England aiming for place in top group as 163-team Olympiad gets under way

England aiming for place in top group as 163-team Olympiad gets under way

It was as recently as March 2019, though like much else pre-Covid it seems an era ago, that the England team won their first major chess medals for 22 years, silver behind Russia at the world team championship in Astana, Kazakhstan.

This weekend, with games starting at 6pm on Friday, comes the first phase of another opportunity in the nine rounds of section E of the B group in the 163-nation online Olympiad.

Matches are of six boards, two men, two women, and two juniors. The time limit is fast, 15 minutes per player per game plus five seconds per move increment.

England need to finish in the top three (of 10) to progress to the much stiffer hurdle of next weekend’s top group when the heavyweight squads of China, Russia and the United States join the competition. On paper, England have excellent chances to progress. They are top seeded in their section, narrowly in front of Hungary but around 100 rating points ahead of the rest, who are mainly from Central and South America.

Michael Adams, Luke McShane, Gawain Jones and David Howell are all skilled speed players, while the women’s boards are strengthened by the return of Harriet Hunt, the former world girls champion who became a Cambridge academic.

Assuming England justify their seeding and qualify for the top group to be played on 21-23 August, they will be seeded 17th but hoping for at least a top 10 finish to keep up their momentum from the World Teams.

England’s games are at 6, 7 and 8pm this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The chessbomb website features some games with move by move computer commentary, while chess-results.com has rapidly updated match scores plus a file of completed games.

Scotland and Ireland have already had successful online Olympiad campaigns, as both qualified as top three finishers from last weekend’s C groups. Neither was at full strength, and Scotland in particular could have hoped for still more if they had included their two grandmasters, Matthew Turner and the semi-retired Jonathan Rowson.

Over-the-board chess in detailed anti-virus measures, and ended last Sunday with a victory for FM Tom O’Gorman on 7/9, half a point ahead of the ratings favourite, IM Sam Collins.

The first major post-lockdown over-the-board in England will be the Northumberland weekend congress at North Shields on 25-27 September. Its venue, the Parks Leisure Centre, hosted the 2012 British Championship. Entry is limited to 120, and the Open is Fide-rated with a £300 first prize.

The final of the Magnus Carlsen Tour starts at 3pm on Friday and can be viewed free and live with grandmaster and computer commentaries on chess24.com.

Hikaru Nakamura, the widely followed Twitch streamer who is Carlsen’s main rival in online blitz, got off to a disastrous start against the 24-year-old Russian Daniil Dubov, who defeated the reigning US champion in only 17 moves.

The rest of the match was all downhill for Dubov, as the American ruthlessly exploited the Muscovite’s weakness in the endgame. Nakamura swept through the best of five sets match (four games per set) and ran out a 3-0 winner with two days to spare.

Carlsen himself had a much tougher struggle against China’s world No 3,Ding Liren, before winning 3-1.

In previous Tour matches Ding had been handicapped by internet disconnections, but on the first day of the final it was Carlsen who got disconnected twice, on one occasion when Ding’s move failed to register on Carlsen’s screen. Norway’s world champion also had the ignominy in the second game of having his king checkmated in mid-board.

Carlsen fought back strongly, took a 2-1 set lead, and then had to battle again as Ding generally controlled the fourth set but missed several good chances. In the second blitz tie-break Ding was winning with two pieces for a rook, but fell for a final trap by the always resourceful Carlsen.

The final is best of seven sets so could last a week, Meanwhile, the over-the-board Candidates tournament to decide Carlsen’s 2021 challenger, which was halted by Covid-19 in April after seven of its 14 rounds is now likely to be completed in November-December at its original venue in Ekaterinburg, Russia.

3684: 1…Rc2+ 2 Rd2 (to save the a2 bishop) c5! when if 3 dxc6 ep Qxa2 wins. White’s d4 queen can no longer guard the d2 rook, so the game finished 3 Rxc2 cxd4 4 exd4 Qe7 and White resigned in the face of Qe1+ and mate.