The 42nd Baku Olympiad is now well and truly over, and after a dramatic conclusion that involved a frantic calculation of the tiebreak scores, Team USA have returned home in glory with their first gold medal in 40-years with Ukraine taking silver and top seeds Russia having to settle for bronze. And beyond Baku, in two year’s time USA will defend their title at the 43rd Batumi Chess Olympiad in Georgia.
And just off a podium placing, one notable performance that stood out was that of a very young Norwegian squad led by World Champion Magnus Carlsen, who now goes from Baku straight to his training camp, as he readies himself to defend his title against Russian challenger Sergey Karjakin in a 12-game match that will take place in Manhattan, New York City, in November.
Perhaps inspired by Carlsen, who went undefeated on 7.5/10, tiny Norway claimed fifth place in the Olympiad, and their big reward will now be a spot in next May's World Team Championship in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia. Norway had a bit of good fortune along the way. In the final round, with India podium-pressing, one of their players seriously miscalculated a tactic, lost a piece and had to resign - a result that went a long to Norway drawing 2-2 with India to claim their first appearance in a World Team Championship.
Team gold, silver and bronze is not just the only medals on offer at the Olympiad. There are individual medals for the best three performances on each board, including the best reserve player (Board 5) . We highlighted Wesley So’s individual gold on board 3 with his performance of 8.5/10, but we should also mention his former fellow Filipino countryman, Eugene Torre, who took bronze also on board 3 for a remarkable score of 10/11 for the 64-year-old Olympiad veteran, who has competed now in a record 23 Olympiads - his debut being at Siegen, Germany in 1970!
The full list of individual medal winners:
Board 1: 1. Baadur Jobava (Georgia); 2. Leinier Dominguez (Cuba); 3. Fabiano Caruana (USA). Board 2: 1. Vladimir Kramnik (Russia); 2. Anton Kovalyov (Canada); 3. Jorge Cori (Peru). Board 3: 1. Wesley So (USA); 2. Zoltan Almasi (Hungary); 3. Eugene Torre (Philippines). Board 4: 1. Laurent Fressinet (France); 2. Ian Nepomniachtchi (Russia). 3. Aleksander Indjic (Serbia). Board 5: 1. Andrei Volokitin (Ukraine); 2. Sami Khadar (Jordan); 3. Aleksej Aleksandrov (Belarus).
GM Magnus Carlsen - GM Ehsan Ghaem Maghami
42nd Olympiad Open, (10)
1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Bf4 The London System is the ideal opening for those who do not wish to get heavily involved in a sharp, theoretical duel, nor to explore reams of opening theory, but prefer to simply complete their development in a solid, non-confrontational way. The set-up of d4, Nf3, Bf4, e3, h3 and c3 can indeed be frustrating to play against - and this anti-theory strategy fits in well with Carlsen's style - and has been successfully included now in his repertoire. 3...e6 4.e3 Bd6 5.Bg3 c5 6.c3 Nc6 7.Nbd2 Bxg3 8.hxg3 Qd6 9.Bb5 And thus we reach a strategic battlefield in the London/Torre systems, as White exchanges off his bishops and goes for control of the all-important e5 square with his knight, the idea being to reach a favourable good knight vs bad bishop ending. 9...Bd7 10.Bxc6 Bxc6 11.Ne5 Qc7 Black can try to dislodge the knight immediately with 11...Nd7, but in doing so, the other knight swings over to keep control over e5 with 12.Ndf3 - and note that Black can't try to kick the knight with ...f6, as Ng6! wins. 12.Qf3 This is the sort of position that Carlsen loves to grind on and on in - he has a very small edge and no real threat of losing this. It is, though, a somewhat simple position, but his opponent begins to get frustrated trying to dislodge the knight on e5 while keeping his kingside safe. 12...h6 13.Qf4 Qe7 Carlsen's speciality is niggling little moves that don't seem threatening anything at once, but all build up and count in his favour. And this can be regarded as one of them, as Black still can't castle to safety because of the instant threat 13...0-0 14.Rxh6! gxh6 15.Qxf6 and a winning position. Meanwhile, with the queen now on f4, Carlsen is also threatening to simply play dxc5 winning a pawn, so the Iranian No.1 had to waste another move defending against this. 14.g4! Now another little problem begins to mount up, as Carlsen threatens g5 with a big advantage. It's remarkable how, in the hands of Carlsen, such a simply opening system as the London can become a potent weapon against a very strong grandmaster. 14...Nh7 15.Qg3 Rg8? Ghaem cracks under the pressure, and who can blame him? The trouble is that Black has no real useful moves left to play, as 15...cxd4 16.exd4 Ba4 (16...Bb5 gets hit by the likes of 17.a4! Ba6 18.b4 b6 19.a5! Bb5 20.f4 Rc8 21.g5 Nf8 22.axb6 axb6 23.Kf2 and White is in command.) 17.b3 Bc6 18.a4 0-0 19.f4 and White has a very promising game. 16.0-0! With Black declaring in his previous move that he isn't castling kingside, Carlsen very quickly and very correctly castles his king to safety and now concentrates everything on opening up the queenside. 16...Nf6 17.Rac1 Rc8 18.c4 dxc4 19.dxc5 Qxc5 20.Ndxc4 Ke7 Black's king is coming under threat from Carlsen's active knights, so he tries in vain to circumvent any nasty Nd6+ - but it leads to a bigger threat. And the obvious 20...Ne4 will soon backfire after 21.Qf4 f6 22.Nxc6 Qxc6 23.Qxe4! Qxe4 24.Nd6+ easily winning. 21.b4! (See Diagram) Easy to miss, but not by someone like Carlsen! The trouble is that it opens the door to a sudden attack on Black's king, which he had missed when he played ...Ke7. 21...Qxb4 There's no escaping the inevitable now. If 21...Qb5 22.Nd6! Kxd6 23.Nxc6+ Kd7 24.Nxa7 wins material. 22.Nd3 Ne4 Instead, 22...Qb5 23.Qd6+ Ke8 24.Qa3 and, with Nd6+ looming, the position is crushing for White. 23.Nxb4 Nxg3 24.fxg3 Bb5 25.Rxf7+! All the tactics are in Carlsen's favour. 25...Kxf7 26.Nd6+ Ke7 27.Nxc8+ Kd7 28.Nxa7 Ba4 29.Nd3 1-0 Black resigns, because with Nc5+ coming, Carlsen will forever be a piece to the better here.