By Dusan Stojic.
After a comfortable first round, the Aussies were crushed in the second round by the strong teams of Croatia (open section) and Lithuania (women’s section). IM Anton Smirnov scored an impressive victory.
Rubbing Shoulders with GMs
I finally obtained a Press Pass, which means I am allowed into the playing hall with the players and I get to rub shoulders with some famous GMs, and taste the same coffee, juice and cookies that Carlsen, Caruana and Karjakin have.
Technically, the press are allowed in the hall only for the first 15 minutes, and after that only the “official” press are allowed to stay. But this isn’t enforced strictly, and we stayed for a good 45 minutes, before voluntarily leaving.
Some snaps (courtesy of Biljana allowing me to borrow her camera):
Women’s v Chinese Taipei Open v Croatia GM’s Hammer and Carlsen! Alex watches the Women’s Round 2 clash
Although both teams were outranked, we did have decent positions. All of the open games were close, with David launching an attack out of a c3 Sicilian, Zong-Yuan having a solid position and Moulthun in a sharp English Attack (Najdorf).
Then the tide quickly turned just before the dreaded “time control”. (Since an extra 30 minutes is added on move 40, players typically have low time from move 35 to move 40, which is when the middle-game tactics can prove decisive.) David’s attack didn’t quite materialise, and Zong-Yuan and Moulthun faltered shortly after.
Moulthun admitted that he was quite affected by David’s game. This team dynamic is special about events like the Olympiad: since the goal of each team is to achieve 2.5 points for a match victory (or failing that 2 points for a match draw), the players need to keep an eye over the happenings of the other boards and adjust their game strategies. But this also makes it difficult to concentrate on one’s own game!
Meanwhile, the 15-year old Anton Smirnov stood firm. In what seemed like a superior French “queenless middlegame”, his opponent GM Brkic had an opportunity to unleash a nifty forced combination.
The Stockfish line is Rdxd5, which either wins a pawn or if black captures, it leads to a favourable (probably winning) Bishop+Knight vs Rook endgame. See image above. White played Rd3, which allowed Anton to play Nd6 and Nf7, winning the h6 pawn.
But to win from such a position against an experienced Grandmaster is impressive. (Link to all games here
) It shows Anton is a very mature player for his age. Being the only (!) non-GM on the Aussie team, this win puts him on the right path to chase a GM-norm during the event. An Olympiad norm counts as double too.
In the Women’s team, the games weren’t as close, but we still had positive things to take from them. Giang missed a defence which could have led to a good position, while Heather was very unlucky to lose against a 2400+ IM. Being a pawn up for a good chunk of the game, she made a mistake just before that 40-move mark and found herself in a difficult endgame. She did put up a very tough fight, and after 5+ hours (last game to finish!) her opponent finally converted the win.
There were some close battles in the rest of the field, but the top seeds are yet to meet.
The controversial rule requiring the players to inform the arbiters before going to the toilet is still in force (as I reported in Day 1). The outcome of the Arbiters’ Meeting was actually about enforcement and the role of the Arbiter. But as far as the players are concerned, they still need to give the Arbiter a quick index-finger-point-to-the-toilet each time.
Our board two, WIM Giang Nguyen was actually confronted by an Arbiter who suspected that she snuck off to the toilet without telling her. But our number-two was only observing the top boards. It’s a complete mystery what action the Arbiters are expected to take once they officially bust a player who was busting and couldn’t find the official in time.
Since Alexandra had a rest-day, we decided to visit the Old Town of Baku. From L-R: Chess themed desserts, Alex playing tourist, Dusan playing tourist, chess in front of the Maiden Tower
, and the happy couple at the top of the maiden tower enjoying the view!
Shopping for some groceries last night, I bumped into GM Alexander Grischuk of Russia. He’s one of my favourite players, so I had to say hi!
Recovering for Round 3
Our two teams took a very different approach to prepare for the next round: the Women’s team analysed their games and attempted to learn from the losses, while the Open team went out to town for some ice cream and a drink.
All the guys were disappointed with the match, but not disheartened. There is a great sense of comradery with all the Aussies. The Open team shows a lot of promise, and it is one of our strongest teams ever.
But let’s not put too much pressure on them just yet: they are still very young. Zong-Yuan and David are now the “senior statesmen” of the team, and they’re only 30 and 31. I’m looking forward to how they all go in Baku, but two and four years from now are much more exciting.
Today’s round is straight from the Beach Boys’ Cocomo: Aruba in the Women’s and Barbados in the Open. We need to bounce back with wins!