The Captain’s Report: Donaldson on the Last Round in Tromso
By IM John Donaldson   
August 14, 2014
Gold medal for GM Sam Shankland: Photo Tony Rich
The Olympiad has become such a strong event with so many tough teams that if you want to place well it is imperative to take advantage of any opportunities that present themselves. The US team's failure to do so in the final round cost it a definite top five finish and a possible chance to medal.

No single player was to blame in the match with Azerbaijan which was lost by a score of 1.5-2.5. Gata Kamsky's game on board two with Teimour Radjabov was a solid and correctly played draw but all of the other games featured missed opportunities.

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov had Hikaru Nakamura on the ropes out of the opening and after 33 moves Black found himself a piece down in the ending.

White should be easily winning this ending as Black has only one pawn for the piece but some care is required as his bishop is the wrong color to support the h-pawn. The following moves are quite logical for both sides.

33...g6 34.Ke3 Rb6 35.Bd5 Rf6 36.g4 h6 37.Ke4 Kg7 38.h4 Rf1


There was nothing wrong with the immediate 39.Ke5. This either prepares to bring the king to e8 to attack f7 or prepares to enter a king and pawn ending. The following line indicates a typical winning plan: 39...Rf2 40.Re7 Kf8 41.Kd6 Rf6+ 42.Kd7 Rf2 and now 43.Rxf7+ Rxf7+ 44.Bxf7 Kxf7 45.g5 wins. This is the typical method for winning this ending: White captures twice on f7 and then gains the opposition with his king.
39...Rf2 40.g5??
The last move of the time control with both players in time pressure results in a rare mutual oversight by two of the best players in the world. White was easily winning with 40.Ke5. Two variations on the same theme are 40...Re2+ 41.Kd6 Rf2 42.Rxf7+ and 40...Rf1 41.Re7 Kf8 42.Kd6 Rf6+ 43.Kd7 Rf4 44.Rxf7+.
This a tragedy after all of Hikaru's heroic defense. Black draws with 40...Rf5! The point is that after 41.Rxf7+ Rxf7 42.Bxf7 Kxf7 43.Kd5 Ke7 44.Ke5 he has the resource 44...h5. If 41.gxh6+ Kxh6 42.Bxf7 Black has 42...Rh5 eliminating White's last pawn and heading into a Rook and Bishop versus Rook ending. This ending is often a win for the side with the extra bishop, but not among players of Hikaru's level.
41.hxg5 Re2+ 42.Kd4 1-0


Play might proceed 42...Rf2 43.Rxf7+ Rxf7 44.Bxf7 Kxf7 45.Kd5 winning.

Board three between Rauf Mamedov and Alexander Onischuk was a well-played game but for a pair of mutual oversights that could have substantially altered the course of the match.

The action starts with Black having just blundered with 21...Bd6?? (21...Ned6 22.Nd4 Be8 would have kept White's advantage to a minimum).


Mamedov, a strong tactician, misses the pretty 22.Ng5! with the point that 22..Bxe5 is met by 23.Qxh7+ Kf8 24.Nc5!! with unanswerable threats of Nxe6+ and Nxa6.
22...Nbxd6 23.Rbc1 Bb5 24.Qxc7 Nxc7 25.Nc5 Kf8 26.Nd4 Be8 27.a4 Nf5 28.Nc6 Rxd1+ 29.Rxd1 Rc8 30.Na7 Rb8 31.Nc6 Rc8 32.Na7 Rb8


It's odd that Mamedov didn't force the repetition here with 33.Nc6 as boards 2 and 4 were already drawn and Mamedyarov was winning on board one at this point. His decision to continue could have come back to haunt him. Both players were in time pressure at this point.
33...Rb4 34.g4? Rc4! 35.gxf5 Rxc5 36.fxe6 Nxe6


37.Rb1 was required to protect the trapped knight on a7 against the threat of ...Rc7.
Low on time Alex saw 37...Rc7 38.Nc6 Nc5 39.Bf3 but had a blindspot and missed 39...Nb7 winning a piece.
38.Bd3 Rxa4
38...Nc5 or 38...Nc7 had to be tried. The text looks to be winning material but White has a hidden resource.
39.Rxa6 Rg4+ 40.Kf1 Nc5 41.Be2!
This move just saves White.
41... Rh4 42.Ra5 Nb7 43.Rh5 Ra4 44.Nb5 Bc6 45.f4 ½-½

Sam Shankland was the revelation of the 2014 Olympiad scoring 9 out of 10 for a performance rating of 2831 - good for a gold medal for best performing reserve player in the Olympiad and a rating gain of 22 points (bringing him up to 2646 FIDE).

Sam played the most games of any US player and he showed all-around excellence winning many different types of games from sharp theoretical duels to positional squeezes.

He almost won in the last round.

Sam Shankland - Eltaj Safarli
Tromso (11) 2014

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be3 Ng4 7.Bc1 Nf6 8.f3 Qb6 9.Be2
This move has rarely been played but Sam has some new ideas.
9...Nc6 10.Be3
The most principled choice. White sacrifices a pawn for long term pressure. 
10... Qxb2 11.Na4 Qb4+ 12.c3 Qa5 13.Nxc6 bxc6 14.Nb6 Rb8 15.Nxc8 Rxc8 16.Qb3 Qc7 17.Rb1 Ra8 18.Qb7 Qxb7 19.Rxb7 g6 20.Kf2 Bg7 21.Rhb1 e6 22.Rc7
An alternative was 22.R1b6 0-0 23.Rxc6 but the text is likely stronger.
 22...0-0 23.Rxc6 d5 24.e5 Nd7 25.f4 Rfc8 26.Rxc8+ Rxc8 27.Bd4 f6 


28.Rb7 looks promising at first glance but after 28...fxe5 29.fxe5 Nxe5 30.Rxg7+ Kxg7 31.Bxe5+ Kf7 32.a4 a5 it is not clear how White makes progress.
28...Ra8 29.Bb5 Rxa2+


Natural but 30.Ke1! looks much stronger. The point is that 30...fxe5 (30...Nxe5 may be necessary but after 31.fxe5 fxe5 32.Bf2 Black will have to work very hard to draw the piece down ending.) 31.Bxd7 exd4 32.Bxe6+ Kf8 33.Bxd5 Black no longer has the pinning resource 33...Ra3 as the king is not on e3. After 33...Rc2 34.c4 White should be winning.
30... fxe5 31.Bxd7 exd4 32.Bxe6+ Kf8 33.Rb7 Re2 34.Rf7+ Kg8 35.Bxd5 Re3+ 36.Kf2 Rxc3 37.Rd7+ Kf8 38.g4 Rc2+ 39.Kf3 Rc3+ 40.Ke2

Sam's next event, which starts tomorrow (!) is the very strong Riga Technical University Open which will include Daniel Naroditsky among the participants.

In more bright news for the US, the women's squad swept Argentina 4-0 and finished in 8th place.





China won gold in the Open, while the Russian team earned gold in the women's division.

Find full standings and stats at