Who rules the world

Only the top 10 chess nations of the world get to play in Ningbo.

WE’RE in the midst of a mini-Chess Olympiad and it is taking place in Ningbo, China. This is the world team chess championship which started on July 16 and will continue until Tuesday.

Since the first world team chess championship began in 1985, it has always been held every four years but the World Chess Federation changed its regulations and turned it into a biennial event. The last championship was two years ago in Turkey.

In case you are wondering, no, we are ineligible to play in it. Only the best teams in the world can take part, and there are only 10 places available. The foremost criterion for selection into this event is that a team must qualify as their continental champion.

Thus, India came out the winner at the last Asian team championship in Kolkata two years ago and is thus representing Asia in this world team chess championship.

Azerbaijan won the European team championship in 2009 and is playing in Ningbo. Similarly, the United States is the qualifier from America, while Egypt is the representative for Africa.

Apart from these four countries, Russia is playing in the championship as the defending champion, while Ukraine, Israel and Hungary qualified from finishing first, third and fourth respectively from last year’s Chess Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk.

Of course, China as the host country is participating, and Armenia is the World Chess Federation president’s nomination.

Of these 10 countries, Egypt has arguably the weakest line-up. The team is not expected to end up anywhere but in the cellar position. But among the other nine teams, it is a real challenge to predict the winner.

Of course, Russia is still the team to beat with a line-up that comprises Sergey Karyakin, Alexander Grischuk, Ian Nepomniachtchi, Peter Svidler and Nikita Vitiugov. But they can’t be expecting any favour from the other teams. If anything, Azerbaijan and Ukraine will be breathing down hard on the Russians.

Both Armenia and Hungary cannot be discounted from leapfrogging over these top three teams while China, the United States, Israel and India will always be there as spoilers.

But having said all this, the first surprise was sprung in the very first round of the championship by an Egyptian player. International master Samy Shoker had been overwhelmed by playing the Ukrainian grandmaster, Alexander Areshchenko.

At the most critical point in the game, Areshchenko, thinking that the point was already in his pocket, went into auto-pilot mode and relaxed for a second. Shoker had the presence of mind to detect the smallest chance given to him and he seized on it.

The result? Areshchenko came under a mating attack and was unable to save the game. Here is the play:

Alexander Areshchenko (Ukraine) vs Samy Shoker (Egypt)

1. e4 d6 2. d4 Nf6 3. Nc3 g6 4. Be3 c6 5. h3 Nbd7 6. Nf3 Qc7 7. Bd3 e5 (I would have thought that the most logical move was to fianchetto the bishop and go for castling quickly.) 8. Qd2 exd4 (Again, 8. … Bg7 was called for.) 9. Nxd4 Bg7 10. Bh6 Bxh6 (Castle! Black should be castling here. Now, his king is caught in the centre.) 11. Qxh6 b5 (Black plays like a patzer. This move can be refuted immediately with 12. Bxb5 cxb5 13. Ndxb5 … and Black is in deep trouble.) 12. O-O-O b4 13. Nb1 Bb7 14. Nd2 Qb6 15. N4b3 Ba6 16. Bxa6 Qxa6 17. Kb1 c5 18. Nf3 c4 (At least Black has the presence of mind not to tempt fate further by capturing the e-pawn.) 19. Nc1 Ne5 20. Rd4 c3 21. Rhd1 cxb2 22. Nb3 Nc4 23. e5 (See diagram. White was already feeling so comfortable that he thought the game would play by itself. He totally overlooked Black’s threats or otherwise he would have played 23. Qg7. Just this one move, 23. e5, and the fortunes in this game turned around.) Rc8 24. exf6 Na3+ 25. Kxb2 Rxc2+ 26. Ka1 Nc4 27. Re4+ Kd8 28. Nc1 Qa3 0-1 (Checkmate is next.)

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