Last Friday, the Chess Olympiad 2018 ended with a stunning final which could hardly have been more exciting.
Unlike several previous Chess Olympiads, we didn’t know who the winner was before the last round, nor did the leading team only have to win against much weaker opposition to secure the title.
In contrast, it was one of the closest Chess Olympiads we’ve ever seen and a rollercoaster experience for the teams at the top. In the final standings, the three teams tied for first all lost 4 points during the event.
After the first half of the event, it looked like Azerbaijan had great chances to win the Chess Olympiad for the first time in history. A few rounds later, suddenly, Poland was about to steal the show from all the predicted favorites. And finally, we saw a China vs USA match in the last round – the two strongest teams paired against each other to decide who would win the gold medal.
Yet, the excitement didn’t end there as the match ended in a draw! With Russia winning their last round match against France, there was a 3-way tie for first place. The Chess Olympiad 2018 was decided on tie-breaks
the end, the tie-breaks favored China who won gold ahead of USA (silver) and Russia (bronze). Congratulations!
A lot has been written already on various chess site’s news sections about the Chess Olympiad 2018 and we don’t to simply provide you with another report mainly based on statistics and numbers. In this final recap of the Chess Olympiad 2018, we want to take a closer look at the highlights from the chessboards.
Highlights Of The Chess Olympiad 2018
The Chess Olympiad 2018 took place as a 11-round Swiss tournament in Batumi, the second largest city of Georgia, from 24 September to 5 October.
The starting rank in the Open Section saw 185 teams from all over the world. The teams started with the top-seeded USA (average rating: 2772 Elo) and ended with the unrated team from the Central African Republic. Each team featured a maximum of five players, with four playing in each round.
Before the event started, there were 5 big favorites – all with an average team rating above 2700 Elo:
- USA: Fabiano Caruana (2827), Wesley So (2776), Hikura Nakamura (2763), Sam Shankland (2722) and Ray Robson (2682)
- Russia: Sergey Karjakin (2760), Ian Nepomniachtchi (2768), Vladimir Kramnik (2779), Nikita Vitiugov (2726) and Dmitry Jakovenko (2747)
- China: Ding Liren (2804), Yu Yangyi (2765), Wei Yi (2742), Bu Xiangzhi (2712) and Li Chao (2708)
- Azerbaijan: Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (2820), Teimour Radjabov (2751), Arkadij Naiditsch (2721), Rauf Mamedov (2699) and Eltaj Safarli (2676)
- India: Viswanathan Anand (2771), Pentala Harikrishna (2743), Vidit Santosh Gujrathi (2710), B. Adhiban (2671) and Krishnan Sasikiran (2666)
Round 4: First Favorites Stumble
The Olympiad started calmly as there were no big surprises until round 4. The top teams did their job and won their matches.
The first clash between two of the top favorites at the Chess Olympiad took place between the USA and India, which ended in a 2,5:1,5 score for the top-seeded USA. While the games on boards 2-4 ended in a draw, a big surprise was Caruana’s smooth 26-move win over Vishy Anand on board 1.
Caruana, Fabiano – Anand, Viswanathan, Batumi 2018, 1:0
Yet, the sensation of the round was undoubtedly Russia’s 1,5:2,5 loss to Poland. Whilst Karjakin and Nepomniachtchi did a good job at the top board by scoring 1,5 points against the two Polish Super-GMs Duda (2739) and Wojtaszek (2727), Kramnik and Jakovenko both lost to their almost 200 points lower-rated opponents.
Tomczak, Jacek (2614)- Kramnik, Vladimir(2779), Batumi 2018, 1:0
In the live commentary, Magnus Carlsen commented on Russia playing without Peter Svidler and Alexander Grischuk:
“They’re not doing themselves any favors this year by excluding two of their strongest players… a luxury that most teams cannot afford. And it may turn out it’s a luxury they cannot afford either.”
Round 5: Mamedyarov’s Winning Streak
In round 5, we were to see more surprising results. Most notably, China lost their match to Czech Republic 1:3. Ding Liren on board 1 and Bu Xiangzhi on board 4 drew their games. However, things went horribly wrong for Yu Yangyi and Wei Yi against their lower rated opponents on the two remaining boards.
Laznicka, Viktor (2662) – Yu, Yangyi (2765), Batumi 2018, 1:0
Team USA could only manage to draw their match with Israel (although Fabiano Caruana played another brilliancy and beat former World Championship Contender Boris Gelfand).
Round 6: Poland and Azerbaijan At The Top
Apart from Azerbaijan and Poland, all the top seeded teams had lost at least 1 point after the first five rounds (see the ranking list on the right).
For Russia and India, things looked especially tough as they were paired against each other in round 6. Both teams had already lost one of their matches which made this pairing even more important. The loser would have a tough time to get back to the top in the remaining 5 rounds.
Yet, the match ended in a relatively unspectacular draw.
In the meantime, Azerbaijan and Poland kept their perfect record. Both teams won their 6th match in a row.
Azerbaijan beat the Czech Republic 3:1 and Mamedyarov won his third game in a row against a 2700+ player.
He first beat Michael Adams in round 4, won a brilliancy against Levon Aronian in round 5 and now outplayed the Czech top player, David Navara. Mamedyarov was on a roll and set a new best live rating of 2826 – only a few points behind Caruana and Carlsen.
The young Polish team managed to beat the experienced team Ukraine with 2,5:1,5 as Jan-Krzysztof Duda beat Ukraine’s Vassily Ivanchuk at the top board.
Duda, Jan-Krzysztof (2739) – Ivanchuk, Vassily (2710), Batumi 2018, 1:0
Round 7: The Calm Before The Storm
The top pairing in round 7, the match between Poland and Azerbaijan, ended peacefully with four draws. Team USA managed to beat Croatia with 3:1 and to catch up with the two leaders.
Closely behind them, Armenia (with Aronian, Sargissian, Melkhumyan and Hovhannisyan) won their 6th match and kept pace with the leaders. But also India, Spain, England, Israel, China, Ukraine, Germany, Czech Republic, Netherlands and France were only two points behind the leading pack (see the ranking list after seven rounds on the right).
With only 4 rounds to go, the scene was set and the tension increased.
This time, the award for the blunder of the round went to Israel’s Boris Gelfand who went horribly wrong in an equal rook endgame.
Navara, David (2740) – Gelfand, Boris (2703), Batumi 2018, 1:0
Round 8: Team USA Grabs The Lead
The 8th round led to many decisive results in the top matches. Most importantly, Team USA beat Azerbaijan after a thrilling fight with 2,5:1,5 and went to the top of the field.
At first, things didn’t seem to go the USA’s way at all. Wesley So quickly lost his game Teimour Radjabov and Hikaru Nakamura, playing White, could only draw his game against Arkadij Naiditsch.
However, Sam Shankland and Fabiano Caruana both managed to convert their better positions against their opponents. The game between Caruana and Mamedyarov was in the spotlight anyway as it was the clash between the world no. 2 and world no. 3 and both players were in excellent shape recently.
Caruana, Fabiano (2827) – Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar (2820), Batumi 2018, 1:0
With this win over Mamedyarov, Caruana not only secured his team a highly important victory but he also came within 4.5 rating points of Carlsen’s no. 1 spot.
Round 9: Fire On Board
Round 9 was probably one of the most surprising and entertaining rounds of the whole Chess Olympiad 2018. India lost to Armenia 1,5:2,5, China beat Azerbaijan 2,5:1,5 and – even more surprisingly – Poland won against the USA with 2,5:1,5 which blew the race for the title wide open.
USA was the clear favorite against Poland, but the young Polish team managed to get three draws and one victory by Kacper Piorun over Hikaru Nakamura.
Piorun, Kacper (2612) – Nakamura, Hikaru (2763), Batumi 2018, 1:0
Round 10: The Favorites Strike Back
In round 10, the initial favorites finally lived up to their expectations and did their job in the top matches. China won against Poland with 3:1, USA beat Armenia with 2,5:1,5 and Russia took down England with 2,5:1,5.
Ding, Liren (2804) – Duda, Jan-Krzysztof (2738), 1:0
Round 11: A China vs USA Showdown
The results of the first ten rounds allowed chess fans to watch a thrilling final round with mouthwatering pairings at the top (see the ranking list after 10 rounds on the right).
The biggest match ahead was undoubtedly China – the winners of the Chess Olympiad 2014 – against USA – the winners of the Chess Olympiad 2016.
Both teams led the ranking list with 17/20 points. A win by either team would have guaranteed gold. Behind them, several teams had the chance to win medals. Poland, France and Russia could have potentially won gold medals if they won their matches, China and USA drew their match and they had the best tiebreak after 11 rounds.
That said, the USA vs China match wasn’t a simple “All-or-Nothing-Match”. The cost of defeat was very high where the loser could have even ended up without a medal at all.
That’s why both teams approached the match rather solidly and sooner than later, all four games ended in a draw. This gave Poland, France and Russia the chance to catch up with the leaders. While Poland only managed to draw their match against India, France and Russia were playing against each other.
Ian Nepomniachtchi, the Russian board 2, finally became the man of the match by playing a variation which the Russian team had worked out during a training camp before the event and winning his game against Etienne Bacrot with ease.
Nepomniachtchi, Ian (2768) – Bacrot, Etienne (2678), Batumi 2018 1:0
Conclusion – Chess Olympiad 2018
Russia won their match 2,5:1,5 which led to a 3-way tie at the top of the Chess Olympiad 2018. China, USA and Russia were tied with 18/22 points and the decision went into tiebreaks which finally favored China (gold) ahead of USA (silver) and Russia (bronze). The strong young Polish team only ended in 4th place, even thouh they beat the USA and Russia and had played the top eight seeds in the last eight rounds.
The prestigous individual board-prizes went to the following players:
- Board 1: Ding, Liren (5,5/8 – Rating Performance: 2873)
- Board 2: Nguyen, Ngoc Truong Son (8,5/10 – Rating Performance: 2804)
- Board 3: Cori, Jorge (7,5/8 – Rating Performance: 2925)
- Board 4: Fridman, Daniel (7,5/9 – Rating Performance: 2814)
- Board 5: Korobov, Anton (6,5/8 – Rating Performance: 2773)
Become A Local Chess Champion
Winning the Chess Olympiad is an extremely impressive accomplishment which only few chess players achieve in their career. Still, every journey of a thousand miles begins with a first step. Many chess player’s dream is to become the local chess champion – in their club, among friends or even with their team in their district. With a little bit of effective chess training, all this is possible!
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