2022 World Team Championship: United States Exits in Group Stages

It’s not every day that the United States can be considered an underdog in an international team tournament. But for the 2022 World Team Championship, the U.S. sent a team of hungry players, led by GM Hans Niemann, who do not usually get the honor of representing their country in such prestigious events.


Image Niemann Image Caption courtesy Mark Livshitz


Unfortunately, over five rounds of rapid chess played from November 20 to 22 in Jerusalem, the U.S. failed to qualify for the knockout stages. From their pool, the U.S. and the host country were both eliminated, leaving Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, India and Poland to advance to the quarterfinals.


Image crosstable B


The U.S. began the event with an upset victory over Poland 2½-1½ due to GM Varuzhan Akobian’s victory over 20-year-old Szymon Gumularz. Experience outshined youth in an endgame where Akobian just knew where his rooks needed to be.



Image Akobian Image Caption courtesy Mark Livshitz


From there, a match against an Azeri team who brought its strong players proved more difficult. World-class GMs Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Teimour Radjabov defeated Niemann and Lazaro Bruzon Batista, respectively, to clinch the match for Azerbaijan 3-1. Mamedyarov withstood fantastic preparation from Niemann and navigated the practical complications exquisitely.



Image Mamedyarov Image Caption courtesy Mark Livshitz


Radjabov took a more clinical approach in his victory. He left his opponent with no obvious plan or way to create any problems, and calmly activated every piece without taking on any weaknesses or risks.



The round three match against a youthful Uzbekistan squad came down to Bruzon Batista’s loss against GM Javokhir Sindarov.


Image Sindarov Image Caption courtesy Mark Livshitz



With a last-round match-up against a strong Indian team looming later in the day, the best chance for a U.S. qualification would be by defeating the host nation. Alas, Israeli GM Tamir Nabaty outmaneuvered GM Alexander Onischuk to clinch the match 2½ -1½ for Israel.


Image Nabaty Image Caption courtesy Mark Livshitz



Any chance of a come-from-behind qualification was stopped by a 3-1 victory for India. In an unusual opening, Niemann missed one chance to seize an initiative, and suddenly Vidit's pressure was unstoppable. 



India's prodigious talent produced some of the most entertaining games of the entire match. From a completely lost position against an Azeri tactical giant, Vidit found one miraculous counter-strike just when it looked like 'Shakh' had found a brilliant combination. 


Image Vidit Image Caption courtesy Mark Livshitz



Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan both finished on 3½/5, with the Uzbekistan team taking the top seed on tiebreaks. This pairing will be crucial, as it means they can avoid a dominant Chinese team, which won the other pool with a massive 4½/5, until the finals. Here’s Uzbekistan showing that their prodigies can hold their own with their Indian counterparts, trading blows until the very final move.




Image Uzbekistan Image Caption courtesy Mark Livshitz


Poland took the fourth and final qualifying spot ahead of Israel despite not winning a single match. After losing to the American squad, Poland drew its next four matches 2-2. But since Israel, despite defeating the United States, lost two matches, tiebreaks favored the more solid squad. Here’s Poland’s star player creating a web of complications that not even Radjabov could successfully find his way out of.



In Group A, the aforementioned Chinese powerhouse will be joined by France, Spain and Ukraine, who all finished 3/5. A Netherlands team led by the brothers Van Foreest, as well as the South African team, were eliminated.


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Household grandmaster names Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Vasyl Ivanchuk went head to head in one of the more anticipated match-ups, with Ivanchuk’s draw being significant to deliver a Ukrainian victory 2½-1½.



Image Ivanchuk Image Caption courtesy Mark Livshitz


Another anticipated match-up, Spain versus Ukraine, did not provide a rare pairing between Ivanchuk and his Latvian-born counterpart GM Alexei Shirov. That said, Shirov’s inspired victory over GM Igor Kovalenko secured an important draw. Shirov had a clearly winning position out of the opening, but elected to keep things more complicated. It's a shame he did not have a chance to put his 38. Qxf3!! on the board.


Image Shirov Image Caption courtesy Mark Livshitz



While the Netherlands did not qualify, their last-round 2-2 draw against Ukraine is worth mentioning, as GM Jorden Van Foreest survived a 'Chucky' brilliancy to swindle a time-scramble victory even after having to give up his queen. 


Genius pic.twitter.com/8JSGU5ejg2

— Andriy Volokitin (@AndriyVolokitin) November 22, 2022


Image Van Foreest Image Caption courtesy Mark Livshitz



For the quarterfinals, China takes on Poland, Spain will play Azerbaijan, Ukraine will take on Uzbekistan, and France will face off against India. Each match will consist in two rounds of rapid games, with blitz tiebreaks occurring after if the match ends in a 4-4 tie. The semifinals will occur the next day, with the finals and third place match taking place November 25.

Correction: An earlier version of this article erroneously stated that the Netherlands were led by GM Anish Giri. While Giri was listed on the official website as a player, he did not travel to Israel.