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Just Short of Podium: Donaldson on World Team Print E-mail
By IM John Donaldson   
December 16, 2013
The US squad in Antalya: Alexander Onischuk, Wesley So, Gata Kamsky, Hikaru Nakamura, John Donaldson, Var Akobian & Ray Robson, Photo Tony Rich of CCSCSL

The recently concluded World Team Championship saw the U.S. entry exceed expectation, but like last year's Olympiad in Istanbul fall just short of the podium.

Seeded just above the middle of the field in the ten team round-robin with an average rating of around 2700 (for the first four boards) we started the tournament with high hopes to medal. Russia was the top seed at 2764, with Ukraine on 2718 and defending champion Armenia at 2717. The depth of the field can be seen in eight-seeded Azerbaijan's top four averaging 2630 FIDE.  

The team's finishing place of fourth (on tiebreak for Armenia thanks to superior game points) was a modest success and individually the team performed above its rating.
Collectively the US team picked up 9 rating points.

Varuzhan Akobian won gold as the best reserve player of the competition and Hikaru Nakamura and Alex Onischuk won silver medals on their respective boards. Gata Kamsky was the Ironman of the team playing all nine matches including six times as Black.
Anish Giri vs. Hikaru Nakamura, Photo Tony Rich of CCSCSL

While this was all positive one cannot avoid pointing out the missed opportunities. All three of our losses to China, Armenia and Ukraine were by the minimum amount (1.5-2.5) and in each match taking back one or two moves could have led to a won or drawn match.

In particular one cannot help but believe that if the match with Ukraine had been played any round but the first we would have won as Varuzhan was easily beating his opponent and Gata had a simple draw. The team arrived two full days before the event but with a eight to ten hour time difference this was not enough to completely adjust to the time difference.
This match also witnessed an incident on board one as Ukrainian first board Vassily Ivanchuk quit keeping score around move 30 with two minutes on his clock. This was a no-no as the time control was 40 moves in 100 minutes with a 30 second increment per move. A condition of this time control is the players must keep score at all times.  The arbiter for each match is supposed to immediately ask a player to write their moves if they fall behind. Failure to comply can result in penalties leading up to forfeiting the game.

Unfortunately the game Ivanchuk-Nakamura led to an awkward situation as the arbiter was observing other games when Ivanchuk stopped recording and by the time he was asked to update his score he refused - understandable as being forced to enter eight move pairs with two minutes on his clock was not where he wanted to focus his attention.
Vassily Ivanchuk, Photo Tony Rich of CCSCSL

The incident was resolved when the players made the time control and agreed to a draw, but a similar situation occurred in round two in the game Li Chao - Ivanchuk when the latter again failed to keep his scoresheet up to date. This time the arbiter was quicker to take action but the the only response he got from Vassily was an outburst which showed what a rich language Russian is for conveying strong feelings. The situation was only resolved when the Ukrainian team captain Alexander Sulypa stepped in and had Ivanchuk update his score to avert a possible forfeit.

Needless to say the arbiter's job in this situation was not an easy one.  Like everyone else they would much prefer that issues be settled over the board. It doesn't make things any easier that the eccentric Ivanchuk is one of the great players of our time with many fans who appreciate his amazing understanding of the game. There is absolutely no indication that his behavior was intentionally aimed at distracting his opponent but clearly both players have to compete on a level playing field.

Ray Robson, the youngest member of the team, provided much of the excitement both good and bad. He started with a bang beating Nikita Vitiugov (2740) of Russia with Black in a very sharp game.

This was the highlight of the event for Ray and for us as a team as we beat Russia 3-1. This was the biggest score the US has beaten Russia by in a rivalry in team competitions going back to 1952. The US team was out rated by over 100 points on the two bottom boards both they came through big time.

The last five games Ray played were impacted by serious time pressure where he was playing on the increment by move twenty five (i.e. he had 30 seconds a move). Sometimes he was able to battle his way through (a key win over Azerbaijan) but in other matches (against China and Turkey) he self destructed.  Time pressure is often a result of lack of recent practice and this fall Ray did not play much because of his studies at Webster University. When he is on Ray can beat very strong players (i..e. Volikitin in the first round of the 2013 World Cup and his victory over Vitiugov). Expect a big rating jump for Ray when he gets this problem under control.

The team was strengthened by the addition of Wesley So as team coach. Having the 2700-rated So, also a student at Webster University, as an opening specialist, was a real help. The U.S. was not the only team to have well-known names as coaches or captains as Azerbaijan had former FIDE world champion Alexander Khalifman, Germany employed both Konstantin Sakaev and Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu, while Russia took no shortcuts bringing along Yury Dokhoian, Alexander Motylev and Vladimir Potkin.
A joyous Russian team, Photo Tony Rich of CCSCSL

The win by Russia ended a drought going back to January 2010 when they won the World Team Championship. Since then they had fallen short in two Olympiads, two European team championships and one World team - this despite being the top-rated team in each competition. Needless to say they were extremely happy to win and during the close ceremony they tossed captain Dokhoian repeatedly into the air. It probably didn't hurt that the entire team, including coaches and captain, received $50,000 a piece!

Former World Champ Vladimir Kramnik,  Photo Tony Rich of CCSCSL
It was a pleasure to once again have Tony Rich of the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis onsite. He not only assisted Jennifer Shahade in keeping USCF members up to date with photos and color but also served as a helpful assistant to the players on several occasions. The U.S. team was sponsored by the U.S. Chess Federation and the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis. The team is very grateful for their support.