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U.S. chess teams off to strong starts in Batumi Olympiad

October 2, 2018

In an event where a single early setback can put a team irretrievably behind the 8-ball, the U.S. open and women’s teams have been taking care of business and are still very much in the running for some medal hardware at the 43rd Chess Olympiad now just past the halfway point in Batumi, Georgia.

The Open team, anchored by world championship candidate GM Fabiano Caruana, won six of its first seven matches, along with a draw to Israel, and is now tied for first with Azerbaijan and Poland through Monday’s play. The women’s team, bolstered by a fine performance from Virginia WGM Jennifer Yu on Board 4, came out of the gate with 5 match points in the first six rounds and, despite a close loss to Armenia on Monday, finds itself in sixth place with four rounds left to play.

Yu has faced progressively tougher tests as the pairings get stronger, but came through with a critical win over Mongolian WGM Tuvshintugs Batchimeg to help clinch a Round 5 match win last week. We pick it up from the diagrammed position, where Yu as Black is struggling mightily to stay in the game Batchimeg’s last move, 46. Be4-b1, leaves Black’s king in a box, her bishop on c8 hanging, her knight on g4 with no escape route, and oh yeah the nasty queen-trapping threat of 47. f4 to deal with.

Black fights back with 47...Qd2 47. Rh4?! (not best 47. Qf3! meets 47...Qg5 with 48. Rh4 Nxe5 49. Bxe5 Qxe5 50. Qf8 Qg7 51. Qxc8, winning) Qd5+! 48. Qf3 (Black has a perpetual on both 48. f3 Qd2+ 49. Kh3 Nf2+ 50. Kh2 Ng4+ and 48. Kf1 Qd1+ 49. Kg2 Qd5+) Rf7!, saving the Black knight.

After 49. Qxd5 (Bxg6+ Kxg6 50. Rxg4+ Kh7 51. Qe4+ Qxe4+ 52. Rxe4 h5, and the opposite-colored bishop ending looks very drawish) exd5 50. f4 Kg7 51. Kf3 h5 52. Rh1 Ra7, Black actually claims a slight edge with her more active rook.

It’s hard to keep one’s balance when the tables have turned, and Batchimeg gives away a whole point after 53. f5?! (Re1 Ra3 54. Bc2 was tougher) Bxf5 54. Bxf5 Rf7 55. e6 Rxf5+ 56. Ke2 Rf2+ 57. Kd3 Rf3+ 58. Kd2 Rf2+ 59. Kd3 Rf3+ 60. Kd4?? (still playing for more, White walks right into a mating net) Nf2! 61. Rf1 (Rh4 g5! 62. Rxh5 Kg6 63. Bc7 [e7 Rd3+ 64. Ke5 Re3+ 65. Kd4 Re4+ 66. Kc3 Kxh5 and wins] Kxh5 64. e7 Rd3+ 65. Ke5 Re3+ 66. Kd6 Kg6 67. Kxc6 Rxe7, winning) Kf6! 62. Be5+ Kxe6, and White resigned facing a hopeless ending after 63. Rxf2 Rxf2.

A heartbreaker for White but the kind of win you need to capture Olympiad gold.

With 185 countries contending, there are all kinds of mini-rivalries playing out in Batumi. One of the fiercest is between Azerbaijan and Armenia, two tiny neighbors and chess powerhouses who have some other, non-chess issues still to work out. Thus it must have been particularly sweet for Azeri GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov to take down fellow super-GM Levon Aronian in their individual encounter, helping Azerbaijan to a 2-1 Round 5 win.

That it was a brilliant game with some world-class tactics makes it all the more satisfying. After some sharp jousting in an Open Ruy Lopez, Mamedyarov as Black sacrifices a pieces for a speculative attack after 22. Qe3 Be4 23. Rd2 Bxg2!? 24. Kxg2 Qg6+ 25. Kf1 (Kh1 Bxh2! 26. f4 [Kxh2 Rh5+] Bg3 keeps the attack alive) Bxh2 26. Re1 Rg5 27. Ke2? (Nc3 Rg1+ 28. Ke2 Rxe1+ 29. Kxe1 Re8 30. Ne4 Qxe4 31. Qxe4 Rxe4+ 32. Kf1 Kg8 is probably a draw) Re8 28. Kd1 Rg1! (Rxe3?? 29. Rd8+ leads to back-rank mate), and White gives back the piece with 29. Be5 Bxe5 30. Rde2 h5 31. Qd3 Qg2.

Material equality has been restored, but Black’s attack rages on. By 40. Kc2 Qh2+ 41. Qxh2 Bxh2 42. Rh3 Be5, Black is two pawns to the good, and by 48. Kf1 f5, White’s queenside is frozen while the Black pawns are ready to roll; Aronian resigned.

Aronian-Mamedyarov, 43rd Olympiad, Batumi, Georgia, September 2018

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Nxe4 6. d4 Be7 7. Re1 b5 8. Rxe4 d5 9. Nxe5 Nxe5 10. Rxe5 bxa4 11. Qe1 f6 12. Re3 c5 13. Qd1 O-O 14. Nc3 Rb8 15. b3 cxd4 16. Qxd4 Bd6 17. Qxd5+ Kh8 18. Rd3 Qe8 19. Bb2 Be5 20. Nxa4 Rb5 21. Qf3 Bb7 22. Qe3 Be4 23. Rd2 Bxg2 24. Kxg2 Qg6+ 25. Kf1 Bxh2 26. Re1 Rg5 27. Ke2 Re8 28. Kd1 Rg1 29. Be5 Bxe5 30. Rde2 h5 31. Qd3 Qg2 32. Nb6 Rxe1+ 33. Rxe1 Qxf2 34. Nd5 Rd8 35. c4 Qxa2 36. Qf3 g6 37. Re3 Kg7 38. Qh3 Qf2 39. Rd3 Qg1+ 40. Kc2 Qh2+ 41. Qxh2 Bxh2 42. Rh3 Be5 43. Kd3 a5 44. Ke4 Kf7 45. Kf3 Rh8 46. Kg2 g5 47. Ne3 Ke6 48. Kf1 f5 White resigns.

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

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