World Team Ch: USA upset China, share the lead with Russia and England

by Antonio Pereira
3/7/2019 – Team United States dazzled in round two by defeating China despite not having taken any of their stars to Astana. They now share the lead on a perfect score with Russia and England, and are set to take on the latter in the next round. In the women's event, the American team is also over-performing, as they drew Ukraine and defeated higher-rated Hungary in the first two days of competition. Nonetheless, the favourites from Russia and China are leading with 4/4. | Photo: David Llada / Official site

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First-rate backup

None of the first seven players from the United States' ratings list travelled to this year's World Teams Championship — not even including Leinier Dominguez, who recently changed federations but does not appear on the list due to inactivity — but the alternate group of players present in Kazakhstan achieved what their stronger colleagues could not manage in Batumi: take down China. Their perfect 4/4 score have them sharing first place with England and Russia.

In round one, they were paired against Egypt — the Africans are one of two underdogs, along with Sweden. Only on board one did the U.S. have a rating deficiency, but recently-transferred Dariusz Swiercz made a name for himself by beating Bassem Amin with the black pieces. The 3:1 victory also included a win by Zviad Izoria on board four.

Swiercz and Amin

Polish-born Swiercz against top African player Bassem Amin | Photo: David Llada

Their second round rivals, however, out-rated them by quite a margin. China had top-10 stars Ding Liren and Yu Yangyi on top boards — Swiercz got a slight pull against Ding but ended drawing rather quickly, while Samuel Sevian held the balance from a complex position against Yu.

This time around, the deciding games were seen on the bottom boards. First, Wei Yi missed a great chance to get the full point against Alexander Onischuk:

 

Instead of 56...g5?, the Chinese prodigy could have gotten the rook after 56...e2 — a sample line is 57.g7 h5 58.xg6 e3 59.b1 f2 and Black trades the e-pawn for the rook, with the h-pawn untouched. Wei Yi continued until move 71, but Onischuk held the draw comfortably.

US Teams

The American representatives | Photo: David Llada

The big win for Team U.S.A. came on board four, where Aleksandr Lenderman gained a piece in the middlegame:

 

In a sharp position, Ni Hua erred by playing 29.7e5, as Lenderman ended up a piece up after 29...f6 30.f3 e5 31.h4 g5, forcing White to at least grab a pawn for the knight with 31.xg5.

What followed was not trivial for Black, however, as White gobbled another pawn quickly. But Lenderman patiently took over and went on to get the all-important win after 62 moves.

Grischuk

Grischuk getting ready | Photo: David Llada

Meanwhile, Russia were paired against Iran and Egypt in the first two rounds. Starting against the strong group of youngsters from the Persian country proved to be quite challenging, but in the end they achieved a victorious debut thanks to man of the hour Vladislav Artemiev. The recent winner of the Gibraltar Masters got the better of 15-year-old Alireza Firouzja after making use of a nice tactical trick:

 

White played the forcing 28.e8+! as neither the queen nor the rook can capture the knight due to 29.xd7 followed by a devastating discovered check with 30.e6+. Firouzja therefore chose 28...g8, but after 29.xd7 xd7 30.f6+ xf6 31.exf6 White is two pawns up and has the initiative. 

Artemiev

Artemiev is having a great 2019 | Photo: David Llada

Finally, the third team to have completed the opening rounds with two wins is England. Twice they got 2½:1½ victories despite Mickey Adams losing on board one — Rinat Jumabayev upset him on Tuesday and Arkadij Naiditsch overpowered him the next day. David Howell and Gawain Jones did the dirty work against Kazakhstan, while Luke McShane and Jones scored the wins against Azerbaijan.

Thursday's round three is key for the standings. The English team is paired up against the United States, while Russia will have the hardest of tasks, as they will face a wounded Chinese squad, eager to fight back.

Jumabayev

Jumabayev could not prevent England from beating Kazakhstan | Photo: David Llada

Standings after Round 2 

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

All games

 

Carissa Yip steals the show

Things are going great for both American teams so far in Astana, as their female line-up also scored surprising results — they tied with the second seeds from Ukraine and took down Hungary 3:1. In both matches, the young Carissa Yip defeated a higher-rated opponent with the black pieces. In round one, she used tactics to knock over Anna Ushenina:

 

Only four moves before the time control, Carissa found the flaw in Anna's previous play — 36...b4! and after 37.axb4 xb4 38.a2 xb3 39.xa7 d4 40.xd7 White is a piece up. But then comes the bolt from the blue!

 

The former world champion resigned after 40...xc3!, as the threat of back rank mate can only be parried with big material losses.

Abrahamyan

Tatev Abrahamyan is on first board for the U.S. | Photo: David Llada

Yip's team is a match point behind the leaders, nonetheless. The favourites from Russia dominated Kazakhstan and Armenia, with perfect starts for Kateryna Lagno and Aleksandra Goryachkina. The Chinese, on the other hand, are also on 4/4 after beating Hungary easily and barely getting the better of the strong Georgian team — top board Tan Zhongyi scored full points in both encounters.

Russian team

The defending champions | Photo: David Llada

Standings after Round 2 

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