China powered their way to team gold in both the Open and Women’s tournaments at the recently-concluded 43rd Batumi Olympiad in Georgia, but it took a miracle save for them to achieve this remarkable double-winning feat (the first nations since the USSR in 1986 to do so), as the Women’s title went right down to the wire of a very dramatic and tense last round showdown with defending champion’s Russia, which at one stage looked totally lost for China.
Staring a heavy defeat in the face in the big crunch final showdown with their rivals, fate intervened to play a big part in deciding the final outcome of the destinations of the medals. China was down 0.5-1.5 and looking more than likely to lose 1-3, with Lei Tingjie all but lost on the bottom board, yet somehow a nervy Olga Girya contrived to cede a draw from what looked a sure-fire won ending.
It was now all down to the top board clash between the reigning Women’s World Champion, Ju Wenjun, and ex-champion Alexandra Kosteniuk, with China needing a miracle win from a tough position to take the gold medal. But strange things often happen in tense situations, and when Kosteniuk wrongly claimed a threefold repetition (rightly denied by the arbiter), the Russian totally lost the thread of the game by almost immediately sacrificing a piece for what she thought was a drawing perpetual check, only to discover to her cost that it was losing instead, allowing China to eke out an unlikely 2-2 draw.
And that upset result proved to be a heartbreaking moment not just for Russia, but also the Ukraine – who beat the USA in the final round – as the cruel reversal of fortunes saw China taking gold, with Ukraine silver, and host-nation Georgia I bronze – all of which leaving defending champion’s Russia being denied a podium finish, and now consigned to a share of 4th-12th-place alongside Hungary, Armenia, USA, India, Georgia II, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and France.
After a promising start for the US Women’s team, they defied their seeding to stay competitive throughout, and in the hunt for a possible podium finish right up to the final round. Had they beat Ukraine in the final round, they could well have captured one of the top medals (who knows what, as it would have been down to the wonders of the Olympiad tiebreaks). But after crashing heavily 3-1 to the eventual silver medalists, they fell significantly down the standings, finishing ahead of their seeding in 7th spot.
Despite the disappointment, the US Women’s team though did have a couple of notable individual performances, with one coming from a seasoned veteran now, and the other from the new rising star of the team. GM Irina Krush, 34, earned a deserved silver medal on Board Two for her score of 7/10; but just as impressive was the Olympiad debut performance of 16-year-old Jennifer Yu.
The Ashburn, Virginia teenager has, in the past, scored some outstanding performances in youth tournaments, and has been hailed as one of America brightest prospects. In Batumi, it proved to be an epic step-up to the senior ranks, as she shone to deservedly earn her final IM norm and return home with a bronze medal for her Board Five score of 8/11.
1-2. China, Ukraine 18/22; 3. Georgia I 17; 4-12. Russia, Hungary, Armenia, USA, India, Georgia II, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, France 16.
Photo: It was a good overall show for the US Women’s team, especially the debut stand-out performance from 16-year-old Jennifer Yu! | © Austin Fuller / St. Louis Chess Club
WGM Jennifer Yu – WGM Eesha Karavade
Batumi Women’s Olympiad, (6)
Nimzo-Indian Defence, Romanishin/Kasparov Variation
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.g3 A big surprise in today’s game, as the Romanishin-Kasparov variation, a close cousin to the Catalan, has been out of vogue for many years now. This was the pet-line of the talented Ukrainian/Soviet player, Oleg Romanishin, who played it almost exclusively through the mid-to-late 1970s – but it only really took off when it was championed in the early ’80s by the rising Garry Kasparov, en route to him becoming world champion. And, as I say, this is not a fashionable line – so Jennifer Yu could well have caught her Indian opponent out with this. 4…0-0 5.Bg2 d5 6.Nf3 c5 This is a common response in this line when Black players are caught out with it: they tend to steer the game more into a Catalan complex. 7.0-0 dxc4 8.dxc5 Nc6 The best move, just getting on with the job of completing her development. Black could have traded queens, but that just gifts White control of the d-file, and if 8…Qa5 9.Qd4! Bxc5 10.Qxc4 White stands marginally better, due to the development advantage. 9.Qa4 Qe7 Better was 9…Nd5 or 9…Bd7 – but with her choice of 9…Qe7, I think it is fair to say that Jennifer Yu’s opponent perhaps felt a little uncomfortable here, perhaps taken by surprise in the opening. 10.Bg5 Yu misses a nice tactical shot here, with 10.Ne5! Bxc5 11.Nxc6 bxc6 12.Qxc4 Nd5 (Black has to stop at all costs White playing Bg5 and Ne4) 13.Ne4 Bb6 14.Bd2 and White has a “dream” Catalan-like endgame advantage, as the Black’s c-pawn (and, ultimately, the a-pawn) will be a sitting target. 10…h6 11.Bxf6 Qxf6 12.Rac1 Qe7? Black really had to play into 12…Bxc5 13.Ne4 Qe7 14.Nxc5 Qxc5 15.Qxc4 Qxc4 16.Rxc4 Rd8 17.b4! even although White has much the better prospects on the queenside for the coming endgame. 13.Nd4! Jennifer may well have missed this tactical twist the first time around, but not a second time! As in the note to move 10., this just assures White of an advantage, as Black is left having to defend the split queenside pawns. 13…Qxc5 14.Nxc6 bxc6 15.Ne4 More accurate was 15.a3! first, as Black is denied the …Qa5 option. 15…Qa5 16.Qxa5 Bxa5 17.Rxc4 Black is lumbered with having to defend the awkward endgame, where those split queenside pawns are just a liability. 17…Rb8 18.b3 Rd8 Under the circumstances, activating your rooks on open files is worthy, but a better attempt at trying to save this for Black came with 18…Rb4!? first, and now 19.Rc2 (It gets a bit tricky after 19.Rxc6 Bb7 20.Rc5 Bb6 21.Rc4 Rxc4 22.bxc4 Bxe4 23.Bxe4 where the opposite-coloured bishops should guarantee a draw in this position.) 19…Rd8 20.Bf3 Rbd4!? Black will inevitably lose the c-pawn, but there are excellent saving chances here, as all the Black pieces are more actively placed than happens in the game. 19.Rxc6 Bb7 20.Rc2 Bxe4 21.Bxe4 Rbc8 Black is pinning all her hopes on reaching the notoriously drawn bishops of opposite-colour ending. 22.Rfc1 Rxc2 23.Rxc2 Kf8 Nothing wrong per se of avoiding the back-rank mate by getting the king closer to the centre, but I think I’d have opted instead for activating my rook with 23…Rd1+ 24.Kg2 g5 and take my chances here, where at least the active Black rook offers greater hope of saving the day. 24.Bd3 Rd7 25.Rc8+ Ke7 26.Kg2 Rc7 The trade of rooks will make the draw more likely than not. 27.Rb8 Bb6 28.a4 Rd7 29.Bb5 Rd4 It’s not easy for Black here. She’s a pawn down but really has to keep her rook on the second rank (with 29…Rc7) to deny White taking it. 30.Rb7+ Kf8 Forced, as 30…Kf6 31.Be8! wins, with pawns falling now on the kingside. 31.Bc4 Rd2 32.f4 Jennifer has at least made progress in the ending, and now she grabs more space on the kingside with her pawn advances. 32…g6 33.h3 h5 34.g4 hxg4 35.hxg4 Rd4 36.Kf3 Rd1 37.Ke4! [see diagram] Now everything is working in Jennifer’s favour! She has the more active rook, better bishop, pawns advancing on the kingside, and there’s a major threat of Ke4-e5 and the king adding to the endgame misery for Black. 37…Rd4+ 38.Ke5 Rd1 39.f5! The hit on f7 is going to be the killing blow. 39…Bd4+ 40.Kf4 gxf5 41.gxf5 exf5 42.Rxf7+ Ke8 43.Kxf5 a5 44.Ke6 Black is two pawns down, but her king is also stuck on the back-rank, and there’s now serious mating threats. 44…Bc5 45.Rc7 Rd6+ 46.Ke5 Ba3 47.Ra7 Bb4 48.Rb7 More clinical was 48.Rxa5! Bxa5 49.Kxd6 as this bishop ending is winning – but in the heat of battle, with the opposite-coloured bishops, there’s always a niggling doubt that creeps into your head. So rather than having to worry about that, Jennifer takes the “scenic route” to victory. 48…Rh6 49.Rxb4!? Well, in Jennifer’s defence, it does at least avoid any doubt whatsoever about a possible opposite-colour bishop ending! 49…axb4 50.Kd5 Kd7 51.Kc5 The three passed pawns will easily win now, and the rest is academic. 51…Rh5+ 52.Bd5 Kc7 53.e4 Rg5 54.a5 Rg6 55.Kxb4 1-0