Apart from playing in front of a very patriotic fanbase, not to mention forever being the focus of attention for the fawning national media, one of the big bonuses of hosting a Chess Olympiad is that you get to add to all this national fervour with the opportunity to field a couple of extra teams in the competition. These additional teams can often prove to be an ideal opportunity to blood some talented young players in a top international team tournament – and often or not, this can inspire some early, inspirational performances.
And in round two, host nation Georgia’s third team – with no grandmasters and consisting of three 2300s and a highish-2400 – almost caused an early Olympiad upset by turning in an inspired fighting performance against reigning champions the USA, who somehow managed to scrap their way home to victory.
And perhaps inspired by being thrown into the spotlight, IM Noe Tutisani, FM Nikoloz Petriashvili and FM Nikolozi Kacharava managed to hold GMs Fabiano Caruana, Sam Shankland and Ray Robson to relatively easy draws – but Wesley So saved the day for the USA by proving to be no match for Luka Oboladze, as he almost Karpov-like, squeezed his opponent to win the game and with it the match.
Not the most convincing performance from the defending champions, but in round three, Team USA was back to their best with a solid, workman-like 3-1 victory over the Netherlands, with wins coming from the very much in-form Wesley So – now on a perfect 3/3, and thus an early contender for individual gold – and Sam Shankland over Erwin L’Ami and Jorden Van Foreest respectively, and Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura comfortably drawing against Anish Giri and Loek van Wely.
But it is still early days in the Olympiad, and 18 teams – which includes the past five winners of the biennial team competition: USA, China, Armenia, Ukraine and Russia – are involved in a mighty logjam at the top on 6/6, their placings only separated by board points amassed over the first three rounds, all of which could become a critical factor as a tiebreaker for determining the podium-finishes at the end.
In round 4, USA will take on India, where all eyes will be on the big top board clash between World Championship challenger Fabiano Caruana and Vishy Anand, the five-time ex-champion.
Meanwhile, in the Women’s Olympiad, with wins over Uruguay, Luxembourg, and now neighbours Canada in round three, USA is also involved in a logjam at the top with twelve teams tied on 6/6. But ominously missing from the mix is defending champions Russia, who unexpectedly lost to Uzbekistan in one of the big shock results of round two.
Open Standings (Board points in brackets):
1-18. France (11.5/12), Israel (11), India (10.5), Iran (10.5), Poland (10.5), Croatia (10.5), Azerbaijan (10), Vietnam (10), Greece (10), Argentina (10), Sweden (10), China (9.5), Czech Republic (9.5), USA (9.5), Russia (9.5), England (9), 17. Armenia (8.5), Ukraine (8.5) all on 6/6.
Women’s Standings (Board points in brackets):
1-12. Vietnam (11.5/12), Azerbaijan (11), Iran (11), China (10), Armenia (10), USA (9.5), Ukraine (9.5), Georgia 1 (9.5), Mongolia (9.5), Uzbekistan (9.5), Italy (9), Slovenia (8/5 all on 6/6.
Photo: USA back in-form with a solid win against the Dutch | © David Lada / 43rd Batumi Chess Olympiad
GM Wesley So – GM Erwin L’Ami
Batumi Chess Olympiad, (3)
Ruy Lopez, Berlin
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.d3 d6 5.0-0 g6 6.d4 This is not a waste of a move, as basically what we end up with here is transposition from a Ruy Lopez Berlin into a set-up akin to the Steinitz Variation (with Black not having played …a6). And there’s also a lot of subtle stuff going on, as this line resembles a King’s Indian Defence, the difference being the light-squared bishops being traded. 6…Bd7 7.d5 Ne7 8.Bxd7+ Nxd7 9.c4 As I said in the previous note, this is basically similar to the Ruy Lopez Steinitz Variation – and in this line of the Lopez, I have seen several on the White-side unwittingly walking right into the KID set-up without realising it, and not knowing what they are doing. 9…Bg7 10.Be3 h6 11.Nfd2 This move took my by surprise, as generally accepted as best here is the set-up Nc3 and Ne1 (in either order) and going on the queenside. Wesley’s 11.Nfd2 is considered not to be the sharpest. 11…f5 12.f3 f4 This, coupled with 13…g5 and …Ng6 looks too premature to my eyes. I think L’Almi should have first played 12…c6 (or even 12…0-0) and wait to see what’s going to happen first before going for the …f4 attack. 13.Bf2 g5 14.Nc3 Ng6 15.c5! Wesley hones right in on the weakness in the Black camp, with the early strike aimed at undermining d6 – which in the KID proper, is usually propped up with the manoeuvre …Rf7 and …Bf8 after castling. 15…Nxc5 16.Bxc5 dxc5 17.Qb3 Another annoying move from Wesley, hitting b7 and also cutting across L’Ami plans for castling. 17…b6 18.d6! Wesley seizes the initiative with this second pawn sacrifice, as he further opens up the game to leave the Black king stranded in the middle of the board. And with the knights taking up dangerous outposts, and White taking control of the d-file, this becomes a really awkward position for Black to have to defend. 18…Qxd6 19.Nc4 Qc6 20.Rfd1 Nf8 Awkward is as awkward gets. And there’s no salvation in challenging the d-file with 20…Rd8, looking for trades to ease the pressure, as there’s a big sting in the tail for White after 21.Rxd8+ Kxd8 22.Rd1+ Kc8? (Better is 22…Ke8 but after 23.Nd5 Rf8 24.Qb5! Qxb5 25.Nxc7+ Ke7 26.Nxb5 it all looks dangerous for Black.) 23.Nb5 Kb8 24.Nbd6! Rd8 25.Na5! Qd7 26.Nab7! and Black is hopelessly lost. 21.Rd5! Black is fighting for his very survival now. 21…Ne6 22.Nxe5 Bxe5 23.Rxe5 c4 The alternative of 23…Kf7 isn’t pretty either – but in the circumstances, walking into this self-pin is not a move you really want to have to make. 24.Qa3 Nicely keeping the Black king in the middle of the board. 24…Kf7 25.Rf5+ Kg6 26.Nd5 With his king in danger, L’Almi has no option other than to trade queens – despite the heavy material price he may yet have to pay for it. 26…Qc5+ 27.Qxc5 Nxc5 28.Rf6+ Kg7 29.Rc6 Rhe8 There’s no defending c7. After 29…Rac8 30.Rc1 followed by Rc1xc4, and White just piles the pressure on c7. Rather than succumbing to this, L’Almi tries to regroup his pieces by attempting to trade down to a saveable ending – but Wesley is way ahead of him! 30.Rxc7+ Kg6 31.h4! Not just breaking down the kingside pawns, but also putting pressure now on the Black king with a tactical fork. 31…Rad8 There’s no easy solution. If 31…gxh4 32.Nxf4+ Kg5 33.Nd5 the Black king is in the same predicament, only now, White has also doubled the Black h-pawns that will be ripe for the picking. 32.h5+! Black allows this loss of material, but at least has some sort of activity for it. Not much, but better than the alternatives. 32…Kxh5 33.Nf6+ Kh4 34.Nxe8 Rxe8 35.Kh2 You don’t want to allow the potentially awkward-looking …Kg3. 35…g4 36.Rh1! [see diagram] A nice touch from Wesley, as this move all but forces L’Ami into what he’s trying to avoid, namely fixing his kingside pawns. 36…g3+ 37.Kg1+ Kg5 38.Kf1 Rd8 39.Ke2 Ne6 40.Rxc4 Nd4+ 41.Ke1 h5 42.Rc7 It’s illusionary to think Black has something here, as, ultimately, there’s going to be no answer to Rc3!-d3 and the king now having a shield to cross to the queenside, making way for Re1 to push the e-pawn home. 42…Kg6 43.Rc3! Kg5 44.Rd3 h4 45.Kd1 The kingside pawns are going nowhere, and the rook and knight are now pinned – the end is nigh. 45…a5 46.a4 Rd6 47.e5 Rd8 48.Rd2 Kh5 49.Re1! h3 50.gxh3 Kh4 51.e6 Nxe6 52.Rxe6 1-0 L’Ami resigns as he’s hopelessly lost now, and getting mated after 52…Rxd2+ 53.Kxd2 Kxh3 54.Rh6+ Kg2 55.Ke2 Kg1 56.Rxb6 g2 57.Rg6 Kh1 58.Kf2 etc. A wonderful powerhouse performance from Wesley So!