A general rule of thumb at the Chess Olympiad: The winner uses an alphabet we Westerners struggle to read.
So when the USA, having drawn three and won five of its first eight matches, turned up against first-place Russia today in Istanbul, the odds weren’t on the USA’s side.
And then just look at the Russian lineup. Former world champion Vladimir Kramnik, ranked No. 3 in the world today, on Board 1. Perennial contender Alexander Grischuk, one of the world’s best blitz (speed chess) players and someone unlikely to crack under time pressure or the strain of a long tournament, on Board 2. Sergey Karjakin, ranked seventh in the world, on Board 3. Then on Board 4, U.S. teen Ray Robson faced Dmitry Jakovenko, whose rating is 124 points higher than Robson’s.
Alex Onishuk got a quick draw with Karjakin. But Robson fell behind Karjakin.
On Board 2, former world championship contender Gata Kamsky got a slight advantage and squeezed the time-pressured Grischuk. Beating a top-12 player with the black pieces isn’t something you see every day, but Kamsky meticulously pulled it off.
That’s 1 1/2 to 1 1/2. So what of Board 1, with Kramnik bringing the pressure against 24-year-old Hikaru Nakamura?
Nakamura eked out a small advantage in a complex situation. Then came a moment of brilliance, highlighted here by women’s grandmaster/author/analyst Jennifer Shahade:
Want the answer? Move 62.