|United States Advances at World Cities Champs|
|By Sevan Muradian|
|December 25, 2012|
After three rounds of play, Team USA advances to the sweet 16 at the World Cities Chess Championships. The tournament, held in Al Ain, UAE, is a 24 team tournament with a round robin preliminary stage, followed by elimination style matches.
The US team was placed in Group E which consisted of the US, Uganda, Iran, and France (which we played in this order as well). 2 teams from each group would advance per group so the US team was a favorite to advance along with France. The question would be which order.
During our first round we played the enthusiastic and energetic Uganda team. The team consisted of highly friendly and talkative FM's and CM's. Akobian, Hungaski, and Finegold made relatively quick work of their opponents bringing us to a 3-0 advantage. We were hoping for a complete shut out of our opponent but their second board was able to hold the veteran GM Ehlvest to a draw. 'I made inaccurate moves a few times, and he was able to capitalize on that with active and accurate play,' said Ehlvest, and Uganda secured their half point. The US walked away 3.5-0.5 after Round 1 while France dispatched Iran.
The second round was a crucial one as a victory over Iran ensured a spot in the final 16 for the US. Iran is not to be underestimated. Prior to the round as GM Akobian was seated at his board, GM Ghaem Maghami (his opponent) came by me. I shook his hand and said to him 'You are my friend but we are going to win the match and on all boards.' He replied back 'but why on all boards?' My response was - 'for better tie breaks with the French'. While we did win the match it wasn't a 4-0 sweep. Ben began feeling ill and locked in a half point to ensure nothing went south by accident. GM Akobian and Maghami followed suit there after. Ehlvest and Hungaski brought home the full point from their boards giving us a 3-1 win and our spot.
But the team didn't sit on their laurels for the third round against France, who is the top seeded team. A win would have put us playing the runner up from another bracket rather being the runner up in our bracket and playing the Dutch team. As Ben was still feeling ill, he locked in his draw and went back to the hotel to rest to collect himself for the next match. Unfortunately for us the night didn't go as well as the others did. Akobian was in severe time pressure and lost the game. Hungaski had his opponent in deep thought and had a significant time advantage (I guess he wasn't expecting a Schliemann at this level of play even though Ivanisevic and Radjabov have played it at this level of competition), but some inaccuracies led to Hungaski losing his first game. Ehlvest had his opponent, GM Fressinet, literally shaking during the game, but the game settled down into a draw, and the US lost the match 3-1.
As a result, France secured 1st place for our group and will play Azerbaijan. Being the runner up in our group pits us against the Dutch team lead by GM Giri (other team members are Sokolov, Tiviakov and Smeets). Sokolov (team captain for the Dutch) and I drew for colors with the US securing white on 1 and 3. The winner of our match will have the high probability (like 99%) to face Russia in the next round!
Since the rounds were starting late at 6pm (as there are prayers at 5:30 pm and the organizers did not want to stop the rounds for practicing Muslims to do prayers) we were able to do see some of the sites in Al-Ain such as the Camel Market (yes they were selling camels) and the Al-Ain shopping mall.
The match versus the Dutch team is at 6pm local time (9am EST, 8am CST, 7am MST, 6am PST).
For more information on the event including live games (15-minute delay in broadcasting) visit http://www.worldcitieschess.com