A scene from the tournament

With Zero Defeats, Armenia’s Chess Team Continues to Lead in Chennai: Video Report


WASHINGTON — In the past years of the 21st century, Armenia’s national chess squad won the most prestigious international chess tournament, the Olympic games, three times (2006, 2008, and 2012). Will the ongoing Olympiad in India’s Chennai be the fourth one? After seven matches with zero defeats, Armenia leads the tournament with 188 participating teams of 186 countries (the host India is represented by three teams). So far, the Armenian grandmasters (GMs) have defeated Madagascar, Andorra, Egypt, Austria, England, and India-2, with the last two being notably strong national squads. One of India’s top players, Gukesh won his game against Gabriel Sargsyan; however, in two other games, Samvel Ter-Sahakyan and Robert Hovhannisyan played better and defeated the hosts with a 2.5-1.5 score.

On Friday, August 5, the Armenian squad played another challenging game (there should be no more easy ones) against the United States. Levon Aronian, formerly Armenia’s top GM, who now plays for the US, did not participate. The attention of many commentators was on this match. GM Judit Polgar (often considered the strongest female chess player of all time) and GM Mihail Marin commented on the game on FIDE’s (International Chess Federation) YouTube channel.

“After round seven, every move counts, not every draw. Don’t forget Armenia is playing without Aronian,” noted Polgar.

“Armenia put a serious bid, even though they were not such a great favorite,” Marin added. The Romanian GM thinks that although Armenia got some chances to win the Olympiad, with more rounds ahead (12 in total), the standing might be shuffled.

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“They have a great fighting spirit,” added Polgar.

Two GMs argued about GM Sargsyan, who drew all previous games except one, which he lost to Gukesh. Per Marin, Sargsyan wasn’t in his best form. Polgar reminded that Gabi (as Sargsyan is often referred to) plays on the first board against the most powerful opponents, and losing one match to Gukesh, who has been performing quite well, is yet not an indicator that Sargsyan is not doing good. Shortly after the games started, Gabriel defeated one of the world’s best chess players, Fabiano Caruana, to confirm her perspective. Two other teammates, Hrant Melkumyan and Ter Sahakyan, lost to Wesley So and Dominguez Perez Leinier, respectively, after which everything hung on the Sam Shankland-Robert Hovhannisyan game. A draw would be enough for the US players to win. For some time, Robert was ahead, but the American GM nearly saved the game. Closer to the end, GM Marin bet that the game would tie. But right at that moment, Shankland unexpectedly surrendered. As it turned out, he had touched his king instead of the queen. FIDE’s rules require that the chess player plays with the piece he touched first. As the king had only one square to move to, and that only place was exposing him to checkmate, Shankland chose to surrender.

“A moment of madness just as Sam Shankland was about to make a draw and give the USA a crucial match win! He played the impossible 91.Kc2… and there were no king moves that didn’t lose!”, Chess24.com reported.

As Hovhannisyan clinched the crucial victory and leveled the round, Armenia remained on the top, followed by Uzbekistan and India’s two teams. Tomorrow Armenia plays against India-1.

Armenian women are performing not bad too. After defeating Israel, they climbed to the third horizontal. Tomorrow the female squad plays against Georgia.

The video segment that follows presents clips of GMs Polgar’s and Marin’s comments about Armenia’s squad.

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