According to Match of the Day pundit Alan Hansen’s infamous assertion from 1995 that went into football folklore, “You can’t win anything with kids.” But definitely not so to win the 44th Chess Olympiad in Chennai, as Uzbekistan, with an average age of just 20, held their final round nerves with an emphatic win over the Netherlands to edge out three-time veterans Armenia on board points for gold, with the even younger India II squad taking bronze.
And surprisingly and very dramatically winning the Hamilton-Russell Cup at the 180 nation biennial contest rates arguably right up there among the biggest thing to have happened in doubly landlocked Uzbekistan’s history since Timūr Gurkānī, the self proclaimed heir and successor to Genghis Khan, was around in the 14th Century!
So quite the year then for Uzbekistan, as their young squad was led to victory by teenage star Nodirbek Abdusattorov, who late last December also dramatically snatched the world rapid championship title from defending champion Magnus Carlsen, whom he beat en route to a sensational victory.
It was a disappointed performance from Team USA who underperformed as the top seeds and failed to make a podium finish – but there was some conciliation for the Stars and Stripes, as their women’s team – WGM Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova, GM Irina Krush, IM Carissa Yip, WGM Tatev Abrahamyan and IM Anna Zatonskih – beat frontrunners India in the final round to snatch the bronze medal behind Vera Menchik Cup victors Ukraine and runners-up Georgia.
The standout top board performers in the Open proved to be two teenagers to watch: India’s Gukesh D, 16, and Uzbek Abdusattorov, 17, destined soon to be among the world’ top elite, and among the newer generation stars to take over Carlsen’s mantle. Gukesh stormed to a perfect start of 8/8, though finished on 9/11 to take the individual gold medal, with Abdusattorov, on 8½/11 taking silver – but the penultimate round encounter between these two fast rising talents ultimate proved crucial to which team would take the gold medal and the Hamilton-Russell Cup.
Open: 1-2. Uzbekistan (33 BP), Armenia (28½) 19/22; 3. India II (32½) 18; 4-6. India I, Moldova, USA 17. Women’s: 1-2. Ukraine (30½), Georgia (29) 18/22; 3-5. USA (31½), India (29) Kazakhstan (28) 17.
Photo: Quite the year for 17-year-old Nodirbek Abdusattorov, who now leads Uzbekistan to a famous victory | © Lennart Ootes/44th Chess Olympiad
GM Gukesh D – GM Nodirbek Abdusattorov
44th Chennai Chess Olympiad, (10.1)
Queen’s Gambit Declined, Ragozin Variation
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Bb4 The Ragozin variation – named after the leading Soviet player and opening theorists of his day, Vlacheslav Ragozin (1908-1962) – is a very flexible, solid and a reliable system against the QGD, that found a new lease of life following the release of the 2016 New in Chess publication, The Ragozin Complex, by IM Vladimir Barsky. 5.Qa4+ The main-line usually comes with 5.Bg5 like most lines of the Queen’s Gambit Declined – but 5.Qa4+ is a pet-line of Gukesh, which he used successfully to beat Armenian top board Gabriel Sargissian in round six. 5…Nc6 6.e3 0-0 7.Bd2 a5 The aforementioned Gukesh-Sargissian encounter from round six went 7…dxc4 8.Bxc4 Bd6 9.Qc2 e5 10.dxe5 Nxe5 11.Be2 Nxf3+ 12.gxf3 and witnessed Gukesh using the open g-file to spectacular effect. 8.a3 Bxc3 9.Bxc3 Ne7 10.Qc2 b6 11.b3 Ba6 12.a4 Ne4 13.Bb2 Nc6 14.Ba3 Nb4 15.Bxb4 axb4 16.Bd3 Nf6 Understandable, given the precarious gold medal standings, but there was also an interesting pawn sacrifice with 16…Nc3!? 17.Bxh7+ Kh8 18.Bd3 dxc4 19.Bxc4 (Instead 19.bxc4 Bb7 20.Ne5 Qg5! looks good for Black.) 19…Bb7 and Black has good counterplay for the pawn, especially with the threat of …Bxf3 and …Ra5 hanging in the air. 17.0-0 c5 18.dxc5 bxc5 19.e4! With one very accurate move, suddenly Gukesh has a promising position with …d4 being impossible due to e5 and Bxh7+. 19…dxe4 Slightly worse was 19…dxc4 20.Bxc4 Bb7 21.Rfe1 with threats of Rad1, e5 and Ng5 and a rapidly developing kingside attack. 20.Bxe4 Ra7 21.Ne5 Qd6 22.Rfe1 Nxe4 23.Qxe4 With Black’s c5-pawn a long-term handicap, Gukesh has suddenly got a promising position to play for the win – a vital win that could have seen the young India II team going on to take the gold medal rather than Uzbekistan. 23…Rd8 24.Qf3! Threatening Rad1 and note that it also stops Black regrouping with …Bb7 due to the threat on f7. 24…Qc7 25.Rad1 Raa8 26.Rxd8+ Rxd8 27.Rd1! Gukesh is successfully transitioning down to a very favourable endgame scenario, where Abdusattorov has a major issue of just how to defend his c5-pawn. 27…Rc8 28.Qg3 h5 29.h3 Safety-first is a sound approach, but I can’t help feel that with the advantage, Gukesh should have come over the top with 29.Rd7! forcing 29…Rd8 30.Rxd8+ Qxd8 31.Qf3 f6 32.Nd3 Bb7! 33.Qe3 e5 34.h3 Bc6 35.Nxc5 Qd1+ 36.Kh2 Qd6 37.Ne4 Qd7 38.Qd2! which, though similar to the game, looks more clinical. 29…Rd8 30.Rxd8+ Qxd8 31.Nd3 h4 32.Qe3 Bb7 33.f3 Qd6 34.Kf1 The c5-pawn isn’t going anywhere, so Gukesh tries to remove his king from the danger zone of any queen perpetuals with …Qg3+ etc. 34…e5 35.Nxc5 Bc8 36.Ke1 Bf5 37.a5 Qc7 38.a6 The game is technically won for Gukesh – but he learns the cruel way that one of the hardest things to do in chess is to win a won game! 38…Bc8 39.Nd3 Bxa6 40.Qxe5 Qb6 If the queens come off, the ending is easily won for White with the knight capturing the b4-pawn. 41.Nc5 Of course, human nature wouldn’t entertain moving the king back to where it came from, but the engine has no fears of being tricked into a repetition and doesn’t balk from making such decisions, and goes for 41.Kf1 Bb7 (If 41…Qd8 42.Nxb4 Qd1+ 43.Qe1 Qxb3 44.Qe8+ Kh7 45.Qe4+ Kg8 46.Nxa6 Qa3 47.Qa8+ Kh7 48.Ke2! and the White king walks away to safety from the checks.) 42.Qe8+ Kh7 43.Qxf7 Qe3 44.Qf5+ Kh8 45.Qd7 Kh7 46.Nxb4 Qxb3 47.Qd3+ Qxd3+ 48.Nxd3 Ba6 49.Ne5 and after Kf2 and c5 White is easily winning. 41…Qa5 42.Kd1 Qd8+ 43.Kc2 Bc8 44.Ne4?! The first real sign of indecision from Gukesh. After 44.Nd3! g6 45.Nxb4 Bf5+ 46.Kc3 Qd1 47.Nc6 Black is just lost. 44…Be6 45.Kb2 Qa8! The queen check on the a-file is rather awkward, as could be seen from Gukesh’s body language by this stage. 46.Nc5 Qa3+ 47.Kb1?! Obviously in your gut, you don’t want to allow …Qa2+ – but right now, with all the pressures of the world on Gukesh’s shoulders, his only try to play for the win was with 47.Kc2! Qa2+ 48.Kc1 Qa3+ (If 48…Qxg2 49.Nxe6 Qg1+ 50.Kd2 fxe6 51.Qxe6+ Kf8 52.Qf5+ Kg8 53.Qd5+ Kh7 (The only try, as 53…Kf8 54.c5 Qh2+ 55.Ke3 Qg1+ 56.Kd3 Qf1+ 57.Kd4 Qxh3 58.Qd8+ Kf7 59.c6 soon wins.) 54.Qh5+ Kg8 55.Qxh4 Qg2+ 56.Ke3 Qg1+ 57.Ke2 Qg2+ 58.Qf2 Qxh3 59.Qe3 Qh2+ 60.Kd3 the king escapes from the perpetual.) 49.Kd2 Qa2+ 50.Ke3 Qb1! 51.Kf2 Bf5 and White still has a lot of work still to do, but with care and patience he should be winning. 47…g6! The simple saving move – and the only one at that! With …Bf5+ coming, White can’t stop the checks – and 48.Nxe6 is taboo due to 48…Qxb3+!. 48.Kc2 Qa2+ It’s still too complicated, given the human nature and the pressures from this game, but the engine shows no nerves and immediately wants 48…Bf5+! 49.Kd1 Qa2 50.Qb8+ Kh7 51.Qe8 Qxg2 52.Qxf7+ Kh6 53.Qf8+ Kh5! and no White is the one looking for the bail-out, with 54.Qh8+ Kg5 55.Ne4+ Bxe4 56.Qe5+ Kh6 57.Qxe4 Qxh3 58.Qf4+ Kh5 59.Qe5+ Kh6 60.Qf4+ and a perpetual. 49.Qb2 Bf5+ 50.Ne4 Qa7! 51.Kd3 Qg1! Remarkably, Abdusattorov has pulled off an amazing save by denying Gukesh an easy win – but Gukesh still has the extra pawn and doesn’t want to give up the draw so easily. A decision that cruelly comes back to haunt him. 52.Qc2 Qc5 53.Qd2 Qg1 54.Kc2 Qa1 Gukesh’s king just can’t find a safe haven due to Abdusattorov’s powerful queen. 55.Kd3 Qg1 56.Qe2 Qa7 57.Qe3 Qa2 58.Kd4 Qxg2 59.Ng5 f6 60.Qe8+ Kg7 61.Qe7+ Kh6 62.Nf7+ Kh5! With Abdusattorov’s king running to safety, Gukesh unwisely decides to push on, believing he can’t possibly lose and still might have winning chances. 63.Kc5 Qxf3 64.Qxf6 Qe3+ 65.Kxb4 Bxh3 66.Ne5 Qd2+ 67.Kb5 Bd7+ 68.Kc5 The safe option was 68.Kb6! Qb4+ 69.Kc7 Bf5 and a draw on the cards after Qh8+ etc. 68…Qe3+ 69.Kb4 Bf5! Suddenly Black has a little something with …Bc2 threatened and the h-pawn pushing up the board – but nothing that should have concerned Gukesh unduly. 70.Qh8+ Qh6 71.Qd8 Qg7 72.Nf3?? [[see diagram] What a tragic moment for Gukesh, who blunders a piece and a game he was once easily winning, but alas allowed his superior position to drift. And Abdusattorov’s stubborn resistance proves to be the table-turner that saves the match for Uzbekistan and crucial for them going on to take gold and the Hamilton-Russell Cup! After the correct 72.Qd5 Qe7+ 73.c5 h3 74.Qf3+ Kh6 75.Ng4+ Kg5 76.Nf2 Qe1+ 77.Kb5 Qe8+ 78.Ka5 Qd8+ 79.Ka4 with careful play neither side should have anything here, and the draw on the cards, which would have allowed India II to edge the match and favourites for gold going into the final round. But what a sad way for this epic struggle from both young players to now end. But them’s the breaks, as a failed politician recently said after being forced from office. 72…Qb7+ 0-1