Sunday, August 10, 2014

Mixed feelings

Last night came the dreaded moment when my country of residence, Australia, took on my country of birth, England, in the women's Olympiad. I found it very difficult to cheer for one team or another. In the end, the Australian team won by a narrow margin which was something of an upset but good from my point of view was that Anne-Marie James drew with Sally Yu, probably the 2 players in both teams I know the best. This match has pulled the Aussie women's team up the rankings to 32nd or equal 23rd in match points terms. From a starting position of 51st this is a fantastic effort and they will continue their tournament next against a strong Serbian team, where Australia will be out rated by quite a bit on every board. However, this Olympiad has provided quite a few upsets already in both men's and women's sections, and Australian team spirit will be high for the match.

The women's event was virtually decided in the last round with the match up of China-Russia. These 2 amazing teams had been cutting a swathe through the rest of the field, and their 7th round encounter seemed like a tournament decider. Of course, with 4 rounds to go, anything could happen, and it is unlikely that a team will be able to hold it together for every match in the event, but the Russian women have given themselves a great opportunity to retain their title by beating China 3-1. If Russia do win, then it will add to the stories in Olympiad history, as the team were nearly denied entry to the event before it began. The Olympiad organisers had denied the Russian women a spot in Tromso after Russia failed to enter their team list on time. This caused a crisis in the chess world with FIDE President Ilyumshinov finally stepping in to use his Presidential power to allow the Russian women a spot. By all accounts, the late entry was due to Kateryna Lagno changing federations from Ukraine to Russia, and the Russian's not wanting to name the team until that change came through. It has certainly worked out well for the Russian's as Lagno's victory over Women's World Champion, Yifan Hou was an integral part of Russia's victory yesterday.

The Open section also had some amazing results. Firstly, Azerbaijan are on an absolute mission in this event, and with the sad death earlier in the year of star player Gashimov, it as if the team are playing with a purpose of winning the tournament as a tribute to him. Azerbaijan are now sole leaders having won all games except one draw. Of course, it gets harder to keep things going the further the tournament goes, and today they have a very tough draw against China who have already drawn with the Russians in an earlier round. Not that Russia are performing that well. After struggling to beat Uzbekistan, they then lost to the Czech Republic and currently languish in 16th spot 3 points off the leaders. In fact, there are a whole bunch of top nations above Russia who could easily win their last 4 matches to take out the title should Azerbaijan slip. Armenia, Ukraine, France and the USA have all come back from disappointments earlier, and are all ahead of Russia. The English team are on the same score as Russia, with surprisingly, Scotland also in that group.

Australia's men had a fine win against higher rated Mexico yesterday, that has pulled them up to 50th, though they are on the same score as the team in 28th. The open event has the most amazing pairings in round 8, and at the top, every match will be hard fought. It will be hard pushed to top the USA-Hungary pairing, though, where 5th seeds take on 6th seeds. Russia need to win all their remaining 4 matches to stand any chance of a top finish, and that starts tonight against a tough Spanish team. England out rate Serbia by quite a margin, but that won't help to make their job easier as the Serbs have been playing well so far. Australia have to play Uzbekistan where David Smerdon will continue his tournament against tip rated opposition. After drawing with world number 2 Aronian earlier in the tournament, he has to face 2700 rated Kazimdzhanov today.

Anton Smirnov at the Australian Championship in January
Australia's star performer has been their youngest player, 13 year old Anton Smirnov who has scored an impressive 5.5/6 for a rating performance just below 2600. It's Anton's turn to rotate out of the match today, but there will be 3 more matches after that when he will hopefully add to his tally. Meanwhile, England's star has also been the bottom board. Matthew Sadler took time off chess, but he is back and performing well, with 5.5/7 for a 2696 performance. England have had some tough pairings, but have performed quite well. Nigel Short has perhaps been the weakest link this time round, but he is a stalwart for England and may yet come through in the final rounds, that is if he isn't working too hard in his role in the Kasparov electoral team.

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