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U.S. chess team starts strong in defense of Olympiad gold in Georgia

September 26, 2018

The defending champion U.S. chess squad got off to a nice start Monday as play began for the 43rd Olympiad in Batumi, Georgia, efficiently dispatching an outranked Panama as they pursue a second consecutive gold medal.

Anchored by GM Fabiano Caruana, whose London title match against world champion Magnus Carlsen begins barely a month after the 185-team competition wraps up Oct. 6, the U.S. is the top-seeded team, but can expect a tough challenge from such perennial powers as Russia, Ukraine, China and Armenia. American GM Hikaru Nakamura, a veteran of five Olympiad teams, got a nice start to his sixth with a powerful win over Panamanian IM Jorge Baules.

White seems to get a nice space advantage out of this sharp Nimzo-Indian, but both the computer engines and the subsequent course of play suggest Black has excellent defensive resources and it is Baules’ king which is the one in real danger.

White comes to grief when he tries to force the issue with 19. Qb7? (abandoning the center proves disastrous) 0-0 20. Rd1 bxc4 21. Bc1 Qxe5 22. Rd7, and Nakamura coolly counters with 22...Rcd8. Trading rooks now leaves White down material without any real attacking prospects, but that’s infinitely better than the game’s 23. Rxe7?? and it’s mate in five after 23...Rd1+ 24. Kg2 Nh4+ 25. Kh1 Qe1!, and White resigned as both 26. Bf1 Qxf1! 27. Rxf1 Rxf1 and 26. Rxe1 Rxe1+ 27. Bf1 Rxf1 are mate.

The ninth-seeded U.S. women’s team also fared well out of the blocks Monday, with Virginia WGM Jennifer Yu providing the clinching point in a 3-1 win over Uruguay. We’ll have updates on the action in Batumi online and in this space in the coming weeks.

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Tatar GM Rashid Nezhmetdinov (1912-1974) is a cult figure among attacking players, authoring some of the game’s greatest tactical masterpieces, fantastic moves and concepts that led the great Soviet champion David Bronstein to label him a “virtuoso of combinational chess.”

Some of that spirit seems to have rubbed off on the competitors at the 40th Nezhmetdinov Memorial in the Russian city of Kazan that ended Saturday, judging from the game from the event between Russian IMs Rail Makhmutov and Ilia Iljiushenok. We pick it up from today’s diagrammed position, where Makhmutov as White has just played 24. Bg2-f3 in a bid to trade off one of Black’s key attacking pieces.

Instead, Black responds in true Nezhmetdinovian style with 24...Qh2+ 25. Kf1 Rf7!! (on 25...Nf6?, with 26. Qxg6 or 26. Ke2 threatening 27. Rh1 is fine for White) 26. Bxg4 Qh1+ 27. Ke2 Rxf2+!! 28. Kxf2 Rf8+ 29. Ke2 (lasting a little longer would be 29. Bf5 Rxf5+ 30. Qxf5 Qh2+ 31. Ke1 gxf5 32. Rd8+ Kh7 33. Bc3 Qxg3+ 34. Ke2 Bh6, but Black should win) Qg2+ 30. Kd3 and Makhmutov resigned before Black could administer 30...e4 mate.

Baules-Nakamura, 43rd Olympiad, Batumi, Georgia, September 2018

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Qc2 b6 5. e4 c5 6. e5 cxd4 7. a3 Bxc3+ 8. bxc3 Ng8 9. cxd4 Bb7 10. Nf3 Bxf3 11. gxf3 Nc6 12. Bb2 Nge7 13. Rg1 Rc8 14. Qe4 Nf5 15. Bh3 Nce7 16. d5 b5 17. dxe6 Qa5+ 18. Kf1 dxe6 19. Qb7 O-O 20. Rd1 bxc4 21. Bc1 Qxe5 22. Rd7 Rcd8 23. Rxe7 Rd1+ 24. Kg2 Nh4+ 25. Kh1 Qe1 White resigns.

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email dsands@washingtontimes.com.

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