|Nakamura Beats Fischer's Record in Istanbul|
|By FM Mike Klein|
|August 31, 2012|
In the last two rounds of the 2012 Chess Olympiad, the two American squads have one win and three tied matches. Candidly, they admitted that even those results required some good fortune. Meanwhile, top player GM Hikaru Nakamura just surpassed GM Bobby Fischer as the all-time highest rated American. His draw yesterday and win today place him at 2786.7, nearly two points clear of Fischer's peak.
The near-horror for the teams began yesterday in round three. While the men were cruising to another dominant result, winning 3.5-0.5 over Venezuela, the women’s team nearly got whitewashed against a young quartet from Uzbekistan. WGMs Sabina Foisor and Rusudan Goletiani both lost, creating an 0-2 hole. Top board IM Anna Zatonskih blundered an exchange in a winning position, and fourth board WGM Tatev Abrahamyan faced the prospect of a passed pawn on her sixth rank, supported by her opponent’s rook.
“At some point, it looked like we would go o-fer,” Captain Michael Khodarkovsky admitted. “It was like a Houdini act.”
Needing to win at all costs to salvage a drawn match, the first eye-opener was Abrahamyan’s opponent capturing back 42. Rxe6. Though capturing with the pawn is not winning by force, white keeps the initiative. Khodarkovsky was looking on but could not explain the move.
A few minutes later, Abrahamyan seized the chance to active her pieces, and the suddenly well-posted knight on e5 became the key piece in a three-mover, which won the game. If instead 47. Rf1 or something simple, Khodarkovsky thought white should hold.
Eventually she used a knight fork to recover the lost material, then chased the enemy king all over the board. Her queen rampaged, making nine of the final 11 moves, racking up pawns along the way. “I had to win twice but unfortunately they only gave me one point.”
“We were a bit lucky and unlucky yesterday,” Zatonskih said.
The result also helped assuage Foisor, whose loss came on her birthday. While trainers and coaches fretted over the results, Tony Rich was out securing celebratory items like cake, balloons and champagne. “It’s very difficult (to get these things) at the store when you don’t speak the language,” Zatonskih said. A “team meeting” was called after dinner, but Foisor entered to see a surprise party in her honor.
Today, things also looked bleak for the women, despite Khodarkovsky pulling out all the stops for his players. After complaints of how bad the coffee is, he took everyone’s order and sent out for Starbucks. “I told them I’ll bring them whatever, just win today,” he said. In the end, he would have to settle for another half-caff kind of day.
Foisor got the day to rest, while the other four women faced Slovenia, led by fast-improving world number two GM Anna Muzychuk.
Zatonskih would play up for the first time, while the other three women – Krush, Goletiani and Abrahamyan, were all reasonable favorites.
Collectively, the Slovenians have had a tough time against the U.S., going 0-4 in their previous Olympiad matchups. They came within a whisker of breaking through today, but again Abrahamyan saved the day.
Zatonskih and Muzychuk have played numerous times in recent years, the most recent being a draw in the European Club Team Championships. Their last Olympiad game was in 2006 when Muzychuk was several hundred ELO points lower; Zatonskih won.
The U.S. leader, playing white, got confused in the opening and got no advantage. She had to instead mark time to get to move 30 in order to offer a draw (as per rule). The dead equal and somewhat boring game was not her intention. “It looks like I just played for a draw,” she said, “but it’s not true. My coach (GM Melikset Khachiyan) told me to play a solid line. She played a different move order (from their last meeting) and I didn’t know what to do after …a6.”
Goletiani then got stuck with her king in the center and fell victim to a brutal attack out of the opening. The U.S. was now in the familiar territory of playing from behind. Krush evened the score by using her unopposed dark-squared bishop to engage the helpless pawns.
That left only Abrahamyan, who for the second round in a row played an early …Bg4 in the King’s Indian Defense, and again got a rotten position. With all of her center pawns being assailed, out of nowhere her few remaining pieces came to life, led by a previously dormant rook landing on the second rank. Abrahamyan nearly pulled out the full point, but even the draw kept her team from another would-be disaster. They now have two wins and two draws for six match points.
Top-rated GM Hikaru Nakamura could not break through the unambitious pawn structure of fellow young talent GM Eduardo Iturrizaga, but GM Alex Onischuk won without issue to clinch the match.
All that was left to decide was the margin of victory, which is quite important given the complicated pairing system. Consider that in round three the Venezuelans were a much lower-rated opponent for the U.S. than other top contenders who also had two wins but fewer game points. One example of several was Ukraine, who had to play Israel in a battle of 2010 medal winners, and only escaped with a win when GM Ruslan Ponomariov upended GM Maxim Rodshtein from a losing position. The pairing system, too complicated for even Deputy Chief Arbiter Carol Jarecki to explain without a printout, is as follows: match points, followed by game points, followed by Buchholz tiebreaks, which are tabulated by multiplying a team’s score versus a particular opponent by that opponent’s current score, and finally dropping the low opponent. The system is so hard to figure that teams cannot offer any pairing complaints as it is too hard to ascertain the process.
GM Gata Kamsky made the victory a resounding 3.5-0.5 by winning a long and interesting endgame, which began with queen for two bishops. In unintentional imitation of Nakamura from the previous round, he also needed two queens to net the point.
After a few hours, it was clear the Indians had the upper hand. Though Nakamura was getting to attack for the first time in the tournament, his teammates were all struggling. “We had one game where we were better and three where we were slightly worse,” Donaldson said.
The Indian team had fared well against the Americans in the early part of the 2000s (playing with GM Viswanathan Anand), winning in 2002 and 2004. But recently the U.S. has dominated them, winning handily in 2008 in Dresden and also in the last two World Team Championships. Both teams now have seven match points.
“We had chances to win and we had chances to lose,” Donaldson said afterward.
The official site for live games and standings is www.chessolympiadistanbul.com (also bookmark the chessresults Olympiad page).