IM Anton Smirnov, the 15-year-old Board 4 for Australia, has officially won a (double) GM-norm at the 42nd Olympiad in Baku. In Round 10, both our Open and Women’s teams lost 1-3, to France and Indonesia respectively.
Difficult Losses to Swallow
Our Open team had a tough match-up: France, one of the powerhouses of world chess. This year, they are missing a few top players including their number two, GM Etienne Bacrot, who is coaching Azerbaijan.
David Smerdon, who in Round 4 held the World Number 1 World Champion Magnus Carlsen to a draw, had a tough ask against the World Number 3 Maxime Vachier Lagrave (photo of the match up below). “MVL” successfully overcame David’s c3 Sicilian. Zong-Yuan Zhao had a good position on Board 2 but went astray and eventually lost. Anton Smirnov had an early draw by forced repetition while Max Illingworth earned a draw tough rook endgame.
The Aussie Women’s team suffered another heartbreak, going down 1-3 to Indonesia. Alexandra Jule misplayed her opening and her position quickly crumbled. Heather Richards made a mistake in the middlegame and allowed a deadly attack. Emma Guo seemed to have a good attack but also faltered. The consolation was Giang Nguyen squeezing out a tough win.
It’s the double-edged sword that comes in team events: just how an inspired winning streak can fire up the team, so too can a losing slump rattle the whole team’s confidence. Hopefully the girls will be able to put aside these setbacks in time for the morning’s last round.
Leaders Keep Winning
In the Open, the leaders USA and Ukraine both won their matches, against Georgia and Czech Republic respectively. Defending Champions China continued a woeful tournament, this time being held to a draw against Belarus.
Russia’s gold medal hopes were all but destroyed, as they drew against India. Pentela Harikrishna defeated the World Championship Challenger Sergey Karjakin, who uncharacteristically blundered (true, in a bad position) with 26…Qf5?? Below: Karjakin (l) v Harikrishna (r).
World Championship Press Conference
During Round 10, one of the more important Press Conferences were held. Here are the key details about the upcoming World Championship Match:
- World Champion Magnus Carlsen will seek to defend his title against Challenger Sergey Karjakin.
- Held 11-30 November in South Street Seaport, New York
(The last time a WC match was held in New York was in 1990, the year that both Carlsen and Karjakin were born.)
- The internet broadcast experience will be “revolutionary”, with 360° Virtual Reality views and a multi-camera view of the action.
- The experience will be best if the viewer purchases VR glasses, but may also be viewed from a smart phone/ tablet.
- The company to whom FIDE outsourced the organisation of the WC, Agon Ltd., will adopt a “Freemium” model. This gives the home viewer minimum content for free (broadcasting of moves), but to get the full experience (commentary, video, Virtual Reality), $15 for the match will apply. $45 per World Championship cycle – and this will include the Grand Prix and the Candidates. There is also a package for $99 – unclear what this includes.
- As for the spectators in New York, this will also be “revolutionised”: instead of a theatre-style broadcast, viewers will have a lounge-style experience. While the players will be in a sound-proof “fish-tank”, the spectators will be free to move around, grab a bite from the cafe, use their devices etc. But again, there is a hefty fee – $50 per day.
The venue of the match does seem funky. And NYC is a step-up from FIDE’s “default” host cities of events such as Elista and Khanty Mansiysk.
But I got a vibe of shadiness from the Press Conference. This pay-per-view model of monatisation may hinder the overall goal of popularising the Match. Another thing that put me off was that throughout the conference, the officials kept quoting highly optimistic facts without reference. “150 million chess players in the world”; “global market size [for online broadcasting of chess events] is 35 million people”, and – I kid you not – “there are more people that play chess in the United States than tennis and golf combined”.
Anton Smirnov, a Rising Star
Speaking of youth, I must return to the most important achievement for Australia this Olympiad: Anton Smirnov winning his double GM norm. Going into the last round, Anton is on 7.5 points out of 9 games: six wins and three draws, no losses. It is the identical score-line he finished on in the last Olympiad in Tromso: incredibly, Anton still hasn’t lost a game in his two Olympiads.
If I’m not mistaken, the youngest Australian to win the Grandmaster title so far has been Zong-Yuan Zhao, at 21. Anton has about 5 years to win another norm and break that record.
Australian Chess is in a good place at this point in time, with a new generation of many bright stars breaking through: Moulthun Ly, Max Illingworth, Bobby Cheng, Justin Tan, James Morris – to name a few.
But none of these stars are likely to shine as bright as Anton by the time he reaches his zenith. The reader shouldn’t be too surprised to see Anton emerge as Board 1 for Australia soon. Congratulations, Anton! Good luck with chasing that final GM norm. I look forward to many more brilliant performances from you in the future.
Brilliant Individual Performances
As the final round gets under way, I will briefly highlight some individual players at this Olympiad (I’ve been covering mostly team results). In addition to team medals, top three from each Board win a medal.
Baadur Jobava of Georgia is leading on Board 1, with a colossal 2965 performance. His performance rating only dropped below 3000+ last round, after he was “held” to a draw by World Number 4 Fabiano Caruana. Pentela Harikrishna of India is coming second and World Champion Magnus Carlsen is coming third.
Valentina Gunina of Russia has been a stand-out in the Women’s, leading Board 2 on 8/9. World Champion Hou Yifan of China is coming second on Board 1 behind Anna Muzychuk of Ukraine.
Wesley So has been the superstar for the leaders USA, with a 2883 performance on Board 3. Also on Board 3, the legendary Eugenio Torre is coming fourth with a 2813 performance rating.
Eugenio Torre (inventor of the opening the Torre Attack), aged 64, is playing in his 23rd Olympiad for the Philippines. Torre is the first Grandmaster from Asia, and is widely regarded as kick-starting the development of chess outside of Europe and North America, being a world-class player in the 70s and 80s.