USA Wins 1st Olympic Gold In 40 Years; China Takes Women's Section
The United States won the Baku Olympiad after edging out Ukraine on tiebreak. China also beat Russia and so won the women's section convincingly.
Rating-wise Russia was the top seed, but with three top-10 players on the team, the U.S. team was expected by many experts and fans to win this Olympiad. It did so scoring 20 match points out of 11 rounds, and without losing a single match.
Those two records weren't unique though: Greece remained unbeaten as well (four wins and seven times 2-2) and Ukraine scored 20 match points too. In the end, USA won with nine more "Olympic S.B. points," as explained in the (rather complicated) regulations: "the sum match points of each opponent, excluding the opponent who scored the lowest number of match points, multiplied by the number of game points achieved against this opponent."
The winning team (add Ray Robson, who didn't play today).
Math was also needed for the women's section, but not for determining gold. China was the only team to reach 20 match points there. Russia, who had won the last three Olympiads, missed out on the medals. Poland took silver and Ukraine bronze after both teams finished on 17 match points. More on the women below.
Ukraine and the USA went into the final round with 18 match points, and behind them was Russia as the only team on 16. All three teams were expected to win, and all three delivered.
Looking back at those three matches, only USA-Canada had a potentially different result. OK, about GM Fabiano Caruana's game there was not any doubt; he completely outplayed GM Evgeny Bareev. The former world number-four really didn't stand a chance.
Bareev resigns his game vs Caruana...
...who had picked a special t-shirt for the occasion.
However, GM Hikaru Nakamura was defending a slightly worse endgame vs GM Anton Kovalyov, and GM Sam Shankland's theoretical pawn sacrifice against GM Eric Hansen wasn't working out as in Karjakin-So, Bilbao 2016, where Black quickly got it back. But at least one of those games should end in a draw, right? And GM Wesley So ought to win against GM Alexandre Lesiege, right?
Well, So did win, but don't ask how. He was still sniffling at the board and using a lot of tissues, also for inhaling his Olbas oil containing e.g. peppermint and eucalyptus for improving respiration. He had to do that away from the board. "I didn't want my opponent to smell it," So told Chess.com.
So taking one of many shots of Olbas oil during his game.
He was continually making a move and walking away taking his "medicine," and each time he got back to the board he quickly made a move. Really quickly, actually. "I wanted to keep the pressure," So said.
So had sacrificed an exchange, and felt he was playing for two results. However, analysis showed that a loss was a possible third result. USA escaped in this one!
So was still standing up when his opponent resigned.
A special mention to Wesley So who played breathtaking chess and deservedly took Gold on board 3. Congratulations, Wesley #BakuChessOlympiad— Lawrence Trent ( @LawrenceTrentIM) September 13, 2016
Nakamura, who also caught a cold this week, then held that endgame of his rather easily to get the 2.5 on the scoreboard. Shankland's loss didn't matter anymore. Well, maybe it did, for the tiebreaks...
Two match points for USA! But what was Ukraine doing?
It was clear that Ukraine was winning its match as well. GM Ruslan Ponomariov had quickly drawn with GM Luka Lenic, but both GM Anton Korobov and GM Andrei Volokitin won their games. Scoring a stunning 8.5/9 and a 2992 performance rating, the latter was by far Ukraine's most valuable player.
Andrei Volokitin didn't get much exposure but was one of the absolute stars of this Olympiad.
The last game still underway was GM Pavel Eljanov vs GM Alexander Beliavsky, one of this Olympiad's famous veteran players. The big question was whether Ukraine would win this match 2.5-1.5, or 3-1, which would obviously help its tiebreak mentioned at the start of this report.
Finally, this guy is here to explain the tiebreak system. pic.twitter.com/1El5BLePYD— Mig Greengard ( @chessninja) September 13, 2016
But there was more. Since for each team the opponent who scored the lowest number of match points would be excluded, matches on lower boards were relevant for calculating the tiebreak.
Particularly Germany vs Estonia was one to keep an eye on; if Germany would lose, Jordan would be counted for Ukraine's tiebreak, and in that case Ukraine would win gold. Some games were a bit crazy, but in the end Germany won that match.
How many major chess events have to end with the entire chess community whining online before people realize there's a problem?— greg shahade ( @GregShahade) September 13, 2016
It took several hours for everyone to find out that USA's 2.5-1.5 win was enough for gold. This reporter didn't want to wait and created his own Excel sheet, and got the same results as someone else in the press room and some people on Twitter: the Americans would win by nine Sonneborn-Berger points. That turned out to be right. And Eljanov won, by the way.
Eljanov won, and for a moment Ukraine thought it had won gold.
Besides their medals, the American players and the captain, IM John Donaldson, all got a $4,000 bonus from the United States Chess Federation.
Ukraine won silver, and Russia bronze.
Donaldson: "I don't understand why everyone is always talking so negatively about Russia. They usually play well at team events. Even here, on the whole they are winning rating points. As the top seed.
"Things are getting a bit random when you keep on adding teams while decreasing the number of rounds. The tiebreak system could be debated till the end of time."
Donaldson also pointed out that, since things are played over 11 rounds, at this Olympiad it's the first time that a team (in fact two) reached 20 match points.
John Donaldson: "The tiebreak system could be debated till the end of time."
At a press conference, Donaldson said: "It's regrettable that when you have two teams play so well that you have to have one of them finish first. When Ukraine came through with that victory, I knew it was going to be really close."
Donaldson's manual calculations were accurate.
Gold!! We all had our ups and downs, but it's a team event and everyone won games in critical moments. #USA— Hikaru Nakamura ( @GMHikaru) September 13, 2016
Russia's star player was GM Vladimir Kramnik. Having already regained the number-two spot in the rating list, he added another fine win with the white pieces today. A conceptual masterpiece.
India and Norway played 2-2 and finished fourth and fifth respectively. A fantastic result for Norway, who only once finished better than 20th place at an Olympiad: 11th at Haifa 1976, where USA won its last gold in the absence of the Soviet Union but also e.g. Yugoslavia and Hungary.
GM Magnus Carlsen must be very satisfied. Personally he improved as well, finishing without losing a single game, unlike at previous Olympiads. He is also a real team player, and seeing his now-chess-loving country do well must be a great feeling.
Today Carlsen was better against GM Pentala Harikrishna, but the Indian continued his good form and held the draw.
A 2-2 between Norway and India.
Carlsen had a horrible event scoring only 7,5 out of 10 and a 2805 performance, losing 4 rating points. /irony. #BakuChess— Tarjei J. Svensen ( @TarjeiJS) September 13, 2016
GM Aryan Tari lost to GM Vidit Santosh Gujrathi, but that led to the 2-2 because GM Frode Urkedal had opened the score after what will probably be ChessCenter's Blunder of the Week by S.P. Sethuraman:
@MagnusCarlsen probably need an even better squad to go further though, wonder if Caruana and So are still for sale— Magnus Carlsen ( @MagnusCarlsen) September 13, 2016
Unbelieveable. 5th place in Chess Olympiad! So happy I have team mates who perform when I don't.— Jon Ludvig Hammer ( @gmjlh) September 13, 2016
@kajasnare) September 13, 2016
86 years wait is over, Norway joins Denmark and Sweden as Olympic top 5-finishers!— Peter Heine Nielsen ( @PHChess) September 13, 2016
When you look at the top 10 of the final standings, two more teams stand out: Turkey finishing in sixth place, and Peru, without GM Julio Granda, in 10th place as the highest Spanish-speaking country. Poland and France eventually finished exactly on their seed number.
Espectacular actuación del Perú en la Olimpiada de Bakú logrando el décimo puesto. ¡Viva el Perú!— Julio Granda ( @granda_julio) September 13, 2016
The young Iranian squad did very well too, finishing in 16th place as the 46th seed. Both IM Shahin Lorparizangeneh and the untitled Parham Maghsoodloo scored GM norms.
Shout out to Iran's mostly teenage team who hugely turbocharged Norway's tiebreaks at #bakuchessol2016 - big positive surprise, big future.— Jonathan Tisdall ( @GMjtis) September 13, 2016
After winning its first Olympic gold in the open section in Tromsø, China failed to make the top-10 two years later. Greece came 18th but will always remember this one for not losing a single match.
Some disappointing results: Azerbaijan (4th seed, 12th place), Spain (14th seed, 31st place), Netherlands (11th seed, 36th place), and Germany (13th seed, 37th place). Of the teams that played 11 matches, Congo and Swaziland shared last place finishing last with one win, two ties and eight losses.
Final Standings Men (Top 20)
(Full final standings here.)
Congratulations to Team USA for living up to high expectations and winning Chess Olympiad gold for the first time in 40 years! #bakuchess— Garry Kasparov ( @Kasparov63) September 13, 2016
The winning team, from left to right: Ray Robson, Hikaru Nakamura, San Shankland,
Fabiano Caruana, captain John Donaldson, Wesley So, coach Aleksandr Lenderman
Board medals, open section:
GM Eugenio Torre, at 64 years old, played his 23rd Olympiad, and scored a spectacular 10/11, winning 46.9 rating points. This was good for the bronze medal on third board, where rating performance is the first criteria. Below you can find the gold, silver and bronze medals scored for the individual boards this year.
|2||GM||Dominguez Perez, Leinier||2720||2839||10||7,5||75||2646|
2. Dominguez, 1. Jobava, 3. Caruana.
2. Zoltan Almasi, 1. Wesley So, 3. Eugenio Torre. A special moment with the two Pinoy grandmasters shaking hands on stage.
"We don't have to invade your country after all."
Where much of the drama happened off the board in the open section, it was on the board in the women's section. After four hours of play, all four games in the top clash between China and Russia were still underway.
The reigning champions started with a two-point deficit, and so the goal was clear: win this match! And things went well for them on board four, where WGM Natalija Pogonina beat IM Guo Qi. The battle between World Champion GM Hou Yifan and ex-world champion GM Alexandra Kosteniuk eventually ended in a draw after 65 moves.
Yep, that's an important game!
However, the other two games were won by China, who thus clinched this Olympiad with a three-point margin. Remarkably, the two winners in that last match, GM Ju Wenjun and WGM Tan Zhongyi, were the only players who played all 11 matches for China.
Only Tan played a really good tournament, winning 12.1 Elo. Guo played at her rating level, and, remarkably, Hou, Ju and GM Zhao Xue all lost rating points in Baku!
Ju Wenjun scored the decisive second game point for China, who only needed 2-2 today.
And so, after finishing second behind Russia for three straight Olympiads, China finally nailed it again, after winning four golds in 1998-2004 and a bronze in 2006.
"We were very lucky to win considering how we were starting," said Hou at a press conference, referring to their 2-2 against Vietnam in round three. She wasn't happy with her play in Baku. "My performance this time was not great."
The reigning women's world champion also confirmed once again that she's not intending to defend her title under the current circumstances: "If the women system will continue to be like this I will not join the cycle."
Asked whether she thinks she can become an overall top-10 player, she said: "For that I have to become a more universal player."
Hou will have some time to focus on chess though; she has just finished her undergraduate studies in international affairs and will take a one-year break. After that, she hopes to start at an American university, she told Chess.com late last year.
Hou Yifan at the press conference.
By winning silver, Poland scored its biggest success ever. The country had won the bronze medals twice, at La Valetta 1980 and Bled 2002.
Especially boards four and five, WGM Klaudia Kulon and WIM Mariola Wozniak, played amazing tournaments with a rating gain of 45 and 78.8 Elo points respectively. Kulon played all 11 games and scored 9 points. Here's her win from the last round:
Ukraine was the only other team with 17 points and took bronze this year, just like two and four years ago. It won silver eight years back and gold a decade ago in Turin. Also in Manilla 1992 the Ukrainian women won the silver medal.
The best player for Ukraine was GM Anna Muzychuk on board one, who scored 7,5/10 and won 10.8 Elo points. Today she beat another ex-world champion in the match against Bulgaria: GM Antoaneta Stefanova, who was perhaps a bit too creative in the opening.
Muzychuk (r.) vs Stefanova.
In this group, India and the USA eventually finished on their seed numbers. Vietnam, Azerbaijan and Israel all did quite well. Georgia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Germany, Spain and Turkey disappointed.
The U.S. women's team with captain Yasser Seirawan.
Final Standings Women (Top 20)
(Full final standings here.)
Finally it's China again!
Board medals, women section
2. Hou Yifan, 1. Anna Muzychuk, 3. Pia Cramling
|3||WGM||Nguyen, Thi Mai Hung||2316||2442||11||8||72,7||2256|
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