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SANDS: Olympian efforts abound on Istanbul’s lower boards
Question of the Day
Just as in the five-ring Olympics where athletes compete in track events and on the ski slopes, many of the competitors and countries that show up at the biennial chess Olympiad arrive knowing they have little hope of earning a medal. Men’s and women’s teams from more than 150 countries took part in the recent 40th Olympiad in Istanbul, which once again was dominated by the globe’s long-standing chess powerhouses: Russia, China, Armenia, Ukraine and the U.S.
World-class players from the top teams produced some gripping chess, from Russian former world champ Vladimir Kramnik’s positional masterpiece against Armenian No. 1 Levon Aronian to U.S. star Alex Onischuk’s heartbreaking loss to Chinese GM Ling Diren in Round 10, a defeat that likely cost the Americans a shot at a silver or bronze team medal. Ukrainian GM Vassily Ivanchuk’s smashing 25-move brilliancy against Chinese top board GM Wang Hao in the final round — one of the attacking classics of the year — cleared the way for Armenia to claim its third gold medal in four years, just ahead of the Russians.
But there also was a lot of spirited fighting to be found farther down the wall chart, as lesser-ranked teams battled for pride and position just as fiercely as the top seeds did.
Sweden, ranked 34th going into the event, overachieved with a nice 16th-place finish, capped by a 3-1 win over Brazil in the final round. In the key game of the match, things could have gone either way before Brazilian GM Gilberto Milos suffered a nasty defensive lapse that allowed Swedish opponent GM Pontus Carlsson an instantly winning queen sacrifice.
Carlsson adopts a fashionable QGD Slav line, and the play gets sharp early when Black uses a radical approach to ease the pressure on his center: 11. Bg2 g5!? (a double-edged way to kick the bishop pinning his knight, but the computer not surprisingly likes Carlsson’s idea; also possible was the quieter 11. … f6 12. 0-0 0-0-0) 12. Ne3!? (upping the ante, when 12. Bxe5 [Bxg5?? Nxc4] Nxe5 13. Qd4 f6 was also available) gxf4 13. Nxf5 fxg3 14. hxg3 0-0-0 15. Qc2 Nf6, when White might have been better advised to immediately initiate queenside proceedings with 16. a5.
Since White declines to attack queenside, Black launches his own volley on the kingside, even sacrificing the exchange to crack open the g-file leading to the White king.
Attack and defense are delicately poised as Carlsson throws every piece he has into the assault. White handles himself admirably right up to the very end: 21. Rd1 Re8 22. Qf5! Bh6 (Qh2+ 23. Kf1 Qxh4 24. b4, and it is White who has the initiative) 23. Rd3 Qh2+ 24. Kf1 Rg8 (see diagram). In this rich position, White could have kept the fight going with 25. e4! (apparently forced, as White’s king needs an escape hatch) Be3 (Ne3+?! 26. Rxe3 Qxg2+ 27. Ke2 Bxe3 28. Kxe3 Ng4+ 29. Ke2 and White holds on) 26. Nd1 Bb6 27. Bh3, with a wild perpetual check the result after 27. … Nxf2!? 28. Nxf2 Nxe4! 29. Ng4! (Nxe4?? Rg1 mate; 29. Qxe4?? Qxf2 mate) Qg1+ 30. Ke2 Ng3+ 31. Rxg3 Qxg3 32. Nf6 Qe3+ 33. Kd1 Qd4+ 34. Ke2 Qe3+ 35. Kd1.
Instead, White goes with 25. Qf3??, perhaps banking on 25. … Ne5 26. Qh3 Qf4 27. Rg3 and his position is defensible. Unfortunately, there was a small hole in the Brazilian GM’s plan: 25. … Qh1+!, forcing instant surrender as 26. Bxh1 Nh2+ 27. Ke1 Rg1 is mate.
There was even some intriguing chess worth watching on Board 77 — the second from the bottom of the crosstable — when IM Oliver Mueller of the Braille Chess Association squad tangled with Venezuelan expert Pedro Martinez Reyes, a match won by the blind team 2½-1½. In a classic Sicilian Dragon battle, Mueller as Black allows his queenside to fall by the wayside to keep his fianchettoed Dragon bishop for an all-or-nothing kingside blitz. As in the first game, the gamble plays off when the defense proves inadequate in the face of intense pressure.
Mueller already is down two pawns and his queenside rook finds itself in a precarious place on the kingside when the real fun begins: 24. Ra3 e4 25. h3 (Nc6 Bf6 — to defend the queen fork — 26. h3 looks superficially strong, but things are not so clear-cut after 26. … Rf4 27. a5 Rxf2 28. Qb8+ Kg7 29. Qxd6 Rxc4 30. g4 Qg5! 31. Kxf2 Qd2+ 32. Re2 Bh4+) Bd4 26. Rf1? (Rae3! was the move, as White survives the storm on 26. … Bxe3 27. Rxe3 Rf4 28. Qb8+ Kg7 29. b4 Rxf2 30. Qxd6 [but not 30. Re1? e3 31. Qxd6 Rxg2+! 32. Kxg2 Qf2+ and wins], and his queenside pawns should be decisive) Rf4 27. Nc6 Rxc6!, neatly eliminating the threat of 28. Ne7+. Now Black’s pressure on f2 will prove lethal.
The finale: 28. dxc6 Rxf2 29. Rfa1 (Rf3 Rxf3+ 30. Kh2 Qe5+ 31. g3 Qxg3+ 32. Kh1 Rxf1 mate) Rf1+ 30. Kh2 Be5+, and Martinez Reyes resigned facing 31. Rg3 Bxg3+ 32. Kxg3 Qf4 mate.
Mark Crowther’s indispensable The Week in Chess website, long hosted by the London Chess Center at www.chess.co.uk/twic, is getting a new home on the Web. After 20-some years offering tournament news and hundreds — often thousands — of games every Monday from events mighty and obscure all over the globe, Crowther can now be found at www.theweekinchess.com. If you haven’t visited the site, check it out. It should be every serious player’s home page.
Reyes Martinez-Mueller, 40th Olympiad, Istanbul, September 2012
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About the Author
Raised in Northern Virginia, David R. Sands received an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He worked as a reporter for several Washington-area business publications before joining The Washington Times.
At The Times, Mr. Sands has covered numerous beats, including international trade, banking, politics ...
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