Grandmasters Meet As Olympiad Heats Up

Grandmasters Meet As Olympiad Heats Up

| 29 | Chess Event Coverage

After a few days of dipping their toes in the shallow end of the pool, today the top teams had to cannonball into GM-laden waters. Four grandmaster vs. four grandmaster tables were the norm on the stage in round three of the 42nd Chess Olympiad in Baku.

When the swimming ended, zero teams remained with perfect 12-0 game scores.

On the first table of boards, top-seeded Russia held off Moldova thanks to wins on the bottom two boards. Both GM Ian Nepomniachtchi and GM Alexander Grischuk took care of business, and another 3-1 win helps in their quest to win their first team gold since 2002. Only Grischuk remains from that 2002 team. Interestingly, 14 years ago his 2702 rating landed him on board two, whereas this year his 2754 rating has him on board four!

With Russia surging and Norway faltering (they lost today), it looks very unlikely that we'll see a world championship preview here in Baku.

Nepomniachtchi kept up the pressure with his killer bishops until White folded.

Second-seeded USA got bumped down a bit after drawing on a board in round two, but they also took care of things, beating Argentina 3-1 this round. Argentina has the Swiss army knife of teams  the top four GMs are so closely rated that they are all virtually interchangeable (but not after board declaration, of course).

Detail-oriented U.S. Captain John Donaldson (right) has a question for GM Daniel Fridman before the round. Where can I buy some bananas like you have beside your board?

The Americans won in "typical" team fashion, but the two wins as White and two draws as Black don't tell the whole story. GM Wesley So had the cleanest game on board three, essentially winning out of the opening against GM Federico Perez Ponsa. On the top board, GM Fabiano Caruana again "forgot" to castle for the second game in a row, but he survived and managed to win after some inaccuracies by GM Fernando Peralta.

Team America typically plays with five players: four GMs and a Red Bull.

The Americans clinched the win when GM Diego Flores didn't go for an extension of the game against GM Ray Robson, although Black's position looked easily holdable even without a queen.

Robson made the "team decision" to repeat and get to the required 2.5 points. "Things were getting crazy," he told

Why was the draw so important? GM Hikaru Nakamura had been down two pawns and suffering for most of the afternoon. GM Sandro Mareco missed a clearance idea that would have resulted in a win, rather than a draw. Which piece needed space? His king!

The biggest upset came from Cuba, who spoiled Poland's young phenom GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda's win. Cuban GM Isan Reynoldo Ortiz Suarez evened things up by winning, while GM Yuniesky Quesada Perez clinched it in a wild but one-sided crush.

GM Yuniesky Quesada Perez — does he have a special shirt for every day of the week?

Team Azerbaijan went 1-1 on the stage today. That's not an inaccurate score. They won one match and lost another, as the host country is afforded a full three teams in the open. (The C team is mostly juniors.)

Are you seeing ghosts? No, this Muhammed Ali is an IM and top board for Indonesia!

Azerbaijan B went down to the favored India 3-1, while the top brass on Azerbaijan A dutifully took care of last Olympiad's silver medal winners, Hungary, with a 3-1 score.

Indian board two GM Baskiran Adhiban, qualifier to next year's Tata Steel Tournament, looked like he was shuffling his rook around. In actuality, he was waiting for the right rook placements to end the game tactically.

One can understand Azeri GM Ulvi Bajarani wanting to play on ahead a piece and hoping to give his team a much needed boost, but in hindsight, walking the king from g1 to b3 wasn't the best idea.

Azerbaijan A righted the nationalistic ship with a 3-1 win. All games went to the endgame: two with rook endings, one bishop ending and one rook-and-bishop ending!

Three of the four games from Hungary-Azerbaijan A lasted more than 4.5 hours and gathered much of the attention later in the round.

At the risk of becoming another volume of a Dvoretsky endgame manual, we will present how GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov ended matters with new Hungarian top board GM Richard Rapport.

Though newly married and atop his national team, GM Richard Rapport couldn't continue his good fortune today.

The revamped Hungary team is without longtime mainstays GM Peter Leko and GM Judit Polgar (who is the team's captain), and Mamedyarov took advantage of this.

Cheer up Shak! The live rating list has some good news....

Other assorted results from the premier tables:

Netherlands nipped Vietnam 2.5-1.5, thanks to GM Anish Giri's win over GM Le Quang Liem. Italy didn't need GM Fabiano Caruana for their mild upset over Turkey FM(!) Luca Moroni Jr. beat GM Emre Can on board four in the only decisive game.

Canada's great 8-0 start abruptly ended when England won 2.5-1.5, thanks to wins by Adams and Jones. (But not Adam Jones. He still plays for the Orioles. Or is it the Bengals?)

GM Gawain Jones tries to help end England's 26-year team medal drought at the Olympiad.

It nearly became "the year of the Olympics" for Brazil, but three boards went awry from possibly favorable outcomes. First, GM Alexandr Fier (the subject of FM Mike Klein's first-ever news article for!) capitulated after 114 moves against GM Wang Yue on board one.

In their other chance with White, GM Evandro Barbosa spoiled a winning position and even lost against GM Yu Yangyi by walking into a mating net. Finally, GM Diego Rafael Di Berardino consistently let GM Li Chao have second and third lives. We will focus on the final hammer strike of many that would have closed the coffin.

It was 1-1 for a while, but in the end both GMs Viktor Laznicka and David Navara won their games for the Czech Republic in their match with Uzbekistan. Navara in particular won a very nice game.

"I think we were both trying to avoid each other's preparation, and we were successful in this," he told But since Navara had recently written a survey for his pupil, he still knew a thing or two about this variation.


Navara vs Kasimdzhanov today.

We conclude with two-time gold medalist Ukraine, whose winning margin came with style. After Germany held three draws against higher rated opponents on boards one through three, GM Andrei Volokitin's game against GM Daniel Fridman became the tiebreaker. The game was only 23 moves, but they were supercharged:

While waiting for Nakamura's game to end, Robson pointed out to this reporter what tough luck Swedish GM Tiger Hillarp Persson endured.

"So do tricky things like this happen in Go too?" Robson might be wondering.

In the final game of Sweden's match with Latvia, the Swede needed to convert his ending for a drawn match. Instead, an unlikely fortress of sorts unfolded:

Because of their successes in Khanty-Mansiysk, Istanbul and Tromsø, the Russian women might be the favorites in Baku, despite the fact that China's team is so high rated with GM Hou Yifan on board one. There's certainly chemistry between the ladies in the Russian team, which is something that has been lacking a bit among their male colleagues in recent years.

Left to right: Valentina Gunina, Alexandra Goryachkina, Olga Girya, captain Sergey Rublevsky and Alexandra Kosteniuk.

The first rounds of this Olympiad could hardly be better for the Russian ladies. They have six points (from three match wins) after three days of play, and they saw two of their main rivals, China and Georgia, lose match points. More about that later!

First, let's look at GM Alexandra Kosteniuk's smooth win today. The "chessqueen" (which is her Twitter account, with more than 300,000 followers!) refuted the first new move of her opponent and never let go of the extra pawn.

A good win today for the "chessqueen," Alexandra Kosteniuk.

We know about Georgia's disaster yesterday, and today China also fell behind. They had to be satisfied with an unsatisfactory 2-2 result against Vietnam. GM Hou Yifan won her game on board one, but boards two and four, GM Ju Wenjun and WGM Tan Zhongyi, drew against much lower rated players. GM Zhao Xue even lost to WGM Nguyen Thi Mai Hung after taking some risks in the opening.

WGM Nguyen Thi Mai Hung even got to checkmate her opponent, rated 206 points higher.

In a close match, USA barely missed making it against Ukraine, the third-seeded team in this Olympiad. The top three boards in this match ended in draws, and it was former world champion GM Anna Ushenina who defeated GM Katerina Nemcova in a double rook endgame.

Anna Muzychuk and Irina Krush drew on board one.

China is the top seed by rating, followed by Russia. However, Ukraine's average is only eight rating points lower than that of Russia, who won the last three Olympiads.

After their shocking loss to the Philippines, Georgia defeated Estonia today, but not 4-0. IM Lela Javakhishvili, who had enjoyed a rest day, was held to a draw by WIM Monika Tsiganova. The latter found a fantastic move when Black seemed in trouble.

A small upset today was exciting news for the local fans. The top Azerbaijani's women's team defeated the higher rated Polish women 2.5-1.5, with Mamedyarov's sister WGM Zeinab Mamedjarova beating GM Monika Socko as Black in a Petroff.

Zeinab Mamedjarova | Photo Maria Emelianova courtesy of FIDE/Baku Chess.

So how did the Philippines fare after their spectacular win yesterday? Well, this time India was just too strong, though WIM Janelle May Frayna managed to hold another top player to a draw  GM Harika Dronavalli, who, by the way, lost on time yesterday. (And if we continue looking back at our team spotlights, we may note that South Sudan's unrated Michael Deng Khor Kuol won his third game in a row!) 

Team Spotlight: Namibia

It's OK if you can't find Namibia on a map. It's mostly desert, and although it's in the top quartile in land area, it ranks as one of the least densely populated countries in the world. Only in Mongolia do you have to drive farther to find your neighbor's house.

The dry salt pan known as "Deadvlei" is one of the most photographic parts of Sossusvlei, located in the Southwest corner of Africa.

There are about 10,000 more people who live in Baku than in the entire country of Namibia.

"Distance is a problem," admits Namibia's fourth board Max Baron Nitzborn. "It's so vast." But that doesn't stop people like him from growing the game.

The sand dunes of the Namib Desert are some of the highest in the world, and they sometimes host sandboarding competitions.

You may not think chess would be popular among the sand dunes and shipwrecked coasts, but you'd be wrong. According to Nitzborn, plenty of chess academies dot the landscape.

You'll might see his middle name and recall the "Red Baron" in fact the World War I pilot was German, and Namibia is a former German colony, which probably added to the appeal of chess there.

Nitzborn is the director of one such chess center. The Windhoek Chess Academy is situated in the capital city. He runs it mostly on Saturdays, when he's not busy being a manager at a health center.

The program has produced at least one top chess prodigy, who happens to also be on the team! CM Dante Beukes, who is only 13 years old, is Nitzborn's student, the youngest player on the team, and a three-time World Youth Championship player. Nitzborn himself is the oldest.

"He trains hard," Nitzborn said. Beukes beat his teacher in blitz for the first time three years ago and recently also won a game in classical chess.

CM Dante Beukes, left, is now 1-0 in his lifetime Olympiad career. Sometimes showing up is half the battle! Max Nitzborn, right, is playing in his third Olympiad. He said the one in 2010 was his favorite, because it was organized the best.

Nitzborn, 45, is playing in his third Olympiad, where he must also look after Beukes, who is here without family. The soft-spoken teenager Skypes with his mother every day.

Surely she's glad they made it here without issue. The team traveled from Windhoek to Johannesburg, then connected in Istanbul, before finally transferring to their third plane to reach Baku.

"With the political situation in Turkey, we were scared," Nitzborn said. "We were just praying."

Now that they've arrived, they are going after their goals, which include a top 100 placement. (They began ranked 125th on rating.) "That's what we've always been striving for," Nitzborn said.

They've never cracked the top century in their 10 previous attempts, with their best finish coming as 103rd in 1998. They would also like some placement medals. (Typically FIDE subdivides teams into groups of 20 for these awards.)

Whether or not they achieve their goals on the board, Namibia may win the honor of "being best dressed."

So far, the battle has been uphill. Namibia was handled 4-0 by Italy in round one, but they did catch Thailand for a draw in round two.

"They were really 'Thai,'" Nitzborn said, explaining the pun on the Afrikaans word "taai," meaning "tough."

FM Mike Klein didn't find Namibia to be too "taai."

Nitzborn has had some of the same observations as we did in our report of the first round. Security is too limiting, he said. 

"The challenge that we have as players is that we can't do anything. It's too restrictive. It's back and forth from one security [guard] to another."

The team had a forfeit win today against Eritrea, but the players found themselves stuck in no man's land. They had to leave the playing hall, but the buses wouldn't take them back to their hotel for several more hours, as the buses usually don't leave until enough players have finished.

Nitzborn would have also liked to have a camera on hand to take pictures, say of Magnus Carlsen. However, players can't bring their own pens inside, let alone a camera.

The young Beukes "played" his first game today (the forfeit win) and saw Carlsen for the first time. Was that his favorite player? Nope. That would be GM Davoran Kuljasevic, his coach, with whom he takes lessons online.

According to Nitzborn, Namibia has never had a native-born IM or GM. Would Beukes like to turn pro and try to make history? "My options are open," he said.

Petition against toilet rule

Another controversy has struck the Olympiad, now coming from players and team captains who are not happy with one specific anti-cheating rule that is in effect for the first time:

Players of every match MUST inform their Match Arbiter when they leave the playing area in order to go to the toilet, to the bar or to the smoking area. They are not allowed to leave the playing venue while their game is still in progress. The Captains are not allowed to leave the playing venue either while their Match is still in progress. If they want to be replaced by another person, they have to inform the Match Arbiter in writing. The replacement will be allowed only once per round.

A petition against this rule has been initiated by GM Judit Polgar, GM Jon Speelman and IM Malcolm Pein, who want this rule to be removed from the regulations.

Judit Polgar (right), seen here with her older sister Susan (left), is one of many protesting against the new "toilet rule."

Here's the text of their petition:


We, the undersigned captains and players at the Baku Olympiad (Open and Women’s sections), wish to protest at the new rule regarding notifying arbiters when players need to go to the lavatory, noting that:

1. The lavatories have always been considered part of the Playing Area, rendering the rule absurd.

2. This is humiliating to the players who should not have to discuss their bodily functions with FIDE officials.

3. In order for the process to work the arbiters will have to remain at their stations at all times, presuming that FIDE doesn’t intend that players become unwell in the Playing Area.

Even the arbiters may have to go to the lavatory themselves at some stage and it is quite unacceptable that players under great stress should have to await their return.

4. Indeed, under the stress of chess, many players go to the lavatory repeatedly during their games. This in no way implies that they are cheating, merely nervous. Older players and those with a medical condition may also frequently have to visit the lavatories.

5. Informing the arbiter may give information to the opponent, who may decide to make a move quickly to run down the clock. A player should not be required to perform an action which may aid their opponent.

We respectfully suggest that it is not FIDE’s role to penalise players for their nervousness, age or a medical condition and trust that this noxious rule will be rescinded.

Former world championship candidate GM Jon Speelman shows the petition, which will soon be delivered to FIDE.

At the time of writing, more than 50 signatures have been collected. Among them are famous names such as GMs Ivan Sokolov, Zoltan Ribli, Yasser Seirawan, Ian Rogers and Vladimir Tukmakov

This report was co-written by FM Mike Klein.

Peter Doggers

Peter Doggers joined a chess club a month before turning 15 and still plays for it. He used to be an active tournament player and holds two IM norms.

Peter has a Master of Arts degree in Dutch Language & Literature. He briefly worked at New in Chess, then as a Dutch teacher and then in a project for improving safety and security in Amsterdam schools.

Between 2007 and 2013 Peter was running ChessVibes, a major source for chess news and videos acquired by in October 2013.

As our Director News & Events, Peter writes many of our news reports. In the summer of 2022, The Guardian’s Leonard Barden described him as “widely regarded as the world’s best chess journalist.”

In October, Peter's first book The Chess Revolution will be published!

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