World Team Championship Underway; Russia Struggling
After two rounds of the 2013 World Chess Team Championship in Antalya, Turkey, a perfect bell curve of results have unfolded. Three sqauds - Germany, Azerbaijan and Ukraine - have won both of their matches, while an equal number of teams - Turkey, Netherlands and Egypt - are all 0/2.
The four remaining teams are all on the scoreboard. Armenia has a win and draw, the United States and China both have a win and a loss, and the biggest surprise - top-seeded Russia has only 0.5/2.
Russia is one of only two teams with all five players at 2700+ (Ukraine is the other). That Russia could only muster four draws and thus tie the always high-achieving Armenian quartet in round one was not surprising. But in round two, they were trounced by the Americans 3-1. Just like at the Olympiad in Istanbul, 2012, the U.S. was lead by a GM Hikaru Nakamura win over GM Vladimir Kramnik on board one. The win means the two men switch places on the live ratings list - Nakamura is now number three, while Kramnik falls to fourth.
GM Hikaru Nakamura, U.S. (All photos courtesy official site)
No underpromotion was necessary this time. Instead, Kramnik's knight lost its tether to the rest of his pieces. He sacrificed it to get a scary passed pawn, but right on the time control, Nakamura found the winning defense 40. Nc5!, otherwise the pawn cannot be stopped. If the knight is captured, White wins the pawn race because he promotes with check.
Unlike last year's matchup, GM Ray Robson won on board four, and with two draws in the middle boards, the U.S. has now beaten Russia twice in a row after many years of long losing streaks.
GM Ray Robson, U.S.
Robson had the Black side of a Marshall Gambit (the Semi-Slav version, not the Ruy Lopez). But just like its namesake sister opening, he got to attack. Not everything was 100 percent sound (White could have thrown the h-pawn down the board more quickly), but the youngest member of the American team emerged from the chaos with a full point. Enjoy the ride:
Germany has yet to be tested by the powerhouses as they have had the fortune of playing the two bottom teams in the opening rounds. They have had White on board one both times to boot.
Their best player by more than 100 Elo points, GM Arkadij Naiditsch, is playing board three, but in the opening round, lost to IM Samy Shoker of Egypt.
IM Samy Shoker, Egypt
The hunter became the hunted as Black fought back the attack.
But the African Champions, who are using the same strategy by playing their best player (by 150 Elo points) on bord four (!), had GM Amin Bassem go down to GM David Baramidze. Germany got by the Egyptians thanks to the relatively "normal" pairing on board two, as GM Georg Meier beat IM Abdel Razik Khaled.
Ukraine seems to be the class of the event so far. Their 2-0 start came against medal-contending teams from the U.S. and China. GM Anton Korobov is still on form after his wildly successful 2013 FIDE World Cup, and he continues to haunt the Americans. After knocking out Nakamura in Norway (and then playing stand-up comic on the post-match commentary), he beat GM Gata Kamsky as Black in round one. It was the only decisive game in the Ukraine-U.S. match (day one only had six winners out of 20 games).
GM Anton Korobov, Ukraine
Kamsky was already slightly worse when he attempted to sacrifice a pawn for play against Korobov's king. The attack stalled, and the only hope was to make several attempts to assemble a light-square blockade against the connected passers. It did not work, so Ukraine won the game and match, 2.5-1.5.
Azerbaijan would not normally be surprising as a leader in a team competition, except perhaps at this event. Thanks to third player GM Nidjat Mamedov, who joins Korobov as the only other player with two points, the Azeri team is atop the tables (not to be confused with GM Rauf Mamedov, who is stationed at board one). His winning streak has helped overcome not having top player GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov on the team. National number two GM Vugar Gashimov has been inactive for nearly two years due to health issues, and the country only qualified for the World Team Championship thanks to the one wildcard spot given by the FIDE president. So far Azerbaijan has beaten hosts Turkey and the Netherlands.
In the opening round, only Nidjat Mamedov's meandering win put them over the top against Turkey. His pieces circuitously ran around the board until eventually both knights won both rooks to secure the match, 2.5-1.5.
Tomorrow's round three will be the most important so far. Leaders Azerbaijan and Ukraine play, while Russia attempts to get its first match win against China. The Americans' brutal stretch that began with Ukraine and Russia continues - they have Armenia next. Germany will look to go 3-0 against the winless Dutch squad, while Turkey versus Egypt will ensure that one of those teams will score for the first time.
Here are the standings. Classifications are based on match points, with game points as the tiebreak.
A full breakdown of team members and explanations of qualification can be found in the previous news posting on the event.