Armenia somehow managed to salvage a fortunate draw with top seeds USA in round seven of the 44th Chess Olympiad in Chennai, an unexpected result that allowed the three-time champions to hold onto a slender lead at the top going into the decisive final four rounds in the chase for gold and the Hamilton-Russell Cup – but the story of the behemoth 180 nation biennial contest is still the remarkable winning streak of the new Indian teenage breakout megastar, Gukesh D.
Probably due to compassionate reasons, Team USA dropped ex-Armenian talisman Levon Aronian from their line-up, only to see the normally reliable Fabiano Caruna once again stumbling by being roundly beaten by Gabriel Sargissian, a further setback result for the US #1 who now moves precariously ever-closer to tumbling out of the world’s top 10 on the unofficial live rating list.
It took a piece of sheer brilliance from Wesley So to restore US hopes of victory in the match. In today’s diagram, So has just played the cunning trap 18.Bh6, unwittingly enticing Hrant Melkumyan into playing 18…e4 (18…Bf8! looked good), only to be hit by the stunning sacrifice 19.Rxe4!! where after the sheepish reply 19…Nf8 So easily went on to win. What So’s opponent had overlooked, was that taking the rook allowed the amazing queen sacrifice and mate-in-six with the king-hunt 19…dxe4 20.Qxf7+!! Kxf7 21.Bc4+ Kf6 22.Nxe4+ Kf5 23.g4+! Kxe4 24.Re1+ Kf3 25.Re3#!
With that match delicately poised, US looked set for a narrow victory, so long as Sam Shankland held out for the expected draw – but tragedy struck when Sam made an illegal move, “pre-moving” his king when he expected a queen check, only to then discover that any king move he now had to make led to a forced loss, so resigned.
In the six-strong chasing pack – alongside USA – ominously there lurks two of the three host-nation teams, with all eyes and media attention still focused on the teenage-infused India II squad (with a Paul Hardcastle 1985 one-hit wonder average age of 19), led by their new sensation Gukesh D, who is now in seventh heaven with a stellar performance and a perfect top board score of 7/7, that inspired an emphatic 3.5-0.5 victory over Cuba to get his team back on track for a possible podium-finish.
And with it, “GukeshD” is now trending on Twitter, as the 16-year-old looks set to join the pantheon of great Olympiad debut performances, alongside Paul Keres (Warsaw 1935), Bent Larsen (Moscow 1956), Mikhail Tal (Munich 1958), Judit Polgar (Thessaloniki 1988) and Vladimir Kramnik (Manila 1992), who all went on to become world stars.
Open: 1. Armenia 13/14; 2-7. Uzbekistan, India II, India I, Kazakhstan, Germany, USA 12; 8-13. Netherlands, Hungary, France, Azerbaijan, Iran, Brazil 11. Women’s: 1. India 14/14; 2-4. Armenia, Ukraine, Georgia 12. USA are 14th equal with 10 points.
GM Daniel Albornoz Cabrera – GM Gukesh D
44th Chennai Olympiad, (7.1)
Sicilian Defence, Alapin Variation
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.c3 d5 One of the best ways to counter the Alapin Variation, a line that is still very popular at club-level/ Swiss Weekend Opens. 4.exd5 Qxd5 5.d4 Nf6 6.dxc5?! More usual is 6.Be2 Bg4 7.Be3 cxd4 8.cxd4 e6 9.Nc3 Qd6 and a balanced game. 6…Qxd1+ Black’s big plan in this line is that, despite the fact he’s a pawn down and the queens traded early doors, his counterplay will see lots of play against his opponent’s crippled pawn structure. 7.Kxd1 e6 8.b4 a5! Continually asking questions of White’s pawn structure. 9.b5 Ne7 10.Ne5 It is just impossible to hang on to the pawn. If 10.Ba3 Ne4 11.Ke1 Nd5 12.c6 Bxa3 13.Nxa3 Nexc3! 14.cxb7 Bxb7 15.Nc4 0-0 16.Nd6 Rab8 and Black emerges with the better position with his pieces more co-ordinated, his king in safety, and long-term targets of hitting White’s over-extended queenside pawns (a4 will need to be played). 10…Ng6 11.Nxg6 hxg6 The opening of the h-file allows Gukesh D to bring his rook decisively into the game with …Rh5 – an imaginative lift that hits all of White’s loose pawns. 12.Be3 Ng4 13.c6 This is the only game in town for White now: give the pawn back right away and try to salvage what you can from the wreckage. 13…bxc6 14.bxc6 Nxe3+ 15.fxe3 Ba6! Taking full advantage of the fact that capturing on a6 would be even worse for White, as both Black rooks come into the game to pick off all the loose pawns. 16.Nd2 Bxf1 17.Nxf1 Rh5! White’s loose pawns just can’t be saved – but just watch and learn from from Gukesh D’s almost flawless technique in expertly finish the game. 18.Ng3 Re5 19.Re1 The reason for 18…Re5 was to entice White into playing 19.e4 when 19…Rc5 would have denied the useful e4 square for the knight to come into the game. 19…Bd6 20.Rb1 Ra6! Black’s rooks now powerhouse Gukesh D to a seventh straight win. 21.Kc2 Rxc6 22.e4 Rc7 Better was 22…Rec5 but this just plays it safe by denying any annoying rook going to the seventh to delay victory. 23.Re3 Ke7 24.Rd3 Rec5 25.Ne2 Be5 The pressure is slowly building to boiling point now, as White begins to run out of useful moves he can make. 26.g3 He could try to hold on with 26.Re3 Rc4 27.Rb5 which does looks better, but after 27…Bd6 28.Rxa5 Bc5 29.Rd3 Rxe4 30.Kd2 f6 Black will follow up with …e5 and …Rc4 and something will eventually have to give. 26…Rc4 27.Re3 Bd6! Gukesh D just gets a slightly better version of the above note – but the reality is that White cracks under the relentless pressure. 28.Kd3 Ra4 29.Nc1 g5 30.Rb5 f6 31.Kc2 Be5! Simultaneously hitting three loose pawns – something has to give now. 32.Kb3 Rac4 33.Ne2 a4+ 34.Kc2 g4 Gukesh D is ruthlessly squeezing the life out of his opponent, who is practically in zugzwang here, unable to make a sensible move. 35.Rb6 g5 36.Ra6 Bd6 37.Kd3 a3! With everything in place, Gukesh D swiftly moves in for the kill. 38.e5 It’s desperation time, as Gukesh D has well and truly broken the spirit of his opponent, who simply has no constructive moves he can make. If 38.Ra5 R4c6! 39.Ra4 Kf7! Black has all the time in the world to arrange his pieces for the decisive breakthrough. 38…fxe5 Also winning was 38…Bxe5 39.Rxa3 R4c5 40.Nd4 f5 with f4 coming next. 39.Ra5 Kf6 40.Rb5 Kf5 41.Nd4+ Kf6 42.Ne2 Ra4 43.Nc1 e4+! 44.Kc2 The pawn is taboo. After 44.Rxe4 Rxe4 45.Kxe4 Rxc3 46.Ne2 Rc2 the a2 pawn falls and it’s game over. 44…Rac4 45.Kb3? White could have delayed the inevitable by a few moves with 45.Rb3 Bb4! 46.Kd2 Bc5 47.Re1 Rh7 but he has overlooked a powerful sacrifice from Gukesh D that ends the game. 45…Bf4!! 46.gxf4 0-1 And White resigns before Black plays 46…gxf4 47.Re1 Rxc3+ 48.Ka4 Rxc1 49.Rxe4 Ra7+ 50.Kb3 Rb1+ 51.Kc4 Rc7+ 52.Rc5 Rc1+ etc.