John Henderson
By John Henderson

In a dramatic – and not to mention historic – finale to the 185-nation Chess Olympiad in Batumi, China had much to celebrate today with a memorable and remarkable feat that only the old Soviet Union had previously only ever achieved in the long and storied history of the biennial major team tournament: a double gold-medal winning victory at the Olympiad; last matched by the USSR at the Dubai Olympiad back in 1986.

In the Open section, China edged out the United States and Russia to clinch the gold medal and the Hamilton-Russell Cup, while in the Women’s section, China likewise squeezed out Ukraine to take gold and the Nona Gaprindashvili Cup – but it all went down to the wire of the tight tiebreak metrics to decide the final outcome in both cases.

After beating Poland and Armenia respectively in the penultimate round, China and USA were the sole leaders at the top, so had to face each other in a tense final round showdown that would decide the victors. The match ended in a draw, and despite Russia playing catch-up to make it a three-way tie on 18/22, the former multi-time winners, with a far inferior tiebreak score, could only be assured of bronze.

That left the fate for gold and silver for the world’s best coming down to the vagaries of the Sonneborn–Berger tiebreak (and worse still, Olympiad-modified Sonneborn–Berger tiebreak) that depended on the last-round results of their weak first-round opponents. China had the marginally better tiebreak score, and the results went their way. And while many may think this is an unfair system, it has to be remembered that this was the same tiebreak that favoured the USA when they won gold in 2016 in Baku.

But spare a thought for the young and spirited Polish squad led by rising star Jan-Krzysztof Duda, who came fourth. Poland looked set for a sensational podium finish for the first time since the 1939 Olympiad in Buenos Aires that was famously interrupted by the outbreak of war, as Nazi Germany invaded their country, and both nations battling for gold in Argentina. While the penultimate round loss to China proved a setback, if they had beaten India in the final round, and not drawn, they would be the ones celebrating victory by virtue of having a superior tiebreak score than China and the USA.

For China, who last won the Olympiad title at Tromsø in 2014, top board and world No.4, Ding Liren – still hobbling on crutches after breaking his hip in a bike accident during the Norway Chess tournament at the end of May – nevertheless proved to be their “Iron Man” with yet another rock-solid performance. Despite the handicap, he scored 5.5/8 to further extend his unbeaten streak now to 87 games.

And to complete the Chinese takeaway, Ding also picked up an additional gold medal. After drawing in the final round with American world title-challenger, Fabiano Caruana, Ding also clinched the individual gold for the best board one performance, with a TPR of 2873.

Open final standings:
1-3. China (gold), USA (silver), Russia (bronze) 18/22; 4-5. Poland, England 17; 6-14. Vietnam, India, Sweden, France, Armenia, Czech Republic, Germany, Austria, Ukraine 16.

Women’s final standing:
1-2. China (gold), Ukraine (silver) 18/22; 3. Georgia 1 (bronze) 17; 4-12. Russia, Hungary, India, France, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia 2, USA, Armenia 16.

Photo: Ding Liren strikes gold – twice! | © David Lada / Batumi Chess Olympiad 

GM Ding Liren – GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda
43rd Batumi Chess Olympiad, (10)
Queen’s Gambit Accepted
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.e4 This is one of the sharpest ways to respond to the Queen’s Gambit Accepted. 5…b5 6.e5 Nd5 7.Nxb5 Nb6 8.Be2 Nc6 9.0-0 Be7 10.Qd2 0-0 11.Qf4 Rb8 12.Nc3 f5 A timely defensive resource that attempts to close lines for White’s more active pieces. 13.Qg3 Kh8 14.Rd1 Nb4 15.b3 cxb3 16.axb3 a6 17.Bc4 Nc2 18.Ra2 Nb4 19.Ra1 Nc2 20.Ra2 Nb4 21.Re2! Ding isn’t in the least interested in a three-fold repetition – a true pro and gold up for grabs, he just repeats the position twice in order to get closer to the time control. 21…a5 22.d5! Now all the fun starts with this breakthrough. 22…exd5 23.e6 The reason for the pawn sacrifice was to open as many lines to Black’s king – and with e6, now also the long a1-h8 diagonal springs open. 23…Bd6 24.Qh3!? Ambitious, as also worth a punt was 24.Bf4 Qf6 25.Bxd6 cxd6 26.Ng5 Rb7 27.Bb5 with double-edged play. 24…Qf6 Black can’t take the bishop, as his king will get hit with an unstoppable assault after 24…dxc4? 25.Ng5! h6 26.Nf7+ Rxf7 27.exf7 Kh7 28.Re8 Bd7 29.Rxd6! cxd6 30.f8N+ Kg8 31.Rxd8 Rxd8 32.Nxd7 Nxd7 33.Qxf5 and Black is left hopelessly lost. 25.Nb5! Ding goes ‘all in’ with his attack, the major threat being Ng5. 25…dxc4 Black could try 25…Bxe6 but after 26.Bb2 Qg6 27.Nxd6 cxd6 28.Bb5 there’s going to be no answer to Nd4 and Qc3 with major threats that look very dangerous. 26.Nxd6 cxd6?! It is always difficult not to recapture automatically a piece – but this could well be where it all started to go wrong for Duda. The option 26…Bxe6!? would have solved the problem of the Ng5-f7 threat, and seems to come with the trade of some pieces that makes the game easier for Black to cope with. 27.e7 It was crying out to be played – and now Duda faces a quandary of how to defend amidst the confusion and chaos. 27…Re8? This just compounds Duda’s problems. All wasn’t completely lost, as he had resources here, specifically 27…Bd7! 28.exf8Q+ Rxf8 29.bxc4 Nxc4 and Black remains well and truly still in the game, with a somewhat murky, double-edged position. with compensation coming with the extra pawns, not to mention those imposing knights on b4 and c4. In truth, this is one of those awkward positions where all three results are quite possible. But alas, all of which was impossible for Duda to fathom out with the time control looming. 28.Ng5 Qg6 29.Rxd6! f4 The f7 fork of king and queen is the least of Black’s worries – the little matter of the Qxh7 mate has to first be defended. 30.Qh4 Qb1 [see diagram] 31.Re1? The time scramble is a little mutual, and with it, Ding misses the clinical win with 31.Qxf4! – but you really need the engine to tell you why after 31…Bd7, as 32.Rf6!! is not all that obvious to spot in the heat of the battle, and certainly not with the metaphorically ticking digital clock. 31…Bf5?? Duda can’t double capture on d8 due to Nf7+ winning. The players can be forgiven errors in the mutual time scramble with the position so complicated, but Black’s only hope was with 31…Bd7! 32.Bd2! and White remains on top – but it is still complicated with a lot of play still left here. 32.Rd8 Bg6 33.Rxb8 Rxb8 34.Qxf4 The game is effectively over here, but the players are still playing on the adrenaline from the time scramble, so Duda plays it out further. 34…Rg8 35.Nf7+ Bxf7 36.Qxf7 Nd7 37.e8Q An extra queen can always come in handy! 37…Nf6 38.Bg5 1-0

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