The Soviets dominated the postwar Olympiads with a record number of wins, and when it ceased to be in 1991, the mantle of chess powerhouse passed to Russia. But nowadays Russia is not the same chess superpower it once was - the reigning World Champion is Norwegian and China won the last Chess Olympiad. And indeed, you need to go as far back as 2002 in Bled when Garry Kasparov last led Russia to victory.
But Russia still has more players in the top-20 list than any other country - and this is one of the main reasons that makes them the perennial top seeds, despite the fact they have not won gold in the past seven Olympiads. It’s a source of embarrassment at even the top level back in Mother Russia that they have not won in such a lengthy period.
And Russia suffered a major setback in doing so again when they were defeated in round four of the 42nd Baku Olympiad in Azerbaijan by the Ukraine - and the embarrassment further being compounded with the ongoing geopolitical struggle over Crimea. Losing 2.5-1.5 to the Ukraine was bad enough, but the Ukrainian president was quick off the mark to get his ‘dig in’ at Vladimir Putin’s Russia by very publicly congratulating his team’s victory over their neighbouring rivals on social media sites.
And the Ukraine managed to keep their winning run going by beating the reigning champions, China, in round five. And remarkably, the Ukraine - who took gold in 2002 and 2010 ahead of Russia - have done all this without the services of their veteran No.1 and talismanic scorer, Vassily Ivanchuk, who is missing from their squad, as he opted to skip his first Olympiad since his debut in 1988 in preference to playing in a checkers tournament!
Ukraine now share the lead with Netherlands and India, as the only teams remaining on a perfect score of 10/10. And just off the pace on 9-points (alongside the Czech Re and Georgia) is the USA, who - after their 2-2 draw with the Czech Rep. - stormed back into contention for a podium finish with a resounding 3-1 win over Serbia, as Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So led the way with sparkling wins.
Wednesday is the rest day, and in round six, on Thursday, the USA will face their toughest test yet with a big match-up with co-leaders the Ukraine. Standings: 1-3. Netherlands, Ukraine, India 10/10; 4-6. Czech Rep., USA, Georgia 9. Top seeds Russia, defending champions China, and host Azerbaijan are among a 16-nation strong chasing pack on 8-points.
Follow live games with GM commentary, results, standings, interviews and recap videos at the official 42nd Baku Olympiad site.
GM Nikola Sedlak - GM Wesley So
42nd Baku Olympiad, (5)
1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 d5 3.Bf4 c5 4.e3 Nc6 5.Nbd2 e6 6.c3 Bd6 7.Bg3 0-0 8.Bd3 b6 9.Qe2 Bb7 10.Rd1 Re8 11.e4 Be7 12.e5 Nh5 We have, basically, transposed from a London System into a French Defence Tarrasch - but the big difference is that normally after White plays e5, Black's knight is forced to retreat to d7. But here, So is quick to spot that ..Nh5 hits White's bishop to offer a better chance of a much freer game than more usual in the French. 13.a3 g6 So is in no rush to play ...Nxg3 as the bishop isn't going anywhere. And besides, not taking off the bishop right away is more of a headache for White. 14.Nf1 f5! 15.exf6 With the bishop on g3 under threat of being trapped, White is forced into this move that opens up the game - and to Black's advantage. 15...Bxf6 16.Ne3 e5! With White's king still in the middle of the board, So continues his plan of further opening up the game. 17.dxe5 Nxe5 18.Nxe5 Nxg3 Now is the right time to exchange off the bishop, as So want's to recapture on e5 with his rook to exert pressure down the e-file. 19.hxg3 Rxe5 20.Bc4 b5! White finds himself in trouble after this pawn sacrifice, as suddenly all of So's pieces become very active. 21.Bxb5 Just as bad was 21.Ba2 c4 22.0-0 Qb6 and much the same as in the game, except no pawn to show for it. 21...Qb6 22.0-0 Kg7 A prophylactic move from So, defending against any future White tactic on d5 with the king on g8, or even a possible game-saving Qc4+. 23.Bd3 Bg5 With So now threatening ...Rae8, the strain becomes too much for White's position. 24.c4 Rae8 25.cxd5 Rxe3!! (See Diagram) The in-form So quickly spots that all the tactics favour him. 26.fxe3 Bxe3+ 27.Rf2 c4! The pin on f2 now becomes unbearable. 28.Bxc4 Rf8 29.Rdf1 Qd4 30.b3 h5 With the 'eternal pin' on f2, White is in grave danger of being squeezed into Zugzwang. 31.d6? Marginally better was 31.a4 a5! 32.Qc2 h4 and much the same as the game - but at least the bishop on b7 hasn't been released. 31...h4 32.Kh1 White's position is hopeless. If 32.g4 h3! 33.Kh2 (If 33.gxh3 Qe5! and, with no Qb2+, mate will quickly follow after ...Qg3+.) 33...Rxf2 34.Rxf2 Bxf2 35.Qe7+ Kh6 36.g3 (If 36.Qxb7 Qxd6+ 37.Kh1 Qd1+ 38.Bf1 Qxf1+ 39.Kh2 Qg1+) 36...Bg1+ 37.Kxh3 Bg2+! 38.Kh4 (If 38.Kxg2 Qf2+ 39.Kh3 Qh2#) 38...Be3 39.Qf8+ Qg7 40.Qxg7+ Kxg7 and Black easily wins with his extra bishop. 32...Rxf2 33.Rxf2 hxg3! The final twist - there's no way to stop ...Qh4+ mating, and it only can be delayed by a heavy loss of material. 34.Rf7+ Kh6 0-1