U.S. against China in the final round of the Olympiad, Photo David Llada
The U.S. played Ukraine and China in the final round, Photos David Llada
The last round of the Olympiad is always a hectic affair. As has become traditional, it starts four hours earlier than the rest of the rounds, at 11 am instead of 3 PM. This allows the closing ceremony to be scheduled the same day, and for most delegations to depart either the same day (skipping the ceremony to save money) or the day after with comfort. It does, however, severely disrupt the routine that the players and coaches have gotten accustomed to. With the round starting so early, board pairings were due at midnight, and published only fifteen minutes later.
Coaches had sleepless nights, preparing files and variations for their players. The players themselves either tried to sleep, usually earlier than they are used to for this event, or stayed up reviewing their own lines. Our team, staying in the Hilton, gathered downstairs at 10:30 am, some of them with water still dripping from their heads from their rushed shower, others gulping down the last remainder of the breakfast buffet. Again, rain welcomed the players to the playing hall for their last bout in Batumi.
Both of our teams came to face incredibly strong opposition. In the Women’s, after an excellent tournament and a wonderful draw against China yesterday, we were matched against Ukraine, the only team to field four grandmasters, two of which were at some point World Women’s Champions.
Things really went badly for us in this match quickly.
Jennifer Yu played her only bad game in the tournament, and even with many blunders by her opponent she was still always lost.
Natalia Zhukova kept missing chances to end the game, but never gave away her advantage completely. The game ended just after time control.
Irina Krush was unable to defend the black pieces against Mariya Muzychuk, and an unpleasant endgame, which was played with many inaccuracies, went the way of the Ukrainian.
Anna Zatonskih was just outplayed by a strong grandmaster: Anna Muzychuk showed her strength in all aspects of the game.
The bright spot of the match was that Tatev Abrahamyan steamrolled over former World Champion Anna Ushenina’s Caro-Kann.
Alas, it was not sufficient, the 3-1 loss was significant and it made team USA drop considerably in the standings. From 3rd rank before the start of the round, we finished in a respectable but disappointing 7th (starting as 10th seeds). Before the tournament started, team USA would be satisfied with this result, but after the heroic tournament they had, I’m sure it is not the place they wanted.
“Chess is so cruel” was Tatev’s remark after the game. A mostly bitter feeling for the team afterwards despite fantastic performances. Especially remarkable were those of Jennifer Yu, who scored an IM norm and earned a bronze medal, Tatev Abrahamyan who finished 5th on her board, and Irina Krush, who takes home an Individual Silver!
China took home the gold in this section after a miraculous save against Russia in the last round. That could easily have been 3-1 for the Russians, which would have given Ukraine the gold. Alas, chess is so cruel, and Russia themselves were knocked off the podium.
In the Open section we faced China, the team that took out Duda’s Poland. The openings attracted attention from the start, as it was clear that Wesley So and Sam Shankland had prepared together. They played the same line against Yu Yangyi and Li Chao, respectively, in a long Catalan. 17 moves in, both of our players were still in preparation, and the Chinese finally deviated from each other. Neither of them proved an advantage and the draw was a clear result in both games.
Also quickly drawn was the top board and fight for Olympic Individual Gold Medal between Ding Liren and Fabiano Caruana. With the White pieces, our player essayed the same variation that Duda used against him with white in the English! A slight misstep in the opening, placing the rook on e1 rather than on f1, allowed Ding Liren to calculate a perpetual.
White had to accept the draw or run incredible risks, and in a team tournament that was certainly unacceptable. With these results Ding Liren clinched Individual Gold and Fabiano Caruana clinched Individual Silver on board one.
The last game to finish was Hikaru Nakamura against Bu Xiangzhi.
Playing an enterprising idea suggested by Fabiano Caruana in the team meeting (9.h4!), Nakamura obtained the pressure that he wanted, outplaying his opponent in the opening and early middle game. Things turned south right after that, however, when Nakamura didn’t put as much pressure on his opponent, either by taking a sacrificed pawn (17. Qxb7!?) or going for the all-out attack (17.g4!?), instead he allowed the opponent fully back into the game. The resulting endgame even seemed a bit unpleasant for him, as he found himself down a pawn in a 4 against 3 endgame with knight, bishop and rook, but it was only visual. White’s piece activity was much better than black’s, and it compensated for the pawn.
With the draw, it again came down to tiebreaks and waiting for Poland and Russia. Poland was the only team that could catch USA in match points, and was ahead of us in tiebreaks going into the round. Poland, however, did not beat India.
Russia did catch up with USA and China for match points after beating France, but their tiebreaks were not strong going into the round.
After hours of waiting in the open section, the tiebreaks were finally revealed: China edged us out, and USA took silver, with Russia earning the bronze. Our World Championship challenger was gracious in congratulating the gold medalists.
Last Olympiad we benefited from the tiebreak system; this time unfortunately, we didn't. Nevertheless, silver is a good result and I'd like to thank all my team members for their dedicated work. Congrats to China on gold in the Open and Women's sections!