31 August 2020

Faster, Stronger and Faster Yet Again

Dmitry Kryakvin’s report about the qualification stage of the FIDE Online Olympiad

Top Division

One cannot but give an online Olympiad a credit of being a grandiose event at quarantine times. Alas, many national teams (over lack of finances or internal disagreements) have failed to pull together the optimal lineups, but the festive occasion was amazing nonetheless. Top chess countries do not welcome such lineup failures, needless to say. Thus, our players have had no lack of coaches or anything else needed. National teams of countries not so rich in chess traditions were simply over the moon to make it into such an Internet party. I really liked the tweet from one of the players, “There is only one complaint that I have! Why didn't they give a Bermuda party online???" Indeed, with no costs involved for organizers, they could have given it after all...

Time format also proved a success as organizers did without the very unpredictable Swiss system criticized by experts for so many years now. Teams battled it through one division to the next to qualify for stronger competition. Thousands of spectators watched rapid games online commented in real time. At last, there came a stellar moment for leaders of world chess to join the battle.

The main division had teams split into four pools:

Pool A (China, India, Iran, Germany, Georgia, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Mongolia, Indonesia, Zimbabwe),

Pool B (Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Hungary, Spain, Kazakhstan, Netherlands, France, Slovakia, Norway, South Africa)

Pool C (Russia, Armenia, England, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia)

Pool D (USA, Poland, Greece, Cuba, Peru, Italy, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay).

While pool winners qualified directly into quarterfinals, second finishers were to sort things out with third ones from other pools.

The online Olympiad features a spartakiad format, bringing back the memories of Soviet competitions with boards for men, women, a girl, and a boy. With 12 fighters on the roster, the match format permits only (2 men + 2 women + 1 boy + 1 girl). Besides recognized leaders of their countries, a huge number of young talents could participate as well.

So, let’s see what happened in each qualification group.


Pool A. Main Upset

Who could have imagined that anyone but China (in its strongest lineup at that) would win the group? Ding Liren, Yu Yangyi, Bu Xiangzhi, Wei Yi, Hou Yifan, Ju Wenjun, Tan Zhongyi, Lei Tingjie, and their junior players with quite impressive ratings as well. Well, ratings are deceptive since one of the most promising grandmasters in the world, the Indian Praggnanandhaa, started off with Elo 1781. Well, rated rapid tournaments are almost nonexistent in his country, and that's it.

The descendants of chess founders have also put together a powerful line-up (Anand, Harikrishna, Vidit, Koneru, Dronavalli, Nihal, Praggnanandhaa), but it seemed far less solid compared to their main rivals. While the Chinese were taking match after match, Anand's squad drew the formidable Mongols. Sumiya Bilguun, well-known to our website readers from the reports about the rapid tournament in the Buryat datsan, defeated Vidit.

However, round nine came with a crack of thunder as a head-to-head matchup ended in the Celestial Empire going down with a 2:4 score. All games of China’s scorers, both men and women, ended in draws (although Yu and Ju enjoyed substantial advantage at one point), but Praggnanandhaa and the Indian junior Divya their games. However, it was not without drama.

Praggnanandhaa (India) – Liu Yan (China)

White is a pawn down, and after 24...e4! his position is resignable.

24...Bf6?! 25.Ng5 h6? (25...h5!) 26.Nf7! Rf8 27.Bxf6 gxf6, and a resourceful Indian player won back a pawn after 28.Nxh6 Rd7 29.Rg6

With only seconds remaining on his clock, it was clear that Liu had never read Mikhail Shereshevsky's manual "Mastering the Endgame", and White went on to bring the point home. Many Indian players studied the endgame technique in local opens from the games by Alexey Aleksandrov, Shereshevsky’s favorite student.

Zhu Jiner (China) – Divya (India)

After 48.Kd2 Nc5 49.Bc2 White keeps the black passed pawns blockaded, and the opposite-colored bishops ending safeguards him against any troubles. However, Zhu dropped the root pawn.

48.Kd3? Nc5+ 49.Ke3 Na4+ 50.Kf3 Nxb2 51.Ne7 Kd7 52.Nd5 Bd8 53.Nb4 (53.Ne3 Be7 fails to help) 53...a5 54.Nc2 Na4 55.Bf5+ Kd6 56.Ke4 Nxc3+ 57.Kd3 Nd5 and Black won soon after.


There was no lack of other strong teams in the group capable of competing on six boards, but Germany was significantly weakened by the absence of Elisabeth Paetz, who was saving up strength for the playoffs. For some reason, Fridman and Bluebaum played only two games each, but Rasmus Svane and the German “militia” fought so desperately that they made it to the playoffs from the third place!

The Iranian team also had excellent chances for qualification, and, despite last year's loss of Firuzja, still managed to put up an excellent squad (Maghsoodloo, Tabatabai, Ghaem Maghami, Golami, Khademalsharieh, Alinasab). However, they failed against team Germany, and at the finish line went down to team Mongolia.


Wagner (Germany) – Tabatabai (Iran)


40...Qf3+ 41.Rg2 Qf1+ 42.Rg1 Qf3+ was a draw, but the Iranian player keeps fighting for more.


A more precise 41.h3 or 41.Qb1 would have secured the edge.

41...Qf5 42.Rg5 Qe4+ 43.Kg1 Qd4+ 44.Kh1 Nf4??

Incredible! Tabatabai declines the perpetual check after 44...Qe4+ once again, but this bold blunder was so apparent that Wagner could no longer tolerate it and delivered checkmate.

45.Qb1+ Kh8 46.Qf5 (46.Qe1! is a quicker way to succeed) 46...Ra8 47.Qxf4 Qa1+ 48.Bc1 Re8 49.Qxh4#, and team Germany won with a 3.5:2.5 score.

Team Mongolia made a splash: chess in this eastern country is on a rapid rise now; the talented Uzbeks were clearly not so solid on women's boards. Georgia was among the favorites (Jobava, Pantsulaya, Quparadze, Dzagnidze, Khotenashvili, Batsiashvili, Arabidze), but Nana Dzagnidze lost in round one to Khademalsharieh and played no more, Luka Paichadze suffered three defeats in a row at the finish line. Although Nino Batsiashvili scored 7 out of 8, it was a clear case of one soldier not making a battle.

Tournament standings.

1. India – 17 out of 1; 2. China – 16; 3. Germany – 11; 4. Iran – 9; 5. Mongolia; 6. Georgia and 7. Indonesia – with 8 points each; 8. Uzbekistan – 7; 9. Vietnam – 6; 10. Zimbabwe – 0.


Pool B. Situation in the Death Group

Just by looking at the team names before the start of the event, the second group could be rated as a "death group". However, the Hungarian (although it paid off at the end) and the Norwegian (a real pity!) teams played without their leaders, a well-knit team of Kazakhstan fought without Abdumalik and Saduakassova. At the same time, France altogether decided to put up a squad that would have a hard time playing even in some weekend tournament, let alone an online Olympiad. I don’t know what is going on with our colleagues out there, but 2200+ chess players were represented only by Marie Sebag, who was assigned to two (!!!) boards at once, having played three games at one of them.

A strong team from the country of the tulips, headed by Anish Giri on board one, had bad luck by losing several matches with a narrow score and dropping out of a fierce battle for the qualification tickets. Some of that bad luck happened in a way that anyone in the shoes of captain Jeroen Bosch would have had his hair stand up on the back of his neck.


Garcia (Spain) – Roberts (Netherlands)

With both kings in danger and White facing checkmate, 42.Qd7+ Ka6 43.Qa7+ Kb5 44.Qd7+ with perpetual check or 42.Qg5 begs to be played. However, Garcia went all out with:

42.d5??, which fails to the simple 42...Kxc5. However, Black never got around to taking the undefended bishop…

42...Qf4+? 43.Kg1 Re4??

The overdue 43...Kxc5 44.dxe6 Qe3+ 45.Kh1 Ng3+ 46.Kh2 Nf1+ 47.Kh1 Ng3+ would have secured a draw.

44.Bf2 Ne3 45.b7 1–0

Sleight of hand and no fraud!

In the battle of Big Five, there were no clear favorites – Azerbaijan (Mamedyarov, Radjabov, Mamedov, Guseinov, Suleymanli, Asadli, Mamadzada, Mammadova, T. Mamedyarova) took first place even after losing to Ukraine (Ivanchuk, Korobov, V.Onishchuk, Shtembuliak, Shevchenko, Osmak, Buksa, Zhukova, Gaponenko) and Kazakhstan (Dzhumabaev, Kazhgaleyev, Khusnutdinov, Assaubayeva). The Hungarians who finished second (Gledura, Erdos, Banusz, Balog, Hoang Thanh Trang) lost to the Spaniards (Anton, Vallejo, Shirov, Matnadze, Vega), and Alexander Sulypa's trainees overtook the competitors only via additional tiebreakers. It is of interest that the winners, who put up their reserve line-up against the French in the last round, almost paid for taking liberties when Gadir Guseinov lost as White to a talented youngster born in 2006, and team Azerbaijan scored a narrow victory only.

Meanwhile, it should be noted that such a commotion arose largely because the Ukrainians, who walked the distance very powerfully (with only Ivanchuk having a hard time through it), lost the match to Kazakhstan in the last round and, instead of convenient quarterfinals, were paired against China! Suddenly, the wind started blowing into Pavel Kotsur’s trainees' sails from the very beginning when Rustam Khusnutdinov knocked out Vladimir Onischuk. It is curious that during the pandemic your author was among the invited at Rustam's online birthday party this year, and even back then my friend had told me how eager he was to play for the team, which in real life was not always the case for Khusnutdinov.


Onischuk – Khusnutdinov

Black has sacrificed a pawn, and the white king is in danger. Therefore, 21.Qe6+ Qxe6 22.Rxe6 Nf5 23.Bb2 begged to be played in order to quench the opponent’s initiative. Instead, Onischuk continued playing with fire.

21.Bd2?! Qg6 22.Qf3?

To escape with the king 22.Kf1! was the only to go about this position.

22...Nf5 23.Bf4

23.Qxf5+ Qxf5 24.Re8+ Rxe8 25.Nxf5 Rh7 could have stopped the checkmate, but could not have helped save the game since Black should have had no problems converting the exchange.

23...Qh7 24.Kf1, and Black delivered here a cute blow 24…Nfxd4! 25.cxd4 Nxd4 – and there is no stopping the checkmate from h1.


The Ukrainian team fought with all their might – Kirill Shevchenko defeated Denis Makhnev, the rivals exchanged blows in the women's section of the match, and Natalya Buksa literally miraculously escaped from Gulmira Dauletova. However, Anton Korobov could not stand his ground against Rinat Dzhumabaev (which would have brought the team flying the yellow-blue banner at least the second place).


Dzhumabaev – Korobov


It is not clear how White is supposed to improve his position after 62...Be2 63.Kf4 Bd3. Tempted by the f3-pawn, Black lost sight of the opponent’s agile passed pawn.

63.b5 Be2 64.Kg2! Rb1

64...Rxf3 65.b6 Rf1 66.Rc7 Rb1 67.b7 Kh7 68.Ba7 loses, but the text poses no problems for White either.

65.b6 Ba6 66.Ra7 Bc4 67.b7 Kh7 68.Bxf6! d4 (or 68...gxf6 69.b8Q+) 69.Be5 Black resigned.

Tournament standings.

1. Azerbaijan, 2. Hungary – 14 each; 3. Ukraine, 4. Kazakhstan, 5. Spain – 13 each; 6. Netherlands – 9; 7. Slovakia – 8; 8. France – 4; 9. Norway – 2; 10. South Africa - 0.


Pool С. An Easy Walk

The presence of Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco in the same group with the Russian team brought some funny memes on the Internet. Someone recalled the famous story with the Bedouins, others yet argued that the rich football experience gained from the drawing of lots for the Russian team at the World Cup had passed on to this event. I doubt that the dream-team flying the tricolor (Grischuk, Nepomniachtchi, Artemiev, Dubov, Esipenko, Sarana, Lagno, Goryachkina, Kosteniuk, Gunina, Shuvalova, Potapova) could have been kept at bay by heavyweights from other groups – team Russia negotiated the distance without losses and otherwise performed very convincingly. The coaching staff of such a stellar line-up sometimes faces the difficult choice of “who to assign for the match?”, but there happened no failures at the qualifying stage.

Team England had strong men and women players (Adams, McShane, Jones, Howell, Houska, Hunt), but the representatives of Foggy Albion were very much affected by the absence of a new generation ... A powerful team Turkey (Solak, Sanal, Can, Ali Marandi, Atalik, Ozturk, Yildiz) did not perform consistently and, as a result, they lost all key matchups, except for the matchup with team Bulgaria.

However, team Romania (Lupulescu, Parligras, Deac, Bulmaga, Peptan, Cosma) performed very decently, and even Mihaela Sandu contributed with a couple of victories. A real revelation of the pool was the performance of a not very stellar, but balanced Bulgarian team (Delchev, Stefanova, Salimova), which managed to outrank one team Armenia in the final standings. This is what is amazing: the country has been going through a deep chess crisis associated with the wise rule of Silvio Danailov for many years now, Bulgarians cannot play under their flag at any of the ECU tournaments, Topalov plays no longer, Cheparinov and Georgiev change their chess federation, but the team is alive, and a generation of strong girls has grown up (Salimova, Krasteva, Antova, Radeva, Peicheva)! With 5.5 out of 7, Stefanova literally led her team to triumph through the qualification stage.

The main battle in the pool took place in round eight. Trailing behind the Russians over failures against teams Bulgaria and England, team Armenia (Aronian, Sargissian, Melkumyan, Ter-Sahakyan, Martirosyan, Danielian, Mkrtchyan, Sargsyan) only needed a victory.

The Russians were on the offensive – Ian Nepomniachtchi enjoyed an extra pawn against Levon Aronian, but did not convert it, and Polina Shuvalova, having an edge, did not deliver a beautiful tactical blow (which is shown in our position of the day section). Valentina Gunina, on the other hand, managed to salvage something unsalvageable. For a long time, friends have been urging Igor Lysyj and me to write a book dedicated to Gunina’s creative legacy. After all, there are many works by famous authors telling you what to do when you are better in the endgame or middlegame. However, no one instructs you what to do if you are down material, and with only seconds on your clock at that. How are you supposed to score points in situations like this? And only Gunina knows the answer...


Mkrtchian – Gunina

Black is simply down a piece. As much as a piece! This is enough for many to give up, but not for Gunina.

35.Rhd3 (35.Ke2!?) 35...Rxh4 36.Bxe6? (let me modestly add that 36.Bc6 was a winner) 36...Rh1+ 37.Ke2 Rxd1 38.Rxd1 Nd4+!

As simple as that! This is a check and a draw.


Needless to say, Lilith did not dare go for 39.Rxd4 Rxd4 40.Ke3 Rb4 as Gunina could have even won this position.

39...Nc2+ 40.Ke2 Nd4+ 41.Ke1 Nc2+ 42.Ke2 Nd4+ 1/2


As a result, Alexey Sarana defeated Haik Martirosyan in the endgame to bring an overall match victory to Russia. Shortly after, the gossip claimed that a talented Armenian junior would have never lost such a position in Title Tuesday, but let’s better look at another example of high endgame technique from the online European champion.


Sarana – Martirosyan

27.Bb4 Rd8 (27...Bc3! was a safe draw for Black) 28.Rb1 a5?!

Rook endings are known for their drawish tendency, but with bishops (after 28... Bf6) on the board it would have been difficult for White to do away with the d3-pawn.

29.Rxb2 axb4 30.Ke1 Kf7 31.Kd2 Ke6 32.Rb1 Ke5 33.f3 g5!

Martirosyan puts up fierce resistance, but making a draw requires precise play from Black yet.

34.Rc1 Ra8 35.Kxd3 Rxa2 36.Rc4 Rxh2 37.Rxb4 Rh3 38.f4+ Kd5 39.Rb5+ Ke6 40.Rxb6+ Ke7 41.Rb7+ Ke6 42.Rb6+ Ke7 43.Kd4


43...Rxg3 44.fxg5 Rxg5 was an easier way to go; now, White manages to activate the king and put into practice Nimzowitsch's maxim about unleashing the power of the united forces.

44.Ke5 Rxg3 45.Kxf5 Rxe3?! (45...h5!) 46.Kxg4 Rd3 47.b4 Kf7?

It looks like 47...Rd5!, intending 48.b5 h5+ or 48.f5 Rd1, could have still saved the day. Now Sarana’s persistence brings its rewards.

48.b5 Rd5 49.Rb7+ Kg6 50.f5+ Kf6 51.Rb6+ Kf7 52.Kg5 h6+ 53.Kf4 h5 54.Kg5 h4 55.Rb7+ Ke8 56.Kg6

White's king has broken through, and the passed h-pawn is late to the queening square by a tempo.

56…Rd2 57.b6 h3 58.Rh7 h2 59.b7 Rg2+ 60.Kf6 Rb2 61.Rxh2! Rb6+ 62.Kg5 Kf7 63.Rh7+ Black resigned.

Tournament standings.

1. Russia – 18; 2. Bulgaria – 13; 3. Armenia, 4. Romania - 12 points each; 5. Croatia – 11; 6. England – 10; 7. Turkey – 7; 8. Egypt – 5; 9. Morocco – 2; 10. Algeria - 0.


Pool D. Greek Dream

“Have you been looking forward to a sensation? Here it is, the second place is with the Greeks!" the reader might exclaim in bewilderment. However, a number of otherwise strong national teams came forward with clearly experimental lineups.

Even Canada shined only by my colleague Anna Burtasova making her debut for this team. The once mighty Cuba is full of melancholy – after all, not only Leinier Dominguez left for the USA, but Lazaro Bruzon as well! It was hard for Brazil without her strong female players, and for some reason, only Alan Pichot played for Argentina out of all brave grandmasters that this country has.

All in all, many American teams ended up in the lower half of the standings, and the battle for qualification was fought among not the strongest team of USA (So, Xiong, Shankland, Robson, Zatonskih, Abrahamyan, Yip), Poland (Duda, Wojtaszek, Bartel, Gajewski, M. Socko, Zawadzka, Rajlich), Peru (Cordova, H. Cori, D. Cori), Greece (Banikas, D. Mastrovasilis, Halkias, Pavlidis, Tsolakidou, Botsari) and Italy (Vokaturo, Moroni, Dvirnyy, M. Brunello , Zimina, Sedina).

To be honest, I expected the Poles to take first, but already in round three one of the favorites was run over by the Greek phalanx: 2.5: 3.5.


Wojtaszek (Poland) – Banikas (Greece)

White is under fire, and to find the only 37.g4 Qh6 38.Rg1 in time pressure is a hard nut to crack.

37.Rh1? Rxh1 38.Kxh1 Nd4!

This is a crusher! 39.exd4 Re1+ 40.Kg2 Qh6 leads to checkmate, and after

39.Qd1 Nxf3 40.Qxf3 f4 Wojtaszek, down the exchange, could not hold out long.

The first blow was followed by the second as one round later Poland lost again with a narrow score to the Italians, and then drew with Brazil... At that moment, this team’s qualification from the pool even from third place was highly questionable, but the young Polish leader made his word heard.


Duda (Poland) – So (USA)

Instead of 35...Kb6! 36.Re7 (36.Re2 Qd5+) 36...Qd5+ 37.Kh3 Qf5+ with perpetual check, So started by allowing the white bishop into the game, and then gifting his opponent with the few material resources still remaining on the board.

35...Qd2+? 36.Be2 g5? 37.fxg5 Kb6 38.Re7 Nc5

38...Qd5+ 39.Kh3 achieves nothing.

39.Qg7 Rf5

39...Qd5+ 40.Kh3 Rg8 41.Qe5, and White has no problems fending off the offensive.

40.g6 Qd5+ 41.Kh3 Rf2 42.Qe5 Qg2+ 43.Kg4 Nd7

Meanwhile, White’s threats are much more dangerous: 43...Qxh2 44.Qc7#, and it was Duda who went on to get at the opponent’s king first.

44.Rxd7 Rxe2 45.Qc7+ Kc5 46.Qa5+ b5 47.Qa3+ Black resigned.


3.5:2.5 in a battle with a formidable opponent, who practically secured an overall victory in the pool, allowed the Poles to overtake the Peruvians by a point. On the other hand, the Greeks covered the distance with much less nervous turmoil – having lost to the USA 1: 5, they defeated Poland, Peru and Italy, eventually ending up second in the final standings. A young gladiator Nicholas Theodorou shined with 7.5 out of 9!

Tournament standings.

1. USA, 2. Greece – 15 points each; 3. Poland – 13; 4. Peru – 12; 5. Italy – 10; 6. Canada – 7; 7. Brazil; 8. Argentina, 9. Cuba – 5; 10 Paraguay – 2.


P.S. While I was writing these lines, a qualification round finished in which the teams ranked 2nd and 3rd in their pools had battled it out for the quarterfinal tickets. The qualification round consists of 2 matches. In the case of 1:1, the drawing of lots takes place to determine players to fight in Armageddon for the right to advance to the next round. The idea has little to do with determining the strongest, but it is undoubtedly an incredibly spectacular one.

The quarterfinals opponent for the Russian team was determined in the Hungary – Germany contest. Elisabeth Paetz reinforced team Germany, and despite her victory team Hungary still took the upper hand in the first round with a 3.5:2.5 score. However, Paetz scored yet again, and the second round was taken by team Germany with a 3.5:2.5 score. In the Armageddon battle between Tamas Banusz (Hungary) and Dennis Wagner (Germany), White pressed on and Black defended. Time was melting, and with only seconds on the clock, the situation almost got out of control.


Banusz (Hungary) – Wagner (Germany)

White can take the h8-rook, but there followed 38.Qf4+??, at which point Black could simply take the queen. However, the quality of moves mattered no longer since time was of a much higher priority. The hectic of premoves saw 38…Kg7?? 39.Qe5+

Here Banusz ended up on the better side of the first skill in the Olympic triad “faster, higher, stronger”, and his team qualified for a rendezvous with Motylev's trainees.

Even more instructive was Armageddon in the incredible confrontation between China and Ukraine. Both matches ended 3:3, and fate was again to be sealed by the game of death. This time, the drawing of lots pointed to the juniors, and Kirill Shevchenko and Liu Yan met at the virtual board. Kirill, who was a brilliant player at the online Olympiad, played with the white pieces, and it's hard for me to blame him for what happened. What else could he do? When a knight, a bishop and four pawns were left on the board, Shevchenko, who had much more solid experience playing on the Internet than his opponent, went back and forth for 40 moves, creating minor threats. He eventually knocked down the opponent's flag while still having much time on his clock.

Armageddon is not for the faint-hearted, but why was there no time increment after move 60 in the first place? What will happen if the “game of death” happens in the online Olympiad's final, and its participants have to play “rook vs. rook” to win? Will the winners be proud of such a gold medal? Why put athletes in a situation when all is fair?

Fortunately, there happened no incidents in the matches that followed: Poland – Bulgaria (2:0), and Armenia – Greece (2:0). Now, Russia – Hungary, the USA – Ukraine, Azerbaijan – Poland and India – Armenia will meet in the quarterfinals. See you next time on the battlefields of the online Olympiad!