Biennial Border Battle
By FM Mike Klein   
November 22, 2008
IM Irina Krush beat the Women's World Champion in round 8.

Although the Cold War has been over for many Olympiads, U.S. versus Russia battles are still followed with a little more interest and a lot more nostalgia than most matches. For the first time in history, the open and women’s teams for the two countries faced off in the same round yesterday (it never happened with the Soviet Union either). Both battled on board number three and their physical placement was as close as is possible given the layout of the two sections. All that was needed was a few fiery speeches, wire-taps and double agents.

Nary a word was spoken across the board as the players took their seats – one of the curious aspects of the “be on time” rule is that competitors have an unusually long time to sit awkwardly before the clocks are started. Call it the “silent summit.” But while the matches may be somewhat more evenly balanced than a quarter century ago, a lot of tension is lacking when 15 of the 16 players involved speak Russian.

Still, the games drew huge crowds and many flashbulbs popped, especially in the board one Kamsky- Svidler battle.


When the U.S. and Russian open teams met in Turin, 2006, Hikaru Nakamura brilliantly beat Alexander Grischuk in the lone decisive result, propelling the Americans to their first victory in the head-to-head battle since the U.S. beat the U.S.S.R. in Dubai, 1986. Prior to Turin, the U.S. had never defeated an independent Russia and had lost to either Russia or the Soviet Union in 1988, 1990, 1992, 1996, 1998 and 2004. This year, both Nakamura and Grischuk moved up from board three to board two, but Grischuk received White this time. Russia avenged their loss in Turin as Grischuk inflicted personal retribution on Nakamura.


In the women’s division, Russia/Soviet Union had never lost to the U.S. The Americans managed a trio of tied matches, the most recent in Turin.

When the tension lifted, the American women earned their first win over Russia in history, with a little help from Canada. WGM Anna Zatonskih took a miserable early pawn structure to victory, and with two draws on the lower boards, all IM Irina Krush had to do was hold off Women’s World Champion GM Alexandra Kosteniuk.


Luckily, Canadian GM Pascal Charbonneau had the round off, so he researched and prepared Krush for the 11. Nxd4, 12. e4 sequence. “Of course I did my best to mess it up after that,” a speed-talking Krush excitedly recounted. She also dismissed 16. Bg5 and Charbonneau concurred. She then embarked on the brave decision to expand on the kingside by opening the long white-squared diagonal with 26. f4. When asked if she saw Kosteniuk’s reply – a failed double-knight sacrifice – Krush said she had seen the basics of the idea a few moves prior. “After (25.) Nd6, all my pieces are really well placed,” she said. “The only plan is to play f4, so I figured I would let her do all the calculations.”

Anna Zatonskih's performance rating in the women's Olympiad (2634) is second only to GM Pia Cramling.  Krush is 7th and Goletiani 20th. In round nine the women face Poland, avoiding the strong Ukrainian women's team another round. Meanwhile, the men face India, sans Anand. 

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