Olympiad is Over

by admin on August 14, 2014

The last round of the Chess Olympiad is in the books and, no surprise, China won. They beat Poland, 3-1, making any discussion of tiebreaks academic. As I mentioned in my previous entry, they completed the event with only one loss out of 44 games, a truly dominating performance.

Hungary (the only team to even win a game off the Chinese, although they lost their match) tied Ukraine 2-2 in the last round and won the silver medal on tiebreaks over India, by the narrowest possible margin (½ point). India took the bronze, which was quite impressive given that their best player (Anand) did not play. They demolished Uzbekistan in the last round, 3½-½, which was probably very good for their tiebreak score. Russia and Azerbaijan also were in the four-way tie for second place, but they finished fourth and fifth on tiebreaks. Russia, the highest-rated team as usual, continued their run of disappointing Olympiads, although a run of match victories at the end almost got them on the podium.

The U.S. came a cropper at the finish line, losing to Azerbaijan 2½-1½. I wrote yesterday that Board 4 was the most important, but I was wrong. Hikaru Nakamura lost to Shakhriyar Mamedyarov on board 1, and the other three boards were all draws. Sam Shankland played on fourth board and completed his amazing performance at this tournament with 8 wins and 2 draws. After the tiebreaks were worked out, the Americans were in 14th place.

Other teams of interest? France was tied for first with two rounds to go but then had a brutal finish, having to play China and Russia and losing both matches. Norway, the host, had a very disappointing tournament, finishing 29th in spite of having Magnus Carlsen on board one.

If you’re looking for teams that did well, there were several Western Hemisphere teams that had good tournaments: Cuba in the tie for 6th through 11th; the U.S., Argentina, Peru and Brazil all in the tie for 12th through 23rd places. Also let me give a shout out to Kyrgyzstan, which somehow won seven matches with a FIDE master on board one, an IM on board two, a 2200 player on board 3 and a 2100 player on board four. They finished in 34th, tied with many, many teams like Norway (!), England and Germany that had four GM’s.

Addendum: Shankland won a gold medal for his spectacular performance as alternate; in fact, he had clinched the gold medal with a round to go! He also may have beaten Judit Polgar in her last tournament game, because she surprisingly announced her retirement at this event. (However, as with all retirements, let’s wait and see if this one sticks.) On the downside, he writes on Facebook that he “faltered and drew a much better position in the most critical moment, when we could have a team medal and qualification to the 2015 World Team Championship on the line.” Still, as I wrote last time, we wouldn’t have even been close without him, so I don’t think anybody is going to criticize him!

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One Round to Go

by admin on August 13, 2014

With one round to go in the chess Olympiad, the U.S. is still in contention for… something, and the gold-medal team is in my opinion all but decided. China beat France in round 10, taking over sole first place with 17 points (7 wins, 3 ties). The only team that could pass them is Hungary, which has 16 points (7 wins, 2 ties, one loss). But Hungary already played China and lost to them way back in round three. So Hungary has to rely on the extremely unlikely scenario of Poland beating China, while at the same time Hungary has to beat a very tough Ukraine team.

Here are all the final round matchups that could conceivably matter for the gold medal:

  • China (17) — Poland (15)
  • Hungary (16) — Ukraine (15)
  • Russia (15) — France (15)
  • Azerbaijan (15) — United States (15)
  • India (15) — Uzbekistan (15)

The U.S. won a key match against Argentina in round 10, and once again Sam Shankland was the difference. He was Black in a Slav Defense with an early queen trade — not exactly a recipe for winning — but his opponent played kind of loose with his kingside and never really seemed to know where to put his pieces. On the other side, Shankland was absolutely relentless. His confidence has to be through the roof now, as he has scored 8½ points in 9 games. The U.S. team would not be in contention for anything without him.

One thing is for sure: Even though Shankland is the alternate, in other words the fifth-rated player on a four-person team, he will be playing against Azerbaijan tomorrow. His likely opponent would be Eltaj Safarli, rated 2649. (Sam is 2624.) There are no easy games at this point.

From my experience in team tournaments — admittedly, my experience is only in the ratings-capped U.S. Amateur Team Championship — the fourth board is the most important board. While the big guys battle to a draw on board one, it’s the little guys who decide the match.

Is it too early to think about tiebreaks yet? Probably not. As far as I can tell, the U.S. is out of contention for a silver, unless they absolutely annihilate Azerbaijan by something like 4-0, which isn’t going to happen. The reason is that both Hungary and Ukraine are ahead of the U.S. on tiebreaks and at least one of them is sure to get to 17 points. However, the U.S. definitely has a shot at bronze. The clearest path is for Hungary to beat Ukraine, Russia and France to tie, and India and Uzbekistan to tie, while the U.S. beats Azerbaijan. That would then give us clear third, no tiebreaks needed.

Before I end this post, I should say something about how dominating China has been. It’s not so obvious in the standings, where they are only a point ahead of Hungary. But in the tiebreaks they are miles and miles ahead. Not only have they not lost any matches, they have only lost one GAME in the first 10 rounds. (That was when Wang Yue, their #1 board, lost to Hungary’s #1 Peter Leko in round three. China won the match anyway.) Their three tied matches have all been of the four-draw variety. I suspect that if China had needed to win those matches, they could have done it.

So good luck to Poland, because they’re going to need it. However, I think it’s more likely that we will see four draws in the China-Poland match, which will clinch a gold medal for China.

Just out of curiosity, does anyone know if there has ever been an Olympiad where a team won first place without losing a single game?

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Quick Olympiad Update, Plus Dana’s Solution to World Politics

August 11, 2014

Bobby Fischer can breathe a sigh of relief. If only he were still breathing, that is. Sam Shankland isn’t going to beat his record of 19 consecutive wins, because Sam drew in round nine of the Olympiad. Still a good result for Sam — a draw as Black against a higher-rated player, Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu. The […]

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Only 12 Games Behind Fischer!

August 10, 2014

What do Mathias Ssonko, Martin Martinez, David Gluckman, Aman Hambleton, Guillermo Vazquez, Jahongir Vakhidov, and Judit Polgar have in common? Answer: They are the victims of the juggernaut that has been Sam Shankland at the Chess Olympiad in Tromsø, Norway. After eight rounds of the tournament, Shankland (the alternate for the U.S. team) has a […]

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Rip Van Winkle Returns

August 1, 2014

A few years ago,  Santa Cruz seemed to have more good players hiding in the woodwork than any other city its size. But this week, one of them has come out of hiding in a big way! I refer to James Tarjan, a grandmaster and frequent contender for the U.S. championship in the 1970s who […]

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Impulse Control

July 28, 2014

After my epic fail yesterday against Josiah Stearman… number two 10-year-old in the country Josiah Stearman, that is… I just had to go over the game and see what I did wrong. It’s actually a very complicated question. But let’s get to the position where the game finally, irrevocably became an Epic Fail. FEN: r3qr1k/ppp3Rp/3p3P/3Ppb2/2PnNp2/8/PP2BPP1/R2QK3 […]

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No Fool Like an Old Fool

July 27, 2014

The title is a line from a song you wouldn’t know, by a singer you wouldn’t know. It’s a line that came to mind this afternoon, as I was driving home from my latest tournament, the People’s Tournament. There are some tournaments I often play well in, like the Reno tournaments. And then there are […]

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Training with Shredder

July 23, 2014

Lately I’ve been playing more frequently against the computer program Shredder, with a purpose. After my last tournament I had a feeling that I was not getting enough practice in winning superior positions. In fact, playing against Shredder set at its maximum strength, I was hardly ever even getting a superior position. So I came […]

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Anatomy of a Miracle

July 21, 2014

At yesterday’s chess party at Mike Splane’s house, Bryon Doyle showed one of his two miraculous wins from the recent Sacramento Championship, where he tied for first place with his girlfriend Uyanga Byambaa. (Uyanga was also at the party and showed one of her games.) Bryon said over and over that he was just lucky […]

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The Seventh Samurai

July 12, 2014

Not long ago I wrote here jokingly about the fact that the U.S. has “too many” young players getting IM and GM norms. I hope everyone realizes I wasn’t serious… This is a true golden era of American chess. Today I was browsing the list of the top 100 juniors in the world, and I […]

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