Chess Olympiad: Poland Continues Remarkable Run, Beats USA
Captain Bartosz Socko congratulates Duda, who scored the decisive half-point. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Chess Olympiad: Poland Continues Remarkable Run, Beats USA

| 62 | Chess Event Coverage

No matter the partner, Poland keeps polkaing. Other nations can't keep up.

Poland, the surprise of the 43rd Olympiad, took down number-one seed and defending champions the U.S, 2.5-1.5. Poland is now alone in first place, passing over the Americans (16 points to 15). Couple today's result with earlier upsets of second-seeded Russia and other top-10 seeds France and Ukraine (not to mention draws with Azerbaijan and Armenia) and Poland just keeps answering every challenge.

If the squad can keep it up, it may well be the most surprising team gold medal in Olympiad history. And it won't have backed into the victory. It has through most of the powerhouse teams, with China coming in round 10.

The match loss was the first for team USA in an Olympiad since the final round in 2014 when it lost to Azerbaijan.

Piorun beats Nakamura Batumi Olympiad

Piorun scored a crucial win vs Nakamura. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

It was a new day and a new hero for Poland. In round nine, up stepped Kacper Piorun, who didn't need his five-time world problem-solving championship credentials to beat Hikaru Nakamura. Instead, he bided his time and kept calm after being surprised with the Scandinavian, until the American opened the position.

Then the polka began, with his rook leading the way. Piorun's win proved to be the only one of the match.'s interview with Piorun.

The last time Poland won gold at an Olympiad, Akiba Rubinstein and Savielly Tartakower were playing for the team. Now 88 years later, it leads with two rounds to go. It might not have been so, however, if the world championship challenger had channeled some of Piorun's puzzle solving.

In the dwindling moments of the final game of both the match and the entire open section, Fabiano Caruana missed a win with rook+bishop vs. rook+pawn. Then he tried to save the match by gobbling the pawn and pressing for 50 moves. Jan-Krzysztof Duda, one day after finding a miracle tactic to save his game, also proved that he's solid at endgame fundamentals, too.

Duda vs Caruana

An important save for Duda vs Caruana. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Nakamura, whose game had long since ended, had stayed around his team until Caruana's game finished. He sat at an adjacent table, back to the match, alone with his thoughts.

For round 10, Nakamura was benched. In his six previous Olympiads he has never sat out any of the final three rounds, and has only been benched a total of once in those six Olympiads in the second half of the events (and that was against Macedonia in 2012).

Sam Shankland might also be thinking about what might have been. He sacked his queen on move eight and won many tempos, but couldn't play the hero again and he drew.

With the U.S. stalled on 15 points, and now Poland even ahead, many of the 13-pointers took their chance to get back in the gold-medal hunt. Three of them did just that, and all benefited or outright relied on their fourth boards.

On match board two, China and Azerbaijan played three draws, despite Shakhriyar Mamedyarov putting Ding Liren's undefeated streak in serious jeopardy. Everything came down to the last board. That's where Bu Xiangzhi took care of Eltaj Safarli, who has only played four games thus far. It was Bu's second match-winning game in a row.

Eltaj SafarliAfter scoring 2.5/3, Safarli lost his first game. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Armenia beat India in the same way. Three draws came, including a very quick one between Viswanathan Anand and Levon Aronian, and then relatively unheralded Haik Martirosyan continued his undefeated tournament by upsetting Krishnan Sasikiran for the only decisive game of the match.

Armenia's win puts it against the U.S. tomorrow on board two.

Haik Martirosyan

Armenia's 18-year-old GM Haik Martirosyan dealt a blow to India's ambitions. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Sneaking up the standings after being mostly left out of the reports on these pages is England. It is the final team on 15 points. And wouldn't you know it, the team also got a win on board four, although it also won on board three over Norway for a 3-1 win.

Gawain Jones' long struggle with a past Norwegian champion ended just before he got to mate with two pawns against a queen!

One of the biggest single-game upsets of the day was turned in by German number-one Liviu Dieter-Nisipeanu, who had a fun ending of his own in beating France's Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. It's a pity the public was deprived of four queens on the board, which was actually the "cleanest" path to victory.


Nisipeanu inflicted the first loss upon MVL. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

While all of the teams on 15 or 16 can still reasonably dream about gold, those getting to 14 may have to curtail their thoughts to lower podium positions. Leading the charge there is Russia. Its candidate got elected FIDE president, but most didn't know until well after since the team had long games.

At one point, the Russian Chess Federation president Andrey Filatov entered the hall looking to give the good news to his players, but couldn't since they were all still engaged in their games.

Sergey Karjakin took care of business as Black on the top board, while Nikita Vitiugov nailed down the other end. Amazingly, that game came down to yet another pawnless ending—queen versus rook. And just like Caruana-Duda, that ending was covered in the most recent ChessKid video released in the middle of the Olympiad!

Russia's win means it is possible that we may well get U.S.-Russia after all, in the last round.

Batumi Olympiad | Round 9 Standings (Top 20)
Rk. SNo Team Team - TB1 TB2 TB3 TB4
1 11 Poland 0 16 268,0 25,0 104
2 1 USA 1 15 267,5 24,5 104
3 3 China 1 15 252,0 23,5 99
4 8 Armenia 1 15 245,5 24,0 98
5 9 England 1 15 228,0 22,5 96
6 7 France 1 14 248,0 24,5 101
7 2 Russia 1 14 232,0 24,0 96
8 16 Germany 0 14 232,0 23,0 98
9 18 Croatia 2 14 227,0 23,5 97
10 4 Azerbaijan 2 13 284,0 24,0 113
11 5 India 2 13 251,0 24,0 102
12 27 Vietnam 1 13 249,5 25,5 90
13 10 Israel 1 13 249,0 24,5 101
14 13 Netherlands 2 13 243,0 25,5 97
15 24 Spain 2 13 239,0 25,5 92
16 6 Ukraine 2 13 225,5 21,5 103
17 15 Czech Republic 2 13 221,0 23,0 95
18 37 Kazakhstan 2 13 213,5 23,0 91
19 45 Serbia 1 13 204,0 21,5 94
20 14 Georgia 1 2 12 211,0 22,5 90

(Full standings here.)

Top pairings: China-Poland; Armenia-U.S.; Russia-England. There's also the FIFA World Cup finals "rematch" France-Croatia. 

In the women's event, China grabbed the sole lead with a convincing win vs Kazakhstan. The top two boards ended in draws, but China was too strong on the remaining boards, where it could present two more 2400s, and its opponent couldn't.

WIM Gulmira Dauletova came well prepared in a Taimanov Sicilian, but her second move after leaving theory was a mistake. She spent 11 minutes on what turned out to be an incorrect pawn sacrifice, and another 48 after her opponent took it. GM Lei Tingjie then won a smooth game:

China Kazakhstan Dauletova Lei Tingjie

 Lei Tingjie has just taken on g5 and is about to play Qa5. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Ukraine couldn't keep the pace; a match point was dropped after a disappointing 2-2 with Azerbaijan. The latter was lower rated on all boards.

Initially, GM Anna Muzychuk had given the right example with a crushing win with the black pieces.

Anna Muzychuk

A crushing win by Anna Muzychuk. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

On board three, however, IM Gulnar Mammadova leveled the score by beating GM Anna Ushenina. The former women's world champion was more than comfortable out of the opening, but then she allowed her opponent's rook to the seventh rank, and White's activity became too strong.

Ukraine-Kazakhstan Batumi Olympiad

Ushenina: Better from the opening, but losing in the endgame. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Where its male colleagues failed, the U.S. women's team did manage to gain the double match points from its encounter with Hungary, but only after an absolute miracle save by GM Irina Krush. It was the last game still going in the playing hall, and if finished shortly after Duda and Caruana were done. We could have had two RB-R endgames.


Not a game IM Anita Gara will want to remember. | Photo: Mike Klein/'s interview with Krush right after the game.

After two losses, WGM Tatev Abrahamyan recovered with two wins in a row. In this round (and thanks to Krush) her game, a model game for the 10.h3 Four Knights, decided the match in the U.S.'s favor. 

Tatev Abrahamyan

Abrahamyan on her way to win a very important game. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

There's all to play for as the USA team (whose FM Jennifer Yu secured an IM norm!) is now tied for second place with Armenia and Ukraine, a point behind China.

Armenia kept its Olympic gold medal hopes alive with a 3-1 win vs Iran. IM Sarasadat Khademalsharieh was hanging on well, but shortly before the time control she dropped an important pawn that broke down her kingside defense.

GM Elina Danielian is now on a 6/8 score, winning 20.6 Elo points. Her main competitors for gold on board one are Hungary's GM Hoang Thanh Trang (on 7/8 now), China's GM Ju Wenjun (5.5/7) and Russia's GM Alexandra Kosteniuk (6.5/8).

Elina Danielian Batumi Olympiad

Elina Danielian. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Russia, Azerbaijan and Georgia one can still fight for medals as well, being two match points behind China with two rounds to go. India could be seen as a dangerous outsider before the tournament, but it's definitely out of contention after a 2-2 with Italy.

Batumi Olympiad (Women) | Round 9 Standings (Top 20)

Rk. SNo Team Team - TB1 TB2 TB3 TB4
1 3 China 0 16 285,0 26,5 101
2 2 Ukraine 0 15 281,0 25,0 108
3 12 Armenia 1 15 260,5 24,0 105
4 10 USA 1 15 259,5 24,5 99
5 1 Russia 2 14 254,0 26,5 92
6 11 Azerbaijan 1 14 246,5 24,5 94
7 4 Georgia 1 1 14 242,0 23,0 99
8 13 Hungary 2 13 236,0 24,0 96
9 8 Kazakhstan 1 13 236,0 24,0 95
10 19 Vietnam 2 13 223,5 26,5 85
11 15 Spain 2 13 223,0 23,5 88
12 26 Czech Republic 2 13 213,5 25,5 83
13 35 Slovenia 2 13 174,0 21,0 87
14 5 India 1 12 233,0 23,5 99
15 14 Georgia 2 2 12 232,5 23,5 97
16 28 Iran 3 12 231,5 23,0 100
17 18 Italy 2 12 222,5 22,0 101
18 17 Mongolia 3 12 222,0 22,5 97
19 7 Poland 2 12 214,0 23,5 87
20 31 Uzbekistan 2 12 211,0 22,0 98

(Full standings here.)

Top pairings: China-U.S.; Ukraine-Russia; Azerbaijan-Armenia.

Games via TWIC.

Peter Doggers contributed to this report.


Earlier reports:

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