From Baku: Jon Speelman's Agony Column #19

9/14/2016 – As one of England's top players Jon Speelman played in many Olympiads, in Baku he was captain of England's women's team. Of course, the many games played in the Olympiad offer a wealth of material for Speelman's "Agony/Ecstasy Column". But for now he focuses on his compatriots and presents adventures and misadventures of the English teams in Baku.

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Agony Column #19

This week’s “Agony column” is different because I’ve been in Baku as captain of the England women’s team. With permission from my team and our Open one (I gather if I say men’s then I may start a riot but might venture to call it the Open though overwhelmingly male section) I’m reproducing a few interesting moments.

Opening preparation at the top level is an intense affair taking several hours before each game. I gather that Magnus Carlsen has opined that it should be no more than two but this is often exceeded. Most of the time the players will score only glancing blows but there is a palpable hit from time to time and Gawain Jones suffered one in his game against the very strong Indian Vidit Gujrathi.

Vidit Gujrathi (Photo: Pascal Simon)

Vidit plays all sorts of opening lines, but in this case Gawain was waiting for him, only to be astonished by the depth of Vidit’s response.

[Event "42nd Olympiad 2016"] [Site "Baku AZE"] [Date "2016.09.10"] [Round "8.3"] [White "Jones, Gawain C B"] [Black "Vidit, Santosh Gujrathi"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A22"] [WhiteElo "2635"] [BlackElo "2669"] [Annotator "Speelman,Jonathan"] [PlyCount "93"] [EventDate "2016.09.02"] [WhiteTeam "England"] [BlackTeam "India"] [WhiteTeamCountry "ENG"] [BlackTeamCountry "IND"] 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. g3 d5 4. cxd5 Nxd5 5. Bg2 Nb6 6. Nf3 Nc6 7. O-O Be7 8. Rb1 a5 9. d3 O-O 10. Be3 Be6 11. d4 exd4 12. Nxd4 Nxd4 13. Bxd4 c6 14. f4 {[#]} Re8 {This is a novelty inviting the obvious exchange sacrifice. Half a dozen games had been played previously including two elite battles earlier this year both ending in draws:} (14... f5 15. e4 Rf7 16. Bh3 Bb4 17. Bxf5 Bxf5 18. exf5 Nc4 19. Qd3 c5 20. Qxc4 Qxd4+ 21. Qxd4 cxd4 22. Ne4 Re8 23. a3 Rxe4 24. axb4 axb4 25. Rbe1 Rxe1 26. Rxe1 Rxf5 27. Rd1 Rc5 28. Rxd4 Rc1+ 29. Kg2 Rc2+ 30. Kh3 {1/2-1/2 (30) Giri,A (2769)-Aronian,L (2792) Saint Louis USA 2016}) (14... Bf6 15. Bc5 Be7 16. Bxe7 Qxe7 17. Qd4 Nd5 18. f5 Nxc3 19. bxc3 Bxa2 20. f6 gxf6 21. Ra1 Bd5 22. Bxd5 cxd5 23. Rxf6 Qe4 24. Qd2 Rae8 25. Rxa5 Qe3+ 26. Qxe3 Rxe3 27. Rxd5 Rxe2 28. Rg5+ Kh8 29. Rf2 {1/2-1/2 (31) Nakamura,H (2787)-Vachier Lagrave, M (2789) Paris FRA 2016}) 15. f5 Bc4 16. b3 Ba6 17. f6 Bxf6 18. Rxf6 gxf6 19. e3 c5 20. Qg4+ Kh8 21. Bxc5 Qc8 22. Qd4 Nd7 23. Ba3 Ne5 24. Nd5 Qf5 (24... Qc2 {is also interesting and given as equal by engines but Vidit had found a way to navigate to a safe position a further five moves away.}) 25. e4 Qg5 26. Be7 Rxe7 27. Nxe7 h5 28. Nf5 {[#]} h4 $1 {This is worth at least one ! the point being that if 29.Nxh4 Rc8 Black develops a powerful initiative. At this stage Vidit's clock read 1hr 36 minutes which given that he started with 1hr 40 and you get 30 seconds per move means that he had thought for about 18 minutes!} 29. Qe3 {Deciding in the face of such technology to bail out. Vidit at last did begin to think and got some advantage in the endgame though Gawain held without especial difficulty.} (29. Nxh4 Rc8) 29... Qxe3+ 30. Nxe3 hxg3 31. hxg3 Rc8 32. Bf1 Nf3+ 33. Kg2 Nd2 34. Rb2 Nxf1 35. Nxf1 Bd3 36. Nd2 Rc3 {[#]} (36... b5 {would have prevented White from equalising immediately with a4 and b4 though White should still be okay.}) 37. a4 Kg7 38. Kf2 Bc2 39. b4 Bxa4 40. bxa5 Bc6 41. Rb6 Rd3 42. Ke2 Ra3 43. Nc4 Ra4 44. Nd6 Bxe4 45. Nxe4 Rxe4+ 46. Kf3 Re5 47. Rxb7 {[#]} 1/2-1/2

Gawain Jones (Photo: Maria Emelianova)

The next day, it was Gawain's turn to play some dangerous theory. His opponent was a thirteen-year-old who already became Iranian champion this year for the first surely of many times. He's currently rated just 2463 but will gain heavily in Baku.

The Iranian Champion Alireza Firouzja (Photo: Pascal Simon)

[Event "42nd Olympiad 2016"] [Site "Baku AZE"] [Date "2016.09.11"] [Round "9.4"] [White "Jones, Gawain C B"] [Black "Firouzja, Alireza"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B23"] [WhiteElo "2635"] [BlackElo "2463"] [Annotator "Speelman,Jonathan"] [PlyCount "111"] [EventDate "2016.09.02"] [WhiteTeam "England"] [BlackTeam "Iran"] [WhiteTeamCountry "ENG"] [BlackTeamCountry "IRI"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 a6 3. g3 b5 4. Bg2 Bb7 5. Nge2 e6 6. O-O Nf6 7. d4 cxd4 8. Nxd4 b4 9. Na4 Bxe4 10. Bxe4 Nxe4 11. Re1 d5 12. c4 $1 bxc3 13. Nxc3 {[#]} Be7 ({As engines will tell you - as might common sense if invoked (why otherwise would White play for this?) - there is a reason why Black can't play} 13... Nxc3 {which is} 14. Qh5 $1 {when the main point is that if} Ne4 15. Nxe6 Qd7 16. Nc7+ Qxc7 17. Qxd5 {with slaughter}) 14. Nxe4 dxe4 15. Rxe4 O-O 16. Qb3 Bf6 17. Be3 {This looks unpleasant for Black though in fact 17...a5 among others seems okay.} Qd5 (17... a5) 18. Qxd5 exd5 19. Rf4 Nd7 20. Rf5 {The isolated pawn is weak which means White has an edge} Ne5 21. Rd1 Rfe8 22. b3 Rac8 23. h3 Rc3 24. Rd2 Rd8 25. Kg2 Rd3 26. Rc2 Rd1 {[#] Walking into a combination though it's somewhat flawed.} 27. Rxe5 Bxe5 28. Nc6 Re8 (28... d4 $1 29. Nxd8 dxe3 30. Rc8 f6 {is quite playable for Black}) 29. Nxe5 d4 30. Bd2 f6 31. Nf3 {The two minor pieces now give White a clear advantage.} Re2 32. a4 d3 33. Rc8+ Kf7 34. Be3 Rc2 35. Ra8 Rb2 36. Ra7+ Kg8 37. Rxa6 Rxb3 38. a5 Ra3 39. Ra8+ Kf7 40. Ra7+ Kg8 41. a6 d2 {managing to exchange the d pawn for the a pawn but now the king gets displaced} 42. Bxd2 Rda1 43. Ra8+ Kf7 44. Bb4 Rxa6 45. Rf8+ Ke6 46. Nd4+ Kd5 47. Rd8+ Kc4 48. Nc2 R1a2 49. Rc8+ Kd3 50. Ne3 Ra8 51. Rc1 Rb8 52. Rd1+ Ke4 53. Bc3 Ra4 54. Rd7 Rg8 55. g4 Rc8 56. Nd5 {[#] And Black resigned. If 56...Ra2 to prevent 57.f3+, White concludes with 57.Nxf6+ gxf6 58.Rd4+.} (56. Nd5 Ra2 {to prevent f3+ followed by a knight discovery} 57. Nxf6+ gxf6 58. Rd4+ {concludes.}) 1-0

My board two, Daagne Ciuksyte, played a fine attacking game against Portugal.

[Event "Olympiad Women 2016"] [Site "Baku AZE"] [Date "2016.09.05"] [Round "4.1"] [White "Ciuksyte, Dagne"] [Black "Baptista, Ana Filipa"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B80"] [WhiteElo "2323"] [BlackElo "2125"] [Annotator "Speelman,Jonathan"] [PlyCount "47"] [EventDate "2016.09.02"] [WhiteTeam "England"] [BlackTeam "Portugal"] [WhiteTeamCountry "ENG"] [BlackTeamCountry "POR"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 d6 6. Be3 a6 7. f4 Qc7 8. Be2 Be7 9. O-O O-O 10. a4 Nc6 11. Kh1 Na5 12. Qd3 Bd7 13. Rad1 Rac8 {[#]} 14. e5 $5 { An interesting novelty which gives a dangerous attack though Black should be able to defend.} dxe5 15. fxe5 Qxe5 16. Nf3 Qc7 17. Ng5 {[#]} Rfd8 $4 (17... h6 {was perfectly okay.} 18. Nh7 $1 (18. Rxf6 hxg5 19. Rf2 Be8 {And Black has a serious advantage - this is cleaner than} (19... Rfd8 20. Rxf7 Be8 21. Rxe7 Rxd3 22. Rxc7 Rxd1+ 23. Bxd1 Rxc7 24. Bb6 Rf7 25. Be2 Nc6)) 18... Nxh7 19. Qxd7 {White has reasonable compensation for the pawn}) 18. Rxf6 Bxf6 19. Qxh7+ Kf8 20. Nxf7 $1 Kxf7 21. Bh5+ Ke7 (21... Kf8 22. Bg5 {is the same}) 22. Bg5 Rg8 23. Bxf6+ Kxf6 24. Qg6+ {[#]} 1-0

Luke McShane (Photo: David Llada)

In the pre-engine age it's possible that some readers might have been under the happy misapprehension that grandmasters don't blunder. Certainly we blunder less than weaker players and perhaps less spectacularly (the flaws which engines are always finding in top level games do objectively exist but are often very hard for a human to see). But under strain we can all play awful moves


[Event "42nd Olympiad 2016"] [Site "Baku AZE"] [Date "2016.09.02"] [Round "1.3"] [White "Babarykin, Stanislav"] [Black "McShane, Luke J"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C47"] [WhiteElo "2339"] [BlackElo "2671"] [Annotator "Speelman,Jonathan"] [PlyCount "114"] [EventDate "2016.09.02"] [WhiteTeam "IBCA"] [BlackTeam "England"] [BlackTeamCountry "ENG"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. d4 exd4 5. Nxd4 Bb4 6. Nxc6 bxc6 7. Bd3 d5 8. exd5 cxd5 9. O-O O-O 10. Bg5 c6 11. Qf3 Re8 12. h3 Rb8 13. Rad1 Bd6 14. b3 Be5 15. Na4 Qd6 16. Rfe1 Bd7 17. c4 h6 18. Bh4 Rbd8 19. Bg3 Bxg3 20. Qxg3 Qb4 21. Kf1 c5 22. Nc3 d4 23. Ne4 Nxe4 24. Bxe4 Be6 25. Bc6 Rf8 26. Qd3 Qb8 27. Qg3 Qxg3 28. fxg3 Rd6 29. Be4 a5 30. Bc2 Rc8 31. Ke2 h5 32. Kd2 g6 33. Be4 Rc7 34. Kc2 Kg7 35. Bd3 Ra6 36. Rb1 Kf6 37. Rf1+ Ke7 38. Rfe1 Kd6 39. Re2 Rb7 40. Ree1 {Here Luke McShane under the strain of the first round twice failed to notice that his opponent could greatly improve his pawn structure.} a4 $2 41. Rb2 (41. b4 $1 {or a move later 42.b4! would have eliminated White's weakness with a perfetly reasonable game.}) 41... Rb8 $2 42. Kd2 (42. b4 $1 Rab6 43. bxc5+ Kxc5 44. Re5+ Kc6 45. Rxb6+ Rxb6 46. Ra5 Rb4 47. a3 Rb3 48. Rxa4 Rc3+ 49. Kd2 Rb3 { with equality.}) 42... Rab6 43. Kc2 Bd7 {Black now has a stable advantage again and Luke won nicely.} 44. Rbb1 f5 45. g4 hxg4 46. hxg4 fxg4 47. Bxg6 Rf8 48. Rf1 Rxf1 49. Rxf1 Ke5 50. Bd3 Rh6 51. Kd2 Rh2 52. Rf2 Bc6 53. Bf1 axb3 54. axb3 g3 55. Re2+ Be4 56. Ke1 Rh1 57. Rd2 d3 0-1


About the author

Jon was born in 1956 and became a professional player in 1977 after graduating from Worcester College Oxford where he read mathematics. He became an IM in 1977 a GM in 1980 and was a member of the English Olympic team from 1980-2006. Three times British Champion he played twice in the Candidates reaching the semi-final (of what was then a knockout series of matches) in 1989 when he lost 4.5 - 3.5 to Jan Timman. He's twice been a second at the world championship for Nigel Short and then Viswanathan Anand against Garry Kasparov in London 1993 and New York 1995. He's written for the Observer (weekly) since 1993 and The Independent since 1998. With its closure (going online, but without Jon on board) he's expanding online activity and is also now offering online tuition. He likes puzzles especially (cryptic) crosswords and killer sudokus. If you'd like to contact Jon, then please write to

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brabo_hf brabo_hf 9/19/2016 03:50
In the article, the Iranian grandmaster Elshan Moradiabadi asks the readers to find a win in the game Gawain Jones against Firouzja Alireza. When trying to solve it, I already thought this looks not fully correct due to 28... d4 which is now confirmed by Jon Speelman. Weird several very strong players missed this obvious looking move.
LearnZ LearnZ 9/16/2016 07:05
Nice read, please write more other happenings in the olympiad.
identity777 identity777 9/14/2016 12:33
Very interesting article. I thought England`s performance was commendable considering the lack of government support for Chess which exists in the UK.