Yesterday’s complete lack of upsets at the 2018 Chess Olympiad in Batumi gave way to a day of surprises, both on and off the board.
Georgia team three put up an excellent fight today against reigning champions USA, who won by the narrowest of margins. It was Wesley So who brought home the two points, on a day when the playing hall was the location of a marriage proposal.
The second round saw a number of relatively close matchups between teams that had dropped a whole or half-point yesterday. For instance, Georgia—Georgia one, that is; the host country is allowed to bring more teams and they have three—had an average Elo of 2625 today, and faced the young Norwegian team. The Scandinavian powerhouse is playing without Magnus Carlsen and Jon Ludvig Hammer, but still came with an average of 2538 (and held 2-2). Similar scores were turned in by Belarus (2615) vs Australia (2515) and Iceland (2508) vs Latvia (2564).
Georgia’s third team, playing with three 2300s and a high-2400, was paired up against the mighty Americans on top boards. That wasn’t a close contest on paper, but it definitely was on the chessboards: IM Noe Tutisani, FM Nikoloz Petriashvili and FM Nikolozi Kacharava managed to hold GMs Fabiano Caruana, Sam Shankland and Ray Robson to draws.
Georgian chess legend Nona Gaprindashvili shook hands with Fabiano Caruana and made the first move on his board. Thereupon, organizer Zurab Azmaiparashvili (blue shirt, glasses) accidentally started the clock (possibly a habit from his own playing career!), before the chief arbiter had officially started the round. The clock had to be reset, and the arbiter also pushed the pawn back home, but eventually it went back to e4 anyway. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.
USA’s Wesley So didn’t give his opponent a chance though, as he played a wonderful, positional game in the style of a young Anatoly Karpov.
Unbothered by his somewhat struggling teammates, Wesley So played a fine game today. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.
Second-seeded Russia dropped two half-points in its victory over Ireland, with Russian-born grandmaster Alexander Baburin holding Sergey Karjakin to a draw, making use of his decades of experience in the Alekhine Defense. It took Karjakin a few moves in a dead-drawn opposite-colored bishop ending before accepting his fate.
Russia starting its match with Ireland. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.
Armenia had a similar day as the Americans, with three draws and a sole win for Levon Aronian on board one. He is playing 1.e4 more and more these days, where he is also very well booked up in theory!
Slightly speculative sacrifices are also seen regularly in his games lately, and this one was no exception!
Aronian facing a Kan Sicilian! Before a blitz game with Caruana in Paris this year, he hadn’t had this position as White since the year 2000. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.
The aforementioned Norwegians have Aryan Tari playing board one this time, and he won very quickly today against Georgia’s number-two player. (Baadur Jobava was given a rest.) Tari’s 5.a3!? against the Pirc should have been fairly innocuous, but worked very well. The blunder helped too.
This match ended in 2-2. That same result was a much bigger upset in Albania vs Hungary. The usually super-solid Peter Leko, who had rested in the first round, lost to GM Erald Dervishi, who happens to have been born in the same year as his opponent.
The Albanian unleashed some remarkable tactics in a normally quiet 6.Be2 Najdorf. It wasn’t correct, and Leko refuted everything perfectly, built up a winning position but then somehow completely collapsed.
Another top player going down today was David Navara, but his loss didn’t matter much in a match that the Czech Republic won 3-1 vs Tajikistan. His opponent’s name might ring a bell from his victory at the 2016 Eurasian Blitz Cup.
The round also saw Vishy Anand‘s return to Olympiad chess for the first time since 2006. There clearly has been more support from the All India Chess Federation this time, as no fewer than three training sessions were organized to prepare the team.
The India team came well prepared to Batumi. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.
Anand’s young teammate Vidit Gujrathi, who was interviewed by Chess.com (see below), was not the only one impressed with Anand’s opening play against the Austrian theoretician Markus Ragger, in a line that seems to be an Indian speciality.
Chess.com also spoke to Loek van Wely, the eldest member of the Dutch team. He has made a career of ultra-sharp Sicilians, including the odd scary moment where his opponent missed a chance.
Brazilian GM Alexander Fier got a chance to win his game in textbook style. His combination is a classic tactic and one that rarely occurs in an actual game.
There are so many games to choose from at Olympiads that we’re probably missing many more of such interesting moments each day, especially from the lower boards. It was helpful to have Madagascar’s captain Maurice Ashley in the press room for a while and pointing out a nice, final move by his board four, in their match vs Bahrain (2-2).
Batumi Olympiad | Top pairings round 3
|11||56||Bosnia & Herzegovina||6½||4||–||4||7½||Argentina||20|
(Full pairings here.)
The biggest winner of the round in the woman’s section didn’t even play a game today. Despite sitting out, WIM Angela Lopez of Colombia was offered someone’s hand. It wasn’t a draw offer, but rather a marriage offer, from the Indian journalist Niklesh Jain.
The proposal was coordinated by her sister, also a member of the Colombian team, and took place on the floor of the main playing hall minutes before the round began. The engagement comes after 1.5 years of dating, after Jain and Lopez met at a tournament in Barcelona. The 17,000 km between then couldn’t get in the way, and neither could an initial language barrier.
Here’s Jain explaining the offer and the romance:
Is it possible that Colombia could come through for its teammate and really make it a special day with a win over defending champions China? Well, not quite, but the 3-1 loss with two draws was a decent showing.
In fact on the top board, Colombian number-one WIM Melissa Castrillon nearly upstaged the betrothed. Against IM Shen Yang (GM Ju Wenjun sat out for the second round in a row), Castrillon could have won with a diabolical tactic.
While China was able to escape the round with a match win, the top-seeded Russian ladies became the first major victims of an upset. One Olympiad removed from finishing just outside the medals, their chances this time took a hit when they went down against Uzbekistan.
Although team leader GM Alexandra Kosteniuk joined the squad today, the top three Russian boards, all GMs, could only muster a trio of draws. It all came down to board four, where WIM Nodira Nadirjanova took out IM Natalia Pogonina as Black.
With Russia getting blemished in round one, Ukraine had already moved up to the top spot. It also struggled today despite being 400-point favorites on all boards, but managed to avoid the fate of their cross-border rivals. Again three draws, but instead the lone win went the way of the favorites as GM Natalia Zhukova was the only victorious lady over Turkmenistan.
GM Natalia Zhukova already has the Order of Princess Olga II award from her country, but now her teammates might want to pitch in for dinner, too. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.
Zhukova posted photos leading up to the Olympiad of her combining workouts and chess by playing in a plank position, but today her bishops did all the heavy lifting as Black routed the white king.
Although match points are what decided final placement, pairings are done with board points in mind, so anything short of continually going 4-0 will move the favorites off the top board. So which teams have remained untouched at 8-0 so far? The “perfect list” went from 55 teams all the way down to eight teams today: India, Azerbaijan, Vietnam, Romania, Cuba, Turkey, Greece, and Argentina.
Due to the oddities of the pairings procedures, which go by tiebreak (match points, Sonneborn-Berger, game points), none of the octet will face each other in round three.
Team Argentina, one of the few teams to remain perfect after two days. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.
Rebounding today was the U.S. team, which was perfect against Luxembourg. Its loss on board three yesterday had a small benefit: dropping down to the playing hall two, the larger area with much wider hallways. It’s not a real treat to be there of course, since that means you are off the top 30 boards, but they made the most of it today.
Here’s WGM Tatev Abrahamyan winning her second game as Black, and she expects to get black again tomorrow! Good thing she’s got that Chess.com video series on the French to brush up on tonight (her round-one win was indeed a French).
One controversy ensued in the opening minutes of the match. The Georgia one vs Norway match was paused as the Norwegian captain lodged a protest. According to GM Nino Batsiashvili, one of the players on hold, the Norwegians expected a different lineup. They planned for Georgia to employ the same lineup as in round one, where GM Nana Dzagnidze played on top board and IM Lela Javakhishvili on board two.
But that’s not who Georgia brought. Dzagnidze sat out in favor of Javakhishvili to take over board one, and Batsiashvili was to be slotted in at board two (boards three and four were not in dispute as they did remain the same from the previous day). Batsiashvili said the website must not have shown the correct submission of lineup (Chess.com could not verify any previous screenshots and timestamps of the pairings; when the controversy began, Georgia’s intended lineup was showing on chess-results.com).
GM Nino Batsiashvili. While waiting for the ruling, why not pose for a picture? | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.
At around 3:25, Georgia took its seats with Javakhishvili on board one and Batsiashvili on board two as it had wanted. Apparently the complaint was denied, and Georgia went on to win 4-0.
Batumi Olympiad (Women) | Top pairings round 3
(Full pairings here.)
Games via TWIC.
Mike Klein contributed to this report.