- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Little Country That Could did it again as tiny Armenia on Sunday won its third gold medal in the past four years, nipping mighty Russia on tiebreaks after the two chess powerhouses finished 9-1-1 at the 40th biennial Olympiad in Istanbul.

Armenian GM Levon Aronian proved stalwart again on Board 1, but it was fellow GM Sergei Movsesian who provided the critical point in Sunday’s final round in the 2½-1½ win over Hungary to clinch the gold medal. The Chinese men, who could have captured their country’s first gold medal ever, instead took a 3-1 pounding at the hands of Ukraine, with veteran Ukrainian star Vassily Ivanchuk scoring a 28-move brilliancy over Chinese top board Wang Hao to extinguish China’s hopes.

The U.S. team — GMs Hikaru Nakamura, Gata Kamsky, Alex Onischuk, Varuzhan Akobian and team rookie Ray Robson — fell just short of the bronze medal claimed by the Ukrainians, but the Americans had a big role in the final standings. Paced by wins from Nakamura and Kamsky, the U.S. handed Russia its only loss of the tournament in Round 9, but then lost a heartbreaker to China 2½-1½ in the penultimate round when Onischuk could not hold a drawn ending.

The Russian women scored a mild upset to take the gold over favored China, using a 4-0 wipeout of Kazakhstan in the final round to vault to the top of the podium. The American women finished in a tie for seventh, hurt by disappointing losses to Vietnam and bronze medal-winning Ukraine, though U.S. No. 2 seed IM Irina Krush scored 8½-1½ in her 10 games for one of the best individual performances of the event.

It’s long, but Nakamura’s amazing win over Russian former world champion Vladimir Kramnik was one of the most talked about games from the Olympiad. After a pretty sleepy opening, Kramnik plays the early maneuvering of the middle game with uncharacteristic sloppiness, perhaps putting too much faith in the exchange sacrifice 27. Nd2 Rxc5!? 28. dxc5 Qc8 29. Nd2 Qxc5 to hold the balance. But Black really gets into trouble after 31. h5 g5? 32. h6! Bxh6 33. Qh5 Bg7 (Kg7?? 34. Ng4 wins on the spot) 34. Qxg5 Nc6 35. Ng4, and Black is scrambling to cover up.

The queen trade only underscores White’s material advantage, but Kramnik finds ingenious ways to complicate matters with 37. … a5 38. axb5 Bxb5 39. Rxa7 d3 40. Rxe7 d2 41. Rd1 Be2, and even though White’s a rook up, he still has to be careful. The tension only mounts when Black’s e- and f-pawns start rolling down the board.

Nakamura makes it harder than it has to be with 53. Ra5 f4 54. Kf1?!, when 54. Rg5+ Kh7 55. Rxg3 fxg3 56. c7, simplifying down to a bishop and knight endgame mate, would have ended things prosaically. Instead, White has to find a remarkable resource, giving up his last pawn to underpromote to a knight, producing a highly unusual ending: 60. Rxe7 Kxe7 (see diagram) 61. c7! e2 62. c8=N+ Kf6 63. Kxe2, and White will slowly but surely collect the rest of Black pawns.

In the final position, after 80. Nh4, Black can’t prevent mate in the corner after 80. … Bc7 81. Nxf3+ Kh1 Nf2 mate.

Congratulations to FM James Schuyler, who successfully defended his Virginia state title at the 76th Closed State Championship in Glen Allen the weekend of Sept. 1-3.

Schuyler tied with expert Justin Burgess, a former state amateur champ, at 5-1, taking home the champion’s plaque on the basis of superior tiebreaks.

Schuyler become the first Virginia champion to win back-to-back championships since Daniel Miller won three consecutive times from 2003 through 2005.

Finishing in tie for third a half-point back were masters Macon Shibut, Eric Most and Adithya Balasubramanian.

Class B player Gerard Wasserbauer claimed the Under-1800 Virginia Amateur title on tiebreaks over William Stoots and Shreya Shetty, all at 5-1. After a first-round loss, Shetty, rated just 1460, reeled off five straight wins to claim both the Top C prize and the award for top female finisher in the section. Congrats to all.

Nakamura-Kramnik, 40th Olympiad, Istanbul, September 2012

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