Like so many things odd this year, the chess rulings are proving no different. The chess community still seems to be split over Fide president Arkady Dvorkovitch’s controversial intervention to declare Russia and India co-winners of the pandemic-inspired ‘Online Olympiad’, after the showpiece final was dramatically hit by a global internet outage on Sunday.
The fiercely loyal and patriotic Indian fan base was naturally pleased that the gold medal was shared, but not so the Russian fans nor some of their star players. Even the chess community at large is split on whether it was the right decision to have been taken, and the omnishambles seem to have been compounded by Dvorkovich himself unwisely agreeing – and now regretting – to be on the three-man appeals committee, only to then to recuse himself for being Russian!
Responding to all the questions and the issues, Dvorkovich, to his credit, did make a full and frank disclosure of what swayed him to make the controversial decision he still stands by, in a ‘Hard Talk’ special interview with Chess.com‘s chief correspondent, Peter Doggers (see full 54min video below).
It’s also not the only Olympiad woes Fide and Dvorkovich have had to deal with this week. The 2022 Olympiad was originally scheduled to be held in Minsk, but now due to Belarus’s uprising – geopolitical, eh? – following the recent rigged election there, the deal Dvorkovitch inked only in January with the embattled long-time ruler, Alexander Lukashenko, now looks to be in jeopardy.
On 1 Sept., Fide confirmed in a statement that the 2022 Minsk Olympiad was at risk after the organisers failed to comply with their contractual obligations and financial duties, and unless there was a response from Minsk (which perhaps might be otherwise preoccupied with what’s happening on the streets!) by 7 Sept., then the game’s governing body will have no option other than to relaunch the bidding process to seek a new host.
Fide has stipulated that they must receive government guarantees from any new potential host before 7 Oct. – and already there’s mounting speculation that Dvorkovich, a former Russian deputy prime minister, may well have already cut a deal for Russia to once again step in to hold the Olympiad, most likely back in Moscow, the city originally scheduled to host the 2020 Olympiad through August before being cancelled due to the global Covid crisis
Away from all the political shenanigans, on the playing front of the Online Olympiad, Team USA – GMs Wesley So, Sam Shankland and Ray Robson (Open); plus IMs Carissa Yip and Anna Zatonskih, WGM Tatev Abrahamyan (Women); and GM Jeffery Xiong, IM Annie Wang (U20) – came preciously close to beating co-winners Russia in the semifinal. It proved to be a tight and fiercely fought contest from start to finish, with Russia just edging it by the narrowest of margins: a 3.5-2.5 win followed by a 3-3 tie.
The most intriguing contest proved to be the U-20 battle between rising young grandmasters Jeffrey Xiong and Andrey Esipenko, with the Texan teen taking the plaudits for his gritty performance to score 1.5/2.
GM Jeffrey Xiong – GM Andrey Esipenko
Online Olympiad | SF, (2)
Nimzo-Indian Defence, Capablanca Variation
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Qc2 The Classical or Capablanca variation was popular in the early days of the Nimzo-Indian, made famous by being adopted by the great Jose Raul Capablanca. The idea is for White to try and gain the bishop pair without compromising the pawn structure after …Bxc3, and at the same time possibly planning on domineering the center with e4. 4…0-0 5.e4 d5 6.e5 Ne4 7.Bd3 c5 8.Nf3 cxd4 9.Nxd4 Nd7 10.Bf4 Qh4 11.g3 Qh5 12.h4 Nxe5 13.Be2 Ng4 It’s all certainly razor-sharp, but all of this is a well-explored long line known to theory. 14.Bxg4 Qxg4 15.f3 Qh5 16.g4 There’s no time to take the knight. After 16.fxe4? e5! not only will Black recoup the piece, but the game is now beginning to blow open with the White king hopelessly stranded in no-man’s land. 16…Qg6 17.fxe4 e5 18.0-0-0 Bxc3 19.Nf5 Bxf5 20.gxf5 Qa6 21.Qxc3 d4 22.Qb3N It’s a novelty of sorts, but it looks more like a case of perhaps induced by perhaps forgetting the theory! As we’ve mentioned, this line is well known to theory, and Xiong goes slightly of course by not finding the simple queen move 22.Qd2! and White has more than enough play to hold the balance. After 22…Qxc4+ 23.Kb1 exf4 24.Qxf4 the threat of White playing f6 forces Black himself to play 24…f6 and now 25.h5 h6 26.Rhg1 Rac8 27.Qd2! (Not 27.Qxh6?? Qc2+ 28.Ka1 Qxd1+! and Black wins.) 27…Rfd8 28.Rc1 Qa4 29.Qxh6 Rxc1+ 30.Qxc1 (Unbelievably this is the only move, as after 30.Kxc1? Rd7 suddenly Black’s d-pawn becomes a big game-winner.) 30…d3 31.Qc7! Rd7 32.Qc8+ Kh7 33.Qe8! and Black can’t stop the threat of Qe8-g6-e8 perpetual check. 22…exf4 23.Rxd4 Rad8! With a set of rooks being traded, Xiong’s kingside pawns are now more weak and vulnerable. 24.Qd3! A good call from Xiong, who is quick to spot that control of the d-file for the a-pawn is his best hope to keep the game competitive. 24…Rxd4 25.Qxd4 Rc8 26.b3 Qxa2 27.Rd1 g6 28.f6 h5?! It is not an easy position for Black to convert his pawn advantage in an endgame, but at this point, Esipenko begins to lose the thread of the game – the way to try to win was with 28…Re8! 29.Qd7 Qa1+ 30.Kc2 Qe5! and Black has consolidated his position with the White e- and f-pawns under threat. 29.Rd3 Qg2? Now admittedly it is a difficult position, but Episenko has now totally lost all grip with this added error that sees a cruel reversal of fortune – again, he had to find 29…Re8! and although White is still in trouble, attempting to convert any win will still be difficult. 30.Qd7 Rf8 31.Qe7 And as the engine calmly reassures you that this is “0.00”, the human instinct will be twitching rather nervously here for Black, as the mating issues are not easy to resolve – the most immediate worry being 32. Qxf8+! and 33. Rd8 mate. 31…Qg1+ 32.Kc2 Qb6 33.Rd6 Qa5 34.Rd5 Qb6? The whole idea is survival by stopping White from playing Rd8 – but you really can’t criticise a player, even a GM, in the heat of battle to find the remarkable inhuman engine-save of 34…b5! 35.Rxb5 (White has no time to continue the attack. If 35.e5 f3! 36.e6 Qa2+ 37.Kc3 Qa1+ 38.Kc2 (And not 38.Kb4? walking into 38…Qe1+ 39.Kxb5 Qxe6 and Black’s winning due to the f-pawn.) 38…Qa2+ and a perpetual check.) 35…Qa2+ 36.Kd3 Qb1+ 37.Ke2 Qc2+ 38.Kf3 Qd3+ 39.Kxf4 Qd2+ 40.Kf3 Qd3+ and White can’t escape the perpetual check. 35.Rd6 Qa5 36.Rd5 [see diagram] Xiong eventually finds the killer blow the engine-jockey grandmasters were crying out for – but let’s just give Xiong the benefit of the doubt here, as repeating moves a couple of times showed great maturity because, with Black totally paralysed attempting to prevent Rd8, it crucially gained the Texas teen a little extra bonus increment time on his clock. 36…Qb6 37.Rg5! Qf2+ 38.Kb1 Qe1+ 39.Ka2 Qd2+ 40.Ka3! With the Rg5 covering a possible …Qa5+, Xiong’s king resolutely marches up the board to sanctuary from the checks. 40…Qc1+ 41.Ka4 Qa1+ 42.Kb4 Qe1+ 43.Kb5 a6+ 44.Kb6 Qe3+ 45.Kc7 Qc3 46.Rxg6+! Kh7 47.Rg7+ Kh6 48.Qxf8 Qe5+ 49.Qd6 1-0 And faced with either the trade of queens or an imminent mate, Esipenko resigned.