There was some sort of weird synchronicity at play in round eight of the 44th Chess Olympiad in Chennai, as the young tigers of India II came face-to-face with top seeds USA, especially as it came replete with the intriguing sideshow of the big top board clash seeing man-of-the-moment Gukesh D play Fabiano Caruana, two players now associated with seven-game winning streaks.
With new breakout star Gukesh D being hailed across the media for “doing a Caruana” with his perfect start of 7/7, the fates would have it that he now faced former world championship challenger Caruana, the player famous for starting the 2014 Sinquefield Cup with a seven-game winning streak en route to a memorable elite-level victory.
And not only did the four Indian debutants – all still in their teens, and with an average age of 17(!) for this match – create the biggest and most sensational upset result of the 180-nation contest by beating the star-studded Team USA by an emphatic 3-1 scoreline, Gukesh D also demolished his more illustrious opponent to further extended his remarkable winning streak to a perfect eight, or, as it is now being called, “doing a Gukesh”.
But all good things must come to an end. In round nine, Gukesh D’s winning streak came to a halt with a draw against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, as India II drew 2-2 with Azerbaijan to keep their gold medal hopes alive. But chess can be so cruel at times, and tragedy struck Gukesh D in the penultimate round in a high-pressure clash with another leading teenager, World Rapid Champion Nodirbek Abdusattorov, which he looked set to win at one stage, only to blunder in time trouble and the loss saving the match for Uzbekistan, who secured an unlikely draw against India II.
And now going into Tuesday’s potentially nerve-wracking decisive final round, Uzbekistan are tied at the top with three-time champions Armenia in the race for gold and the Hamilton-Russell Cup. But just a point behind lurks India II, India I and USA – and with it being so tight on match points at the top for a podium finish, it could all come down to which team has the best board points (BP).
The final round top pairings will see Uzbekistan vs Netherland, Armenia vs Spain, Germany v India II and India I vs USA.
Open: 1. Uzbekistan (30½ BP), Armenia (26) 17/20; 3-5. India II (29½), India (27), USA (24½) 16; 6-11. Netherlands, Spain, England, Germany, Moldova, Serbia 15. Women’s: 1-4. Poland (27), Kazakhstan (25), India (24½), Georgia (24) 15/20. USA 10th= on 13 points.
GM Fabiano Caruana – GM Gukesh D
44th Chennai Chess Olympiad, (8.1)
Sicilian Defence, Rossolimo Variation
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 The Rossolimo Variation was popularised by the one-man Olympiad that is GM Nicolas Rossolimo, the US-French-Greek-Russian who started his Olympiad career playing for France in 1950, then played for the US until 1966, before reverting again to the French tricolour for his final Olympiad in 1972. 3…g6 4.0-0 The popular alternative is the immediate capture with 4.Bxc6 that Caruana favoured in his 2018 World Championship Match with Magnus Carlsen. 4…Bg7 5.Bxc6 bxc6 6.Re1 Qc7 7.h3 d6 8.e5! Black’s shattered pawn structure gives White more than enough counterplay for the pawn. 8…dxe5 9.d3 c4 If not this, then White has a good game with Nbd2-c4. 10.Nc3 cxd3 11.cxd3 Nh6 Black’s development is slightly hampered by the e5-pawn – to get around it, Gukesh decides just to let it fall. He could have tried 11…Bf5 but after 12.Qa4 Rd8 13.Be3 Nf6 14.d4! exd4 15.Nxd4 Bd7 16.Nb3 White has more than enough compensation for the pawn with the split queenside pawns to target and a potentially juicy outpost on c5 for the knight. 12.Nxe5 Nf5 13.Bf4 Qb7 14.Na4! f6 15.Nf3 0-0 16.d4 g5 17.Bh2 h5 18.Re4! Gukesh has clearly come out of the opening worse – but he gets full credit for holding his nerve to get himself back into the game. 18…Qd7 19.Qc2 Rf7 20.Rae1 In times past, we would expect Caruana to be in full crush-mode of his opponent from here – but sadly, his confidence is somewhat shot to pieces right now as he crashed out of the Top 10, and converting an obvious advantage turns into a traumatic experience. 20…Bf8 21.Qe2 Qd5 22.Nc3 Qd7 23.Qc4 Qb7 Gukesh doesn’t panic and is simply keeping his position together – and the teenage ace is soon rewarded for his patience. 24.b4 e6 25.Rb1 Qd7 26.Rbe1 Qb7 27.Rb1 Qd7 It’s a tacit offer of a draw with a repetition, which I’m sure Gukesh would have only have been too happy to take at this point. The onus is now on Caruana if he wants to push the envelope – but he soon regrets his decision to do so. 28.a3 a5! Suddenly, Black’s back in the game with threats and his pieces springing to life. 29.Na4 Qd8 30.bxa5 Rxa5 Also good looked 30…Qxa5 31.Nb6 Rb7 but it forces White’s hand into seeking the tactical bail-out with 32.Rxe6! Bxe6 33.Qxe6+ Kg7 34.Be5! fxe5 35.Qxf5 Rxb6 36.Rxb6 Qxb6 37.Nxg5 Qa7! The only move to stay alive! 38.Qxe5+ Kg8 39.Qe6+ Kg7 (Also drawing is 39…Kh8 40.Qg6 Qg7 41.Nf7+ Kg8 42.Nh6+ Kh8 43.Nf7+ etc.) 40.Qe5+ Kg6 41.Qe6+ Kg7 (Not 41…Kxg5?? 42.f4+! Kxf4 43.Qe5#!) 42.Qe5+ Kg6 43.Qe6+ and a repetition. 31.Nc5 Qd5! The powerfully centralised queen now sees Gukesh taking control of the position – and he shows no mercy for the former world No.2, as he powerhouses his way to an astonishing eighth straight victory! 32.Qe2 Rxa3 Suddenly Caruana is in a whole world of hurt as Gukesh threatens …e5. 33.Rd1 Rfa7! Gukesh is simply ruthless when he smells blood in the water. 34.g4? Caruana’s position was hanging by a thread – but this simply pulls further at it. His only try to delay the inevitable was 34.Rb1 but after 34…Ra1 35.Qe1 Rxb1 36.Qxb1 Kg7! effectively stopping any Qb8 and Qxc8+ saves, leaving White to grovel on with 37.Qe1 Ra3! and something will soon have to give, especially as 38.Nxe6+ Bxe6 39.Rxe6 Rxf3! 40.gxf3 Nxd4 sees White’s position imploding. 34…hxg4 35.hxg4 Nh6 As ever, our Silicon Overlords find the clinical kill with 35…Bxc5! 36.gxf5 Bb4 37.Ne1 Ba6 38.Qg4 Rh7 and White can’t stop …Rah3 and carnage down the h-file. 36.Bg3 e5 37.Nxe5 It’s desperation time now, as Caruana tries a bluff to save his skin – but Gukesh sees right through it. 37…fxe5 38.Rxe5 Bxg4! [see diagram] It’s game over now, as Gukesh comes in for the kill with his winning counter-tactic. 39.Qd2 Not so good, but then again, if the engine is telling you that your best hope was 39.Rxd5 Bxe2 40.Rxg5+ Kf7 and ‘-5.00-ish’, then you may as well go down in flames with some cheapoing chances of salvation. 39…Qf3! There’s no answer now to …Bh3 and a mate on g2. 40.Rxg5+ Rg7 41.Re1 Bh3 42.Bd6 Bxd6 We are dealing in semantics here, but the engine will go for the forced mate in 11 with 42…Ng4 43.Rxg7+ Bxg7 44.Re8+ Kh7 45.Qc2+ Kh6 46.Re6+ Bf6 47.Bf8+ Kg5 48.Re5+ Nxe5 49.Bh6+ Kxh6 50.Qd2+ Kh5 etc – but who’s counting when this leads to a mate in 13! 43.Rxg7+ Kxg7 44.Qg5+ Kh7 45.Ne4 Qxe4! 0-1 A fitting queen sacrifice to end the game!