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Costly Penultimate Round for the U.S. in Istanbul Print E-mail
By FM Mike Klein   
September 7, 2012
Photo Tony Rich of STL Chess Club
There are days when the game of chess can seem cruel, and to America’s top players, this was one of them.

Fresh off one of the most memorable wins in team history against Russia, the team looked to continue their march to a top finish. Today, with two games drawn and another headed that way in their match against China, GM Alexander Onischuk unexpectedly slipped in his third board endgame against GM Ding Liren. He failed to hold a rook-and-three versus rook-and-two ending.

His loss gave the match win to China, who now lead the open division along with Russia and Armenia, who also won today to keep pace. Those three teams have 17 match points, Ukraine has 16, while the U.S. has 15.

After defending a worse position for nearly five hours, Onischuk successfully simplified into a theoretically drawn rook and pawn ending. He liquidated all the queenside pawns and looked to do the same on the kingside. Unexpectedly, he invaded with his rook 55…Rh1 instead of going for the famous drawn rook ending of f- and h-pawn. 54…hxg4 or 55…fxg5 would have likely achieved such an endgame.

 “One game…one mistake,” GM Varuzhan Akobian said while watching from the press room.

Onischuk played on a few move moves, then offered his hand to Liren. He got up from his chair, head lowered, and took a walk around the tournament hall.  The loss is exceedingly rare for Onischuk in Olympiad play – this was only his fifth defeat in five years playing for the American squad. Going into the round, he fashioned a 2761 performance rating, third best among all board threes.

Photo Tony Rich of STL Chess Club
While Onischuk made the costliest error, none of the other boards gave any winning chances for the U.S. team. Akobian played white on board four, and though he was outrated, he never was able to truly press. He labored after the continuation 9...Bxc3+. “It was kind of a surprise,” he said. A bit later he spent 30 minutes before deciding to castle. “I had some other possibilities but it would have been risky,” he explained. “I just tried to play it safe. I wanted to play some position where I had a small advantage but no risk to lose. That was the plan.” After the game eclipsed 30 moves, the two players agreed to a draw.

The other white for the team was on board two. GM Gata Kamsky faced the Petroff of GM Wang Yue and essayed the Nimzowitsch Attack, which has been in vogue the last few years. Both players castled queenside, and though Kamsky achieved the bishop pair, there were no weaknesses to exploit.

Meanwhile, on board one, GM Nakamura had black against GM Wang Hao, as he attempted to exorcise the bad head-to-head results suffered this summer in the tournament in Biel, Switzerland. There, Hao won a pair of games from the Nakamura en route to tournament victory, despite promising positions for the American. Today Nakamura played fast and confident out of the opening. After 22 moves, he had five additional minutes on his clock, thanks to the increment. He would have had a few more except for his propensity to walk around after his moves if Hao did not reply immediately.

Eventually the game became a battle of whose rook could gain move activity, and whose passed pawns could advance. No serious advantages were obtained by either player, and their game was drawn too.


For a long time the match seemed headed for a tie. Kamsky’s game was equal and Onischuk battled back from a worse position. But by the time of Onischuk’s mistake, Kamsky was in a position where Yue could force an immediate repetition. Yue looked over at Ding’s board, correctly assessed the position as winning, and repeated rook moves to ensure team victory.

The loss is the first for the Americans. Going into the round, they were one of two remaining teams without a loss (India was also undefeated, but had six draws).

Captain John Donaldson
The US women's team in round ten, Photo Tony Rich of STL Chess Club
was quick to point out that the team has one more match point than they did going into the final round in Khanty-Mansiysk, 2010. They also have the same number of match points after ten rounds as in Dresden, 2008, when they produced an unlikely bronze medal by trouncing the Ukraine. To repeat the heroics of four years ago, they will again need to win big in round 11, and get a lot of help from other federations.

The U.S. Women’s team, almost certainly out of the medal hunt, also had a disappointing day. They tied much lower-seeded Mongolia 2-2. The lone bright spot was WGM Rusudan Goletiani, who achieved her first win since round one with the help of the clever tactic 13. Nxd5! Bxd5 14. Bxd5. If her bishop is captured, then 15. Qg4 simply ends the game, as 15…g6 is punished by 16. Nh6 mate.


Goletiani, Photo Tony Rich of STL Chess Club
IM Irina Krush might like to have another chance at her game. Hers was the first to finish, and she explained that agreed to a draw because she thought the other boards were advantageous enough to produce a match win. She was frustrated that she did not get “anything special” with white against a lower-rated player, and she did not want to risk losing.

But after Goletiani won, WGM Sabina Foisor could not find a way to use her extra pawn, and settled for a draw. Then IM Anna Zatonskih misplayed the middlegame and missed a chance to trap her opponent’s queen. She lost a long struggle which allowed the Mongolians to draw even.

The Americans will try to use tomorrow’s rest day to regroup. The final round begins Sunday at 11 a.m. local time, 4 a.m. on the east coast. The official site for live games and standings is www.chessolympiadistanbul.com (also bookmark the chessresults Olympiad page). 

September - Chess Life Online 2012

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