International Chess Federation
Sunday, 23 Aug 2020 22:24
Online Olympiad: Top Division Round-up

India overthrows China in Group A

As it was expected, the top place in Group A of the Chess Olympiad would only be decided in the very last round, when China and India were scheduled to face each other. 

India beat China by 4-2 in the direct encounter, and thanks to this result India is the first team to qualify directly for the quarter-finals. China advances to the play-off stage. 

The four games on the top four boards ended in a draw, but India proved to be stronger on the under-20 boards, were Praggnanandhaa (pictured above) won against Yan Liu and Deshmukh Divya outplayed Jiner Zhu. Some of the youngest and more promising Grandmasters in the world are from India, and this enormous potential is already starting to show in international competitions. 

The Indian players were especially spurred after the technical difficulties that some of them experienced yesterday when Vidit and Humpy lost their games due to a power failure. This incident deprived the Indian team of a certain victory in a crucial match against Mongolia that could have cost them dearly. But the Indians didn't lose heart and reacted in the best possible way, turning frustration into motivation. Before the decisive victory against China, India had also defeated another two strong opponents: Georgia (4-2) and Germany (4½-1½). 

Germany claimed third place and advanced to the play-off stage, despite collapsing in the last two rounds losing to India and Uzbekistan. Considering that the team could not count on some of its strongest players, making it into the playoff stage in this event is no mean achievement.

Azerbaijan, Hungary, and Ukraine advance to the play-offs 

The most hard-fought and balanced group of the top division was decided by tie-breaks, as the top half of the table ended very tightly packed with five teams within 1-point of the leader. Azerbaijan, with 14 points, took the first place thanks to a strong performance on the final day and impressive total 37 board points out of 54 games. 

Hungary (14) and Ukraine (13) claimed second and third place respectively, and they advance to the playoff, while top-placed Azerbaijan is seeded directly into Quarter-finals.

GM Teymour Radjabov (Azerbaijan)

Kazakhstan and Spain, also with 13 points, had a worse tie-break than Ukraine, so they are out of the Olympiad. Sadly, the event says goodbye to Alexei Shirov, who emerged as one of the stars of the competition scoring 13/15 and exhibiting his characteristic fire-on-board style. 

With such a close finish, exciting was there until the very last minute. But actually, the key clashes happened in the first round of the day, when the top teams had to face each other: Azerbaijan defeated Spain (4-2), Ukraine won against the Netherlands (4½-1½) and Hungary prevailed over Kazakhstan (3½-2½). In the end, these three teams would be the ones to advance to the next stage. 

Ukraine was the top-seeded team in this group, despite the absence of Eljanov and the Muzychuk sisters, but they struggled a little and a last-round defeat against Kazakhstan was not the best possible ending. Ivanchuk did not play for the team in any of the day 3 matches, and it is not known whether he will be part of the line-up for the play-offs.

Russia enters the quarter-finals

Rampant Russia took clear first place in Group B of the Chess Olympiad, five points ahead of second-placed Bulgaria, after winning all nine matches. 

Team Russia played the most difficult match in Round 8 against the always-dangerous Armenia. In this decisive clash, all games ended in a draw except on board 5, where Alexey Sarana defeated Haik Martirosyan to tip the balance in favor of the Russians. 

So far, no other team in all the pools has been as effective and ruthless as Russia. Out of 54 individual games played, they have nicked 43.5 board points, with 37 victories, 13 draws and losing only four games.

Bulgaria's third board, Antoaneta Stefanova

Bulgaria earned a surprising second place, despite being #7 in the initial rankings. The Bulgarians had a tough start suffering a severe defeat in Round 1 against Russia (4½-1½), but they bounced back right after their defeat, beating Armenia in Round 2 and did not look back after that. The team rounded up its solid performance by winning 5-1 against England in the last round. 

Armenia qualified for the play-offs finishing in third place, narrowly edging Romania on tie-break: both teams had 12 match points, but the Armenian players accumulated 37.5 "board points" against 33 by the Romanians. 

It is a bit surprising that one of the most successful nations in chess Olympiads found itself struggling to advance to the next stage. Armenia had finished Saturday's session in second place, and today the team featured its main star Levon Aronian in all three matches, so everything seemed to be on track for them. However, they started the day with a shocking defeat against England (2½:3½), and in the next round bit the dust against Russia, so the situation got a bit worrisome. A 5-1 victory against Egypt in the last round saved the day for the Armenians. 

Romania played a good tournament, but they knew they had to face the "final boss" in the last round, and that's where the team cracked and lost 1½ -4½ despite having winning positions on three boards. As for Croatia, they ended up in 5th place -  winning all their three matches today did not help the team after a disastrous second day.

USA progresses into quarterfinals, Greece and Poland advance to play-offs 

One could say there are no big surprises in Pool D of the Online Chess Olympiad, as three of the top five teams according to the initial ranking took the top three spots: USA, Greece, and Poland. However, the way things unfolded was a bit unexpected. 

The USA won its first six matches in succession, but the third day of play turned out to be much more difficult for them. First, the team lost to Poland in Round 8 then drew against Peru in Round 9. It was unthinkable that the USA could lose the first place, but all of a sudden Greece had caught them in the standings. 

In the match with Poland, the leader of the American team Wesley So suffered his only defeat, against Jan-Krzysztof Duda. Then the veteran Monika Socko scored the second victory for her team downing the young prodigy Carissa Yip. Only Samuel Shankland managed to grab a full point for the US in this match. 

GM Samuel Shankland (USA)

Against Peru, Carissa suffered a second defeat in a row, while Jorge Cori took down Samuel Shankland. The USA only managed to get away with a 3-3 draw thanks to victories in the lower boards: Jeffery Xiong, on board 5, and Annie Wang, on board 6, saved the day for the Americans. After all these troubles, a clear victory in the last round against Canada (5½-½) was enough to secure the USA a ticket to quarterfinals. 

Meantime, Greece was in full flow. The team had an easier schedule compared to the direct rivals, and its main task was to win all three matches, scoring as many board points as possible. Everything went according to the script: first they beat Paraguay (4-2), then Italy (5-1), and finally Brazil (4-2). Greece tied for first place with the USA but finished second due to inferior tiebreaks (game points). The Greeks made a very good impression and they could be the biggest revelation in the playoffs. 

Poland also won all three matches on the last day in Top Division: apart from defeating the USA, they also won against Argentina (2½-3½), and then clobbered Cuba (5½-½). For some reason, Deysi Cori, who had scored 6 out of 7 for her team, didn't play in the last two rounds for team Peru. As a result, Peru did not manage to win the match against Argentina missing a very likely victory and a qualification spot.

Photo: David Llada