Round 1 Wraps; Round 2 Delay
By FM Mike Klein   
November 14, 2008
The round 1 women's lineup: Tatev Abrahamyan, Katerina Rohonyan, Rusudan Goletiani and Anna Zatonskih.

America faced two close shaves in round one of the Olympiad yesterday. After falling behind 1.5-0.5 to Iceland, the men thawed out as GMs Varuzhan Akobian and Alexander Onischuk both converted their endgames. The women required a brilliant escape by top-board WGM Anna Zantonskih to win their match over Montenegro, 3-1.

Nothing gets easier today as the men’s team faces four GMs from Greece. GM Hikaru Nakamura will see his first action of the Olympiad as he controls board two. Shulman will rest as Team Captain IM John Donaldson goes with his hot players from round one. The women get Israel and for the first time will be an underdog on one board, as Goletiani cedes about 40 ELO points to IM Angela Borsuk. Zatonskih, who had the longest game from round one, will sit. Ed. Note- Please note that today's round will begin at 16:00 local time/10 AM EST, "due to a series of errors from various departments." Tomorrow on November 15, round 3 will start at the usual 15:00.

As round one closed in on the USA, some excitement built in the press room by international journalists and players. Sitting across from me was Gunnar Finnlaugsson who was covering the Icelandic teams. He was later joined by GM Throstur Thorhallson, Iceland’s fifth player who sat out the first round. They pooled resources to follow the rising action – the journalist’s computer and the grandmaster’s knowledge. Together things looked promising for the island nation, though even volcanic rock cools eventually.

“It seemed to me [Gata] Kamsky realized Hannes [Steffansson] was a strong opponent and he was not trying to win,” Thorhallson said after the top board ended in a draw.

GM Yuri Shulman was lost at the time but Onischuk’s position was promising, so it became clear that Akobian’s result would decide the match. His endgame of queen and five pawns versus queen and four pawns was similar to an article published in Chess Life several years ago. As in the story, he correctly placed his kingside pawns on f2-g3-h4, creating a shelter for his king at h2. As long as the queen guards the base pawn, the monarch is inviolate.  His opponent resigned before Akobian’s plan culminated with Qb6 and b5, when the a-pawn will decide.


Onischuk took care of things 20 minutes later to clinch the first-round victory. 


A perturbed Shulman walked around the playing hall afterward to watch games, but his loss means less than in previous Olympiads since match points are paramount in Dresden.

The women’s team finished later and had an even closer call. WGM Rusudan Goletiani bravely marched her king forward in mutual time trouble, then used her pawns in a sort of backward castle, as they protected her wandering king from behind.


Her win and a draw by WGM Katerina Rohonyan left the U.S. in good position, but WFM Tatev Abrahamyan had to defend a worse ending (she did) and Zatonskih had to pull a rabbit out of a hat. Prior to 60. Rb6, a Serbian journalist on my right eagerly anticipated what looked to be a drawn match; three of the four Montenegrin women are of Serbian descent. Even the AP writer began to write his lede in the same fashion. But as soon as our chess engines shouted for the rook sacrifice, Zatonskih found it, and went from a loss to a win with a further bit of fortune.


Check out Mike's first Olympiad update, Let the Games Begin in Dresden, and also bookmark the official website.