Last time, I previewed the World Olympiad – the largest chess team tournament in the world. We are now approximately halfway through the tournament, which is being held in Batumi, Georgia. Unsurprisingly, there are already multiple worthy storylines forming. Only time will tell whether these will still hold true at the finish line, but until then, we can marvel (or, in some cases, be surprised) at these headlines.
- The U.S. Women’s team is a powerhouse
Through the first five rounds, the U.S. women’s team has been unstoppable, and this might just be the biggest headline thus far. GM Irina Krush is on a perfect 4/4, top-rated IM Anna Zatonskih is on 4.5/5, and FM Jennifer Yu has almost swept board four points, also with 4.5/5. After five rounds, the team is the only one left with a perfect 10/10 score (two points per match win; one per draw). Round six will present them with their toughest opponent yet with a match against the strong team from India, but at the rate that they are going, will momentum carry them all the way through? Time will tell, but the best we can say is “good luck!”
- The U.S. Men’s team isn’t doing too bad, either
While the men’s team isn’t perfect anymore – as they drew their round 5 match with Israel – they are still at a solid 9/10, still good for tied-for-5th with three other teams at 9/10. Four teams are still at a perfect 10/10, those being Azerbaijan, Poland, Czech Republic, and Ukraine. They’ll need to fight hard for the next couple rounds to keep within arm’s reach of proving their top-seed status going into the tournament. This should be possible, fortunately, since we are getting to the point where the top teams will begin to knock each other off the top. They are paired against Bosnia & Herzegovina in round 6.
- Speaking of U.S. Men’s…Fabiano Caruana
GM Fabiano Caruana has been on fire as board one for the last two rounds on the U.S. Men’s team. After sitting out the first round and drawing the next two rounds as black, Fabiano Caruana has picked it up quite quickly, executing two miniatures as white in the fourth and fifth rounds against GM Vishy Anand and GM Boris Gelfand, respectively. In the fifth round, however, his win was canceled out by Sam Shankland’s loss to GM Emil Sutovsky, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that Caruana has already been playing better in the more recent rounds. The world championships challenger will continue to play board one in the rounds to come as he practices for the upcoming world championship match in November with Magnus Carlsen.
- Russia hits a speed bump
It seems as if the chess fans waiting for the much-anticipated U.S. vs Russia match will have to wait just a bit longer, and they might not even have their hope fulfilled. After a strong 3/3 start, Russia lost a shocker to Poland, getting upset 2.5-1.5 by the significantly lower-rated team. To be fair, Poland is one of the only four teams on 5/5 now, but just based on the rating differences on paper, most expected Russia to win that match. Despite the loss, Russia was able to salvage a fifth round to finish with 8 points in the first five rounds, but it’s definitely an uphill battle from here for that team.
- Georgia’s host teams surprising
As the host country for the tournament, Georgia has three teams enrolled in the tournament, named Georgia 1, 2, and 3. Interestingly enough, Georgia 3 is currently the highest in the standings out of all three teams with 8/10, despite being the lowest rated of the three and not having a player over 2500. If anything, this just goes to show how much the dynamic changes when comparing a team tournament to an individual tournament. In typical tournaments, if a player is higher-rated, they should perform better, and that is fairly expected. However, when it comes to a team tournament, all members have to play well in order for the collective team to get points, so even if one player is very highly rated, it doesn’t guarantee anything for the team.
These are just some of the most interesting storylines that have come up in the first half of the Olympiad. But, with that said, there are still six rounds to go in the tournament, and with many teams near the top, including the U.S. in both sections, it will definitely be interesting to see who comes out on top. As always, thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time!