From July 1-9 St. Petersburg, the cultural capital of Russia, hosted the 8th unofficial match between Russia and China. The format of the event has usually been different each year. This time the participants had to play 5 classical games and 10 rapid ones. Each team was composed of 5 male and 5 female players. For the Russian grandmasters the match was especially important since it normally plays a large role in determining the Olympic Team.
Of course, the confrontation between the women’s teams is more important in the sense that Russia is the reigning Olympic Champion, while China is the current World Team Champion. The Russian men’s team is obviously stronger than the Chinese, but the best GMs of the latter team (Wang Hao, Wang Yue) are of world class and can also lead their comrades to victory over anyone else.
From the Russian side there were mainly candidates for the Olympic team and some juniors. Our women’s team was: Valentina Gunina, Alexandra Kosteniuk, Natalia Pogonina, Olga Girya, Baira Kovanova (average rating – 2451.4). The Russian men’s team: Dmitry Jakovenko, Evgeny Tomashevsky, Ian Nepomniatchi, Nikita Vitiugov, Maxim Matlakov (average rating – 2711.6). The Chinese team was more or less at its optimal composition. Men: Wang Hao, Wang Yue, Li Chao, Ding Liren, Yu Yangyi (average rating – 2691.8). Chinese women’s team: Zhao Xue, Ju Wenjun, Huang Qiang, Shen Yang, Ding Yixin (average rating - 2472.8). At the Olympid Yu Yangyi will be replaced by Bu Xiangzhi and Shen Yang by Hou Yifan.
A separate score is kept for men and women; both for classical chess and for rapid. However, the final result of the match is the sum of the points of each of the national teams. Up to this point Russia was losing to China 4-3. Hence, we were hoping to equalize the score after this match. This article will be dedicated to the classical part of the women’s confrontation, while the second part will be about rapid chess. Also, you can find more details about the members of the team, ratings, etc., in this preview post.
Your Chess.com columnist near one of the most beautiful churches in St. Petersburg
Five rounds is a very short distance, so the teams have to be extremely careful. On Day 1 our team missed two great chances to score:
Alexandra Kosteniuk vs. Ju Wenjun
I barely drew against Huang Qian, Olga Girya shared the point with Shen Yang, while Baira Kovanova lost to Ding Yixin. Summarizing, China won 3-2.
In round 2 the situation had reversed: Valentina Gunina and Alexandra Kosteniuk won; I and Olga Girya drew, while Baira Kovanova got another 0. 3-2 for Mother Russia.
The playing hall
Round 3, another defeat. I and Alexandra Kosteniuk lost; everyone else drew. Baira Kovanova had good winning chances, but I guess she was too tired after her spectacular performance at the Top League. Valentina Gunina was on the verge of falling into the abyss:
Valentina Gunina and her coffee ritual that she used to perform before each game.
Now we were trailing two points behind.
Round 4, another challenge. I lost again, Olga Girya couldn’t save her game as well. Alexandra Kosteniuk earned us a point; other games were drawn.
Grimly watching my friend Alexandra play vs. Ding Yixin
While we still had theoretical chances to save the classical part of the match, we failed to compensate for the 3 point lag. Four draws and yet another loss by Baira Kovanova (to Zhao Xue) defined the final score: 14.5-10.5 in China’s favor.
Gunina vs. Ju Wenjun was a thriller
Our men performed better and won their part of the match: 13.5-11.5. Now who do you think prevailed in rapid chess? In case you don’t know yet, stay tuned for Part II of the article! ;-)
All the photos except the first one are courtesy of Eteri Kublashvili, russiachess.org