Ouch! Annals of Russian Sports Humiliation

30chess_190The New York Times reports yet more bitterly humiliating news for Vladimir Putin’s Russia on the sports front:

The United States’ status in the global chess hierarchy is rising, while Russia’s once dominant position is waning. At the biennial Chess Olympiad, held in Dresden, Germany, this month, Americans took the bronze medals in the open and women’s sections. It was the first time that both teams had medaled at the same Olympiad, and it was only the second medal for the women, who took the silver in 2004. It was the second consecutive bronze for the open team. The last time that the United States captured medals at consecutive Olympiads was 1996 (bronze) and 1998 (silver).

Armenia took the gold in the open section, defending the title it won in 2006.

The Russian team — ranked No. 1, the winner of consecutive gold medals from 1992 through 2002, and the silver medalist in 2004 — did not finish among the top three for the second Olympiad in a row. Just as surprisingly, the Russian women, who had won three silvers and three bronzes at the last six Olympiads, also did not medal.

It was the first time that a Russian or Soviet team did not finish among the top three in either section since 1976, when the Soviets boycotted the Olympiad held in Haifa, Israel.

The Russians still have six players in the top 25 — more than any other nation — and the women’s world champion, Alexandra Kosteniuk, is Russian. But the rest of the world is catching up.

There were some exceptional performances among the Americans. Anna Zatonskih won an individual gold medal, and Rusudan Goletiani earned a silver. None of the men on the United States’ open team won individual awards, but its top three players, Gata Kamsky, Hikaru Nakamura and Alexander Onischuk, each scored 6.5 points out of 10 against formidable competition.

Going into the final round, the Americans, No. 10 at the start of the competition, were a long shot to win a bronze. They were tied for fifth, and they faced Ukraine, No. 2, which was tied for first. Because of the tie-breakers used to determine the final positions, the United States had to win by the unheard-of score of 3.5 to 0.5 and hope that teams ahead of them would stumble. Amazingly, everything fell into place as the United States routed Ukraine, with Kamsky taking down Vassily Ivanchuk, No. 3 in the world.

The opening was a Winawer French Defense.

Ivanchuk’s 7 … Kf8 is often played, but it is passive compared to 7 … Qc7, which leads to a lively position after 8 Qg7 Rg8 9 Qh7 cd 10 Ne2 Nbc6 11 f4 Bd7.

Ivanchuk tried to get his king rook into the game with 20 … Rh6, but that allowed 21 a5. The point was that 21 … Na5 22 Qa4 threatens 23 Ra5, winning a piece, and 23 Bh6, winning a rook for a bishop and pawn.

After 24 Rab5, Ivanchuk could do little except wait for the inevitable breakthrough. Kamsky, who is at his best in positions when he, like a boa constrictor, can suffocate his opponent, finally figured out how to do it. After 33 Ng5, Black cannot play 33 … Kh8 because of 34 Rc7 Qc7 35 Qe8 Ng8 36 Nf7 Kh7 37 Ng5 Rg5 38 Bg5, etc.

Ivanchuk resigned as he must lose a piece after 40 … Nc4 41 Ba7 N4d6 42 Bc5 Nb5 43 Ra8.

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