Our final round pairing against our northern neighbors seemed fortuitous on paper, but USA wasn’t able to wipe out the floor with the Canadians, despite a victory in the match.
America went 2.0-0.0 very, very quickly. Wesley So was the first win today, playing against Aleksandr Lesiege. The game transposed into a strange looking Panov Caro-Kann, but Lesiege’s g6 seemed superfluous. The position was still complicated, with White trying to grab plentiful space on the queenside. Black’s counterplay could not be underestimated. An excellently timed trade on c4 allowed White to “sacrifice” the exchange for two connected passed pawns, and it was extremely difficult for Black to hold. Lesiege made So’s life easy: a miscalculation cost him a rook and the game in an already near hopeless position.
Wesley thus ends the Olympiad with 8.5/10 and a fantastic performance.
Fabiano Caruana has been a rock solid first board for America, but today he took the bull by the horns. Playing White against veteran Evgeny Bareev, he chose a very sharp Caro-Kann and it paid off wonderfully. He put pressure on the queenside, and when Bareev counterstruck on the kingside he was more than prepared: he gladly accepted the pawn sacrifice and kept improving his pieces. Caruana simply steamrolled over the Canadian, the win never in doubt.
Hikaru Nakamura decided to not go crazy today, and instead of looking for a victory to avenge his last round loss, he calmly chose a position where White has a very tiny advantage in the endgame, but Nakamura as Black felt confident in neutralizing his opponent. Kovalyov tried to improve his position, but Nakamura kept showing 2800 technique, simply outplaying White’s plans. Black won a pawn, but things were still complicated, and the forcing of a draw sealed the draw. 2.5-0.5, America wins the match, and despite Ukraine still playing, the tiebreaks should be so massively in USA’s favor that the gold should be won.
Shankland had a bitter sweet finish to his Olympiad; his game was far from successful against celebrity Eric “Chessbrah” Hansen.
Blitzing out preparation, little did Shankland know he was facing Eric’s own morning prep, which he did in conjunction with his second here, GM Cristian Chirila. Shankland ended up down a pawn, and more importantly unable to find a plan to create compensation and counterplay. Eric took down the American, and despite losing the match, can be extremely proud of Canada’s performance in the Olympiad. 2.5-1.5 America.
The true nailbiter came after the win. For hours, Ukraine played against Slovenia. With the impossibility of calculating the tiebreak, it was nothing but nervousness all around. The players waiting by their laptops, John Donaldson running around with a notebook and a calculator. The tension could be cut with a knife, uncertainty ruled the Olympiad. Even boards such as Scotland and Germany might have a decisive impact in the tiebreaks and the gold/silver race. Russia clinched bronze, but no one was paying attention.
At 5:07 Baku time, the arbiters announced to the press center: USA won on tiebreaks!
The women faced a tough final round pairing in India. The US faced seed numbers 1, 2, 3 and 5, in this tournament, while America themselves were the sixth seed. (China, Russia, Ukraine and India).
Irina Krush and Harika Dronavalli played a solid game, unable to outplay each other. The draw at the end seemed like a fair result, and it was the first game of the match to finish.
Nazi Paikidze’s game was extremely topsy-turvy, with the computer giving a huge edge to the White pieces, unfortunately for America. However, Nazi’s counterattack was swift, and she decided to sacrifice a piece for counterplay. A strange decision to sacrifice an exchange by Padmini resulted in a lost position for India, and USA’s Women’s Champion showed no mercy. Her rooks destroyed her opponent’s position.
Nemcova held off a difficult position for many, many moves, and even though she was lost at one point, she was able to come back and draw the game.
Anna Zatonskih was against the ropes in her game with Tania Sachdev, but upon reaching a basically drawn rook endgame, she completely blindsided. h5??? lost the game and drew the match, as India’s third board took the full point.
A very painful draw for USA, though they had no chances for medals, even with a win. China easily took gold by beating Russia, Poland massacred Hungary for seemingly silver while Ukraine seems to be edged out on tiebreaks and should be bronze.
What an exciting event! Congrats again to the US team for earning their first gold medals since the 1976 Olympiad.