9 October 2018

A Tough Morning Chess

Vladimir Barsky and Eteri Kublashvili reporting about the Olympiad’s final round in Batumi

Going into the final round, the situation in both sections was absolutely unclear with many medal contenders and key matchups underway. It was also a battle of nerves.

Team Russia won a strong-willed victory over France with a minimum score. Sergey Karjakin made a confident draw with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the Ruy Lopez Berlin. Vitiugov – Bauer was an uneventful draw. The match fate was being sealed on boards two and three.

Ian Nepomniachtchi:

– The morning chess has come as a tough challenge, needless to say. It has not gone well for me here in Batumi in terms of keeping regular hours, honestly speaking. A nearby disco made the room a noisy hell during the first couple of days despite the shut window. I could never fall asleep before 5 a.m. throughout the entire tournament, and the night before the final round I did it only at 4.a.m. I got up at seven to look something up for the game.

My guess about the opening was a good one as we had analyzed this line in detail before the Olympiad. On the other hand, I have not gone over the move order happened in the game because Bacrot has never played it before. In general, however, White’s game with h4 and g4 looks easy. There is a clear-cut plan to stick to, which is all a player might wish for.

I am not a big fan of the morning chess, Etienne seems even a lesser one.

Nepomniachtchi – Bacrot

1.Nf3 d5 2.e3 Nf6 3.c4 e6 4.Nc3 Be7 5.b3 0–0 6.Bb2 c5 7.cxd5 Nxd5 8.h4 b6 9.Qb1



A very committal move to make as giving White a very primitive plan of g4 and g5. I need to check it against book, but in general it is clear that White has an easy game.

10.g4 Bb7 11.Rh3 Nd7 12.g5 h5 13.Bd3 Nb4 14.Bh7+ Kh8 15.Be4 Nd5

Perhaps, Black should have traded on e4 and take it from there, although his position is quite difficult already.




This move just won't do at all. It gives White a choice of winning continuations. Not knowing where to look first, I pulled myself together to have all lines calculated. I seem to have found a clear winning path.

16…Bd6 looks better, but Black's position is dubious already. I may look into 17.Bg6 as likely giving me a forced victory. Alternatively, I may opt for a simple 17.Ng3 Bxg3 18.Rxg3 with a bishop pair and a promising attack to enjoy. Most likely, Black had tougher ways to defend his position, but he had not so much time left on his clock and was not excited about his position at all. It may explain the reason of his quickly going for 16…f5. Not only is it a positional suicide due to 17.Bxd5, but does not work tactically as well.

17.gxf6 N7xf6 18.Ng5 Nxe4 19.Qxe4

I also had 19.Bxg7+, involving a queen sac after 19…Kxg7 20.Nxe6+ Kh6 21.Nxd8 Nxd2 22.Kxd2 Raxd8… Nevertheless, I made up my mind to make do without unnecessary niceties.

19...Bxg5 20.hxg5 Nf4

If 20...Qxg5, then 21.Rg3.


21.Bxg7+ was also an option.

21...Nd3+ 22.Kf1 Nxb2

After 22...Rxf2+ 23.Kg1 the king hides on g1, safely covered by the rook from g3.

23.Rxh5+ Kg8 24.g6 Black resigns.

It was not a smooth tournament for me in general. I have scored +5 (with 5 wins and equally many draws). In a machup with Peru Jorge Cori cynically killed all fighting potential to fix a draw, but in other games I spilled my edge, ranging from +30-35 according to the engine. This, winning against McShane, I decided to play it safe to secure a risk-free victory over England. I was overwhelming against Anand, missing a relatively easy win. It was also the case against teams Italy and Georgia. I am not in a situation to complain a lot, but it was still letting go of too much. This is partly why we finished with tie-breakers interior to those of China and USA. If possible, everything or almost everything should have been won that could have been won. 

The last to finish his game was Vladimir Kramnik, whose position caused certain worries. At the end, however, it was Laurent Fressinet’s turn to exercise caution, which he did, and the game ended in a draw. Despite his fatigue, the 14th world champion agreed to give an interview and take pictures with his fans. 

Vladimir Kramnik: 

– Overall, I am happy about my performance here save for a blunder against Poland. Feeling tired today, I have committed inaccuracies.

We have enjoyed a training session before the Olympiad in an excellent place in Sochi that helped us recharge our inner batteries. With a somewhat underwhelming performance in mid-event, we geared up towards the end with four wins in a row, which means we had enough firepower left to finish the tournament, after all. Everyone feels exhausted, needless to mention. 

We were aiming at the top place, but ended up sharing it and finishing third. Even so, it is a slight improvement over the recent years. Sharing places would somehow always leave us on the backfoot. It has a bitter aftertaste, but we have done our best and put up decent fighting. It was just a piece of bad luck for us.

Picture by Boris Dolmatovsky

Kramnik handled the opening in a very aggressive manner by sending his troops on a kingside raid. It failed to catch Laurent Fressinet off guard as the French GM timely ditched a pawn, upon which his central passer turned into a real powerhouse.

Fressinet – Kramnik

White on move

This is a critical moment of the game. White could still fight for the edge with 32.Rc2 Rc8 33.Rd2 Qa7 34.Qe2 or 32.Rb5 Rf4! (32...Bxf2 33.Rb7 Qf5 34.Qxf5 Rxf5 35.e6) 33.Qc2 Rc8 34.Qe2 looks too risky).

32.Rc6 Qb7!

The most precise rejoinder; however, Black seems to keep his position together after 32...Bxf2 33.Rxg6! hxg6 34.e6 Qd6+ 35.Be5 Qe7 36.Qxg6 Bd4!

33.Rc4 Qxe4 34.Rxe4 Bxf2 35.Ba3 Rf5

Also not losing is 35...Rf4 36.Re2 Ba7, although after 37.e6 Bb8 38.Kg1 Ra4 39.e7 Re8 40.Rd2 Black needs to take committal decisions at every move.

36.Bd6 h5 37.Bd3 h4 38.Rg4

Fressinet has long been in a severe time pressure. More problems were posed by 38.Nxh4! Bxh4 39.Rg4, but here Black holds after 39…Rf4 40.Rxg6 Be7.

38...Bg3+ 39.Kg1


This effective blow completely takes all the heat out of the position.


Or 40.Nxe5 Rxd6 41.Rxh4+ (41.Bxf5 Rd1#) 41...Bxh4 42.Bxf5 Kg8.

40...Rxd3 41.Bxg3 hxg3 42.Rxg3 Kg8 43.Kh2 A draw that has brought victory to our team in the match and the bronze medals in the final standings.

Teams China and USA made a draw and, together with Russia, finished the tournament with 18 match points. Winning on tie-breakers was team China, followed by USA, team Russia closing the top three.  

President of the Russian Chess Federation and chief coach of the Russian men’s team Andrey Filatov: 

– First of all, I would like to remind that it has been the strongest Olympiad in chess history in terms of lineup. Remembering how difficult the tournament was for our team – with a defeat from Poland and a draw with Serbia – I am pleased with the final outcome. Our chess players showed character, and the fact that we have reached the point of sharing points with the winners of the two latest Olympiads is a positive sign in itself.

I want to thank the Russian national teams’ general sponsor – the Federal Grid Company of Unified Energy System (FGC UES) – thanks to which we can hold regular training sessions with the best coaches and in comfortable conditions, as well as the general partner of the Russian Chess Federation, company PhosAgro. And, of course, many thanks go to President of Russia Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin for taking the time to meet our team and wish us success.

In the women's section almost everything was being decided in the last game still in progress. However, let's start from the beginning. The first move in Kosteniuk – Ju Wenjun was made by the newly-elected FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich.

Picture by Boris Dolmatovsky

The Russians started the match against the formidable team China in a very positive manner. Olga Girya and Aleksandra Goryachkina were very quick to achieve big edges as Black, while Alexandra Kosteniuk and Valentina Gunina were enjoying quite comfortable positions. Goryachkina’s effective victory has gifted a diagram to our Position of the Day.

Shen Yang – Goryachkina

Black on move

White willingly opened up the b-file, giving command over this vital traffic artery to her opponent rather than exploiting it herself. However, Aleksandra starts by grabbing space on the kingside first.

27...g5! 28.Bd2

There is no taking the a5-pawn: 28.Nxa5 Bxa5 29.Qxa5 Ra8 30.Qc3 Rxa4.

28...f4 29.gxf4 gxf4 30.h3

For better or worse, White had to put up with playing 30.exf4. It goes without saying that Black is for choice here, having a pleasant choice between 30…Bc7 and 30...e3!?

30...Bc7 31.Kd1 Rb8 32.Kc2?

Allowing to stay in the game yet was 32.Nc1 fxe3 33.fxe3 Ng5.

32...f3 33.Bf1


33...Nxc5! 34.dxc5

The lines are not hard to calculate, mildly speaking: 34.Nxc5 Qb1# or 34.Qxc5 Qxb3+ 35.Kc1 Qb1#.

34...Be5 35.Ba6

Or 35.Qxe5 Qxb3+ 36.Kc1 Qb1#.

35...Qxa6 36.Qxe5 Qd3+ 37.Kc1 Qxb3 38.Qa1 d4! 39.exd4 e3 40.Bxe3 Rb4 41.Rg1 Rc4+ White resigns.

Aleksandra Goryachkina:

– The morning chess is always a challenge. The opponent just went for the line she knew well without preparing anything special for the game. I managed to get a normal, playable and complex position. She has been struggling lately, having lost the previous two games as White and losing yet another one to me. 

As for my performance, it started off to a blurry note, but I geared up afterwards. I am happy about the outcome of the final round as having avenged myself for the previous Olympiad because back then I went down to Tan Zhongyi in the ultimate round. In school terms, I rate my performance here as grade B.  


Lei Tingjie – Girya

Black on move

15...Ba3! 16.bxa3 Nxa3 17.Kd1 Qb1+ 18.Nc1 Nc3+

More precise is 18...Qxc2+ 19.Ke1 Nb1 20.Qe2 Ndc3 21.Bxc3 Qxc1+ 22.Qd1 Qe3+. However, the game saw 19.Bxc3 Qxc2+ 20.Ke1 Qxc1+ 21.Kf2 Qxc3 22.Kg3 Nc2 23.Rb1 Nb4 24.Rhd1 0–0–0 25.a3 Qxa3 26.Ra1 Qb3, and despite the lack of three pawnsWhite managed to patch up his defense and the battled dragged on. As is well known, the longer the fight, the more the chances to go wrong someplace.

The following position arose after 26 moves.

After 52...Qc5! 53.Qd8+ Ka6 54.Qc8+ Ka5 the king shelters from checks and Black wins, but Olga missed the opponent's idea.

52...Ka6 53.f6 gxf6? 54.Rf5! Qb6 55.Qc4+ Kb7 56.Rxf6


It results in White forcing a draw by perpet. Stronger was 56...Qb5, but there is no victory for Black any longer: 57.Qd4! Ra8 58.Rf7+ Ka6 59.Rf5 b2 60.Rxb5 Kxb5 61.Qc4+ Kb6 62.Qb4+ Kc7 63.Qe7+ with a draw.

57.Rf7+ Ka8 58.Rf8+ Kb7 59.Rf7+ Ka8 60.Rf8+ Kb7 61.Rf7+ Draw.

What an annoying mishap indeed! Gunina also made a draw, and the fate of the match, as well as of gold and other Olympic medals in general was being decided in the Kosteniuk - Ju Wenjun game. The current world champion was deftly clinging to the slightest chances and managed to win a pawn as if by sorcery. Nevertheless, the position remained equal almost till the very end of the game. At one point, Alexandra tried to fix a draw by move repetition, but a thorough check on two boards showed that the position was repeated only twice. 

Picture by Boris Dolmatovsky

There gathered a whole crowd around the last and so important game of the Olympiad, including people with cameras. However, Sergei Rublevsky had such a determined and terrible look on his face that no one dared approach Kosteniuk’s table closer than two meters. Alas, in this nervous atmosphere Alexandra caved in to pressure: she decided to activate the knight to try create threats to the opponent’s king, but after that her drawish stance was disrupted. White acknowledged her defeat on move 95th, and additional tiebreakers meant a complete triumph of the Chinese players as they took gold in both sections.

The Russian Chess Federation congratulates the national men's team on winning bronze medals at the Batumi Olympiad! We use this opportunity to express gratitude to the designer Galina Vasilyeva for creating new suits for the women's team. Thanks to the organizers of the Batumi Olympiad for the warm welcome, and we wish good luck to Khanty-Mansiysk in conducting the tournament of nations in two years from now!