Olympiad: India Leads Open; Russia, Ukraine Top Women's Section

Olympiad: India Leads Open; Russia, Ukraine Top Women's Section

India defeated Netherlands 2.5-1.5 and is leading the Olympiad as the only country with six straight victories. In the women's section, Russia and Ukraine drew 2-2 and are tied for first.

It's the nightmare of every player: to lose an important team match because you blundered and lost your game.

Today that was the fate of Dutch GM Erwin l'Ami, who was playing a fine game against India's GM Baskaran Adhiban  but then he dropped an important pawn with an amateur's mistake. The 2015 Reykjavik Open winner fought for his lif, but was unable to save the game. It was the first and only loss by the Dutch team so far.

Shortly before, GM Anish Giri had reluctantly repeated moves with GM Pentala Harikrishna (the third draw in the match) knowing that l'Ami was defending a hopeless endgame. Holland's top GM stayed in the playing hall to support his teammate, but he was hoping for the impossible.

Baskaran Adhiban was the man of the match...

...while l'Ami wants to shush talk about that 36th move!

Explaining India's success in Baku and two years ago, when they won the bronze medal, Adhiban noted that India has a great team spirit. Here's an interview with the match winner:

Giri himself had his chances too. He was better in a 6.h3 Najdorf, but he couldn't find the best piece setup to harass the white monarch. All in all it was a disappointing result for the Netherlands, but Caissa has been a bit light with their pairings. The Netherlands should be favorites against Latvia, whose board one is GM Alexei Shirov.

The Dutch definitely had their chances in this match.

On the top boards, India and the USA clash. They are the only two teams who are still without a loss in the open group.

Today the Americans beat Ukraine, who was, with India and Netherlands, the third country that started with five wins. It was another tight match with three draws where the last game made all the difference. GM Fabiano Caruana beat GM Pavel Eljanov despite not getting much out of the opening. 

"I probably wasn't better at all," Caruana said, "I think 19...Rf6 was already a step in the wrong direction. And 29...Rxe6 is a weird move."

Annotations by Christian Chirila

This was a big win for Caruana, who said this was "by far" the biggest win he's ever had for the U.S. team. He was self-deprecating when speaking to Chess.com afterward. For example, he hasn't scored well while playing for Italy at previous Olympiads: "I played a lot of really strong players. I lost to most of them."

With three top-10 players having individual successful careers, nobody knew how much chemistry there would be in this U.S. team. Caruana: "The players on our team are starting to get in the groove of things. I don't know if we're bonding, but we're getting along pretty well."

Of the three draws, GM Hikaru Nakamura vs GM Ruslan Ponomariov was the most interesting, except perhaps when you know this sharp line in the Benoni. As it turned out, the players followed 20-year-old theory that included games such as Karpov vs Topalov from 1996. Until Black's 28th(!) move, the game Banikas vs Gashimov from 2005 was followed.

If you thought that was close, the next match was even closer. Czech Republic vs Georgia ended 2-2 with four draws. Both teams have only one individual loss so far, and in both cases, that was in round two.

Greece vs Azerbaijan also ended 2-2, which meant another match point down the drain for the local heroes. With GM Alexei Dreev as captain and GM Etienne Bacrot as coach, the team prepared by doing three training camps, but it's not going according to plan.

GM Arkadij Naiditsch, who switched from the German to the Azerbaijani federation a year ago, started with four wins but then lost two in a row. Today he lost track of the the wild complications that started from an old line in the Benoni. GM Athanasios Matrovasilis took full advantage.

GM Eltaj Safarli prevented a complete flop for the Azeris by beating GM Stelios Halkias on board four. Black's problems started with the strange move 30...Ng5 where, while calculating ahead, he probably missed 33.Rxe6.

Eltaj Safarli | Photo David Llada for Baku Chess.

Going further down the boards, Canada defeated Belarus in a tense match. GM Eric "Chessbrah" Hansen was the match winner here. That was a far from smooth victory though.

Hansen told Chess.com: "I was dead lost with seconds on my clock at a certain point and about to resign. But in this tournament you gotta keep fighting for your country so that kept me in the game and luckily enough my opponent fell into the one trap I had set in the position. The chemistry on the team is better than normal, and we're all enjoying the experience on the top tables."

What about the top seeds? Well, after their setback against Ukraine, they're definitely on the way back after a solid win over Germany, with two wins and two draws. GM Vladimir Kramnik on board two started with 1.e4 and defeated GM Georg Meier in a Classical French. In the opening, the 14th World Champion sacrificed a piece for two pawns and a strong initiative. Kramnik ended up with an extra pawn in an endgame and quickly won.

A creative game and a nice win for Kramnik.

The other win went to GM Ian Nepomniachtchi, the only player left in the open section with a score of 6.0/6. There was nothing wrong with GM Daniel Fridman's opening (a Petroff), and until the time control, White's advantage wasn't great but then somehow Black started to put his pieces on the wrong squares.

GM Magnus Carlsen played this third draw today, and his teammates all split the point as well against the Philippines. That was after Carlsen's first move had been performed by the daughter of Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev.

When the president's daughter is to appear, the paparazzi are near.

Against GM Julio Sadorra Carlsen went for the French Exchange, a line Garry Kasparov used three times in his career to play for a win; Kasparov scored 2.5/3. Incidentally, it's worth mentioning that Kasparov, born in Baku, never returned to this city since he left in a plane with family members and other ethnic Armenians in 1990. If you are wondering whether he is a persona non grata in Azerbaijan, the following will provide the answer.

Today New in Chess put up a stand in the main hall, with a few photos of different recent magazines. At some point, one of the organizers kindly asked them to remove the one that had Kasparov on the cover...

Update 9 September: This was especially done because of the visit of the President's daughter. The next day the magazines with Kasparov on the cover were not removed.

Back to Carlsen's game, which wasn't a great advertisement for the variation which had also been used many times by Paul Morphy. Well, Carlsen was still a bit better out of the opening perhaps, but he missed some tactics and ended up a pawn down. He was lucky to escape with a draw. Not a great game by the world champ.

On the rest day some of the Norwegian players visited the Baku Talents Education Complex, the English school in Baku that happens to have a Norwegian rector. Photo by Olga Dolzhykova, more on Facebook.

Below are the standings with all teams that scored nine points or more:

Rk. SNo Team Team + = - TB1 TB2 TB3 TB4
1 9 India 6 0 0 12 116 19 40
2 2 United States of America 5 1 0 11 114 18 41
3 11 Netherlands 5 0 1 10 117 18 44
4 17 Czech Republic 4 2 0 10 114 16,5 45
5 20 Georgia 4 2 0 10 111,5 17 42
6 3 China 5 0 1 10 110,5 17,5 40
7 5 Ukraine 5 0 1 10 110,5 16,5 45
8 25 Canada 5 0 1 10 107 19 38
9 1 Russia 5 0 1 10 102 18,5 37
10 21 Latvia 5 0 1 10 96 15,5 40
11 6 England 5 0 1 10 93 15,5 42
12 30 Romania 5 0 1 10 92,5 16 40
13 4 Azerbaijan 1 4 1 1 9 112 17 46
14 19 Turkey 4 1 1 9 110,5 18,5 40
15 46 Iran 4 1 1 9 96,5 16,5 40
16 12 Norway 4 1 1 9 95 14,5 41
17 29 Slovenia 4 1 1 9 90,5 17 36
18 27 Greece 3 3 0 9 90,5 14,5 41
19 53 Philippines 4 1 1 9 90 17,5 34
20 34 Peru 4 1 1 9 86,5 16 36
21 18 Croatia 4 1 1 9 86,5 15,5 37
22 14 Spain 4 1 1 9 85 14,5 40
23 39 Paraguay 4 1 1 9 84,5 14,5 39
24 36 Italy 4 1 1 9 83,5 16 37
25 44 Iceland 4 1 1 9 83 17 35
26 57 Mongolia 4 1 1 9 73,5 14 36

The top matchups for round seven (Friday) are: India vs USA, Latvia vs Netherlands, Russia vs Czech Republic, Croatia vs Azerbaijan, Georgia vs Romania, England vs China, Ukraine vs Canada, Turkey vs Norway.

Women's section

For fans of women's chess, Ukraine vs Russia is must see theater. Today there were second and third acts.

Quick trivia: How may world champions played in the top match?

Of the 33 women who've ever achieved the grandmaster title, nearly 20 percent were playing just in this matchup.

Speaking of female GMs, the one that started it all stopped by today: GM Nona Gaprindashvili...

...as did the Azerbaijani president's daughter. Chess strength unknown!

Ukraine had four female GMs, yet suffered a double whammy today. They didn't lose like their male compatriots, but they did miss a golden opportunity to knock down third-seeded Russia.

The sisters Muzychuk looked to be headed for their third straight 2-0 day when GM Valentina Gunina of Russia, once down -6 according to the engine, found a miraculous resource against GM Mariya Muzychuk.

GM Valentina Gunina: Who needs pawns when you have checks?

Sure, it was just a trick, but when your king's defense is that barren and you're down that much, what do you have left?

Sometimes, it works.

Then the young Russian Women's Champion WGM Alexandra Goryachkina, who has the FIDE rating but not the norms necessary for GM, held GM Natalia Zhukova to a draw on board three.

Team Russia couldn't have known they'd have a wild 2-2 tie today.

GM Anna Muzychuk covered for her sister by beating GM Alexandra Kosteniuk on the top board, which put everything on the shoulders of GM Anna Ushenina on board four. In a turbulent game, she was also down about -6, and came all the way back to rough equality, only to get outplayed once again.

GM Anna Ushenina initially survived the worst but faltered again late.

IM Olga Girya's delivered the first individual board loss to Ukraine.

Thus, the two nations split 2-2 and remain above a host of chasing federations. Seven countries sit one match point back (11 points for the leaders, 10 for the peleton).

So does Ukraine get a respite after the chaotic day? Not at all—they play top-seeded China tomorrow. (Russia plays Poland.)

It seems none of the top three seeds could play perfectly today. In other action, Romania played a surprise draw with the Chinese.

After GM Hou Yifan dropped a game earlier in the event, she sat today. Her replacement, number two on the women's rating list, suffered the same fate. GM Wenjun Ju was taken out by IM Corina Peptan.

Only IM Qi Guo's win on the final board salvaged a half point for China.

GM Wenjun Ju couldn't hold a worse ending today.

Hungary vs Kazakhstan and Georgia vs Azerbaijan-A both tied 2-2 as well, meaning the top four matches were all devoid of winners.

Finally, a breakthrough on boards 5-7: Poland beat Vietnam 3-1, Indian beat Latvia 2.5-1.5, and USA trounced Turkey 3.5-0.5. 

After the game of her life in which she defeated GM Hou Yifan, WGM Dana Rezniece-Ozola (left) couldn't keep up the magic as she lost to GM Harika Dronavalli.

Nearly half of all the female GMs who ever existed played today on the top eight matches (every match had at least one). Here is GM Monika Socko, right, for Poland. She is not the MVP so far though. Board four, WGM Klaudia Kulon, won again today and leads all women with a perfect six-for-six.

Below are the women's standings with all teams that scored nine points or more:

Rk. SNo Team Team + = - TB1 TB2 TB3 TB4
1 3 Russia 5 1 0 11 135 19 46
2 2 Ukraine 5 1 0 11 127 18,5 45
3 7 Poland 5 0 1 10 119 20 38
4 11 Romania 4 2 0 10 118,5 17 46
5 5 India 4 2 0 10 113,5 17 41
6 16 Azerbaijan 1 4 2 0 10 107,5 16 45
7 1 China 4 2 0 10 107 17,5 41
8 6 United States of America 5 0 1 10 101 16,5 38
9 21 Netherlands 5 0 1 10 78,5 15 35
10 4 Georgia 4 1 1 9 117,5 18,5 42
11 10 Germany 4 1 1 9 111 16 41
12 30 Greece 4 1 1 9 101 16 38
13 8 Hungary 4 1 1 9 98,5 16 42
14 18 Israel 4 1 1 9 96 15,5 43
15 20 Italy 4 1 1 9 85 16 38
16 22 Uzbekistan 4 1 1 9 84,5 15,5 37
17 46 Philippines 4 1 1 9 82,5 16 38
18 31 Kazakhstan 4 1 1 9 80 14 41

Team Spotlight: Fiji Women

Is chess part of paradise? For a group of Fijian women it is.

The burgeoning chess scene in Oceania includes the country that is perhaps most synonymous with the the clear blue waters of the South Pacific. Fiji, an archipelago of more than 100 inhabited islands, has one of the most diversified teams in Baku.

Fiji's Women's Team. Left to right: Tanvi Prasad (front), Hilda Vukikomoala (back), Gloria Sukhu, Cydel Terubea, Captain Dr. Jashint Maharaj.

Going down the line, their board one, WCM Gloria Sukhu, is 62 years old, while their board four, Tanvi Prasad, is only nine. Heres another way to put it: Their top player was born when Botvinnik was world champion, their bottom board was born in the year when Anand won the world championship tournament in Mexico to take over the reunited title from Kramnik.

You can thank a chess in the schools initiative for that.

Along with other nine-year-old girls from Monaco and Tanzania, Prasad is one of the few who've yet to reach their 10th birthday who are competing in Baku.

In between the two outliers is board two WFM Hilda Vukikomoala, who has made some sacrifices to be here. She's a third-year university student studying math and literature.

"She's given up a core university just to come and play chess," said Fiji Women's Captain Dr. Jashint Maharaj. "That's a big commitment to women's chess in Fiji. I have not found any comparison to Hilda in women's chess."

Now in her third Olympiad, the international experience is invaluable. "Every game you learn something new," she said. "My chess has developed a lot." She also gets to see friends she's made at past Olympiads, many from the Barbados Federation. It seems islanders understand each other the world round.

WCM Gloria Sukhu has played in every Olympiad that the Fijian Women have played. She's still the country's highest-rated active woman.

Maharaj said that the efforts in schools are mostly about unearthing the heretofore unknown skills of his countrymen.

"[The school programs] are meant to grow chess at the grass roots level and to discover some hidden talents," he said.

Growing from within is important for island nations. Fiji is another country that requires three plane flights to get to Azerbaijan. Maharaj said government funding is what allowed both an open and women's team to attend.

The team's geographic isolation means that they are rather used to this. They often fly to Australia or New Zealand to play, but the travel is reciprocated when they host subzonals and also the Fiji International Open, which just concluded its second iteration before the Olympiad began. GM Ian Rogers, the first grandmaster in Oceania, has also made a few visits.

FM Mike Klein on the Yasawa Islands. What can I say? He goes far and wide for a story. And a coconut.

Maharaj said that other island nations of Oceania are growing their chess culture, including Palau, Solomon Islands and Nauru.

This is the sixth Olympiad for the ladies, who are mostly from the capital, Suva. While they'd like to better their eight match points from the last Olympiad (they currently have two, thanks to beating Kuwait), Maharaj said the bigger goal is to get more experience, which is why they've sent a younger team. In addition to the nine-year-old Prasad, Vikikomoala is 21 while third board, Cydel Terubea, is 17.

The team admits that chess lags far behind the athletic sports of their country (rugby dominates, followed by netball, a version of basketball without dribbling, and of course soccer). Even so, Vukikomoala was a finalist in 2013 in the running for Fijian Sportswoman of the Year.

Twice, men have actually won Fijian National Male Athlete of the Year. Both CM Calvin Prasad and CM Manoj Kumar have been honored. The women are grateful to have them on their side—Unlike a lot of "large-market" teams where the men only tangentially support the women, in Fiji, the top open players help prepare the women's team before each round.

Could you focus on chess here?

What will the future hold for Vikikomoala? She's not sure, but she won't quit the game after graduation.

"I've made a lot of sacrifices to play chess," she said. "I love representing my country."

When Chess.com asked if she might play top board in 2018 in Batumi, Georgia, she wasn't sure. Then her captain stepped in to surprise her.

"You will be board one next time! She was just told!"

This report was co-written by Peter Doggers.

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