A Loss And A Win For Australia: Olympiad Captain's Recap Round 7 & 8
The Australian team met with the Vice-Consul from Australia to Chennai, Samuel Myers, on the rest day.

A Loss And A Win For Australia: Olympiad Captain's Recap Round 7 & 8

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Another two rounds have passed at the 44th FIDE Olympiad and Australia has continued to put in strong performances in Chennai. In the seventh round, we faced the mighty Iranian team (seeded 13) who have risen to become a global chess superstar due to extraordinary youth development over the past few years.

GM Ehsan Gaem Maghami (left) has been one of the instrumental leaders in the development of Iranian chess. Photo: Facebook.

Led by GM Parham Maghsoodloo (2701) on board one, the Iranians dealt Australia their second defeat of the Olympiad 3.5-0.5. The match score did not quite reflect the fight the Australians put up and we were unlucky not to convert 1.5 points.

Board two was the highlight of the match for Australia with GM Temur Kuybokarov again demonstrating understanding well beyond his 2583 rating, this time drawing with GM Amin Tabatabaei (2664). Kuybokarov played energetically to build a position with some promise but Tabatabaei was able to equalize. Neither player had serious chances in this game.

GM Anton Smirnov was unfortunate to run into an in-form Maghsoodloo, who has recently won a variety of strong online events including a win in week eight of the Rapid Chess Championship.

On board three GM Bobby Cheng fell for the first time against GM Pouya Idani on the black side of a c3 Sicilian. Cheng looked to have things under control but an inspired Idani found ways to muddy the waters. A white knight planted on d6 was the catalyst for some tough decision-making on Cheng's part and although he defended gallantly, holding became impossible.

The final game of the match looked to be going well for GM Zong-Yuan Zhao but a once in a career, one-move blunder from Zhao in a great position left him a rook down with no compensation. To further rub salt in the wounds, after losing a rook for free Zhao was still able to play on in the position for some time, a clear indication of the strength of his previous position.

Round eight saw Australia pair against Finland on board 23. In a must-win match in order for Australia to place decently in the Olympiad, beating Finland proved a difficult task. On board one, the speedy, unbeaten IM Toivo Keinanen loomed as a critical board.

Giving Smirnov a much-deserved rest after six rounds straight against elite GMs, Kuybokarov found himself in a theoretical battle with the Finnish board one. The battle was chaotic and it looked as though Kuybokarov had gained some attacking chances however the tables quickly turned after some clever in-between moves from Keinanen and Kuybokarov was forced to repeat moves for a draw. 0.5-0.5.

The remaining games against Finland all looked to be going the distance, with boards one and three appearing to be heading towards draws while all three results looked possible for the board three game between GM Justin Tan and IM Vilka Sipila. 

Fortunately, Cheng, who was happy to play for as long as he needed to win, found himself in a rook and bishop vs bishop ending. Although the ending is well-known as a theoretical draw (in most starting positions), the ending is notoriously difficult to defend and Cheng eventually showed why creating threat after threat until white was forced to make a bad move. 1.5-0.5 Australia.

Zhao cleverly kept his equal endgame alive until other results became more obvious, an experienced way to keep match-winning chances alive but eventually agreed to a draw when Cheng's result was confirmed.

Tan, all too familiar with the role of securing a match for team Australia at this point clarified his wild position and began liquidating. Interestingly, though his late middlegame position was tumultuous, he ended up with a single pawn advantage in a rook endgame. Although he did not convert it to a win, he immediately pointed out that it was a technically winning endgame that he had previously studied.

With the match in the bag, Australia heads into the ninth round with five match wins, one match draw, and two match losses. Our next round pairing is against the Ukraine and despite being outrated by 100 points on every board, we will be fighting to score another historic upset.