Iceland and USA are tied for the first place in the S50 section, closely followed by Italy; Germany Lasker Schachstiftung GK solely leads in the S65, with England 1, Slovakia and France trailing by two points.
In the fifth round, we saw more draws than usual. Time will tell whether these were the result of match strategy, fatigue, or conservation of energy for the final rounds.
The derby on the top board between USA and England 1 saw three relatively early draws.
On board four, Davies (2354) had a very pleasant position with the black pieces against Novikov (2513) after successfully getting out of the opening in the Queen’s Gambit Declined with 4…a6.
In the position where he offered a draw, Black was in no danger whatsoever and could have played on for a very long time.
Black has a safe edge and can play on forever against White’s isolated pawn. The draw offer was surprising, especially as it was the only position where the English team could press without any risk.
On board one, Adams (2662) offered a draw in a position that he didn’t really fancy, unlike the engine. The position was to Shabalov’s (2465) taste as Black was active on the kingside, but objectively, White had little to fear.
Adams’s last move 19.Ra7 was a good one. Things are complicated, though, as after 19…Bc6 White needs to play 20.g3! Nh3 21.Kf1, with an advantage, but this is far from obvious. Black’s best is 19…Bd5, which leads to a messy position after 20.Rxd7 Qh6. So Adams made a practical decision to offer a draw, which was accepted.
On board three Flear (2405) prepared the modern line with Bd2 in the Rubinstein Variation of the Nimzo-Indian against Ehlvest (2530) but didn’t achieve much. Ehlvest offered a draw on move 24 in an equal endgame.
These draws meant that the fate of the match was in the hands of Kaidanov (2549) and Emms (2448). White won a pawn in the opening, but Black had good compensation for it. The game soon transposed to a theoretically drawn rook endgame.
White played 29.Re5 in order to defend the pawn from the side with Re3. Emms defended well and successfully reduced the number of pawns on the kingside.
Black waits now. White’s only try was to advance the pawn to b6 and then to try to capture the pawn on g4. On move 52, the critical position emerged on the board.
Black now has a choice whether to play 52…Kg7 (in order to be ready for a possible b7) or to play 52…Rb4 first and then …Kg7.
Unfortunately for Emms, after many hours of accurate defence, he made the wrong choice. The correct move was 52…Rb4! defending the pawn on g4 and only in case of 53.b7 playing 53…Kg7. Then the game and the match would have been drawn.
After the mistake 52…Kg7? 53.Kxg4 Rxf2 54.Kg5, the position is won for White.
White wants to transfer his king b7, but there is another threat – Rb7-c7 followed by b7, Rc8 and b8Q.
Black tried to prevent the second threat and played 54…Rb2, but after 55.Rb7 Kf8 56.Kf6
The threat of mate meant that the black king needed to move. Going to g8 allows the white king to penetrate the queenside, but he could only postpone that as after 56…Ke8 57.Ke6, Kd8 fails to 58. Rb8 checkmate.
Black started giving checks from behind, but the white king hid on b8 when the game was won with the elementary technique of building a bridge (the Lucena position).
It was an incredibly important win for USA against one of the main competitors that allowed them to keep pace with Iceland, who also won their match.
Iceland didn’t have much trouble with Montenegro.
The draws on board one and four (Nikcevic (2358) – Olafsson (2491) and Thorallsson (2382) – Miljanic (2331), respectively, were from position of strength, while the Icelanders completely outplayed their opponents.
A curious case happened on board three in the game Podlesnik (2289) – Arnason (2419). The game should have been drawn, but White blundered in the rook endgame and lost a couple of pawns. Then, unexpectedly, he was given a chance.
Black’s last move 42…Rf5-e5 was a mistake, as the rook should have moved along the f-file to f2 or f1. Here, White should have played 43.Rd7! and the manoeuvre 43…Rh5-g5-g7 to defend the pawns doesn’t work in view of 46.Rd8 and White goes after the a7-pawn, with a drawn position.
White missed this chance and played 43.a6? but after the simple 43…Re2 with the idea of …Ra2xa6 Black emerged two pawns up.
On board two, Petursson (2396) defeated Pajkovic (2412) in convincing fashion.
Italy continued their winning ways and beat Slovakia 3.5-0.5 with only Mrva (2361) managing a draw on board one against David (2523).
Godena (2429) bested Motuz (2279) in spite of allowing an accidental drawing chance in a winning position that his opponent didn’t take, Ortega (2410) displayed exemplary technique against Dobrotka’s (2207) IQP and Borgo (2333) was superior in the complications after the opening against Kantorik (2195).
The team North Macedonia Alkaloid beat Poland in a professional fashion. They had a huge rating advantage on board three, where Stanojoski (2351) faced Flis (1948) with the white pieces. So they left him to win the game while all the others drew without much fanfare: Georgiev (2542) drew Gdanski (2484), Nedev (2465) drew Sapis (2375), and Kutirov (2274) drew Masternak (2314).
In the S65 section, the German team Germany Lasker Schachstiftung GK continued their excellent run, beating Israel 3-1.
On board one Knaak (2438) defused an early attack and converted the extra pawn against Gruenfeld (2388), on board two Meister (2439) won a drawn double-rook endgame against Birnboim (2346) after the latter made two consecutive big mistakes. On board three, Kalintschew (2377) continued a winning streak in his unassuming way – this time Kagan (2244) managed to turn a completely harmless position on the white side of a Maroczy Bind into a lost one in several moves.
On board four, Peretz (2154) came up with a neat trick in an opposite-coloured endgame to beat Koehler (2189).
Black found 49…b3! Which cleared the path for the black bishop to harvest White’s kingside after …Bb4-e1.
After yesterday’s loss, England 1 returned to winning ways by beating Belgium 3.5-0.5.
On board one Nunn (2569) went back to his younger days when he used to win miniatures in the Sicilian. John obliterated Rooze (2244) in only 28 moves with a direct attack on the king.
Board two saw a tame draw between Goormachtigh (2183) and Kosten (2352). On board three Chapman (2254) took advantage of a big blunder by Stuer (2031).
After 21…Rfe8, the position would have been unclear. But after 21…c5? White pounced immediately with 22.Nxe4! intending Rd6. The conversion was swift and easy.
On board four Povah (2229) was very lucky not to be blown off the board against Van Herck (2001) after misplaying the opening. He somehow survived to a lost endgame, in which White must have fallen victim to a hallucination.
Instead of simply taking on f7, followed by Re7, and capturing the pawns on the seventh rank, White inexplicably gave a check on g6 and returned to f6! Giving two tempi was too much, and the position became equal. Things went even worse for White as he ended up losing this equal endgame.
Round 6 is the last one before the rest day, but before getting deserved rest, the teams will have to play one more tough round.
Round 6 starts tomorrow at 3 pm local time.
Written by GM Alex Colovic
Photos: Mark Livshitz
Official website: seniorteam2023.fide.com/