The Olympiad is one of the signature events in the chess calendar - the only true national team event, in which the best players from each country compete for gold, silver, and bronze. The first Olympiad was in 1924 in Paris - born out of a side event at the Paris Olympic Games - and, after an interruption for World War II, it has been held every two years since 1950.
This year's Olympiad in Baku includes no fewer than 180 teams ranging from Russia to Djibouti in the Open section and 140 teams in the Women's section. Twenty-eight of the top 32 players in the world are competing, including World Champion Magnus Carlsen and his challenger, Sergey Karjakin.
The postwar Olympiad dominance of the Soviet Union/Russian chess machinery means that very few living chess players today remember that there was a time when the United States were once the leading superpower in the chess world. In the early years of the biennial event, it was the American team that dominated, winning gold four times in-a-row from 1931 to 1937.
The USA won the title a fifth time in 1976 - but this gold comes with an asterisk alongside it, because the Soviets and a number of Eastern European teams boycotted the Haifa Olympiad in Israel. Now, with a powerhouse team anchored by three of the world’s top-10 players - GMs Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So - there’s a realistic chance of capturing a sixth US gold.
And the US have got off to a good start to the 42nd Baku Olympiad in Azerbaijan, comfortably winning their first three games, an opening round 4-0 whitewash over Andorra, 3.5-0.5 against Scotland, and the latest being a 3-1 win over Argentina. In their podium run for gold, the key player for the US could well turn out to be the very much in-form Wesley So - rested against the Scots - who, fresh from his recent victory in the Sinquefield Cup - turned in yet another silky smooth performance to go to 2/2.
Unlike previous Olympiads, this year the placings are decided on match points and not game points, so the US are just one of a logjam of 16 teams on maximum points at the top, the standings being (in tiebreak order): 1-16. Russia, Azerbaijan I, Cuba, USA, China, Netherlands, Belarus, England, India, Ukraine, Romania, Czech Rep., Slovenia, Latvia, Serbia, Italy 6/6.
In the Women’s Olympiad, defending champions Russia likewise hold the lead on tiebreak with 13 other teams. In the third round, sixth seeds the USA - IM Anna Zatonskih, GM Irina Krush, WGM Nazi Paikadze and WGM Katerina Nemcova - had a major setback for a possible podium finish when they lost 2.5-1.5 to the Ukraine.
Follow live games with GM commentary, results, standings, interviews and recap videos at the official 42nd Baku Olympiad site.
GM Wesley So - GM Federico Perez Ponsa
42nd Olympiad Open, (3)
King’s Indian Defence, Mar Del Plata Variation
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.d4 0-0 The King's Indian Defence remains a double-edged weapon to play for a win against 1.d4. This ever popular defence has had its ups and downs through the history of modern praxis. It started getting very popular during the 50's, with the help of players like Bronstein, Geller, and Gligoric. However, it became really popular with the masses in the late 60s/through the 70s and beyond when it became the first choice defence for Fischer and Kasparov. 6.Be2 e5 7.0-0 Nc6 8.d5 Ne7 9.Ne1 Nd7 10.Be3 f5 11.f3 f4 12.Bf2 g5 One of the most daring variations in chess: The famed Mar del Plata set-up - first fought-out in the duel between Najdorf-Gligoric at Mar del Plata 1953 - and a fight to the death on both wings. It's all exciting stuff and wonderful to watch - however, it is more dangerous for White, because if he isn't careful and mistimes what he's doing, it can all end up in a spectacular sacrificial mating attack. 13.Rc1 Rf7 It looks funny, but there's a reason for the rook developing this way, as it allows the bishop to retreat to f8 to help defend d6 with the coming queenside storm - and it also allows Black to play ...Rg7 to support the pawn storm on the kingside. 14.c5 Nxc5 15.Bxc5 dxc5 16.Bc4 Kf8 17.d6 cxd6 18.Bxf7 Kxf7 19.Nb5 Black looks as if he has lots of good piece play for the material imbalance we have. But if truth be told, Wesley So is a very well-prepared player, with his openings proven to be finely honed - and it is only now we see him begin to outplay his opponent. 19...d5? A radical solution, and one that is probably bad. The engines suggest the 'Steinitzian' approach by using his king to defend d6 with 19...Ke6 - but I can imagine probably facing this position for the first time, such radical and daring king advances would be baulked at when facing an opponent such as So with his legendary deep opening preparations. This, as you can imagine, had to be a big fear-factor. In any case, So probably intended continuing with 20.Rf2! (Not 20.Qb3+ Kf6 21.Qd1 (21.Rd1?! Be6! only succeeded in activating Black's pieces for him.) 21...Ke6 with a repetition in the air.) 20...a6 21.Nc3 b5 22.Rd2 and White has long-term prospects down the d-file. But now, finding himself in 'virgin territory', So's opponent errs immediately and soon pays for it. 20.Rxc5 Be6 21.Nc7! If So can clear that bishop from e6, he will have a dangerous attack on his opponent's stranded king. 21...dxe4 22.Qc2 Qd4+ 23.Kh1 Rd8 24.fxe4 g4 Black's bust. If 24...Bxa2 25.Nf3 Qd3 26.Qxd3 Rxd3 27.Nxg5+ Kg6 28.Nf3 Nc6 29.Rb5 b6 (If 29...Rb3 30.Rd1! White's rook is heading to d7 and clearing up the queenside pawns.) 30.Rc1 and eventually e5 will collapse, and when it does, Black is hopelessly lost. 25.Nxe6 Kxe6 26.Rc7! b5 So now takes full advantage of his opponent's king still dazed and confused in no man's land. 27.Qb3+ Kd6? Bad, but then again, the alternative of 27...Kf6 28.Qg3! Rd7 29.Rxd7 Qxd7 30.Qd3 Qc6 31.Nc2 didn't look all that better. Either way, So is easily winning now. 28.Nc2 Qa4 29.Qc3 Ke6 30.Re1 Qa6 31.Nb4 More clinical was the immediate engine spot of 31.Ne3! fxe3 32.Qb3+ Kf6 33.Rf1+ Kg5 34.Rxe7 and mate to quickly follow. But then again, which human couldn't be tempted by the option of Nb4-d5? 31...Qd6 32.Nd5 Rd7 If 32...Nxd5 33.exd5+ Qxd5 34.Rxg7 quickly mops up. 33.Nxf4+! exf4 34.Qb3+ Ke5 Of course, if 34...Kf6 35.e5+ and Black can resign. 35.Qxb5+ Ke6 36.Qb3+ With his opponent's king still stranded in no man's land, So now easily exchanges down to a won ending. 36...Ke5 37.Qc3+ Ke6 38.Rxd7 Bxc3 39.Rxd6+ Kxd6 40.bxc3 Ke5 41.Rb1 Nc6 42.Rb7 f3 43.gxf3 gxf3 44.Rc7 1-0 Black resigns, as a7 and h7 quickly falls and So's king covers the f-pawn.