Former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik to Retire

The annual Tata Steel Masters chess tournament, held at Wijk aan Zee ended a few days ago, and GM Magnus Carlsen edged out GM Anish Giri by half a point to win the 14-player single round robin.  It was fitting that the two players with the highest score could battle it out in the last round.  Giri, with the white pieces, could have caught Carlsen at the top of the tournament standings had he won their head-to-head matchup.  Alas, Carlsen held a draw, which confirmed that he would win the tournament.  Congratulations to him.

However, the biggest takeaway from the tournament didn’t have anything to do with Carlsen, or even any of the contenders, for that matter.  After the tournament, longtime grandmaster and former world champion Vladimir Kramnik announced his plan to retire from classical chess.  It’s worth noting that he specified he would only be stepping away from classical time controls, as he added he might return for rapid, blitz, or simultaneous events in the future.  He also mentioned he plans to continue scholastic instruction, such as through camps.

Even if Kramnik’s play wasn’t as strong near the end of the career, the announcement is still significant in the chess world as he is still one of the most iconic players of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Born in 1975, he first made waves when he joined the Russian team at the World Chess Olympiad in 1992.  Three years later, he served as a second for Kasparov, who played and won against Viswanathan Anand in the World Championship match in 1995.  One year later, in 1996, Kramnik briefly usurped Kasparov as the #1 player in the world based on a tiebreak rule, despite both players having the same rating.  At the time, Kramnik broke the record for being the youngest player to reach #1 in the world (Carlsen would break that record 14 years later in 2010).  In 2000, Kramnik bested Kasparov to win the World Championship, essaying the now-infamous Berlin Defense on multiple occasions as Black to stymie Kasparov while securing a couple crucial wins as White.  He kept his title as World Champion until 2007, when he was beaten by Anand.  Still, Kramnik maintained top-level play.  He continued to win several tournaments, and he notably won the Chess World Cup in 2013.  In 2016, he reached his peak rating of 2817 and climbed up to the #2 rank behind Carlsen.

By playing such a long and illustrious career, Kramnik accrued numerous notable games.  Thus, in order to appreciate just how well he played some games, I’ve provided a few below for your ultimate enjoyment.

Kramnik – Kasparov, Moscow, 1994

Ivanchuk – Kramnik, Dos Hermanas, 1996

Kramnik – Morozevich, World Championship Tournament, 2007

Aronian – Kramnik, World Championship Candidates, 2018

The above four games are just some of Kramnik’s lengthy list of “good” games, with the most recent occurring just this past year at the 2018 edition of the Candidates tournament.  In each of these games, Kramnik either had a menacing attack or outdueled his opponent positionally (or a combination of both) to secure the victory in convincing fashion.  The amazing thing is that each of these games is from a different period of his career – the first, being before his working with Kasparov; the second, after working as Kasparov’s second and near the time he overtook him as World #1; the third, during his tenure as World Champion; and fourth, much later in his career.  It goes to show how Kramnik was able to keep playing at a high level for such a long time, and it’s an admirable quality that I’m sure a lot of chess players strive for, me included.

Overall, Kramnik has had an incredibly successful career, so it doesn’t come as very much of a surprise that he decided to step away at this point.  It’ll be nice to see him coming back occasionally for tournaments with shorter time controls, like a few legs of the 2019 edition of the Grand Chess Tour.

Even though Kramnik will (probably) never see this, I wish him luck in his future endeavors and hope he can continue changing the chess world for years to come!

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Back to the Grind

Hi everyone!  For everyone living in the Midwest region and East Coast of the United States, it’s recently been a winter wonderland.  I hope everyone is enjoying the snow as much as I am!  If not, well, you’ll probably have to get used to it, because the latter part of this winter seems to show promise for lots of additional snow!

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Snow!!!!!

However, this is isn’t a meteorology report, so let’s get to the chess!  Admittedly, I haven’t been very active in the chess-playing world over the last six or so months due to all of the college applications, but with that process finally winding down, I recently had the chance to get back to the board.  This past Friday, I played in a DC Chess League match against someone I had never played before.  I was somewhat relieved about that part because it meant the game would just come down to who the better player was and didn’t rest on opening preparation.

I’ve attached the game with comments and analysis below in the game viewer for your convenience:

Vogler – Kobla, DCCL, 2019
 
What a ride!  There were times when I was a bit rusty and missed some better moves, but overall, I’m more than satisfied with the game I played.  Any time you can win as Black against a player of similar strength, I’d call it a success.  From the start, I was satisfied with how I was able to plant my knight on e5, which could simultaneously control a lot of key squares and blockade White’s isolated pawn.  Once I could get in d5, I was confident in my ability to at least hold a draw, but my opponent’s blunder was certainly a game changer.  At that point, it was just a matter of closing out the game.  White still had pressure while my king was out in the open, but after I could tuck my king away in the corner, my pieces could be more mobile.  The last chance for my opponent slipped away when he took the a6 pawn with his queen, after which I could bring down the hammer with Qg5 and unleashing an attack on his king.  With his queen unable to defend, my major pieces and extra knight overpowered whatever defense he could muster.

Overall, I’m happy with how I played.  Next week, I’m playing in the Chesapeake Open, so I’m hoping that I can continue the success I found in this game.  However, I’m also hoping to prepare more for this tournament, as I’ll be playing in the Open section.

In other news, the Tata Steel Masters tournament started recently, with most of the top players in the world participating.  It’s worth noting that Caruana is not participating, likely resting after all the work put in near the end of last year for the World Championship match.

Good luck in your future games, and always, thanks for reading!

The [Rating] Battle Rages On

After more than holding his own during the classical portion of the World Championship match against Carlsen, Caruana suffered a beatdown in the rapid tiebreaks.  He lost three in a row, thereby allowing Carlsen to secure the World Champion title yet again.  Going into the match, many people believed that if Caruana was to win the match, he’d have to do it in the classical portion as he’s never been one of the top players in rapid and blitz time controls.  This was proven when Carlsen, one of the best rapid and blitz players in the world, convincingly beat Caruana.

However, other than the title of World Champion, the main focus of the match was on the classical ratings of Carlsen and Caruana.  Prior to the match, only three points separated the two – Carlsen was at 2835.0 and Caruana was 2832.0.  But, after drawing all twelve games of the classical section, neither player’s rating changed.  Caruana had the chance to change that narrative at the London Chess Classic, the tiebreaker tournament for the Grand Chess Tour between Caruana, Nakamura, Aronian, and MVL.  Yet, through his first three classical games – two against Nakamura and one against Aronian – he’s drawn all of them, actually losing 3.3 points according to 2700chess.com.  Meanwhile, he’s continued to struggle in rapid and blitz games, going 0.5/2 in rapid games and 1/4 in blitz games.

More likely than not, Caruana is frustrated with his recent performance in quicker time controls, so we’ll have to see how he fares the rest of this tournament.  He still has two more rapid and four more blitz games to potentially right the ship.  But, Caruana only has one more classical game left in this tournament in Aronian, and even if he wins, he’ll still be a couple points short of Carlsen’s mark.  This means that we’ll have to wait until at least the next major tournament, likely the Tata Steel Masters in late January of 2019, for more action on that rating front.  Until then, Carlsen remains at the top of the rating lists.

Ups and Downs for Carlsen and Caruana Through Six

With six out of twelve classical games in the books, Carlsen and Caruana remain tied at three points apiece.  Each game thus far has been a draw, but that doesn’t mean that the games haven’t been engaging.  In fact, the first and sixth games have probably had the most action, but as promised, I will take a look at each of the six games and attempt to pull the most important learning points from each.  So, without further ado, let’s get to it.

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Carlsen – Caruana: One of the most anticipated World Championship matches ever

 

Game 1: Caruana – Carlsen, FIDE World Championship (1), 2018

This game started out in a Rossolimo where Carlsen, as Black, tried to take control of the dark squares in typical Sicilian fashion.  Not to be outdone this early, Caruana tried to break through the f-file and doubled his rooks early in an attempt to agitate Black’s uncastled king.  Carlsen, however, simply castled queenside, and suddenly it was Black who had a solid and attacking position.  Carlsen sacrificed a pawn to open the g-file against White’s king, but Caruana held his own until move 34 when Carlsen faltered with 34. … h5 instead of the much stronger 35. … Qe5!, which also served to set up a crushing 36 … Rg3.  Even then, Carlsen still had a significant advantage until the time control move, when he played 40. … Bxc3 and lost most of the advantage.  Despite Black still being objectively slightly better, Caruana was able to hold the ensuing endgame.  The lesson to be learned from this game is to always keep an eye on all parts of the board – it was something Carlsen forgot about on the crucial 34th move, where he was likely too fixated on the kingside and missed that infiltrating with the Queen through e5-c3-b2 and setting up a crushing Rg3 was basically game over with all of White’s pieces on the right half of the board.

Game 2: Carlsen – Caruana, FIDE World Championship (2), 2018

This game started out in a Queen’s Gambit Declined, but the moment of truth came much earlier.  For his 10th move, Caruana blitzed out the novelty 10. … Rd8 as opposed to the known moves 10. … Re8 (see Korchnoi 1-0 Karpov, 1978) and 10. … Be7.  As evidenced by Carlsen’s answer to a reporter asking what he thought of the move – “Oh, [expletive], mainly” – he was clearly taken aback and settled into a long think.  At this point, he had the option of grabbing the bull by the horns and playing 11. Nd2, but knowing that this would likely take him straight into Caruana’s preparation, he avoided the line and played the “tamer” 11. Be2.  The only other critical point after this move was on move 17 when Carlsen had the chance to try the intriguing 17. Nxf7!?, but once again, he settled for the less-aggressive route with 17. Bf3 and the game soon fizzled out into a drawn endgame where White’s doubled f-pawns actually made the 4v3 defense easier.  This game showed us the importance of opening preparation, as it only took ten moves to reach a crossroads for Magnus, and after that point, it was Caruana in the driver’s seat.

Game 3: Caruana – Carlsen, FIDE World Championship (3), 2018

Just like in Game 1, Caruana opted for a Rossolimo to counter Carlsen’s Sicilian, but instead of following the horrific path the first game went down, Caruana played 6. 0-0.  A couple moves later, Carlsen confidently offered a pawn sacrifice with 9. 0-0 after only 35 seconds of thought, but Caruana kept the status quo with 10. Nbd2.  The first critical point came on move 15 when Caruana rather hastily played 15. Bd2, allowing Carlsen to continue contesting the open a-file with 15. … Raa8!.  Rather, had Caruana played 15. Rxa5 Qxa5 16. Bd2 Qc7 17. Qa1!, he would have firmly been in the driver’s seat with avenues for pressure along the open a-file and the fixated Black e5 pawn.  Instead, the game turned to an endgame where Caruana was slightly worse, but the game once again fizzled into a draw.  Twice already, Caruana’s attempt to win as White didn’t go as planned, and it was interesting to note at the time that each of the three games ended with the player playing Black pressing for the potential win.

Game 4: Carlsen – Caruana, FIDE World Championship (4), 2018

In a game where Carlsen opened with the English, the most interesting aspect was arguably not related to the game at all.  To be fair, the only somewhat-critical point was on the 15th move, when Carlsen had the opportunity to break with 15. b5, but after settling for the less-exciting 15. Re1, the game turned into a relatively-quick draw in only 34 moves, shorter than any of the games up until this point.  However, as previously mentioned, the most intriguing part of the round was related to some off-the-board drama.  A promo video for Caruana was posted by the St. Louis Chess Club, but it was taken down soon after it revealed a brief shot of Caruana’s ChessBase files which seemed to show quite a few opening ideas and analyzed games.  Some keen viewers on Twitter wondered if the video was uploaded as a distraction attempt to goad Carlsen into going down an irrelevant rabbit hole, but whether this is the case is unknown.  When asked about the video in the postgame conference, Carlsen mentioned he’d take a look at the video, which evidently seemed to make Caruana uncomfortable.  Anyway, on to Game 5…

Game 5: Caruana – Carlsen, FIDE World Championship (5), 2018

The game once again played into a Rossolimo, but Caruana stuck to the pattern of deviating first by playing 4. 0-0 instead of 4. Bxc6 and then plunging forward with 6. b4, an aggressive-looking gambit.  Despite from longer thinks from Carlsen, however, it seemed like he knew what he was doing.  After 11. … Ne7, the players reached the first critical position, where Caruana eschewed theory (12. cxd6 Qxd6 13. d4) and gambled with the forcing 12. Qe2, but Carlsen found the only move with 12. … b4.  A few moves later, with the queens off, Black was in a comfortable position, while Caruana seemed a bit annoyed with his position during a 30+ minute think on move 19.  After precise play from both sides, the game ended as a draw on move 34 once again.  The most noteworthy point from this game was Fabiano’s early aggressiveness; evidently, he was trying to play for a win from the start, but Carlsen’s knowledge of the sideline helped him to a draw.  Meanwhile, Carlsen’s “refutation” of the opening gave him a solid chance of pushing for a win, but once again, he let the opportunity slip.

magnus-after-b4
Carlsen’s facial expression after Caruana’s 6. b4!? tells you everything

Game 6: Carlsen – Caruana, FIDE World Championship (6), 2018

In the first game that Carlsen opted for 1. e4, he was met with the Petroff from Caruana, which has garnered quite the attention this year.  Indeed, Caruana has revitalized the Petroff as Black after essaying the opening in several tournaments so far.  On top of that, Caruana has destroyed the notion that Black plays the Petroff in order to draw, as he has had major success with the opening, including two wins against Vladimir Kramnik and Alexander Grischuk in the Candidates Tournament back in March.  As for this game, the players sidestepped several variations that had been played before and quickly ventured into new territory that was visually fascinating as much as it was vexing.  Specifically, after 7. … Nd4, the players traded queens with a sequence that looks like it could have appeared on a board in a scholastic tournament: 8. Nxe7 Nxe2 9. Nd5 Nd4.  Then followed even more “dance” moves by the knights, and it’s interesting to note that by the 10th move, ten knight moves in a row had already been played.

carlsen-caruana-start
Peculiar preparation in the Petroff made for an interesting opening

However, despite the peculiar and exciting opening, the reality was that the ensuing position was rather dull until Caruana broke with 21. … c5!.  Following some shaky play from Magnus, Caruana found himself with a slight advantage.  Just after time control, Caruana had put Carlsen in a bit of a bind, and seeing no alternatives, Carlsen went for a piece sacrifice for three pawns with 43. Bf3!? in order to mitigate Black’s imminent threat of pushing the d-pawn and delivering a discovered check.  A miscalculation meant that Carlsen would only net two pawns for the piece since he seemed to have missed Caruana’s idea with 48. … Ba3 and picking off a queenside pawn with an eventual Nc3.  However, as expected, Carlsen put up a tough resistance, and he found a nice resource on move 58 with 58. a5!?, which sacrificed the lone queenside pawn, distracting Black’s pieces just enough to allow White to set up what looked to be a fortress after 64. h5.  After 67. Kg6, the engines seemed to momentarily call a forced mate-in-36, but with only ten minutes on Caruana’s clock, it was probably impossible from a human standpoint for him to find it.  Indeed, Caruana didn’t see the mating line, and while he could have arguably made Carlsen suffer more, Caruana went for a draw soon after.

Overall, despite the scoreboard showing six draws, the gameplay has been more than exciting, with each player coming very close to losing at some point – Caruana in the first game, and Carlsen in the sixth.  An interesting theme we’ve seen so far is that Black has had most of the pressing chances, which is ironic considering most high-level players outwardly prefer White.  This is especially true of Caruana, who, in three chances as White, has been stymied quite badly.  Going forward, we should see Caruana experimenting with lines other than the Rossolimo variation of the Sicilian.  Additionally, since Carlsen is significantly stronger in the tiebreak formats of rapid and blitz, we should continue to see aggressive openings from Caruana, which should make the games rather fun.  We can also expect to see Caruana continuing to respond to 1. e4 from Magnus with the Petroff, which has served the challenger well.  It’ll be interesting to see which player draws first blood, since, at this point, it may determine the entire match.  But, of course, only time will tell.

The timing of my schedule lines up well with this match, so I’ll be able to provide an analysis of the second half of match next time.  As always, thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time!

 

The Calm Before the Storm (World Championship 2018)

Hi all, I’m back!  I took a short break for the past couple weeks in order to finalize my Early Action college applications and get those in.  But, now that the November 1st deadline has passed and I’m done with those (phew, what a relief!), I can get back to writing.  So, without further ado, let’s get to the actual article.

It’s only a few days from one of the most anticipated World Championship matches in the Carlsen era.  On one hand, we have the reigning World Champion Magnus Carlsen, who has successfully defended his title for the last two encounters.  On the other hand, we have Fabiano Caruana, the current second-highest rated player in the world and World Champion hopeful.  For the first time, the Carlsen’s challenger is actually younger than him – Carlsen is 27 years old, while Caruana is 26.  This brings a new aspect to the match that hasn’t been seen yet:  Caruana’s rating and age are comparable to Carlsen, whereas it’s always been one or the other with the previous two challengers in Anand and Karjakin.  This makes for a very compelling match on paper.  But, before getting too far into the match itself, let’s see how these players got here.

The Road to London

First, we have reigning World Champion Magnus Carlsen.  There honestly isn’t much that has to be said about him except, he’s good.  Very good.  In his most recent tournament, European Club Cup, he had a +1 score with one win and five draws.  Overall, he’s played much less than Caruana since the match was set, so he’s likely going to be very prepared for the upcoming matchup.

Next, we have Caruana.  He punched his ticket to challenge Carlsen because he won the Candidates tournament back in March.  Typically, when a player is going to be the World Championship challenger, they don’t play that much until the match because they want to stay home and prepare.  However, Caruana hasn’t stuck to that strategy all that much, instead playing in most of the big tournaments.  It hasn’t been a bad decision at all, though, since he’s played well in each of these events and goes into the match only three (!) rating points behind Carlsen and his playing stamina up to par.

What to Look for

It seems like these players are going to play for different narratives in this match.  Carlsen, in his typical style, will probably go for solid openings as Black and try to steer the game towards the endgame if possible, since no one in today’s game is better than him in that phase; as White, at least early in the match, we will probably see Carlsen going for more rewarding possibilities, but if he is up near the end of the match, he will probably switch to more solid openings there as well.  Caruana, on the other hand, will probably push for more in the middle stages in all of his games as White since it is in his interest to avoid the endgame if he won’t have at least something to play for in that phase; meanwhile as Black, we might see Caruana a bit more aggressive than Carlsen in the end.  However, the flow of the match is what will be the greatest factor in determining how the players play as the match goes on.

Recent Games

The most recent game between Carlsen and Caruana was at the Sinquefield Cup, where they drew a relatively tame game.  Likely, neither player wanted to exhaust one of their prepared opening lines so that they could save it for the match.  However, in the head-to-head match before that, Carlsen won against Caruana at the Altibox Norway tournament earlier in the year; in that game, Carlsen reached an advantageous endgame where he ground down Caruana.  I’ve attached this game below.

Carlsen – Caruana, Altibox Norway, 2018

This is the kind of game that Carlsen will likely aim for in the upcoming match.  Meanwhile, Caruana will strike early and often, hoping to replicate games like this recent attacking gem from the World Chess Olympiad.

Caruana – Anand, World Chess Olympiad, 2018

No matter the case, this match will be one of the most exciting, action-packed matches to date, and I know I’ll be keeping up with every game.

Looking ahead, I’ll finally be playing in my first tournament in months since I finally have some time.  Next time around, I’ll either be updating you guys on games from the World Championship or share some games from that upcoming tournament of mine.  As always, thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time!

U.S. Teams Cruising at the World Olympiad

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.

  1. 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!”

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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!

Gearing up for the 43rd World Chess Olympiad

The 43rd Chess Olympiad (September 23 – October 6) is less than a week from starting, and with it comes all the hype that this biennial event always seems to bring.  The largest team chess event in the world will surely attract many spectators and online viewers for its two-week duration.  This year, the event is being held in Batumi, Georgia, which is very close to the venue for last year’s World Cup held in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Chess_Olympiad_2018_official_logo
The official logo for this year’s Olympiad!

One of the most intriguing storylines about the Olympiad has to do with a bit of history.  For the first time ever, the team from Russia will not hold the top seed in average rating.  In a way, however, it is almost fitting, as the new top-seeded team, the U.S., will try to defend their championship from two years ago in Baku.  The U.S. team will bring the same lineup as they did two years prior:  GM Fabiano Caruana, GM Hikaru Nakamura, GM Wesley So, GM Sam Shankland, and GM Ray Robson.

There are some changes to overall team makeup and standings as well, including regulars who are not playing and some newer faces.

Perhaps the least surprising of the absences is GM Magnus Carlsen, who has the World Championship match to prepare for.  Russian regulars GM Alexander Grischuk and GM Peter Svidler will both not be playing, too.  However, the Russian team is still very much in good hands with GM Vladimir Kramnik, GM Sergey Karjakin, and GM Ian Nepommniatchtchi on the top three boards.  Lastly, GM Veselin Topalov will be missing from the scene due to the banning of Bulgaria from international events by FIDE.

On the other hand, a number of players that have committed to playing might surprise us.  Firstly, despite being the challenger for the upcoming World Championship match, GM Fabiano Caruana is still playing in the Olympiad amid his already-busy summer schedule.  Secondly, GM Vishy Anand is playing for the India team for the first time in over ten years, and his presence should greatly improve India’s chance at the gold.

The top five seeds, in order, are:

  1. The United States
  2. Russia
  3. China
  4. Azerbaijan
  5. India

The Chinese team has greatly increased in strength as well, mostly due to the significant rating jumps of both Ding Liren and Yu Yangyi compared to where they were last time.  Azerbaijan, who is led by GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, has also increased in strength.  India now has GM Vishy Anand and GM Pentala Harikrishna as a 1-2 punch, and with three players over 2700, they also expected to be competitive.

In general, the return of most of the strongest players and some shifting among the top teams should make for an extremely interesting Olympiad, especially since team events are always fun to follow.

My next article is scheduled right in the middle of the event, so I should hopefully be able to pull together a few notable games to share at that time.  Until then!