There were upsets galore at the 44th Chess Olympiad, a global team competition that was contested from July 29 through Aug. 10 in Chennai, India. Neither of the pre-tournament favorites, the USA in the open section and India in the women’s section, ended up winning a team gold or silver medal.

The USA team won only two of its last five matches in the open and finished in fifth place, while India’s women dropped from the gold medal position to bronze
after being upset by the USA women in the last round.

Uzbekistan and Armenia won gold and silver in the Open section – both major surprises, since they were seeded outside the top 10 in the pre-tournament rankings. The final standings in the women’s section were less shocking, with second-ranked Ukraine and third-ranked Georgia moving up to gold and silver after India’s last-round stumble.

The USA women, unlike the men, placed higher than expected. Seeded seventh, they recovered from a slow start to register five wins and a draw in their last six matches. Their last-round victory over India lifted them into a tie for third place, but tiebreaks placed them fourth, just outside the medals. The team was paced by Tokhirjonova Gulrukhbegim and Irina Krush, who played very solidly for the USA on Boards 1 and 2, and Tatev Abrahamyan, who scored six wins in her nine games on Board 4.

Abrahamyan’s enterprising play in the last round clinched USA’s victory over India.

White: Tatev Abrahamyan, USA
Black: Kulkarni Bhakti, India

1e4 e5 2Nf3 Nc6 3Bc4 Nf6 4Ng5!? A safer continuation is 4d3. After the game move, black can sacrifice a pawn in order to gain rapid piece development.

4…d5 5exd5 Na5 6Bb5+ c6 7dxc6 bxc6 8Bd3 Nd5 Black’s queen now threatens the knight on g5.

White to move

9h4!? White usually retreats with 9Nf3, but Abrahamyan steers the game toward a position that may be less familiar for Bhakti.

9…h6 10Qh5!? Qf6 11Ne4 Qe6 12Nbc3 Nf4 13Qf3 Nxd3+ 14Qxd3 f5 15Ng3 Be7 16b3 Rb8 17Bb2 Now Bhakti would have a perfectly acceptable game after 17…Nc4! 18Qxc4 bxc4 19bxc4 Rxb2, but instead she goes wrong by trying to win white’s h-pawn.

Black to move

17…Rb4? 18 0-0-0! Suddenly, white’s development is complete and her pieces are well

18…Rxh4?! 19Rxh4 Bxh4 20Re1 Black wins a pawn, but white now has time to attack on the e-file.

20…0-0 21Na4 Rd8?! 22Qc3 Bg5 23Rxe5 Qf7 Black is threatening to play Bxd2+, winning white’s queen. White can defend with 24Nf1, but she finds an even stronger move.

White to move

24Qxa5! Bxd2+ 25Qxd2 Rxd2 26Kxd2 In exchange for her queen, white has a rook, two knights and active bishop, which will prove to be stronger than black’s remaining forces.

26…Qg6 27 Ne2 Kf7 28Nf4 Qg5 29g3 h5 30Nc5 h4 31Re3?! After 31Nd3 would be in full control of the game.

Black to move

31…Qh6? Black misses an opportunity to complicate the position with 31…Qd8+ 32Kc1 (or 32Ke2 g5 33Nfe6 Bxe6) g5 33Nfd3 h3. White would still be winning, but less easily than in the game.

32Nce6!? Bxe6 33Rxe6 The attack on black’s queen prevents her from organizing a counterattack before white can break through.

33…Qg5 34Rg6 White is about to win the pawn on g7.

34…Qd8+ 35Ke2 Qe8+ 36Kf1 Qe4 37Rxg7+ Ke8 38Bf6! Qh1+ 39Ke2 Qe4+ 40Kd2 Qb4+ 41Kc1h3 42Nxh3 Qd6 43Re7+ Kg8 44Ng5! Qa3+ 45Kb1 a6?! Can you find the moves that lead to a forced checkmate for white?

White to move

46Nh7+ Kg8 47Rg7+ Kh8 48Ng5 and black resigns. White threatens both 49Nf7 mate and 49Rh7+ Kg8 50Rh8 mate, and black cannot stop both threats.

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Keith Holzmueller has been the head coach of the Evanston Township High School Chess Club and Team since 2017. He became a serious chess player during his high school years. As an adult player, he obtained...