Add another gold medal to the U.S. haul this summer.
The U.S. “Dream Team” came through in the clutch to claim the first American gold medal in 40 years at the 42nd Olympiad that concluded Tuesday in Baku, Azerbaijan.
With a 2½-1½ win over Canada in the 11th and final round, the U.S. (9-0-2) edged out Ukraine (10-0-1) on tiebreaks to take the top prize. Top board GM Fabiano Caruana, who did not lose a game in Baku while playing against top-notch competition, led the way with a victory over veteran GM Evgeny Bareev.
Caruana joined with fellow world top ten GMs Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So to head the most powerful U.S. team in decades. GMs Samuel Shankland and Ray Robson also contributed key points in the two-week biennial event.
Ukraine took the silver and the top-rated Russian team settled for bronze. Some 180 teams participated in the Open tournament.
On the women’s side, China claimed its first gold medal in a decade, following three straight silvers — behind Russia — in 2010, 2012 and 2014. Poland took silver and Ukraine the bronze, with the U.S. team, anchored by GM Irina Krush, just off the podium in a six-way tie for fourth.
The Americans put themselves in a prime position to win by defeating Urkaine in their Round 6 pairing, and then using clutch wins by So and Shankland on Boards 3 and 4 to edge Georgia by a 2½-1½ score Monday.
So, playing for the U.S. for the first time after transferring from his native Philippines in 2014, did his part with a key win over young Russian star Ian Nepomniachtchi in Round 8, earning the team a 2-2 tie after GM Ray Robson had been defeated by Russia’s Alexander Grischuk. (It’s also a match-up between one of the longest names in chess and one of the shortest.) So’s win from the Black side of a Giuoco Piano is a positional masterpiece, as Black inexorably wrests the initiative away from his talented opponent to build up a dominating position.
The Giuoco is a good way to sidestep heavily-trafficked Ruy Lopez lines, but by 15. Bxd4 Bxd4 16. cxd4 d5 17. e5, Black has a comfortable equality despite White’s small spatial edge. A key crossroads comes on 22. Nd4 Ne6!? 23. Nxf5 Rxf5 24. Bd3 Rf4, when Black gives up bishop for knight but gets not only the half-open f-file but also good sideways pressure along the fourth rank, where White’s a-pawn proves to be a real weakness.
Black shows good patience as his queen, rooks and knight gradually take over the game: 26. Qd1 Raf8! (the hasty Rxa4?! 27. Rxb7 Qxb7 28. Qxa4 is only equal) 27. Rf3?! (see diagram; 27. Nf3 was better, but Black still has a pull after 27…g5) Qb4! 28. Rxf4 Rxf4 29. Nf3 (b3? Rd4 30. Re2 Nf4 is winning for Black) Qxa4, and the extra pawn and Black’s queenside pawn majority give So a decisive edge.
Black shows fine technique, not giving White even a sniff of counterplay in the final stages: 40. Re3 (Nxd4 Qxd4 41. Qxd4 Rxd4 42. g3 Rd2 43. Ra3 b5 44. b4 Rb2 and wins) Nxf3+ 41. gxf3 Qf5 42. e6 Rxh4, when even a new queen can’t save White after 43. e7 Qh3! 44. e8=Q+ Kh7, and there’s no defense to mate on h1.
On 49. Qb8+ (Qxc6 Qc4+ 50. Qxc4 bxc4 is a trivial endgame win) Kh7 50. Qd6 b4, Black’s king is safe and his pawns are ready to roll; Nepomniachtchi resigned.
Congrats to New Jersey IM Alex Katz, winner of the 48th annual Atlantic Open at the Crystal City Hilton late last month. Katz finished 4½-½, a half-point ahead of a quartet of players including veteran GMs Sergey Kudrin and Michael Rohde. A total of 302 players competed, including 11 titled players.
Nepomniachtchi — So, 42nd Chess Olympiad, Baku, Azerbaijan, September 2016
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. O-O Nf6 5. d3 O-O 6. a4 d6 7. c3 a6 8. h3 Ba7 9. Re1 Ne7 10. d4 Ng6 11. Bd3 c6 12. Be3 Nh5 13. Nbd2 Nhf4 14. Bf1 exd4 15. Bxd4 Bxd4 16. cxd4 d5 17. e5 f6 18. Ra3 fxe5 19. dxe5 a5 20. Qc1 Qe7 21. Rb3 Bf5 22. Nd4 Ne6 23. Nxf5 Rxf5 24. Bd3 Rf4 25. Bxg6 hxg6 26. Qd1 Raf8 27. Rf3 Qb4 28. Rxf4 Rxf4 29. Nf3 Qxa4 30. Qd3 Rf5 31. Qb1 Qf4 32. Qc2 Kh7 33. Re3 Qc4 34. Qd1 Rf4 35. Rc3 Qb4 36. Qc1 a4 37. h4 Kg8 38. Qb1 Qe4 39. Qd1 Nd4 40. Re3 Nxf3+ 41. gxf3 Qf5 42. e6 Rxh4 43. Re4 Rxe4 44. fxe4 Qxe4 45. Qd2 Qxe6 46. Qa5 Qg4+ 47. Kf1 b5 48. Qc7 g5 49. Qb8+ Kh7 50. Qd6 b4 White resigns.
• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.