World Team Ch: Russians undefeated

by Antonio Pereira
3/9/2019 – After four rounds, the Russian players in Astana have yet to give up a full point. In the open section, they are alone at the top of the standings, while in the women's they share first place with China — the co-leaders are set to face each other on Saturday. India, United States and England trail by one match point among the men, with the Olympic champions from China far behind on the leader board. | Photo: David Llada / Official site

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A bad run for the Chinese

Starting with a 3½ : ½ win over Azerbaijan indicated that the strong Chinese team was well on the way to fight for a second consecutive World Team Championship title. However, a surprising loss against a weakened U.S. squad was just the first of three hapless results. In round three, they lost the key match-up against Russia after missing chances in two of four games, while the next day they tied with India despite out-rating their opponents by 96 or more points on every board.

Ding Liren had the white pieces against Sergey Karjakin on Thursday, and showed good preparation to get a favourable position in the early middlegame. However, the 2016 World Championship challenger did not stain his reputation of being a great defender and held a 48-move draw. Meanwhile, on board four, Bu Xiangzhi was trying to convert his piece advantage against Vladislav Artemiev:

 

Black has a knight for two pawns but his rook is awkwardly placed on a4. Bu had just played 41...g4, placing the king on the only 'escape square' for the rook along the fourth rank. Therefore, White continued 42.c2, threatening to trap the rook from b3, and after 42...h3 43.d4 the Chinese was forced to return the piece with 43...xd4+. A draw was agreed after 55 moves. 

Artemiev saved a tough position | Photo: David Llada

Alexander Grischuk had the upper hand against Wei Yi, but ended up calmly signing a draw after Ian Nepomniachtchi secured a win on board two. Nepo challenged Yu Yangyi's Petroff Defence and penetrated the Chinese's position through Black's highly weakened dark squares:

 

In order to play 20.g5 on the previous move, Ian calculated correctly that after 20...e1+ 21.f1 he could manoeuvre his way into a winning endgame by exploiting the dark-squared diagonals. The Russian gained a pawn shortly afterwards and, after 44 moves, gave his team the crucial victory over the defending champions. 

Nepomniachtchi

Nepomniachtchi got the all-important win | Photo: David Llada

The other key match-up of round three saw the representatives from England and the United States signing draws on all four boards. England went on to do the same against Russia the next day, while the U.S. traded blows with Kazakhstan to also tie a second match in a row — Aleksander Lenderman defeated Murtas Kazhgaleyev, while Zviad Izoria was upset by International Master Denis Makhnev. On top board, the f-file was the real star of the game...

Jumabayev co-authored the peculiar position | Photo: David Llada

Like the United States, India are missing their biggest stars, but the South Asian team are well in the fight for first place. Their biggest challenge so far was their encounter against China in round four. Young Chithambaram Aravindh could not stop Bu Xiangzhi with the black pieces — the latter won in 64 moves — but Surya Ganguly inflicted Yu Yangyi's second consecutive loss after the Chinese missed a nice tactic in the middlegame:

 

Black just captured the bishop on g4, but White needs to be careful before getting back the piece. The right way to go is 23.xg4, while the move chosen in the game, 23.hxg4, allows 23...xe3! — White cannot take with 24.fxe3 due to 24...h2+ 25.h1 f1#. Yu was already in deep trouble but kept on fighting until move 66, when he finally resigned in a completely lost rook endgame.

Ganguly and Sasikiran

Ganguly and Sasikiran are out for blood in Astana | Photo: David Llada

The most anticipated match of round five must be England v. India, while Russia will try to continue their winning-ways against Kazakhstan and the United States will face an underperforming Azeri squad.

Standings after Round 4

Rk. Team  TB1 
1 Russia 7
2 India 6
3 United States of America 6
4 England 6
5 Iran 5
6 Kazakhstan 4
7 China 3
8 Sweden 2
9 Azerbaijan 1
10 Egypt 0

All games

 

Dominant Russia lead the women's section

Three out of five players in the Russian women's team have a perfect score in Astana. Kateryna Lagno and Olga Girya played three and won three, while Aleksandra Goryachkina has accumulated four straight wins. This means that the defending champions have only conceded two points (four draws) in the tournament so far.

When things go this well, flashes of brilliancy tend to be seen more frequently. In this case, we can give Kateryna Lagno's mating sequence against Eesha Karavade's sad king position as an example:

 

Black's queen and rook look menacing, but White arrives first: 39.xh6+ and the Indian resigned — the simple mating sequence goes 39...gxh6 40.f6+ h7 41.xf7+ h8 42.g6#.

Lagno

Lagno is on 100% | Photo: David Llada

Alexandra Kosteniuk is "only" on 2 out of 3, but she had the pleasure of trapping Shahenda Wafa's queen to get the full point in round three:

 

The former world champion gave up her extra bishop with 21.xc5, but she had calculated that after 21...xf4 22.xd4 ac8 23.xe7 Black's queen has nowhere to go. The Egyptian resigned without allowing 23...h6 24.g5 h5 25.h4 to be played.

Unlike in the open section, the Chinese are exceeding expectations in the women's category — despite not having Ju Wenjun and Zhao Xue in their line-up. Their path to a perfect 8/8 score, however, has not been as clean as the Russians', as they got three consecutive 2½ : 1½ wins in rounds 2-4. It must be added, though, that they took down the strong squads from Georgia, Kazakhstan and Armenia in these match-ups.

Shen and Saduakassova

Shen Yang vs. Dinara Saduakassova | Photo: David Llada

The big clash of the event will be seen in the last round before the rest day, as Russia will try to continue their commanding performance in Astana against China on Saturday.   

Standings after Round 4

Rk. Team  TB1 
1 Russia 8
2 China 8
3 Ukraine 6
4 Georgia 4
5 India 4
6 Kazakhstan 3
7 United States of America 3
8 Armenia 2
9 Hungary 2
10 Egypt 0

All games

 

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Antonio is a freelance writer and a philologist. He is mainly interested in the links between chess and culture, primarily literature. In chess games, he skews towards endgames and positional play.
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