There will be no last round nerves, jitters or frantic tiebreak calculations for those going for gold at the FIDE World Team Championship in Astana, Kazakhstan, as frontrunners Russia and China turned in two epic team performances as they swept all before them, as they dominated the competition to win their respective Open and Women’s titles with the luxury of a full round to spare.
The gold standard for team events is always the biennial Chess Olympiad. During the post-war years, the Soviets, and then Russia, held a virtual hegemony over the team competition – but Russia has consistently underperformed, having last won Olympiad gold back in 2002 in Bled. They have fared better though in the World Team Championship, although their last victory, in 2013, was more a near-thing and not nearly as convincing as their assured gold medal-winning performance right now in Astana.
The major difference looks to be a leaner, meaner squad and a newer generation of Russians finally making a big breakthrough of late, such as Vladislav Artemiev, 21, from Omsk. The new rising Russian star has been his team’s standout-scorer in Astana, undefeated on 6.5/8 with a near flawless performance that’s seen him rising five spots and crashing into the Top-20 for the first time on the unofficial live list – and in the process, he’s also leapfrogged Sergey Karjakin to become the new world #16.
And Artemiev was instrumental in Russia beating the USA in round seven, as his tactical antenna was on full alert with the only decisive game in what proved to be a narrow 2.5-1.5 victory, as he beat GM Zviad Izoria to secure the full points. And in the penultimate round, Russia almost swept Sweden, winning 3.5-0.5 to clinch overall victory and gold with a round to spare.
The USA, meanwhile, was somewhat unlucky to be held to a 2-2 draw in round 8 against India that – coupled with the previous round defeat to Russia – means that, despite a plucky performance for effectively the B Team, all but denies the Team USA what would have been a remarkable podium-finish, with India, England and China now the leading contenders for silver and bronze.
In the Women’s Team Championship, China – even without top stars Hou Yifan, the women’s #1, and Ju Wenjun, the Women’s World Champion – have similarly devastated the opposition, and remain the only team in the competition with a 100% perfect score of 16/16, as they too celebrated victory by securing gold with a round to spare.
Open: 1. Russia 14/16; 2-3. India, England 11; 4. China 10; 5. USA 9; 6. Iran 8; 7. Azerbaijan 6; 8-9. Kazakhstan, Sweden 4; 10. Egypt 3.
Women’s: 1. China 16/16; 2. Russia 13; 3. Ukraine 12; 4. Georgia 11; 5-6. India, Kazakhstan 8; 7. USA 5; 8. Armenia 4; 9. Hungary 3; 10. Egypt 0.
Photo: Could Vladislav Artemiev be the next big Russian chess star? | © David Llada / FIDE World Team Championship
GM Vladislav Artemiev – GM Zviad Izoria
FIDE World Team Championship, (7)
Queen’s Gambit Accepted
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 d5 4.e3 c5 5.d4 dxc4 6.Bxc4 a6 7.0-0 From an English Opening, we have transposed into the Queen’s Gambit Accepted. 7…b5 8.Bb3 Bb7 9.e4 cxd4 It’s too dangerous to snatch the e-pawn. After 9…Nxe4 10.Nxe4 Bxe4 11.Re1 White has a strong attack that can’t be stopped, as witness Black’s best continuation now being 11…c4 12.Bxc4 bxc4 13.Rxe4 Be7 14.Qa4+ Qd7 15.Qxc4 0-0 16.Bf4 with White’s easier development and control over the e5-square, giving an obvious big plus. 10.Nxd4 Nc6 11.Nxc6 Qxd1 12.Rxd1 Bxc6 With the queens traded along with a set of minor pieces, and the likely prospects of rooks also coming off down the d-file, many might think this should lead to a harmless position and a comfortable draw. But it is not so easy as it looks, as White’s slightly better control of the centre with his e4-pawn offers better prospects. But, yes, the trades could quite easily lull Black into a false sense of security – and perhaps that’s what happens in the game? 13.f3 Bc5+ 14.Kf1 The convenient check bringing the dark-squared bishop freely into the game is not really a setback for White, as his strategy anyway is going to be to centralise his king anyway for the endgame – and, if needed, he also has at his disposal Ke2 and then Be3 to challenge the a7-g1 diagonal. 14…Ke7 15.Ne2 Rhd8? For reasons that will soon become obvious, Black had to play 15…Rhc8! 16.Nd4 Bd7 and navigate a path through the small discomfort of White’s space advantage to play for the draw. But unwittingly, Izoria has overlooked a big tactical opportunity that Artemiev now pounces on. 16.Bg5 There are multiple threats now of e5 and Rc1, but Black has missed the elephant in the room of the real threat on the board. 16…Rxd1+ 17.Rxd1 Bd6? Izoria may well have thought that this stopped the e5 and Rc1 threats – but he’s in for a nasty shock now. 18.Rxd6! [see diagram] Oopsie! Alert to the tactics on the board, Artemiev trades down to an easily-winning endgame, as his minor pieces are more mobile. 18…Kxd6 19.e5+ The sting in the tail – and with it, winning two minor pieces for a rook and pawn. 19…Kxe5 20.Bf4+ Kf5 21.Bc2+ Ne4 22.fxe4+ Kf6 The only move, as Black loses almost on the spot after 22…Bxe4?? 23.g4+ Kxg4 24.Bxe4 etc. 23.Kf2 e5 Best now, otherwise White will play e5 himself and build on the space advantage for his minor pieces. 24.Bd2 Ke7 It’s going to be a tough task regardless to try and hold Black’s position together for the coming ending, but a better fist of making a fight of it could well have been 24…Rc8 trying to bring the rook into the game via the c-file; but even here, after 25.Bc3 Bb7 26.a3 Rc7 27.Ke3 White has a clear plan of Bb3 and Ng1-f3 to press home his winning advantage. 25.Bb4+ Ke8 26.Ba5! A nice little subtle move that just fixes Black’s queenside pawns and denies the rook access to come into the game via d8. 26…Bd7 27.Bb3 Rc8 Unfortunately, Black’s rook has no prospects whatsoever, and Izoria is merely shuffling his pieces around waiting for Artemiev to orchestrate his winning plan. 28.Nc3 Rc6 29.Nd5 Rh6 Black has to be wary of how to defend the weak pawn on a6. If 29…Rc1 30.Nc7+ Ke7 31.Bb4+ Kd8 32.Nxa6 easily wins. 30.Bc3 Kf8 31.h3 f5? [More in frustration than anything else, Black lashes out, perhaps not wishing to be squeezed to death after the slightly better 31…Rc6 32.Nb4 Rf6+ 33.Kg3 Rg6+ 34.Kh2 Be6 (If 34…a5 35.Nd3 and Black’s pawns begin to rapidly fall off.) 35.Nd5 Bd7 (There’s another tactical point after 35…f6? with 36.Nf4! winning more material.) 36.Nc7 where either e5 or a6 will fall. 32.exf5 Bxf5 On the plus side, Black at least has some freed-up his pieces – but on the minus side, White has even more space now for his minor pieces! 33.Bxe5 a5 34.Ke3 Rc6 35.Nc3 b4 36.Bd5 Better and more clinical was 36.Ne2 followed by Nd4 – but I guess all roads now lead to Rome here for Artemiev. 36…Rc8 37.Nb5 Rc1 It’s all too little too late now for Izoria, as Artemiev’s minor pieces will simply corral and win Black’s queenside pawns. 38.Nd6 Bb1 39.Nb7 Re1+ 40.Kd4 Re2 41.a4 Rxb2 42.Nxa5 Bc2 43.Nc4 Ra2 44.Bd6+ Ke8 45.Bxb4 1-0 Izoria resigns as 45…Bxa4 46.Nd6+ and the check will pick-up the rook on a2 to the discovered attack.