USA Almost Perfect in Round 3
By FM Mike Klein   
November 16, 2008
The American men face Azerbaijan team, pictured above, in round four.

The eight U.S. team members were nearly perfect Saturday at the Dresden Olympiad, going 7.5-0.5, and the lone draw was partially allowed to  clinch a match. Still, with the men’s group, it was a case where the numbers did not tell the whole truth. Although they won 3.5-0.5 over the huge underdog South African team, there were some nail-biting moments late in the round.

The first result was GM Alexander Onischuk, who continued his impressive start to the Olympiad by winning his third straight game, again in convincing fashion.

Team Captain IM John Donaldson must be pleased that Onischuk’s three Whites have produced three points. Against CM Henry Robert Steel, his logical play led all of his pieces to the center. In what would be an American theme of round three, Onischuk sacrificed his extra exchange by allowing 27…Nb4, but his pieces then flooded the Black king and the game ended six moves later.

The next victory came from GM Varuzhan Akobian, who came back from his long second-round loss to beat IM Johanne Mayedi Mabusela.


Akobian boldly sacrificed a knight for two connected passed pawns, and the South African tried to counter in the center and on the kingside but had to give back a whole rook to stop their advance.

With the team now ahead 2-0, things should have been easy, until a series of events put the match in some doubt. First, GM Yury Shulman had to struggle through a tremendous attack, which CM Daniel Cawdery stirred up by sacrificing the exchange.

Shulman gave back the exchange to stave off mate, but with the position on edge, the clock malfunctioned right before the first time control. It was actually the second clock malfunction of the game – earlier in the round a replacement clock had been employed.

“I had 38 seconds. I’m supposed to have two minutes,” Shulman said after the game. Eventually a third clock was imposed after a delay of about ten minutes. Then, Shulman said, he was given a strange request. “There were like five arbiters there. One of them told me I had to write down the moves when I didn’t even have one move missing.” None of the arbiters were available for questioning after the game, but Donaldson said one of the arbiters eventually settled the situation to his satisfaction. “Still, what are the odds that the only two malfunctioning clocks in the tournament were used on Yury’s game?” he said.

Shulman’s game would not have mattered as much if GM Hikaru Nakamura had an advantage on board one (GM Gata Kamsky sat out in round three). Despite being offered several draws which would have won the match for the Americans, Nakamura soldiered on in an attempt to create counterplay with thrusts like 42…b6 and 55. g4! Sunil Weeramantry, Nakamura’s stepfather and team captain for Sri Lanka, laughed at his progeny’s bravado, but seemed slyly confident.

While all of this was going on, a frustrated Akobian paced the aisles of the tournament hall. “Except for Onischuk everyone is playing nervous,” he said. “I’m very frustrated because we’re not beating these teams the way we are supposed to. If we want to medal we should be crushing these teams.” Akobian was not being blustery; the U.S. was favored by more than 300 points on each board and in fact should have made short work of South Africa.

In the end, the U.S. got its desired result.


Shulman looked worried after 41. Qb3, and, after a long think, decided to try to grab the initiative back with 41…d4!? Cawdery was unsure enough to repeat moves and the perpetual clinched the match. “Qf3 (on move 40) was a good move,” Shulman said, “because it forces my pawn to e4 and then my knight cannot go to d4 or f4. The position is very sharp.”

 Nakamura’s style, to push for wins in equal or slightly worse positions, worked out again, as it often does.


His opponent fell into zugzwang after 70…a5 and the final margin was 3.5-0.5 for the U.S.

The competition will be completely inverted today as the American men face number four seed Azerbaijan, who ceded a tie yesterday to the Netherlands (GM Teimour Radjabov threw the kitchen sink at GM Loek Van Wely, but he ran out of utensils at the end). Donaldson will sit Akobian, but despite the first foray of the top four Americans, they will be outrated on all boards. He said his decision to sit Akobian was based less on their competition and more on timing. Akobian had yet to sit, Shulman has had two Blacks and no Whites, and Onischuk has only played White. “We wanted to give Yury a chance with White,” Donaldson said, “but we trust Yury or Var the same on fourth board.”

Team Captain Michael Khodarkovsky pleasingly announced that the women’s team went 4-0 yesterday, thanks to even more exchange sacrifices. WGM Rusudan Goletiani ran her personal record to 3-0 (her early performance rating is 2640) after her opponent mysteriously sacrificed an exchange. She converted her material advantage without too much trouble. IM Irina Krush won by sacrificing her queen as part of several tactical motifs based on back-rank checkmate. WGM Anna Zatonskih then got in on the action, sacrificing an exchange for two pawns. Her bishops swarmed to grab the point (she is also perfect at 2-0). WGM Katerina Rohonyan finished off the sweep with a rook and pawn endgame conversion.

The perfect round does more for the women’s team’s confidence as anything. Werner Stubenvoll of the Tournament Administration Board explained that total game points is actually the third tiebreak, after a convoluted “Sonneborn System” which weights match points of opponents multiplied by game points of opponents, followed by Buchholz (more commonly known in the U.S. as Solkoff).

The women will again be paired down as they face Moldova today. All four women are favored as Khodarkovsky will try to ride the momentum by again using his top-four lineup. Team Coach GM Gregory Kaidanov said his typical routine is to gather the pairings at 10 p.m. local time, research and write notes on opponents, and then emails his conclusions and suggestions at around 2 a.m. He then reconvenes in the morning to sort through the analysis with the women present. “Sometimes we are preparing right up until 2:00 (an hour before the round),” Kaidanov said.

In other top-level action, Norway shocked China yesterday, 2.5-1.5, while Greece showed its tie against the U.S. was no fluke as they achieved four draws against 7th-seed France. Women’s top seed Russia only managed to draw their match with a Humpy Koneru-less India. The action gets more interesting today with top-ten seeds facing off in both the men’s and women’s draws. On the men’s side, Ukraine plays reigning champion Armenia and the women of Hungary play traditional powerhouse Georgia.

Mike Klein is reporting for CLO and Chess Life Magazine from Dresden. Check out Let the Games Begin in Dresden and USA Stumbles in Round Two. He's also using his sabbatical from his Charlotte chess coaching business to travel the world-and blog about it.