|Captain's Report: China Wins World Team|
|By IM John Donaldson|
|April 29, 2015|
China, led by world number eleven Ding Liren and
15-year-old Wei Yi, was a deserving winner of the 2015 World Team Championship
held April 18-29 in Tsaghkadzor, Armenia. Ranked number three going into the
competition the defending Olympiad champions scored 15 out a possible 18 match
points. Yi, who earlier this year broke Magnus Carlsen's record by becoming the
youngest player ever to reach 2700 FIDE, had a fantastic score of 7 from 9. |
Impressive as China's performance was they were matched in the early going by Cuba (upset wins over Russia and Armenia) and Ukraine. The latter were still tied with China after the two teams drew in round seven but were upset the next day by the United States and had to settle for silver.
The battle for bronze lasted until the very end with more than half the field still in contention going into the last round. Host Armenia, Olympiad champions in 2006, 2008 and 2012, ended up with a less shiny medal this time around. The top half of the crosstable was completed by Russia and the United States which tied for fourth. The former were undoubtedly disappointed by their performance while the latter, seeded ninth, were quite pleased.
Russia, the defending World Team Champions (Antalya 2013), were shocked in the first two rounds losing to Ukraine and Cuba. The next few days they fought their way back into medal contention only to lose to Armenia in round seven when Gabriel Sargissian won a beautiful game against Sergey Karjakin. This effectively ended Russia's chances to medal.
While the curse that has afflicted the perennial top seeds in Olympiads (no gold medals since 2002) is known, Russia has actually done quite well in World Teams with first place finishes in 2009 and 2013. It's hard to say where things went wrong as Russian fire power was not lacking in Tsaghkadzor - all five members of the team (Grischuk, Karjakin, Tomashevsky, Jakovenko and Vitugov) were rated over 2740. There was good support with two coaches, a captain and doctor. Outwardly team spirit seemed good and the failure was certainly was not for lack of effort.
The United States had two quite different tournaments. The first five rounds saw them in next to last place with only two match points after tough 1.5-2.5 losses to China, Hungary and Armenia that could have easily been drawn with just a bit of luck. The team took solace from its objectively good play in the first half including a 2-2 draw against Russia where US team newcomer Daniel Naroditsky beat Dmitry Jakovenko in a nice game.
The American team's fortunes started to change with a win over an improving Egyptian team with two 2600 players. Then came another victory over always tough Israel, followed by an upset over Ukraine and finally a convincing 3-1 win over Cuba. Yep, that's right, the team won its last four matches. It's also true that Alex Lenderman, who only made it on the team after Hikaru Nakamura, Wesley So, Gata Kamsky and Ray Robson declined, also won four games in a row! This included wins over Emil Sutovsky, Vassily Ivanchuk and Lazaro Bruzon. Alex's 5/7 score, good for a 2818 performance, earned him the gold medal on board two. It was great to see Alex, who doesn't get a lot of international opportunities, take full advantage of his chances.
That is not to say Sam had a bad result. Quite the contrary. He scored 4/9 against 2731 (!) opposition. Only in an event like the World Team, and only on top board could Sam hope to meet such opposition. He undoubtedly learned a lot from this experience and like Alex Lenderman showed that he plays better the stronger the competition. Top board Sam Shankland shared something in common with Alexander Grischuk, Peter Leko, Boris Gelfand and Ruslan Ponomariov in Tsaghkadzor - none of them won a single game despite hard fighting every day.
The team veteran was Alexander Onischuk, who turns 40 this September. Alex has not missed a single Olympiad or World Team competition since 2004 and is always an important asset. His performance in this event, 3 from 7, was not his best but it's telling that his only loss was against Israel in a match we had already clinched. Alex's experience in tough competitions was an invaluable resource on a team that had three young players.
Varuzhan Akobian, playing in the country of his birth, turned in a 2693 performance including a clutch last round win against Cuba.
Var has been an important member of every US Olympiad or World Team since 2006 - either as a coach or player. This time around he also helped the team get adjusted to Armenia showing us the sights and good restaurants in Yerevan a few days prior to the competition.
Daniel Naroditsky made his debut for the US team in Tsaghkadzor following a disappointing performance in the 2015 US Championship which had been preceded by a year and a half of continuous rating improvement which brought him to the sixth highest junior rating (2640) in the world. Daniel showed that his earlier performances were a better indicator of his true strength as he scored 4 out of 7 (2701 performance) including the aforementioned upset over Jakovenko and a key victory over Israeli Grandmaster Evgeny Postny.
Finishing tied for fourth might not seem like a big deal but when you consider the US was out-rated in all its matches except one, in most cases on every single board and often by 50-75 points, to finish with a positive score was a considerable achievement. The US team collectively picked up 31 rating points at the World Team.
This result would not have been possible if not for the hard work and good team spirit of the players and Coach Gregory Kaidanov who stuck together and didn't lose faith after a horrible start.
Many thanks to the US Chess Federation and especially US Zonal President Franc Guadalupe for making possible the US team's participation.
Thanks also to our Armenian hosts, in particular tournament organizer Smbat Lputian, for putting on a wonderful event.
World Team Championship 2015
Rank Team Gam. + = - MP Pts.
1 China 9 6 3 0 15 23
2 Ukraine 9 5 2 2 12 21
3 Armenia 9 5 1 3 11 18
4 Russia 9 4 2 3 10 20½
5 USA 9 4 2 3 10 19½
6 Hungary 9 2 5 2 9 17
7 Israel 9 3 2 4 8 18½
8 Cuba 9 3 1 5 7 16½
9 India 9 3 1 5 7 16
10 Egypt 9 0 1 8 1 10
The Women's World Team Championship ended yesterday in Chengdu, China. Look for FM Alisa Melekhina's wrap-up on CLO early next week.