World Team Ch: Russia and China secure gold with a round to spare

by Antonio Pereira
3/14/2019 – Before completing the nine rounds stipulated in the regulations, Russia and China won the open and women's section of the World Team Championships, respectively. In both cases, a fierce struggle for silver and bronze awaits: China still have good chances of finishing on the podium of the open category, while among the women the Russian defending champions might be taken out of the top three by Georgia, but only if the latter score a big win. | Photo: David Llada / Official site

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Three match points ahead

Russia grabbed gold after scoring 14/16 match points in eight rounds, drawing only against England and Azerbaijan while getting 2½:1½ victories over China, Iran and the United States. It has been a solid collective performance by the rating favourites, with only Sergey Karjakin not going undefeated thus far — in fact, Russia's board one gave up nine rating points in Astana, and is now the fifth highest rated player from his country.

The star of the winning team was Vladislav Artemiev, who was the only Russian to play all eight rounds — he will rest, however, in Thursday's final round. His impressive 6½/8 performance included two key wins — over Alireza Firouzja in round one and over Zviad Izoria in round seven. Vladislav arrived in 2019 with a 2709 rating and is now on 2746, after his first place at the Gibraltar Masters and his great showing in Astana. We expect him to get some invitations to closed events, where he will try his hand against the world's elite. 

The new 'Vlad' of Russian chess | Photo: David Llada

Dmitry Andreikin was instrumental for his team as well. He scored 4/6 despite having played four times with the black pieces. In the match against Sweden from round eight, he took over Erik Blomqvist, after infiltrating White's position through the light squares:

 

Blomqvist tried to unravel on the queenside but ended up creating holes on his position. After 36...b5, rook and queen have free range to coordinate an attack. The game finished after 37.c5 e1+ 38.f2 f1+ 39.g3 e2 and White resigned.

Andreikin during round five | Photo: David Llada

England arrived in round eight in sole second place, but now share that spot with India after losing 3:1 against China. Mickey Adams lost for a fourth time in Astana, while David Howell let go of his undefeated streak after falling prey to Wei Yi's tactical ability. The English team will finish the event facing Sweden, while India will confront the Russian champions. China are a match point behind the chasers and are paired against Kazakhstan in round nine.

The over-performing Indian team is still well within range of getting medals in the Kazakh capital. Curiously, they are still undefeated in the championship, after getting clear wins over Kazakhstan, Sweden and Egypt (3½:½) and drawing against all the favourites. With a tie against Russia tomorrow, they will secure at least the third spot on the podium, unless England win and China beat Kazakhstan 4:0.

India face Russia in the last round | Photo: David Llada

In the penultimate round, they traded wins with the United States — Sam Sevian took advantage of Krishnan Sasikiran's over-ambitious play and Ganguly tied the score with a technical win over Alexander Onischuk. On board four, Aleksandr Lenderman and Sethuraman signed a 31-move draw, so everything was to be decided on top board, where Dariusz Swiercz was a piece up against Baskaran Adhiban. The endgame was tricky though, and the Indian managed to finally hold the balance:

 

Instead of 71...b4, Swiercz could have kept control over f4 and f6 by patiently manoeuvring with his bishop — 71...♝e8. White has few wasting moves available, so he would have seen it necessary to block his bishop with d4 or allow the d3-pawn to be captured by Black's bishop. Nonetheless, it was a tough conversion, and Adhiban showed great fighting spirit to finally bag the half point after 88 moves.

Adhiban a.k.a. 'The Beast' | Photo: David Llada

It was also a good day for the underdogs from Egypt, who had already drawn China in round six and now defeated the local squad from Kazakhstan, thanks to wins by Bassem Amin and Adham Fawzy. The latter tricked Murtas Kazhgaleyev from an inferior position to give his team a remarkable victory.

Egypt defeated Kazakhstan | Photo: David Llada

Standings after Round 8

Rk. Team  TB1 
1 Russia 14
2 India 11
3 England 11
4 China 10
5 United States of America 9
6 Iran 8
7 Azerbaijan 6
8 Kazakhstan 4
9 Sweden 4
10 Egypt 3

All games

 

Birthday girl Lei Tingjie wins it all

A 3:1 win over the United States gave China a well-deserved first place, after scoring eight straight wins in Astana! The Asian team had two great performers in Tan Zhongyi and Lei Tingjie, who got to celebrate her 22nd birthday with a white win over Sabina Foisor — the 2017 women's Chinese champion is on 6/7 so far, after winning five and drawing two in the tournament. Foisor erred by opening the centre with 30...d5, and seven moves later Lei found a nice winning move:

 

37.f5! and the threats are impossible to parry. Black was busted after 37...gxf5 38.g5+ h8 39.xd2.

What a way to celebrate your birthday! | Photo: David Llada

China's top board Tan Zhongyi also had an amazing performance. She played all eight games and scored 6½ points. Tan gained no less than 14.4 rating points and is currently the ninth highest rated woman in the world ranking. Against Tatev Abrahamyan, she gave up a pawn from the white side of a Benoni structure. In exchange, she got the initiative and managed to plant a pawn on e6. Her conversion was merciless:

 

Tatev resigned after 29.b3, threatening both mate on f7 and the b6-knight. A handbook performance by the leader of the new World Team champions.

Tan Zhongyi playing White against Abrahamyan | Photo: David Llada

The fight for second place is still alive, despite Russia's 4:0 victory over Hungary, as Ukraine got the better of India thanks to Anna Muzychuk's single win on board two. Georgia are on fourth place, a match point behind Ukraine, but they also have the chance to take down the Russian defending champions on Thursday's last round. It will certainly be a fun round to watch, with the top four teams coincidentally facing each other in the final day of action.

Standings after Round 8

Rk. Team  TB1 
1 China 16
2 Russia 13
3 Ukraine 12
4 Georgia 11
5 India 8
6 Kazakhstan 8
7 United States of America 5
8 Armenia 4
9 Hungary 3
10 Egypt 0

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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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