U.S. Wins Olympiad!

by admin on September 13, 2016

Did I call it or what?!

You might recall that in yesterday’s post I wrote about the upcoming U.S.-Canada match:

I think the one weak link for Canada is board one. Evgeny Bareev is a strong GM for sure, but board one is a really tough assignment and he has only managed 4½ out of 9. I’ll go out on a limb and say that for the U.S. to win, Fabiano Caruana has to beat Bareev. I don’t feel good about Shankland-Hansen on board four. Yesterday’s hero versus today’s hero. I think Hansen wins. So then it comes down to the middle of the lineup, where I think So beats Lesiege with White, while Nakamura holds Kovalyov to a draw as Black. U.S. wins if Caruana wins, draws if Caruana draws.

Well, that is exactly what happened! Caruana won on board one, Nakamura drew on board two, So won on board three, and Shankland lost on board four. Fortunately, the match was not too suspenseful. Caruana and So won first, and then Nakamura drew to sew up the victory. So Shankland’s loss on board four didn’t seem too important.

Except for the fact that Ukraine was massacring Slovenia on board two. (They eventually won 3½-½.) Even though the U.S. had gone into the round with a big lead over Ukraine on tiebreaks, the large margin of victory for the Ukraine, coupled with the U.S.’s narrow victory, meant that we would have to sweat out the tiebreaks. It would depend on how all of the previous opponents of the U.S. and Ukraine performed. According to a tweet from Hikaru Nakamura, it was a win by Germany’s Matthias Bluebaum over Estonia’s Tarvo Seeman on board 28 (!) that put the U.S. over the top. I don’t know whether this is correct, and in any case I wouldn’t be able to explain why, but in any case it was a mighty tense day.

It seems unfortunate to decide the World Championship on an extremely arcane tiebreak when a much simpler method would have sufficed. The United States won the head-to-head match against Ukraine. Can anyone give me a good reason why that shouldn’t be the #1 tiebreak?

In the other matches mentioned in my last post, Russia beat Italy easily for the bronze. Azerbaijan beat Turkmenistan for the championship of the Caspian Sea. Greece amazingly drew with Hungary for their seventh tie in eleven rounds, and they finished as the only undefeated team aside from the U.S. No, their tie with Hungary was not pre-arranged; two games were draws but two were decisive. Costa Rica beat Nicaragua for the championship of Central America. And Israel beat Bulgaria in the matchup between two teams who were screwed by their own national federations. (In both cases, political reasons caused three of the top players in the country to stay home.)

On the women’s side, China beat Russia 2½-1½ to complete an absolutely dominating performance. They won nine matches and drew two, and finished 3 match points ahead of any other team. Poland and Ukraine tied for second, with Poland taking the silver medals on tiebreaks. The U.S women finished very creditably in sixth place.

Wow, what a tournament! I said it in one of my previous posts, but let me say it again: This is the first time that the United States has ever won an Olympiad in which Russia (or the Soviet Union) has participated. Caruana, Nakamura, So, Shankland, and Robson have etched their names in immortality. And coach John Donaldson, too! Congratulations to all of them.

Addendum (posted 30 minutes later): I just read a fascinating post by Emil Sutovsky on Facebook which explains Nakamura’s tweet. When Ukraine won their match, they actually thought they had won the gold medal. Apparently the result of the Bluebaum-Seeman game had been incorrectly posted (how is this even possible in the days of electronic chessboards??). After that was corrected, the U.S. was ahead in tiebreaks “by a few centimeters,” as Sutovsky puts it. A tragic disappointment for Ukraine, but as I said above, I really think that the U.S. deserves the gold medals because they won their head-to-head match against Ukraine.

Second addendum (posted several hours later): Sutovsky explains that the arbiters signal the result by putting the kings on the color of the player who won. Evidently somebody messed up in the Bluebaum-Seeman game. So even though the computer knew who won, there was confusion among the humans! Absolutely amazing that changing the result of one game on board 28 could have changed the winner of the tournament… and for a few minutes, it actually did lead the wrong team to think they had won.

By the way, there was a consolation prize for Ukraine: They won the Gaprindashvili Cup for the best combined result by the men’s and women’s teams. The United States was #2 and no tiebreaks were needed!

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