The penultimate round in the Women’s Olympiad: China vs. USA
After two weeks of good weather in the resort town of Batumi, it finally was a rainy day, a stormy one in fact. Just as the last few players entered the playing venue a torrential downpour started, with the crash of the rain in the playing hall setting the mood for the upcoming battles. The incoming opponents for our teams created very different expectations from both of our teams. In the Women’s section we faced the super power of China, while the open section saw itself forced to win against Armenia to keep gold medal chances.
Team USA fielded their trusty line-up from the last three rounds in the women’s section. Resting Sabina Foisor, Jennifer Yu played her 10th game in a row. Hers was the first game to finish, as it was clear that China out prepared us in that board. Zhai Mo essayed the Queen’s Gambit Accepted, not something that she is used to playing. Our young player misremembered the move-order, and it allowed a simplification into a position that was headed towards an obvious draw. The ship could not be steered otherwise, and the first half point was split.
Almost as if to counterbalance it, Anna Zatonskih played an extraordinarily solid game against Ju Wenjun.
Despite being the second highest rated woman in the world, and the reigning World Champion, and with the white pieces, there was simply nothing Ju Wenjun could to today to even bother our first board. A solid Catalan with the black pieces forced White to trade into a completely equal endgame. The draw was reached, leaving the match up to the middle boards.
Irina Krush played a great game against Huang Qian, a strong player in her own right and part of, arguably, the strongest chess couple in the world: she’s married to super-GM Bu Xiangzhi, who will be facing USA tomorrow for the gold medal!
Irina’s opening was excellent, tricking her opponent to accept an unfavorable position. It seemed that Irina had great chances of grinding down her opponent, but it was not to be. Perhaps she hurried a bit too much in the transposition to the bishops vs bishop and knight endgame, and her light-squared bishop was simply unable to join the fray, allowing black to escape with a draw.
Tatev Abrahamyan played her trusty French defense against the match-up that, on paper, was most favorable to China. Being a grandmaster and with the white pieces, China must have been counting on this board for a win. Tatev played an amazing game, and it was simply one of the most complicated French positions I’ve seen.
After mutual mistakes in time trouble, including the miss of a win by our player, a crazy endgame arose. Accurate play from both sides led to a position of Queen and Bishop vs. Queen and two pawns, and Lei Tingjie was not about to give up the draw. Playing an unbelievable 114 moves (again, after yesterday’s round!) team USA was the last board to finish in the women’s section yet again. The draw was never in doubt, and an important 2-2 split for team USA.
Team USA is currently third place, and a win tomorrow against second seed Ukraine would guarantee a medal. However, with the Muzychuk sisters, Ushenina and Zhukova, that is a tough task ahead!
The Open section saw the much awaited match up of Levon Aronian vs. Fabiano Caruana finish in a lifeless draw, a success for our team with the black pieces.
Wesley So put some pressure on Gabriel Sargissian, but the Armenian proved to be too solid.
Our win came on the third board:
Grandmaster Sam Shankland. Photo David Llada
After seeing this result, Ray Robson accepted that his game was not going anywhere, took the draw and with that the important victory.
With these results team USA plays for the gold medal against China. Tomorrow the round starts 4 hours earlier than usual, at 11 am Batumi time, so I recommend you set your alarms. This is for all the marbles!