SPRAGGETT ON CHESS
Old fashion 4-way race for the gold!
Well, it was always a very real possibility! Though Russia had built a seemingly commanding lead for the gold medal by the end of the 8th round, its winning margin in each match was always minimal (plus-1, except for the 3-1 victory over China) and this made the lead somewhat tenuous: one bad day and it could disappear!
And yesterday was a VERY BAD day for Russia as both its top boards (Kramnik and Grischuk) played critical parts of their games like
children beginners against a very determined USA team lead by Nakamura and Kamsky.
Keeping the pressure on Russia’s top boards
Board 3 of this match was quickly drawn and Russia’s 4th board had excellent chances of winning in the ending, which it eventually did win. Kramnik was worse, maybe even much worse, right from the early middlegame and that left all the pressure on Grischuk: if he could draw a slightly worse ending against Kamsky then even with Kramnik losing the match would end 2-2 and team Russia would maintain its lead with just 2 rounds to go.
BUT things did not work well for Grischuk! He achieved a theoretically drawn Rook and Bishop vs Rook ending, but –probably short of time and having to rely on the 30-second increments–Grischuk failed to deliver the necessary half point:
POSITION AFTER 56 MOVES:
Kamsky had just captured a Pawn on g3. The position is drawn with reasonably good play on the defender’s side. You have to keep your Rook active in order to not let Black create any serious mating threats….
The game continued logically for both sides:
57. Re5 Rf2 58. Ke1 Kf4 59. Re8! Ra2 60. Kd1 Kf3
Here moving the White Rook to any of the red-squares keeps the draw within reach.
61. Re7? Rd2! 62. Ke1 Rd8!
Because of his inaccuracy on move 61, Nakamura has the White King in a mating net , against which Grischuk can not defend. The threat is just 63…Bf2-ch followed by a Rook check on the 1st rank.
THE GAME SOON ENDED:
63. Rf7 Bf4 64. Rf6 Rc8! Zugzwang
We will just have to wait and see how much of an impact this unnecessary loss will have on Russia’s ambitions to win the gold. IN ANY CASE, it is just one more reason why the new time controls are ruining the quality of endgames.
As everyone in the tournament hall anticipated, and while Kramnik resisted for a stubborn 80 moves, he could not hold his game against the relentless Nakamura, and as a result the USA wins an historically important match in its race for the gold. So far, the USA has not lost a single match in Istanbul!
Now 4 teams are tied for 1st place: Russia, USA, China and Armenia ! Here are the pairings for the next round (first 20-boards) , which will begin this afternoon:China–finding itself with the most favourable tiebreak of the four leaders , faces off against the USA. Russia takes on a hot Argentina, while a very solid Netherlands plays Armenia. The excitement is palpable! I have no predictions, though I believe the USA –having lost no match up to now–might be the statistical favourite. If I remember correctly, undefeated teams have won more Olympiads than those winners that had lost a match.