Round five of the 43rd Olympiad in Batumi, Georgia, was the final round before the one and only rest day in the tournament. Had one tried to predict the leading teams at this stage, the usual suspects of Russia, Ukraine, United States of America, Armenia, China, would certainly be featuring. Then would come other possibilities, such as Israel, Azerbaijan, France and India.
And if we look at the top ten, that is largely how things have turned out … with a couple of curve balls. Rather large ones at that.
The first curve ball, is that Russia are not featuring in the top ten. In fact, having lost their previous round to Poland, the second seeds are currently lying in 14th place. They pulled their socks up in this round, defeating Peru 3-1, but they really need a couple more of these results if they are going to be in charge of their own fate again.
The other curve ball, is that Poland themselves are having a stonking tournament so far. No disrespect intended to them, but no one will have expected them to be occupying third place in the standings at the rest day. That’s where they are though and thoroughly deserve it.
Poland have won all of their matches so far and have had only three games go against them with a couple of draws. It is true that they have had a couple of favourable match ups, ratings-wise — but, as already mentioned, they beat Russia in round four.
The team were not going to ease up in round five, either, as they handed France their first loss — and a heavy one. As it turned out, France’s only point would go to Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (2780), who defeated Kan-Krzysztof Duda (2739) on board one. The other three games all went Poland’s way, though to give them a 3-1 victory.
Among these, was the game between Radoslaw Wojtaszek (2727) and Etienne Bacrot (2678), which saw the Frenchman go all kinds of wrong. Looking at what happened, I can only deduce that Etienne failed to consider an in-between move, which put him in big trouble. Radoslaw (playing white) was already a bit better when Black went for 39…a5 40.bxa5 Bxc5 and they arrived at the following position.
It seems that Bacrot had banked on 41.dxc5 Qxc5, here, which is about equal. However, Wojtaszek opted for the much better 41.Qc2(!!). Black is in very big trouble here, after White’s intended Qxc5, he is extremely passive (the Be8 is especially horrid) and facing a self-inflicted passed pawn to boot. Things went from bad to catastrophic, 41…Qa8 42.Qxc5 Qxa5 43.Qf8+(!).
There was no way back for Bacrot from here and Wojtaszek had the point not long after. The other wins went to Kacper Piorun (2612) with black against Laurent Fressinet (2649) and Jacek Tomczak (2614) over Christian Bauer (2629). This was an extremely good performance by Poland and I really hope they can keep this standard of play going!
Staying with the teams on 5/5, we’re not done with the curve balls just yet. Another one came in this round when the Czech Republic went and beat China. They didn’t just give them a flick on the nose, either, it was a full blown 3-1 poke in the eyes.
Draws for David Navara (2740) with Black against Ding Liren (2804) and Peter Michalik (2556) against Bu Xiangzhi (2712) were already fine results. However, the middle boards were going even better as Viktor Laznicka (2662) made the most of the white pieces to defeat Yu Yangyi (2765) and Jiri Stocek (2574) took a point from Wei Yi (2742) with black. Don’t know about you, but I really didn’t see this one coming.
Ukraine are also enjoying a clean sweep of matches at this stage. They edged Spain 2.5-1.5 in a match that saw Pavel Eljanov (2703) losing to Manuel Perez Candelario (2590).
The top of the standings is occupied by Azerbaijan at the moment. They beat Armenia 2.5-1.5 to end their unbeaten run. The United States of America and Israel were spoilers to each other, drawing their match 2-2. That being said, they are still in the mix, yet to lose a match, as are Germany who beat Moldova 2.5-1.5.
All in all, there is very little between the lead and 24th place — very exciting!
In the Women’s section, we have a sole leader. The United States of America are clearly ahead as the only team to have won all of their matches. This round saw them give Mongolia a thrashing, 3.5-0.5 to end their clean sheet. Just to give an idea of what one result can do in this tournament, Mongolia had been in fourth position after round four. They go to the rest day in sixteenth. Ouch.
Just as with the United States and Israel in the other section, some of the top teams spoiled each other by having drawn matches. This was the case with Armenia vs China, for example, which saw Armenia put up very staunch resistance. Georgia 1 vs Ukraine also ended 2-2.
Worthy of note, was Austria drawing with Poland. Austria were out-rated on every board in this match and a draw probably felt more like a win. The match was won on the bottom boards, which saw Annika Froewis (2113) defeating Karina Szczepkowska (2407) with black and Denise Trippold (2146) using her white pieces wisely to take a point from Anna Warakomska (2305). Ratings underdogs, Serbia, also defeated France 2.5-1.5. Well played.
The United States lead, then, but should not be feeling very secure in the top slot just yet. China, Ukraine, Georgia 1 and 2, Armenia, India, Azerbaijan, are all hot on their heels. Russia are currently in 14th position, their recovery campaign still underway following their earlier loss. As I said, though, one result can be a big game changer at the moment.
The players can now have a day off, and it will be interesting to see how they come out for round six on Sunday. Will the break in play work for some more than others? I’ll be back on Monday with the verdict!
Round 6 is on Sunday 30th September, 15:00 local time. (check your time here.)