With Division 3 getting underway, the first-ever Online Olympiad looks more and more like a real professional tournament now. True, the teams are not equal but there are virtually no novices in the lineups. On one hand, the competition might have lost a part of its charm, but on another hand, we saw the first encounters between GMs – eleven holders of this title got into a fight.
Pool A saw the match of rating-favorites Singapore – Monaco in the very first round. Although the Singaporeans squared up against the main competitor without its leader GM Kevin Goh Wei Ming, the team scored a confident victory 4.5:1.5. After that result, many thought that the matter was settled and nothing would stop Singapore from taking first place in the group, but it was not to be – the team drew two next matches (3:3 with Ireland and Syria) and currently occupies the fourth position in the standings. Singapore needs a scorer; if IM Liu Xiangyi, who masterfully outplayed Igor Efimov with Black in the first round, play more, things will pick up.
Monaco found itself in a worse situation – after losing to Singapore, the team suffered a defeat in the match with Albania, which made its advancing to the next stage a daunting challenge. On the contrary, Albania won all its matches and appears to be a clear favorite in Pool A. 14-year old Klean Shuqja, playing on the sixth board contributed 3 points to her team.
Team Syria also made a strong case for progressing into the next stage – after the victories over Japan and South Korea, the team did take a very important match point against Singapore. Three pillars Syria lean on are Talal Hilwani (who is formally just a second substitute player), Malek Koniahli, and Manar Khalil dominating junior boards.
The tournament in Pool B was marred by internal conflict in team Nigeria. The players of this country did not play a single game on the first day, although there is a chance that this team, considered to be one of the favorites will get into action. In the absence of one of the strongest African teams the three other favorites – Portugal, IPCA, and Scotland – will most likely qualify. Scotland seems like a weak link in this trio but the team won tough matches against Angola and Sri Lanka and then miraculously escaped vs. IPCA.
Ilia Lipilin – Murad Abdulla
On 121st (!) move, Ilia Lipilin relaxed his vigilance and played 121.h7?? (121.Ke2 was winning easily) and after 121...d1Q+! 122.Rxd1 Kxg7 123.Rd7+ Kh8 lost all his pawns ½:½.
Speaking of the teams that can potentially stir the pot, Tadjikistan is the first squad, that comes to mind. This tenacious team is capable of throwing a curveball.
This arguably the most mysterious pool pleased those who like unpredictable storylines. If suffices to say that Thailand, the lowest-rated team in the group is leading after the first day. Actually, back in Division 4, it became clear that FM Thanadon Kulpruethanon, Prin Laohawirapap, and Sarocha Chuemsakul played much stronger than their ratings suggest – these three won all their games. The key matches are yet to come for the Thai players, but it sounds like this squad can hold its position in the top-3.
The main favorite of this pool, Belgium has not brought together its best lineup yet but the team did not lose a single match point. As we already mentioned in the preview Belgium has some problems with women’s boards, but it should not prevent this team from advancing to Division 2.
The match of another favorite, Jordan against Zambia became an epitome of the unpredictability of this pool. The Zambians, who had lost the first-round match against Thailand due to disconnect in the decisive game, managed to field just four players, but all four won and locked up a victory in the match. If the internet connection does not let Zambia down, this team, which already played all the key matches, can step into the fight for a spot in the top-3. Malta and Lebanon are still to demonstrate what they are capable of.
The Dutch commentators of the official stream GM Roeland Pruijssers and Wouter Bik rightly called this pool a “group of death”. Five teams stand out in terms of average ratings and lineups, but they lost points not only facing each other.
The first key match between “big five” teams Bolivia – Uruguay was played in the first round. With 2.5:1.5 on the scoreboard we saw a dramatic turn of events. After WFM Jessica Molina simply blundered her knight in an endgame with an extra pawn (apparently it was some sort of hallucination) Bolivia found itself on the brink of defeat. Indeed, the leader of Bolivia GM Oswaldo Zambrana had a hopeless position on the first board. Nevertheless, Bolivia managed not just to escape but to win the match. Both Molina and Zambrana got off the hook – naturally with “great help” from their opponents.
This victory became a real confidence boost for the Bolivians, as they won two more matches and finished the Friday session on the top of the leaderboard, ahead of the main favorite of the entire Division 3 team Denmark. The Scandinavian squad conceded one match point in the encounter with another “grandmaster” team – Chile.
Team Jamaica took two points in matches with Chile and Venezuela and somewhat unexpectedly wrestled a spot in the top-5 from Uruguay, which drew its match with Tunisia. The chess leader the country where Reggae music originated, 18-year old Rushawn White (1784) played a brilliant game vs. GM Salinas Herrera (Chile).
Rushawn White – Pablo Salinas Herrera
Here White dealt a crushing 25.Nf5! and then was more precise in the ensuing complications.
Predictably, the heroes of Division 4, teams Mauritania and Mozambique are having a hard time among more experienced teams. Mauritania showed its mettle in the match with Venezuela by scoring three points. Mozambique has been dogged with all sorts of organizational problems – the lineup is far from optimal; the team already lost four games by forfeit.
Virtually all the matches came down to the wire in this very balanced pool. Indeed, only one match out of 15 ended 4.5:1.5. All the teams lost points on the first day; whitewashing in any match is simply out of question.
Probably Mexico, lead by GM Luis Fernando Ibarra Chami, looks slightly stronger than other teams, although the Mexicans did not manage to beat Guatemala. On the other hand, this team prevailed in another key match against Costa-Rica. Costa-Rica, in its turn, won over Guatemala by a narrow margin and now feels optimistic about its tournament future.
Somewhat surprisingly Nicaragua and Barbados are also among the leaders. A strong performance by Nicaragua, the team that looked good in Division 4, was in the cards, but the result shown by Barbados, the lowest-rated squad in this pool came as a bolt out of the blue sky. Barbados already defeated Panama and Honduras and could have escaped in the match with Nicaragua.
It is clear now that any team can beat any opponent in this pool, which means that suspense will be there till the last round, and maybe even the last game.
The tournament resumes on Sunday at 08:00 UTC with three rounds to be played. Will any team secure its spot in Division 2 with one day to spare? We will see.