exposed black king.
Those results put China on the verge of gold medals, while the “usual suspects” of Russia, Georgia and Ukraine are likely to fight over silver and bronze:
In the open section it’s all much tighter, with Round 6 bringing two shock results. Russia were held by Azerbaijan after Arkadij Naiditsch improved his classical score against Sergey Karjakin to an extraordinary 6 wins to 2, with only 2 draws. A wild game could have turned in Russia’s favour after Naiditsch sacrificed the exchange with 29…Rxe4?!
Getting out of the pin with the subtle 30.Kf2! would have given White a big advantage, while after 30.Nxc3!? Black got counterplay and soon Naiditsch took over with his bishop pair and powerful passed pawns.
Ian Nepomniachtchi managed to equalise the score after a shaky game against Rauf Mamedov, while Grischuk was forced to defend Rook vs. Rook + Knight at the end.
Azerbaijan have improved massively after three defeats in the first four rounds, but as Naiditsch put it (echoing an infamous pronouncement by Garry Kasparov):
It’s too late to make a comeback – we’re already tourists!
The USA (3.5:0.5 vs. Sweden), India (3.5:0.5 vs. Kazakhstan) and England (3:1 vs. Iran) all took advantage of that slip-up, with England shrugging off the fact that they had to rest Gawain Jones due to illness and bring in 62-year-old Jon Speelman. It was tough, as the veteran’s opponent was 15-year-old Alireza Firouzja, who played a sparkling game on the way to following a slow start by racking up five wins in a row.
The one team not to take advantage, though, were China, who were held to a shock draw by Egypt.
The Egyptians picked up their first point of the event after what seemed a dream Sicilian position for Wei Yi turned into a nightmare:
The Chinese star is probably the chess player you'd pick to play such a position in a match to defend humanity against an alien race, but after 21.Rh6!? Be8! 22.Bb3!? Rc5! Black began to take over and Ahmed Adly went on to score a crushing win. Stockfish on our broadcast recommends 21.Rd6 Re8 22.Rhd1 and later sacrificing the exchange on d7, which seems to give White a big edge. On the other hand, Adly said afterwards that all of this was still his preparation, so unless he mixed something up it’s possible there are some mines hidden deep in those lines!
Ni Hua was called upon to save China, and he would also get the crucial win in a narrow 2.5:1.5 win over Sweden in the next round.
As in every round since beating China in Round 3 to open up a 4-point gap, Russia matched China’s result, with Vladislav Artemiev grabbing the crucial win over Zviad Izoria.
This was an example of how things can suddenly fall apart in a seemingly innocuous position, as they did after Izoria’s 15…Rhd8? (15…Rac8! was Artemiev’s suggestion):
16.Bg5! not only threatens e5 but frees up the c1-square for a rook to hit the undefended bishops on the c-file. After 16…h6 17.Rdc1! hxg5 18.Rxc5 White wins the g5-pawn, while in the game we saw 16…Rxd1+ 17.Rxd1 Bd6:
18.Rxd6! Kxd6 19.e5+ Kxe5 20.Bf4+ Kf5 21.Bc2+ and Black is forced to give up material. The rest was easy for a technician of Artemiev's calibre.
The 21-year-old is making an almost perfect debut for the Russian team and is now up to 17th on the live rating list, just 0.6 points behind Karjakin and 2 points behind Nakamura.
India were another team to be held by the resurgent Azeris (4 draws), enabling England to move ahead of them with a win over Egypt. It was a return to the pattern of the opening rounds of the event, when Mickey Adams would lose on the top board, this time to Bassem Amin, but the lower boards would save the day – David Howell and Gawain Jones both crashed through.
England Team Captain Malcolm Pein was understandably happy with how things were going, especially after the difficulty making it to Astana at all:
Nothing is yet decided, though it should be safe to rule out gold medals for China or the USA:
The remaining matches for the top three teams are:
As you can see, Russia vs. India could be a great finale, depending how the penultimate round goes. You can watch all the action here on chess24 from 10:00 CET, with Evgeny Miroshnichenko and Anna Burtasova commentating in English while Sergey Shipov commentates in Russian: Open | Women
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