- The Washington Times
Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Breaking update: Ukraine is off to a fantastic start, with both the Open and Women’s teams undefeated through five rounds of play Tuesday. The Open team has already defeated its top rivals — Russia and China — and is one of three teams, along with India and the Netherlands, with a perfect 5-0-0 record.

The American team was held to a 2-2 draw by the Czech Republic, but remains very much in the hunt with four wins and a draw.

On the women’s side, Russia and Ukraine have the only perfect scores. The U.S. lost to Ukraine in Round 3 and is tied for sixth at 4-0-1. Wednesday is the first rest day of the event.

The early rounds of the biennial Olympiad tournament are in the books in Baku, Azerbaijan, and the highly touted Americans have so far avoided stepping on any major landmines.

The big challenges lay ahead, but through three rounds the U.S. Open team is a perfect 3-0, with wins over Andorra (4-0), Scotland (3½-½) and Argentina (3-1), with top board Fabiano Caruana 2-0 so far in his games.

There have been some mild surprises already: Sudan held Bulgaria in a 2-2 draw in the opening round, and a very young Iran team (three of its players are under 18) split with the much-higher-ranked Georgia a round later. But 15 other teams were undefeated through Sunday’s Round 3 play, including such powerhouses as Russia, China, Azerbaijan and Ukraine, and some of the most highly anticipated battles should be on tap this week.

The sixth-seeded U.S. women’s team had a tough early test, losing Sunday to No. 2 Ukraine by a 2½-1½, with GM Anna Ushenina’s win over WGM Katerina Nemcova on Board 4 the only decisive game. With top-rated China held to a 2-2 draw in Round 3 by Vietnam, the race for gold on the women’s side is wide open.

GMs Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So are clearly the Big Three for the U.S. team, all with ratings in the world’s top 10. But the team’s hopes may rest crucially on the play of GMs Samuel Shankland and Ray Robson on Board 4. Robson has already scored 2 1.2 points in his first three games, and Shankland, who came in to Baku after a summer of very impressive results, helped kick off the Olympiad with a nice miniature against Andorran expert Joan Fernandez Lopez.

Black’s desire to trade off the powerful White knight on d4 puts his other pieces in awkward posts, something Shankland alertly exploits to win decisive material: 13. a3 Nd7?! (challenging the bishop, but now the knight cuts off the bishop’s retreat square) 14. Bxg7 Kxg7 15. b4 Qb6 (planning to meet 16. b5? with 16…Ne5, winning a tempo to liberate the bishop) 16. c5!, when 16…bxc5 17. b5 Ne5 18. Qg3! leaves both the Black bishop and knight hanging.

Black retreats the queen, but she ends up on an even more uncomfortable square: 16…Qc7 17. cxd6 exd6 (Qxd6 18. Qxd6 exd6 19. b5 and wins) 18. Qd4+ Nf6 (apparently clearing an escape hatch for the bishop) 19. b5!, and Black resigned upon noticing that 19…Bd7 or 19…Be8 runs into 20. Qxf6+! Kxf6 21. Nd5+, forking king and queen and winning a piece.

Rising Chinese superstar GM Wei Yi needed the same number of moves to dispatch Kosovo IM Bedri Sadiku in their Round 1 game. In a French, Black comes up with an unfortunate plan of pushing his c-pawn, and Wei readily gives up a piece for two pawns and powerful attack after 10. a4 c3? 11. axb5! cxd2 12. Bxd2 Nb8 13. bxa6 Bxa6 14. Bb5+!, and the pin means Black loses the right to castle.

With the king caught in the middle, White wastes no time delivering the kill: 15. Ne5 Qd6 (see diagram) 16. Qh5! (already threatening mate on the move) g6 (Qf6? 17. Rxa6! Rxa6 18. Bxa6, and 18…Nxa6 allows 19. Nd7+) 17. Bh6+ Nxh6 18. Qxh6+ Kg8 19. Be8!, and Black can only stop the coming 20. Bxf7 mate by giving up his queen; Sadiku resigned.

Shankland — Fernandez Lopez, 42nd Olympiad, Baku, Azerbaijan

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 g6 5. c4 Bg7 6. Be3 Nf6 7. Nc3 d6 8. Be2 Nxd4 9. Bxd4 O-O 10. O-O a5 11. b3 Bd7 12. Qd3 Bc6 13. a3 Nd7 14. Bxg7 Kxg7 15. b4 Qb6 16. c5 Qc7 17. cxd6 exd6 18. Qd4+ Nf6 19. b5 Black resigns.

Wei — Sadiku, 42nd Olympiad, Baku, Azerbaijan

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 a6 4. Ngf3 c5 5. exd5 exd5 6. Be2 Nc6 7. O-O c4 8. b3 b5 9. Re1 Be7 10. a4 c3 11. axb5 cxd2 12. Bxd2 Nb8 13. bxa6 Bxa6 14. Bb5+ Kf8 15. Ne5 Qd6 16. Qh5 g6 17. Bh6+ Nxh6 18. Qxh6+ Kg8 19. Be8 Black resigns.

• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at dsands@washingtontimes.com.

• David R. Sands can be reached at dsands@washingtontimes.com.

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