Bad Day For Number 1s: Russia, 2 World Champs Struggle

Bad Day For Number 1s: Russia, 2 World Champs Struggle

| 39 | Chess Event Coverage

Once again, Russia is in danger of missing out on Olympic gold. Today, in the fourth round of the chess Olympiad, they were beaten by Ukraine, who got wins from GMs Ruslan Ponomariov and Andrei Volokitin.

Dark clouds are hanging above the Russian team once again. Having not won an Olympiad since 2002, despite being the favorites time and again, this first loss in Baku must have hit them hard.

Team captain Andrey Filatov, who is also the president of the Russian Chess Federation and a FIDE Vice President, saw with sorrow that his boys were not having a good day. 

In what was a very tense match, the first two games finished shortly before the time control. GM Alexander Grischuk wasn't a shadow of his normal self and just played a bad game against GM Andrei Volokitin. The latter went for an amazing sequence of moves that either "trapped" a white bishop or allowed a perpetual. Grischuk was right to avoid the draw, but then he made some strange moves.

Analysis by GM Christian Chirila

Not a good day for Alexander Grischuk.

One board higher, it was GM Ian Nepomniachtchi who leveled the score against GM Anton Korobov in a Schlechter system. Like Grischuk, Korobov opened up the position of his king voluntarily. It was still kind of OK for White, but at some point in the heavy-piece ending, he lost the thread.

Nepomniachtchi is doing well in team events for Russia, but today it wasn't enough.

The 1-1 stayed on the scoreboard for quite a while, and more and more spectators gathered around the top two boards — especially because a sensation was in the air.

GM Pavel Eljanov was the only one with winning chances in his game with GM Vladimir Kramnik, but GM Ruslan Ponomariov had won a pawn against GM Evgeny Tomashevsky. It was a technical win, and Ponomariov proved up to the task to become the match winner. 

When Tomashevsky resigned, Eljanov immediately stopped his efforts versus Kramnik and agreed to a draw.

"It was quite a solid opening, but I don't think I played precisely," said Ponomariov about his game. "He had some pressure and a space advantage, but nothing really special happened. It was quite a stressful game because the match is really important. In this pressure, my opponent just blundered a pawn."

A crucial win for the ex-FIDE world champion.

Ukraine's reward? Facing the reigning Olympic champions tomorrow. It's Ukraine-China on board one.

While walking from the playing hall to the press center, Ponomariov said he was surprised that Tomashevsky was put in the team by the Russian captain. "He seems to lose important games, like last year against us in the World Team Championship." That time it was Eljanov who beat Tomashevesky.

Ponomariov having a quick chat after the game with GM Genna Sosonko.

The winners of the 2004 and 2010 Olympiads are definitely a force to reckon with, even without their long-time board one GM Vassily Ivanchuk. He opted to play a draughts tournament, which started today in Karpacz, Poland. (He started with a draw and a loss.)

Eljanov said about this: "He's an unpredictable man. Maybe he felt he was not prepared to play; it's hard to say."

"Vassily no doubt is a great chess player," said Ponomariov. "He dedicated lots of his time to play for the national team. I think he even played once in Soviet times. [That's correct; 1988 was his first one. — PD] We can't blame him, if he decides to rest and not play one Olympiad."

Ponomariov also noted that Ukraine has been playing with virtually the same players for a long time now; few new strong players appear on the scene in Ukraine. "It would be nice to see some fresh blood."

India is another team that scored four wins despite missing their star player. In their case they're used to it; GM Vishy Anand played his last Olympiad ten years ago. In today's match-up with Cuba, it was Lake Sevan winner GM Vidit Santosh Gujrathi who decided matters. From the moment white's bishop came back to life, White was on top.

Vidit Santosh Gujrathi is having a good summer!

On the next boards, USA dropped their first match point today. Czech Republic proved too solid in a match that saw four draws.

On board one, GM Fabiano Caruana failed to take revenge for his coach GM Rustam Kasimdzhanov's loss to GM David Navara the other day. The Czech top player used an line old line in the Caro-Kann which GM Anatoly Karpov used to draw GM Boris Gelfand in their 1995 Candidates' Match.

David Navara used an old Karpov line today.

The local fans can be happy as Azerbaijan won their fourth consecutive match against Romania, with full points from GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and GM Arkadij Naiditsch. There were also no surprises in China vs Italy which ended 3-1.

The clash between England and the Netherlands is usually a close fight, but today the Dutch players won by a surprisingly big score: 3.5-0.5. The draw was conceded by GM Anish Giri versus GM Michael Adams, who started with three wins. GMs Erwin l'Ami, Loek van Wely and Benjamin Bok all played excellent games against GMs David Howell, Luke McShane, and Gawain Jones respectively.

The Dutch can't complain about their pairings for tomorrow: They play Belarus, who defeated Latvia. In the only decisive game of the match, the strongest of the two Zhigalko brothers defeated GM Alexei Shirov. Black's opening didn't work out well, he lost (sac'ed?) a pawn and never saw it back.

The match winner was Sergei Zhigalko.

Some other notable results: GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave played his third draw in a row and has now dropped to number four in the live ratings. GM Baadur Jobava defeated GM Veselin Topalov in his pet system: 1.d4. 2.Nc3. and 3.Bf4.

The Jobava System strikes again!

Finally, the world champion played his second draw in a row. Yesterday he split the point with Romania's GM Constantin Lupulescu; today he again split the point against Australia's GM David Smerdon. The latter sent a great tweet before the game.

Below is the game and an interview with Smerdon, but first we must share an anecdote from retired Australian GM Ian Rogers. Apparently during lunch the suggestion was made that Smerdon should go 1.d3, hoping for 1...e5 and then 2.d4, playing the Scandinavian — about which he wrote a whole book!

According to research by Australian chess historians, the last time an Australian even played a sitting world champion was 1983 when GM Ian Rogers (the current team captain in Baku) faced GM Anatoly Karpov.

In the end, it was GM Frode Urkedal who was the match winner as he caught GM Max Illingworth's king on board four. "Recently, I've checkmated quite a lot of players. I think it's a trait in Norway that people play until mate."

Urkedal, who used to be chess professional but is now studying physics, said that the rest of the team doesn't want to disappoint Carlsen. The champ hasn't trained them though. "He's not our coach." But does he owe him drinks? "I can ask him!"

The decisive game in the Norway-Australia match.

A bit lower down there was quite an upset: Mongolia defeated Croatia 2.5-1.5. GM Ivan Saric couldn't beat IM Gombosuren Munkhgal and with two more draws, GM Tsegmed Batchuluun's win over ex-European Champion GM Zdenko Kozul was enough for the Country of Blue Skies.

Top matchups for round 5

No. SNo Team Team Pts. MP Res. : Res. MP Pts. Team Team SNo
1 5 Ukraine 12½ 8 : 8 13½ China 3
2 11 Netherlands 14 8 : 8 13 Belarus 23
3 24 Serbia 10½ 7 : 7 12½ USA 2
4 4 Azerbaijan 1 14 8 : 8 13½ India 9
5 29 Slovenia 12½ 7 : 7 11½ Czech Republic 17
6 14 Spain 11½ 7 : 7 11½ Georgia 20
7 57 Mongolia 10½ 7 : 6 13½ Turkey 19
8 1 Russia 12½ 6 : 6 11 Egypt 43
9 35 Moldova 11 6 : 6 12½ Poland 7
10 15 Cuba 11 6 : 6 13½ Canada 25

Women section

After round four, only four women's teams remain with perfect 4-0 match scores (eight points). To get there today, Serbia beat Sweden 3-1; Russia beat Hungary 2.5-1.5; Ukraine beat France 3.5-1.5; and Kazakhstan beat Lithuania 2.5-1.5.

Tomorrow the Eastern Europeans will dominate the attention. Key match-ups will be Serbia-Ukraine and Russia-Kazakhstan.

You can actually take a boat from Kazakhstan to Baku, but if the Kazakhstani women (left) keep winning, they may get to fly home first class.

Today it was generally a good day to have a relative playing, but a bad day to be a reigning world champion (not just Carlsen struggled!).

IM Cristina Foisor of Romania had her team's only win, helping Romania to a mini-upset of host Azerbaijan-A and partially avenging the men's team's loss to the same country today.

Foisor's daughter, WGM Sabina Foisor, also won today in her first action at the Olympiad. Her win was needed by the Americans to get back on track; they beat Bosnia & Herzegovina by the minimum score.

Meanwhile, Women's World Champion GM Hou Yifan lost to a finance minister! When she's not representing her country's government or the Union of Greens and Farmers Party, WGM Dana Reizneice-Ozola is holding down first board for Latvia.

She's been camping out on board one for eight Olympiads, but that didn't prevent her from being surprised at what she'd done:

Today's win was the Latvian Minister of Finance's third in four games. Although her team lost to China 2.5-1.5, she will remember this game in the same way Smerdon will remember his. Well, she won, so perhaps even more.

Reizneice-Ozola's Wikipedia page lists her chess accomplishments below all her public service endeavors. That may change soon!

Many chess players receive government bonuses for performances at the Olympiad. One wonders if Latvia medals, if she can appropriate a bonus to herself? We're kidding of course.

Back to the top boards, WGM Natalija Pogonina played heroine for the Russian squad. Three draws in the other boards, including a close escape by GM Alexandra Kosteniuk, made Pogonina's win over IM Anita Gara decisive.

More family success came in the form of the sisters Muzychuk. Both Anna and Mariya won as Ukraine had the easiest time of it amongst the perfect-score group. France arrived in Baku without their top two women, GM Marie Sebag and IM Almira Stripchenko, and today they sat their highest-rated player present, IM Sophie Milliet.

The Muzychuk ladies both won today.

Particularly opportunistic was GM Anna Muzychuk on the top board. Her final position looks a lot like the board at the end of the famous knight sacrifice in the Damiano Defense. Consider that first, then consider her game today.

And now Muzychuk's final position:

India could only tie Israel, and as mentioned, Azerbaijan-A drew Romania. All four teams have seven points and are just off the pace.

The family fun didn't quite extend down to Sweden-Serbia. Although veteran GM Pia Cramling beat WGM Jovana Rapport (yes, another person with a family member playing!), her daughter Anna Cramling Bellon couldn't make the theme of this section consistent. She lost as Serbia won on all but that top board.

A chess-playing family: GM Juan Bellon, Anna Cramling Bellon, and GM Pia Cramling. Photo: David Llada for Baku Chess Olympiad.

She was one of the first female GMs, and after 24 years with the title, she still has a GM's intensity.

We will close the reporting on the women's section by showing how the Kazakhstani women kept up their winning ways. The had to come from behind as board order is concerned. IM Deimante Daulyte played an early piece sacrifice against WGM Zhansaya Abdumalik; the game only became crazier as it unfolded.

Kazakhstan won on board two, and then on board three.

For those who scan these reports on "upset patrol," we picked a good country spotlight for you today. Look below to see which lower-tier women's team is making the most waves in Baku, including this round!

Top matchups for round 5

No. SNo Team Team Pts. MP Res. : Res. MP Pts. Team Team SNo
1 27 Serbia 13½ 8 : 8 13½ Ukraine 2
2 3 Russia 13½ 8 : 8 11½ Kazakhstan 31
3 18 Israel 11½ 7 : 7 12½ Romania 11
4 16 Azerbaijan 1 11 7 : 7 12½ Germany 10
5 19 Vietnam 11½ 7 : 7 12½ India 5
6 1 China 12½ 7 : 7 12½ Italy 20
7 6 USA 10½ 6 : 6 12 Lithuania 12
8 30 Greece 10 6 : 6 12 Slovenia 38
9 13 Iran 12 6 : 6 10 Netherlands 21
10 8 Hungary 11½ 6 : 6 10 Sweden 43

Player caught with mobile

Chief Arbiter Faik Gasanov discussed an incident yesterday where a Japanese player was forfeited.

"Yesterday during one of the games, I was approached by an arbiter in the anti-cheating department, and I was told there was a small electronic device that should not be there," Gasanov said.

Gasanov confirmed to that it was a mobile phone, and that was the only device in question.

"We didn't even bother to look into it because it's an automatic forfeiture. "He has violated the rules, and there is no need to look into it it to see if there is a program on it."

Update: deputy arbiter later told that the player had both a phone and an ipod on him, and no chess app was running on the phone.

Gasanov said he considered removing the player from the tournament, but considered that "double punishment" and "non-commensurate" with the violation.

Chief arbiter Faik Gasanov of Azerbaijan.

He also said that bathroom permissions are being relaxed. "[It is] common sense that you can't ask the arbiter every time you have to use the restroom," he said, but he added that a player who visits very often will have the frequency noted.

Gasanov said that there was much cheating in Tromso because captains could talk with players. "We've completely ruled out contact with the outside world."

Missing teams

The playing hall is still missing some teams that were expected (although at least by now they aren't being paired). The 13 federations in the open section that haven't shown up are all African. Kim Bhari, owner of the web site Kenya Chess Masala and an Olympiad player in 1998, came here to report on his native teams.

"It just paints Africa in a bad image once again," he said.

During a press conference today, organizers confirmed that the "host nation will help pay for the poorer nations to travel."

Bhari confirmed this was the case and wrote on his site that 116 out of the planned 187 federations are on a travel subsidy. Kenya was one of those, but somehow his players haven't shown.

Two African teams that made it to Baku: Tanzania vs Botswana (0-4).
Photo Maria Emelianova for the Baku Chess Olympiad.

He explained that one of the biggest issues is the timing of the funding. Players and teams are expected to pay for the travel costs up front and be reimbursed upon arrival. (His own teams were due 7,320 Euros.) Without the cash to outlay, teams cannot abide by this system. 

He also said some internal problems in Kenya Chess (the national federation) are also causing problems. Their bnkk account is currently frozen as two different people claim to have control of the organization. Bhari described the power struggle as a proxy argument between the Kasparov Chess Foundation and FIDE.

He said the open team won't be making it, but three women are currently making their way to Baku via Istanbul. That's the minimum number allowed by rule, but of course it leaves one board with a loss each round. On his site, he is already reminding other federations to begin planning now for Batumi, Georgia in 2018.


Team Spotlight: Sri Lanka Women

If you had the Sri Lankan Women in your fantasy Olympiad chess team, you're probably doing pretty well in your office pool. They were one of the very few women's underdogs to score any games in the first round, losing 2.5-1.5 to a heavily-favored Greek squad.

Then they went on to win the next two rounds. Sri Lanka went 4-0 against Costa Rica and 2.5-1.5 against Albania.

The Sri Lankan women's team. Left to right: Captain Perera Werochana, Niklesha Tharushi, Zainab Saumy,
S.D. Ranazinghe, Coach GM Kivanç Haznedaroğlu, Danusi Mendis, and Ishini Wikramasignhe.

Today, in the longest match of the round, after almost six hours they netted a dramatic 2-2 tie with Bolivia. If today's spotlight seems a little shorter than usual, now you know why—security was kicking us out as we tried to conduct an interview.

Perhaps this is the most impressive stat for the team: In their 16 games, they have been ratings favorites exactly zero times. Often, they are outgunned by more than a few hundred points. Oh, and did we mention that today their lineup was four teenagers?

Their only non-teenager is WIM S.D. Ranasinghe. At 22, the team calls her "mom." Today she sat out, but that was no problem. Taking her place on board one was the youngest member of the team, 13-year-old untitled Niklesha Tharushi. She's only 1584, but she beat a 2100 WIM.

The even-numbered boards both lost, so it was all on the shoulders of 16-year-old WCM Dasuni Mendis. She played the longest game of the entire round on the women's side of the hall.

"She is killing her trainer!" said GM Kivanç Haznedaroğlu, the coach of the team.

Too young to be a national hero? Not WCM Dasuni Mendis.

As to why she didn't find the winning Nh3 idea sooner, Mendis said, "I was in time pressure, so I didn't see it." Indeed, she once fell to two seconds before recovering to make a move. Eventually, her knight's meandering quest got the job done.

What did the coach think about the endgame technique?

"OK, we have a problem!" he said jokingly. Haznedaroğlu has only been working with the team since their arrival in Baku. He said with this early success, he is already wanting to work with them again at a future event.

"If the federation supports them, there is no telling where they will go."

All of her teammates stayed for the finish, but several got locked out of the playing hall by security, so the immediate celebration was with only a few members.

Ranasinghe said the team trained for one entire week, six hours per day, prior to coming to Azerbaijan. The training was done by GM Efstratios Grivas, who referred his grandmaster colleague for the job upon arrival in Azerbaijan.

Ranasinghe said the team has no plans for the rest day, but wherever they go, they will stay together. 

Without their parents here, they've bonded together. "We're like a family," Haznedaroğlu said.

This report was co-written by Peter Doggers.

FM Mike Klein

Company Contact and News Accreditation: 

  • Email:
  • Phone: 1 (800) 318-2827
  • Address: PO Box 60400 Palo Alto, CA 94306

Mike Klein began playing chess at the age of four in Charlotte, NC. In 1986, he lost to Josh Waitzkin at the National Championship featured in the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer." A year later, Mike became the youngest member of the very first All-America Chess Team, and was on the team a total of eight times. In 1988, he won the K-3 National Championship, and eventually became North Carolina's youngest-ever master. In 1996, he won clear first for under-2250 players in the top section of the World Open. Mike has taught chess full-time for a dozen years in New York City and Charlotte, with his students and teams winning many national championships. He now works at as a Senior Journalist and at as the Chief Chess Officer. In 2012, 2015, and 2018, he was awarded Chess Journalist of the Year by the Chess Journalists of America. He has also previously won other awards from the CJA such as Best Tournament Report, and also several writing awards for mainstream newspapers. His chess writing and personal travels have now brought him to more than 85 countries.

More from FM MikeKlein
Ian Nepomniachtchi On The World Chess Championship

Ian Nepomniachtchi On The World Chess Championship

New ChessKid Adventure App Released

New ChessKid Adventure App Released