US Defeats Croatia, Women Falter Against Armenia

Seventh round of the 43rd World Chess Olympiad was an exciting event, full of surprises and upsets. The playing hall is packed as always, but now also the expo hall and press center are booming. The interest in the rounds is obviously increasing as we head towards the finish line, but another important event is taking place here in Batumi: with the FIDE Chess Congress taking place, people are flying in from all over the world to attend the different chess commissions, have the continental meetings, and, perhaps most importantly, elect the new FIDE leadership. This has caused more than one quarrel in Batumi, but this report will focus on our chess players, so I leave you to read some of the excellent general reports on Chess.com for the results of other teams and news from the Congress.

India vs. USA in round 6. Photo: David Llada

In the women’s section, we continue having problems on board three. Sabina Foisor returned to the board replacing Tatev Abrahamyan after her loss against India. Tatev was born in Armenia, today’s opponents! Sabina, unfortunately, had an absolutely terrible game. Straight from the opening it was difficult to even move pieces, and White’s attack on the kingside crashed through with absolutely no counterplay. Despite being one of the last games to finish, the result was the first one to be clear.

Anna Zatonskih was, unfortunately, again on the receiving end of a simply great game by her opponent. Repeating black against Elina Danielian, Anna saw herself in a slight disadvantage in an isolated queen pawn’s position. It is hard to praise Elina’s game enough in this game: it was masterful, and her slight advantage grew until uncontrollable levels.

Irina Krush’s game was topsy-tuvy. She had excellent chances out of the opening, especially with a mass of pawns rolling on the kingside. She allowed a bit too much counterplay on the queenside, and her pawns started falling there, but it seemed that her attack on the flank in which the kings resided might be extremely dangerous. In time pressure, accuracy from both players took a strong hit. In the chaos, a draw was reached, but the game could really have gone either way.

Jennifer Yu’s game today was not as clean as her performances in the previous rounds, but it was yet another victory for our teenaged reserve board. Achieving a pleasant advantage from the opening and a huge time advantage on the clock, things took a turn for the worse in the middle game. White’s advantage slowly dissipated and time pressure loomed heavily on both. After both players were down to seconds, move 40 was reached, and Jennifer had a pleasant advantage. Black’s 41st move was a horrible blunder that allowed a superb finish.

Despite this loss, USA still ranks quite well. Tomorrow, they face the strong team of Italy, though our women are still the slight rating favorites.

Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So. Photo: David Llada

Our open section pairing was somewhat strange, even with the fact that pairings are done by board points rather than ratings. With Poland and Azerbaijan as the only teams with perfect score, their pairing was obvious, but since we were clear third it was not as clear who we would “float up”. Bosnia yesterday seemed like an odd choice, and Croatia again was not the toughest pairing we could have gotten from a pool that included Russia, China, Ukraine, Germany, etc.

Our white pieces really made quick work of our opponent’s black pieces. Wesley So’s handling of the Najdorf was again superb, and quite creative. He threw in a wrench in his opponent’s preparation with the interesting move 9.h4!?, which created chaos in the position. The inclusion of the h-pawns in the fray severely worsened Black’s chances on the kingside. White was able to destroy black on that flank, with a strong f5 break that was met with zero counterplay. Yet again, Wesley shows no mercy to his opponent!

Sam Shankland returned from his rest last game with plenty of energy! In another sharp Sicilian, Sam dominated the light squares over Ante Brkic. The game became extremely messy, with tremendous complications, and both kings under serious threats. The transition from the opening was not good for Black, in which the opposite colored bishops gave White serious attacking chances. Once this position was reached, Sam’s technique was flawless.

Fabiano Caruana. Photo: David Llada

The Berlin defense has been a trusty way of playing for the World elite for the past decade, and Caruana saw no reason not to trust it today against Ivan Saric. The Croatian chose the d3 variation and was unable to get very much. Caruana wasn’t really able to achieve an advantage at any point, and the draw seemed like a fair result.

Last to finish was Hikaru Nakamura; unfortunately, again he was unable to bring a full point. He tried very hard with the black pieces to outplay his opponent, but it just didn’t happen. Still, a draw is a good result for the team and the 3-1 was certainly convincing.

Tomorrow will be a decisive round for the open section. The first board pairing is Team USA vs. Azerbaijan! The two highest rated players in the event will face each other (at least, very likely, it is hard to imagine either team resting them!): Fabiano Caruana with the white piece vs. Shakhriyar Mamedayrov!

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