The relatively empty playing hall betrayed the tension that accumulated on the top boards before the start of round nine in Batumi.
The delegates, journalists, and “VIPs” that usually crowd the main intersection close to the top teams’ match-ups were busy today with the FIDE Elections. Akardy Dvorkovich was elected head of FIDE by a vote of 103 to 78, the first time in over two decades that FIDE has a new president.
The rustling and rumbling in the press center was mostly revolving around that, but of course there was plenty of action over the boards and not only in the ballots!
Today was an incredibly intense day. The two last boards to finish were USA boards, both at over 100 moves of chess played. The stress level on the captains is at an extraordinary level, but they have managed their teams excellently. Today had a great result, and a very disappointing one.
Our women’s team was pitted against Hungary, a traditionally strong team headlined by former European Champion Tranh Trang Hoang. Their boards two and three are the famous Gara sisters, Anna and Tricia, one year apart in age and never more than 50 points apart in rating! On last board, they fielded the talented Juliana Terbe.
Jennifer Yu, Melikset Khachiyan, Irina Krush, and Mike Klein. Photo: Alejandro Ramirez
After a successful round yesterday, it seemed natural for team USA to repeat their line-up with Tatev Abrahamyan and Jennifer Yu and on boards three and four respectively.
The first board duel was also the first one to finish. An unambitious approach by Anna against her opponent, who has had an absolutely monster tournament, resulted in an easily drawn exchange French. Wasting a white in a way, but stopping their best player seemed like a fair trade.
Second to finish was Jennifer Yu’s extremely solid Petroff yet again. Her opponent was unable to create even the smallest of chances, and a solid draw ensued.
Tatev Abrahamyan. Photo: Goga Chanadiri
The duel between Tricia Gara and Tatev Abrahamyan was a very strange one from the opening. Black surprised Tatev with the Petroff defense, and White responded by surprising Tricia with a transposition into the four knights. It was clear that neither player was familiar with the opening, misplacing their pieces and losing tempi compared to normal plans. Once Tatev found her footing, however, she played an absolutely wonderful game, and what a moment to do so! Her rook penetration on the kingside cost black one pawn, and then another, but things were still far from clear. After the time control, Tatev was up two pawns, but her opponent’s king was centralized, the opposite colored bishops created chaos, and it was not easy to advance the pawns.
Irina Krush had problems from the very beginning, and, despite her opponent’s strange decision to exchange her central e4 pawn for a weak b5 pawn on the queenside, White’s chances remained quite good. Underestimating the danger to her position, a blunder nearing time trouble cost her. White’s technique with the extra piece was highly questionable, and, by the second time trouble, it wasn’t fully clear if White was going to make any progress at all. When things became sharp and required precise calculation, both sides had no time left. White blundered the game but required precision from black. Unable to find it, Irina got her piece back, but it was mistimed: the ensuing rook endgame was simply lost for black. It seemed like Hungary would manage their 2-2, but on the sixth hour of play, anything can happen. This was the very last game of the round to finish, in both sections, after an amazing 118 moves, and it was 108th move that blundered the game away for white. An unbelievable blunder allowed Irina to draw the game, and USA won a nail-biter!
The team celebrated with a small glass of wine for the adults, to release some stress. After all, Georgia is known for its amazing wine! USA will face the Chinese team tomorrow. Despite missing Hou Yifan and Tan Zhongyi, they still field an amazingly strong team.
In the open section, USA faced Poland, the only team within a match point of ours. A win here would have separated us from the other teams by a full match win. Poland, however, continues to prove extremely resilient!
Four hours into the game tensions were extremely high on all boards, except for our board four’s endgame. Sam Shankland missed excellent chances on board four against Jacek Tomczak:
With time pressure lifted, the positions on the top three boards was easy to evaluate. Fabi was pressing against Polish super star Jan-Krzyszstof Duda, only 20 years of age but already a top grandmaster. Wesley was doing the same against Anand’s second and world elite Radoslaw Wojtaszek, but our board three was going down in flames, and the ending that the Polish player simplified was lost for us.
Wesley So. Photo: David Llada
Wesley pressed and pressed, and it certainly was a very well-played Najdorf by our player, but it wasn’t enough to break down Radoslaw’s defenses. After trying for a long time in an opposite colored bishop endgame, Wesley had to concede the draw. Wesley felt that he made a mistake on move 35, but the game was of course not easy to evaluate.
Fabiano Caruana. Photo: David Llada
It all came down to Fabiano Caruana’s game to save the team. Five hours into the game, Black’s extra piece was incredibly difficult to convert. The transition to a rook and bishop vs. rook endgame was excellently timed, and the engine suddenly announced a forced mate! With only one minute on the clock, Caruana missed it! The Polish team was given a golden opportunity to take the match if Duda held the endgame. Six hours passed since the beginning of the game, and the few people left in the playing hall crowded around the game. The few journalists left surrounded the game, John Donaldson meanwhile kept his cool. Alas, Duda defended perfectly, giving the World number two no chances to win after 50 grueling moves in the endgame. One hundred and eight moves, but the draw gave Poland the win.
“The feeling at the end was like losing, even though it was a draw,” said Fabi after the game.
Tomorrow USA will try to rebound against another tough opponent: Armenia, with the likely match up of Aronian vs. Caruana on the top board.