After easy wins in the first two rounds, the U.S. team suffered a painful setback in Round 3 of the 41st biennial Olympiad that got underway late last week in the northern Norwegian city of Tromso.
The American squad lost to a powerful Dutch team 2½-1½ Monday, with GM Alex Onischuk’s win not enough to offset losses by GMs Gata Kamsky and Varuzhan Akobian. The U.S. team still has a chance to rebound with six rounds to go, with 2012 gold medalist Armenia also being upset in the round by France.
The situation was the same on the women’s side. The American women took their first match loss Monday in Round 3 against the top-seeded Chinese team, with American women’s champ Irina Krush falling to women’s world champion GM Hou Yifan in the decisive game.
Because of the pairing system, the first rounds of the Olympiad can be lopsided affairs, with the top teams taking on much less powerful competition. But occasionally a bottom feeder will prove an unexpectedly tough out. With world champion Magnus Carlsen sitting out the first round, Norway’s A team found itself in a dogfight with Yemen, none of whose players crack the 2400 mark. The Norwegians pulled out a 2½-1½ match win, but Yemeni FM Hatim Al-Hadarani managed to defeat GM Kjetil Lie on Board 4, despite a nearly 300-point ratings deficit.
Lie’s Pirc-Modern Defense is an interesting choice for Black, as the lower-rated player has little danger of going too wrong in the opening. In fact, aided by a timely 15 Bb5+! and some shrewd exchanges, Al-Hadarani after 20. g3 Ke7 21. 0-0 obtains a promising position with good play against Black’s weak queenside pawns.
As the much higher-rated player, Lie may have felt compelled to reject White’s offer to repeat moves, but that lands him in hot water when White suddenly switches the play to the kingside: 29. Ne3 Rac8 30. g4! Bxh4 31. gxh5 Rh8? (tougher was 31…Bg5 32. hxg6 fxg6 33. Rxa5 Rxa5 34. Rxa5 Qd7 35. Qg4 Qxg4+ 36. Nxg4 Rb8, though Black is still fighting for the draw) 32. hxg6 fxg6 33. Qg4 (threatening 34. Nf5+) Be7 35. Rxa5 Rc7 (or 34…Rxa5 35. Rxa5 Rh5 36. Qe6 Rg5+ 37. Ng4 Bd8 38. Ra4, and White is winning) 35. Nf5+ Kf7 36. Nxd6+!, and Black’s defense buckles.
The pawns fall one by one after 36… Bxd6 37. Qe6+ Kg7 38. Qxd6 Qc8 (Rh5 39. Qxc7+! Qxc7 40. Ra7 is a won ending) 39. Qxe5+ Kf7 40. Qf4+ Kg7 41. Qxc7+, and Lie resigns a hopeless ending after 41…Qxc7 42. Ra7 Rc8 43. e5 Kf8 44. Rxc7 Rxc7 45. d6 Rd7 46. Kf3.
The first official Olympiad, held in London in 1927, was a decidedly more modest affair, with only 16 teams and only one — Argentina — not from Western Europe.
Denmark won its first and only Olympiad medal that year, finishing second to Hungary. Danish master Holger Norman-Hansen took home a gold medal for best individual performance, tying with English star George Thomas. Norman-Hansen played a nice cut-and-thrust affair with Argentine master Juan Rivarola to help his team capture the silver medal.
White’s 9. Ne5 c6 10. c5 in this Classical QGD grabs space on the queenside but takes the pressure off the Black center, quickly leading to doubled-edged play. Rivarola’s 16. b5 Bh4?! is understandable — the annoying White bishop on g3 is dominating a lot of key squares — but when the trading dies down after 17. bxc6 Bxg3 18. cxb7 Bxh2+ 19. Kxh2 Bxb7 20. g3 Re6 21. Qb3, White’s clearly better bishop gives him a positional edge.
Black rightly seeks to alter the game’s dynamic, and the play grows extra sharp on 23. Rh1 f4!? 24. Bg4 fxg3+ 25. fxg3 Re8, when White could stay on top with 26. Qc2 Rf8 27. Qe2. His 27. Bf5?! lets Black back in the game after 26…Nh4! 27. Bxe4! (gxh4? Qxh4+ 28. Kg2 Qg5+ 29. Kf2 Qxf5+ 30. Ke2 Rf8 leaves Black in charge, while 27. Bxh7+ Kxh7 28. Kg1 g5 29. Qd1 Kh6 30. Rb2 Rg8 31. Rbh2 Be8 is still a battle), when Rivarola should have broken the pin with 27…Kh8 28. Bxd5 Rxe3!, with equality in lines such as 29. Bxc6 Qc7 30. Rbg1 Qxc6 31. Qd5 (gxh4?? Qf3 32. Rg2 Qh3+ 33. Kg1 Re1+ 34. Kf2 Qe3 mate) Nf3+ 32. Kg2 Nxd4 33. Qxc6 Nxc6.
Instead, on the game’s 27…Rxe4? 28. Nxe4 Nf3+ 29. Kg2 Qe7 30. Nd6 Nd2, Black ingeniously recovers the lost exchange, but his position has been badly compromised in the process.
White finds a nice finale after 31. Qd3 Ne4 (sadly, 31… Nxb1?? 32. Qxh7+ Kf8 33. Qh8 mate) 32. Nxe4 dxe4 33. Qb3+ Kh8 34. d5 (White’s material edge is decisive, but the Dane finishes in style) Qf7 (see diagram) 35. Qb8+! (avoiding a last trap: 35. dxc6?? Qf3+ 36. Kh3 Qh5+ 37. Kg2 Qf3+, and White must repeat moves as 38. Kg1?? Qxg3+ 39. Kf1 Rf8+ 40. Ke2 Qf2+ 41. Kd1 Rd8+ 42. Kc1 Qd2 is mate) Rxb8 36. Rxb8+ 37. Rf1 Qg8 38. d6, and Black resigns having no counter to the advance of the pawns after 38…h6 39. c6 Bxc6 40. Rff8 Qxf8 41. Rxf8+ Kh7 42. Rf7 Kg6 43. d7 and wins.
Al-Hadarani - Lie, 41st Olympiad, Tromso, Norway, August 2014