US-TEAMS feiern den Gewinn der
Bronzemedaillien bei der Schacholympiade in Dresden 2008 (engl.)
|U.S. Teams Celebrate Bronze
By FM Mike Klein
The U.S. men's team at the closing ceremony. Yury
Shulman, Gata Kamsky, Varuzhan Akobian, Hikaru
Nakamura, Alexander Onischuk and women's coach
Gregory Kaidanov, Photo FM Mike Klein.
In 1994, with one game left in the season, David Robinson
was locked in a duel with Shaquille O’Neal for the NBA
scoring title. He decided to pour in 71 that night, a
franchise-record, to clinch. The U.S. men needed 3.5 points
yesterday to medal, which must have seemed just as
improbable. The difference? Three men previous to Robinson
had gotten to 70, but Ukraine had never lost a match 3.5-0.5
in the history of the Olympiad.
The U.S. women also faced a steep challenge. Needing a match
win and a little help, top board IM Irina Krush had to face
her third 2500 of the tournament and the other three team
members had opponents of like ratings. The tension for them
was arguably greater as their chances going into round 11
were appreciably higher than the men. There was no point in
asking Team Captain Mikhail Khodarkovsky how he felt before
the match. His response all tournament had never wavered: “Ask
me after the games.”
Watching the games and waiting for results to come in turned
into election-night viewing, with excitement building as
each state was splashed with color. Since so many results
mattered for tiebreaks, every one of the hundreds of teams
was seemingly in play. Even small states, for once, were
significant. The press room produced a cacophony of
reporters trying to verify results: “What was the result of
the Hong Kong match?”; “Did Spain really draw Russia?”; “Did
India beat Slovenia or Slovakia?”
One dubious circumstance at the beginning of the round
turned into a non-issue. France, slated to play Azerbaijan,
forfeited on fourth board when GM Vladislav Tkachiev failed
to show (some reports say his team has not seen him for
several days). Initially this seemed to help the U.S. since
they played Azerbaijan earlier, but since they performed so
poorly against them, that tiebreak score ended up being
From the start, it was clear that the men were out to fight.
Their two Whites – on boards one and three – chose very
aggressive systems. GM Gata Kamsky, who almost never gets
out of his seat during games, dispatched his world-class
opponent without much of a fight. GM Vassily Ivanchuk’s five
king moves in the middlegame highlighted the ineffectiveness
of Black’s position, and he resigned after Kamsky broke
through on the queenside.
Now up 1-0, remaining team members could sense a big score
coming. GM Hikaru Nakamura was quite the opposite of Kamsky,
constantly rising out of his chair to follow the action,
including the women’s games, as their boards were very near.
“It was nice that he came to encourage us,” Krush said of
Nakamura’s pregame chat with her team.
Nakamura, as is often his style, barely ever retreated his
pieces, and after 28…bxc3, his confidence was palpable.
Position after 28...bxc3
“He’s in the zone,” said stepfather Sunil Weeremantry, after
Nakamura declined to trade into an opposite-colored bishop
ending. Meanwhile, GM Alexander Onischuk played the same
pawn sacrifice that Nakamura employed earlier in the
tournament. The idea was a product of several training
sessions that Onischuk had with GM Varuzhan Akobian prior to
Can you see what Onischuk played in the following position?
Position after 29...Bb2
Onischuk played Rc2! after which Rxc2 loses to Rf3! The
game continued Qxa7 Rxa7 Rxc2 Bxc2 but White's bishops
proved too much to handle in the endgame.
GM Pavel Eljanov seemed to continue defending a lost
position only out of inertia, but after making the time
control, he looked at a teammate’s game, turned back
despairingly, and capitulated.
Now up 2-0, Nakamura deemed GM Yury Shulman’s position
winning, and simplified into an equal ending to ensure match
victory. Nakamura and Onischuk gathered with Team Captain IM
John Donaldson in front of a computer to follow Shulman’s
endgame and to gather tiebreak results. They hurled
variations at the monitor and pleaded with their teammate to
hear their appeals.
Asked if he was nervous, Onischuk said “a little.” Then
Donaldson advised him that a bronze medal would also earn
the U.S. an automatic invite to the World Team
Championships. “OK, now I’m nervous,” Onischuk corrected.
Meanwhile, Nakamura was self-critical, not yet knowing if
his inability to win what he considered a better position
would cost the team the bronze. After Shulman played
55…Nxd3, his teammates seemed satisfied that victory was
Position after 55...Nxd3
Still, Shulman had only two minutes (with a 30-second
increment). He shuttled his rook along the 7th rank, causing
Akobian, the de facto captain for the round, to constantly
leave and return. Eventually Shulman pushed forward and
earned the point.
“Because of time pressure, I couldn’t find the correct
order,” Shulman said of his final moves. He insisted no
thoughts of medals went through his mind. “I just totally
concentrated on the game. Just found a plan.”
Donaldson said he had never seen a last round win as
improbable as this one. When the returns came in, the U.S.
received their second consecutive bronze medal. For Akobian,
this one was sweeter. Criticism followed their bronze in
Turin, as their last round crush of Norway gave them a
come-from-behind third-place finish. This time, they had to
go through the number two seed. “We’re showing the world
that we are a chess power,” Akobian said. As for the
naysayers: “This kind of win shuts down everything. We
“Last time, we came through the back door, this year we came
through the front,” said Weeremantry.
Gold medalist Anna Zatonskih, with fireworks in the
The women now had had the chance to follow suit. Their score
mattered less than the men, but they still had to beat
France. WGM Anna Zatonskih finished first with a draw. After
her opponent offered, she deemed her position worse. But
because of the layout of the boards, she could only see
Krush’s position from her seat. With about a minute left on
her clock, she got up to look at boards three and four.
“I only had five seconds to evaluate the positions,” she
said, before rushing back to her board and agreeing to the
draw. The result also ensured her an unbeaten Olympiad and
an individual gold medal on board two.
WGM Katerina Rohonyan found herself in several unbalanced
positions in the Olympiad, and her round 11 game was no
different. Former coach GM Sam Palatnik said he admired her
“stamina” in the Olympiad, often edging her opponent with
superior fifth-hour play. Her king wandered but remained
upright, and her win completed a successful first Olympiad.
She finished +2 including several key wins in the second
half of the tournament.
Fittingly, WGM Rusudan Goletiani was asked to close it out.
She played an opening similar to Nakamura’s Olympiad
repertoire (though the two teams trained separately). By
pushing all her pawns to the third rank, she kept the
position out of theory but remaining with volatility. “It is
actually a very cool structure because they don’t know what
to prepare for,” she explained. The only American to play
every round, she finished with seven wins and four draws, a
2500+ performance rating, and a silver medal.
When the Ukraine defeated Poland, leaving the U.S. tied for
third with the Poles, they waited out their own tiebreaks.
But unlike the men’s team, most went out to dinner instead
of calculating. Goletiani, Zatonskih, Rohonyan and WFM Tatev
Abrahamyan (whose role mostly included helping with
preparation) then gathered in Goletiani’s hotel room, which
happened to be adjacent to Team Coach GM Gregory Kaidanov’s
room. Zatonskih was talking to her mother on her cell phone.
A faster internet connection meant her mother got the news
first and the room erupted with screams and shouts, which is
how Kaidanov got the news. He hurried over to join the
celebration but Zatonskih had to rush out to buy a new dress
for the awards ceremony.
Rusudan Goletiani and Anna Zatonskih, receiving
their individual awards at the Olympiad.
Krush had imagined the worst. After a deflating final round
loss, she did not know if her result would be the deciding
factor in the team’s tiebreaks. After the game, she went out
to eat, then was joined and consoled by Khodarkovsky at an
art gallery. The captain also did not know the result at the
time. Krush returned to the hotel only 15 minutes before the
closing ceremony. That is when a Turkish player came up to
congratulate her on the team’s bronze.
Both teams celebrated on stage together!
“I’m gonna dance and scream,” Krush said as the ceremony
began. “I’m gonna hug my teammates and tell them that they
The double bronze is a first for the U.S. at the Olympiad
and is only the second medal the women have ever won. The
pride of team members in their achievements and their
teammates seemed to cast them in a new light – not as
erudite masters of an individual game, but as typical
sportsmen working together for a common goal. As
grandmasters were mobbed with hugs after final-round games,
the Olympiad showed its special place in chess history.
A joyous moment: Alexander Onischuk, Varuzhan
Akobian, Hikaru Nakamura, Gata Kamsky, Yury Shulman
and Gregory Kaidanov.
After a decade hiatus from the event, Shulman could not stop
smiling. “[This was] my whole goal when I won the U.S.
Championship. I didn’t care about first, I wanted to make
As the closing ceremony ended, the Olympiad flag was passed
to Khanty-Mansiysk (correction, 11/26), Russia, who
will host the games in 2010. In their last night in Dresden,
American players and captains gathered their awards and
flowers and prepared for a night of celebrating.
“They say pack first, then drink,” Goletiani said. She was
Look for FM Mike Klein's Olympiad cover story in your
February 2009 Chess Life Magazine. Also check out his
articles from earlier in the event,
Let the Games Begin in Dresden ,
USA Stumbles in Round Two,
USA Almost Perfect in Round Three ,
Rested Squads Resume Action,
U.S. Men Win Bronze Too!! and
Women Take Bronze. He's also using his
sabbatical from his
Charlotte chess coaching business to
travel the world-and blog about it.