Rex Sinquefield’s vision of building a “Dream Team” has paid off big-time for the St Louis chess patron, as America - anchored by the trio of world top-10 stars: Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, and Wesley So - sensationally captured their first gold medal in 40-years at the 42nd Baku Olympiad that concluded on Tuesday in Azerbaijan.
With a 2.5-1.5 win over neighbours Canada in the 11th and final round, Team USA - who led from start to finish — narrowly edged out nearest rivals Ukraine on yet another crazy FIDE tiebreak system to take the top prize of team gold and the Hamilton-Russell Cup in the 180-nation strong biennial competition.
Despite going undefeated (9-2-0) and beating Ukraine (10-0-1), captain John Donaldson was only sure of his calculations of taking the top prize when the unlikely hero of Germany’s Matthias Blübaum won his game on a lower board (against Estonia) to tip the tiebreak scores away from Ukraine and in the favour of the U.S. In the end, the U.S. took gold, Ukraine silver, and perennial top seeds Russia having to settle for bronze.
First Move would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, Wesley So, Sam Shankland, Ray Robson (and non-playing captain John Donaldson) for a wonderful team performance throughout. While we all know the old adage that there’s no I in Team, one individual does stand-out, however, namely that of Wesley So, who not only went undefeated on 8.5/10 but also captured the bonus prize of an individual gold medal for his performance on board three.
In the Women’s Olympiad, there was revenge for China as they won an epic showdown with defending champions Russia in the final round to clinch gold and the Vera Menchik Cup for the first time in 14-years. Poland took silver and Ukraine edged out Russia for bronze. The U.S. team of Irina Krush, Nazi Paikidze, Anna Zatonskih, Katerina Nemcova, Sabina Foisor (and captain Yasser Seirawan) finished in their expected seeded spot of sixth place.
And leading by example in the critical final round in the Open was Caruana (who also went undefeated throughout the competition), who swiftly overpowered Evgeny Bareev - the former Russian world number four, who now coaches young Canadian stars - to get Team USA off to a flyer, as they went on to beat Canada 2.5-1.5 to win gold and the Hamilton-Russell Cup.
GM Fabiano Caruana - GM Evgeny Bareev
42nd Olympiad Open, (11)
Caro-Kann Defence, Advance Variation
1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Caruana has been a long-time advocate of the aggressive Advance variation against the Caro-Kann - and with Bareev also being a long-time Caro aficionado, then this opening battle shouldn't have come as a surprise to anyone. 3...Bf5 4.Nf3 e6 5.Be2 Nd7 6.0-0 Bg6 7.a4 Ne7 8.a5 a6 Also an option here is 8...Nf5. 9.b4 White looks to put the 'big clamp' on the freeing option of ...c5. Black now has to chip away elsewhere at White's position, notably e5. Easier said than done, because if Black isn't careful he can easily be steam-rolled off the board - and this is exactly what happens in the game. 9...Nf5 10.c3 f6 11.Bf4 Not 11.exf6 Qxf6! And Black will follow-up with ...Bd6, castle kingside and play for the freeing ...e5 with a good game. 11...fxe5 12.dxe5 White has to keep the situation as tense as possible; and recapturing on e5 with a piece can give Black easy piece-play in return: 12.Nxe5 Nxe5 13.Bxe5 Bd6! 14.Bxd6 Nxd6 15.Bg4 0-0! 16.Bxe6+ Kh8 White may well have a pawn, but Black has excellent compensation with his control of e4 and domination of both e- and f-files for his rooks. 12...Be7 13.g4 Nh4 14.Nd4 Bf7 15.Bg3 h5? An over-ambitious idea that quickly backfires. Bareev should have taken his chances with the more complex 15...c5 16.bxc5 Nxc5 17.f4 0-0 18.f5 Bg5 and take his fight from here. However, with ...h5, Caruana swiftly moves to capitalise on the weakening of Bareev's position. 16.gxh5 Qc7 17.Bg4! Caruana now swiftly moves in for the kill. Perhaps Bareev had hoped for 17.f4 c5 18.bxc5 Nf5 19.Nxf5 exf5 20.Qd3 Be6 21.Bf2 Nxc5 22.Bxc5 Qxc5+ where, despite still being a pawn down, he should be able to hold this position as White has many weaknesses, especially those doubled h-pawns. 17...Rh6 18.f4 c5 19.bxc5 Qxc5 20.Kh1 0-0-0 21.Nd2 Bareev now has a major problem regarding the lack of coordination of his pieces, as Caruana now effortlessly maximises the coordination of his pieces. 21...Rdh8 22.Qe1! Bxh5 Embarrassing the knight, which can't retreat because Black will lose a piece: 22...Nf5 23.Bxf5 exf5 24.e6 winning. 23.Bxe6 Caruana is effortlessly overpowering Bareev now - and the end comes swiftly following a series of exact moves. 23...Be8 24.f5 Bd8 25.Rf4! Not really playing to win a piece, but forcing a move White want's to see played. 25...g5 26.Rf2 The retreat over-defends against any 'happenings' on h2, while ominously, those pawns on e5 and f5 become monsters for Black to have to deal with. 26...Bc7 27.Qe3! Caruana gets ready to push his pawns home for the win, but to do so, he must first defend his bishop on g3. 27...Kb8 28.f6 Nf8 29.Bg4 The bishop now makes way for e6 to come. 29...Nhg6 30.N2b3 Qa7 Just look at how swiftly and how effortlessly Caruana has pushed Black's pieces back since capitalising on the error of 15...h5. And now, if 30...Qc4 31.Be2 the queen is somewhat bereft of vacant squares. 31.f7 1-0 Bareev resigns, as there's no answer to the coming carnage with e6-e7.