Chess Olympiad: Poland Beats Russia, Kramnik Gets Checkmated
Kramnik (middle) got checkmated, and Dragun (left) beat Jakovenko to clinch the match. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Chess Olympiad: Poland Beats Russia, Kramnik Gets Checkmated

| 61 | Chess Event Coverage

A rare case of checkmate on the board, Vladimir Kramnik's loss today was crucial for Poland's victory over Russia at the Chess Olympiad in Batumi, Georgia. Fabiano Caruana's win vs Viswanathan Anand decided the top clash, USA vs India.

Russia's "Olympiad curse" might still be active in Batumi. It's been mentioned so many times now that the Russian team hasn't won an Olympiad since Bled 2002—but that, of course, is exactly what is on everyone's mind on a day when the team loses.

Two years ago in Baku it went wrong in round four vs Ukraine. Today, in the same round, the Russians lost to Poland, a team they hadn't played in the last four Olympiads. Radoslaw Wojtaszek was the only Polish player who played both today and in their last encounter in 2008 in Dresden, a 1.5-2.5 win for Russia.

Back then it was Dmitry Jakovenko who scored the decisive win, but today he was on the losing side of the crucial last game on board four. The game started to become very tactical with Jakovenko's 12.h4, a pawn that 23-year-old GM Kamil Dragun dared to take.

While Jakovenko continued in gambit style, Dragun in fact missed a direct win but he ended up with two minor pieces for a rook, and converted it eventually despite the huge pressure that was on his shoulders. When he showed the key move in the B+N vs lone king endgame (a friend of his had recently practiced it against him!), Jakovenko resigned.'s interview with Kamil Dragun.

Dragun knew he was going to be the match winner with 1.5-1.5 on the scoreboard. While Ian Nepomniachtchi had beaten Wojtaszek (and a quick draw between Sergey Karjakin and Jan-Krzysztof Duda), it was the 14th world champion Vladimir Kramnik who ended up as the weakest link.

He spoiled a promising middlegame position a pawn up, got under a killing attack by missing the triangulation Qc3-b4-h4 and even got checkmated on the board. The last time that had happened was when he famously missed a mate in one against Deep Fritz, now 12 years ago. Incidentally, in both games the mating move was Qh7#.

Poland team Batumi

Its sensational win kept Poland at the top. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Only eight other teams started their Olympiad with four victories, among them the reigning champions. The USA defeated India 2.5-1.5, with three draws and a (rather quick) win for Fabiano Caruana vs Vishy Anand.

Regular commentator GM Robert Hess, who is coach for the U.S. women's team, dropped by at the press room today and shared some insider information: When he brought some chocolate to Caruana's room before the round, he had seen the opening position with 7.Be3 on the board. He knew he wasn't giving away crucial information, because Caruana only spent 24 seconds on that move, thereby revealing himself that it was prep!

White's opening setup, also with the uncommon Ng1-h3, worked out well and one mishap by Anand was enough to lose the game.

Caruana Anand Batumi

A good and quick win for Caruana. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Two more very close matches saw three draws, and one decisive game. After Algeria, France defeated its second former colony, Vietnam, thanks to Christian Bauer's win against IM Anh Khoi Nguyen. The latter played like Richard Réti on the queenside, but lost like a child on the kingside.

Edouard Bauer Batumi

Bauer (right) next to Romain Edouard. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

The Czech Republic left out David Navara for its clash against the young rising stars of Iran, but that worked out well. Viktor Laznicka tamed the lion on board one, the fresh world junior champion Parham Maghsoodloo.

Israel scored three wins on boards 2-4 to beat Sweden. One board one, however, Boris Gelfand suffered a loss against Nils Grandelius, who ground down his highly experienced opponent in a difficult endgame with three pawns versus a knight.

England, who play without FIDE presidential candidate Nigel Short and has John Nunn as team captain because Malcolm Pein is also involved in chess politics, got crushed 3.5-0.5 by Azerbaijan. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov showed the way with a crystal clear win on board one.

Mameyarov Radjabov Batumi

Teimour Radjabov and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, still board one and two for Azerbaijan after all these years. (On the left, chess photographer Lennart Ootes.) | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

China defeated Croatia with the same score, with Ding Liren scoring his second win in the tournament. The Chinese GM, one of only three 2800 players in the playing hall (besides Caruana and Mamedyarov), but the only one with a walking stick, might not even remember what losing feels like.

The Norwegian team won't get as many mentions this year without the world champion on its team, but its 4-0 sweep of neighbor Iceland deserves a mention. The team is a group of friends who have an excellent team spirit on top of their clear talent. Aryan Tari won a good game on board one, where Hedinn Steingrimsson's novelty was the losing move:

There was one more interesting game that caught our eye: Baadur Jobava vs Sarunas Sulskis, board one of the Georgia-Lithuania match that ended in 1-3. Black replied with 1...a5 to Jobava's 1.b3 and showed more creativity later on.

Batumi Olympiad | Top pairings round 5
No. SNo Flag Team Pts. MP Res. MP Pts. Team Flag SNo
1 8 Armenia 11½ 8 - 8 13½ Azerbaijan 4
2 7 France 14 8 - 8 13 Poland 11
3 3 China 13 8 - 8 12 Czech Republic 15
4 1 USA 12 8 - 8 14 Israel 10
5 6 Ukraine 11 8 - 7 13 Spain 24
6 16 Germany 12 7 - 7 10½ Moldova 30
7 50 Lithuania 10½ 7 - 6 13 Netherlands 13
8 5 India 12 6 - 6 11 Paraguay 51
9 32 Sweden 11 6 - 6 12½ Turkey 22
10 49 Chile 10 6 - 6 11½ Vietnam 27
(Full pairings here.)

In the women's event, 12 teams vied on the top boards to remain unbeaten. No draws today, so the maximum possible teams (six) moved to 4-0, but none as dramatically as the final match to finish. It was the closest in more ways than one. Not only was USA-Azerbaijan a 10-seed versus an 11-seed, but the match came down to the final women's game in all of playing hall one.

Irina Krush

Seven-time U.S. women's champion GM Irina Krush got the ball rolling early for her team, but it didn't stop until six hours later. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

The Americans led for much of the round thanks to win from GM Irina Krush, but the point was given back when WIM Khanim Balajayeva used 34 minutes to find the best middlegame continuation and wiggled her way into a winning ending after a late slip.

It all came down to the top board, but despite one extra pawn becoming two for IM Anna Zatonskih, she couldn't find the win. It seemed it may have never existed, but for one brief moment it appeared, then vanished again.

Melikset Khachiyan

USA team captain GM Melikset Khachiyan may have been out of nails by the end of this one. | Photo: Mike Klein/

But wait. The veteran, who has played all four rounds, still managed to achieve the pawnless rook+knight versus rook ending. Although it has much less venom than the corresponding rook+bishop ending, it still afforded Zatonskih 50 moves to try. She would only need 14 of them to give her opponent a critical decision that gave a 50-50 chance of walking into a mate. 

Curiously, that's the exact percentage chance Zatonskih thought about winning the ending at its inception. asked for a number, and she said, "50 percent, because her king was cut and I had more time."

"I made sure the rook was hanging on g7 and was extremely happy," Zatonskih said about seeing her opponents fatal final move.

The unlikely second-chance to win propelled the American ladies to their first 4-0 start since Turin 2006. There's some symbiosis there with the country's open team, as it also started 4-0 for the first time since, you guessed it, Turin. The men went on to go 6-0 and eventually win bronze that year; the women finished one lower in fourth. dropped this factoid to GM Irina Krush, which she hadn't remembered. Here's her win, which made her a personal 3-0 and which she said reminded of a Carlsen game. Afterward, her thoughts on how the round would play out:

China remains one of the teams to beat after round four of the Olympiad, but soon its players will start facing other top-10 teams. Today Uzbekistan was no slouch; recall its earlier shock upset of Russia.

GM Ju Wenjun's number was called today, and her convincing victory on board one helped propel the team to a 3-1 win.

Ju Wenjun

GM Ju Wenjun has only played two rounds so far, so she may be better rested for the later rounds. | Photo: Mike Klein/

Let's take a look at the play of the highest-rated woman in the event and the only remaining member of the 2016 gold-medal squad:

Ukraine enjoyed roughly similar advantages on all of its boards (around 200+ points), but "Muzychuk and Co." made it look even easier against Slovenia (Anna's former federation for five Olympiads). The 4-0 blanking was the only whitewash in the battle of undefeateds.

Ukraine Women

The 2006 Olympiad, which comes up once again today, was the first and only time the Ukrainian ladies won team gold. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

While the sisters held serve on the top two boards, former women's world champion GM Anna Ushenina gets the love in this report. After toggling for many moves, her e5 breakthrough was pleasing to the eye:

Iran-Mongolia was an intriguing matchup with many players that aren't household names. Mongolia got off to a fast start when one of its veterans, the one-time American player IM Batchimeg Tuvshintugs, won on the final board (she's one of the higher-rated board fours in the event).

Batchimeg Tuvshintugs

IM Batchimeg Tuvshintugs, who actually earned one of her norms in a U.S. championship! | Photo: Mike Klein/

The match was clinched with another win on board three and the final score was a convincing 3.5-0.5 as the Mongolians swept the lower three games. But it was the one-time TEDx presenter that played the most impressive game.

For those still trying to resuscitate the Taimanov Benoni, turn away now (in all fairness, the opening went OK for Black).


Asia was well represented among the 3-0 teams, and some of its nations had to play each other in round four. Here, Iran and Mongolia. | Photo: Mike Klein/

Host Georgia also stayed with a perfect 4-0 match start. Its ladies got two wins from the two GMs on the two black boards to seal the deal. It ended 3-1.

GM Nino Batsiashvili had a curious rope-a-dope strategy. After 19 moves, she had most of her pawns still sitting at home, while all but one of White's had advanced (at one point four-wide from a4 to d4).

Nino Batsiashvili

GM Nino Batsiashvili, wondering if moving her big pieces in circles will confuse her opponent too? | Photo: Mike Klein/

Things were even more pronounced a few moves later, when the host lady let her guest improve while she moved her heavies around in the corner. Black's pieces then came to life en masse, almost like Batsiashvili got to make several moves at once:

In the final matchup of pre-round undefeateds, Armenia beat Italy 2.5-1.5, spoiling a wonderful and accurate attack by the Italian third board FM Desiree Di Benedetto.

Armenia Women

The Armenian women will have a giant test tomorrow. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Things will get very top-heavy tomorrow, as the matchups of the 4-0 teams will be Armenia-China, Georgia 1-Ukraine, and Tuvshintugs playing her old federation in USA-Mongolia.

Batumi Olympiad (Women) | Top pairings round 5

No. SNo Flag Team Pts. MP Res. MP Pts. Team Flag SNo
1 12 Armenia 12½ 8 - 8 13 China 3
2 10 USA 12 8 - 8 13 Mongolia 17
3 4 Georgia 1 12½ 8 - 8 13½ Ukraine 2
4 30 Argentina 12½ 7 - 7 13 India 5
5 14 Georgia 2 12 7 - 7 12½ Turkey 24
6 26 Czech Republic 13 6 - 7 11 Australia 33
7 27 Greece 11½ 6 - 6 12½ Azerbaijan 11
8 76 Tajikistan 11 6 - 6 12 Canada 40
9 28 Iran 11½ 6 - 6 12½ Vietnam 19
10 50 Ecuador 12 6 - 6 10½ Italy 18

(Full pairings here.)

Games via TWIC.

Mike Klein contributed to this report.


Correction: An earlier version of this report erroneously stated that Poland and Russia met the last time at the 2010 Khanty-Mansiysk Olympiad. That should be the 2008 Dresden Olympiad.

Earlier reports:

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.

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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.”

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