''I was happy that my teammates made me feel pretty useless...''
Anish on the Olympiad 2012
When coming back from school and seeing yet another tough match for my team at the Olympiad in Turkey, little hope did I have to get there, not even to speak of ending in the desirable top 8.
After eventually squeezing Malaysia, my team failed to overthrow Venezuala and then, having an unlucky pairing, also lost to the team of Georgia. The second one was a fair fight, though, as Georgian team leader, Baadur Jobava wasn't present either, due to an illness.
An explanation to my absence was the schedule issue (after two weeks of saying 'passport issue', I realized that this is a better way to put it). Receiving a late invitation to the London Grand-Prix tournament (starting on 20 September), I had no choice but to send my Russian passport to England, hoping that it will return on time. The delay was not exactly unexpected, though the hope remained that I will be on time to take off to Istanbul.
Anyhow, sooner or later, I got the good news and having still a theoretical chance to fight for some spots, I was ready to join the team and try to get our spirits back up.
I arrived right after my teammates crushed Sri Lanka with 4-0 and were all kind enough, not to kill me right at the airport, for all I have done to them. Hearing that the next opponent was Monaco, I was ready to fight with the black pieces, hoping for another 4-0, as the team of Monaco had just one GM. Perhaps my desires for the perfect result made me a little inadequate and at some point I completely forgot that in chess it's always possible to lose...
Before the time control my opponent could have won the unique endgame with the most natural move. However, instead he took the wrong path and found himself defending. As things went according to my plan, the endgame was very complicated and my opponent was caught in a nice trap. The final winning idea occured to me at the very late stage, but I already said enough to prove that luck was on my side.
Efimov I. - Giri A. (click arrows to view the analysis)
It's a pleasure to slowly climb the swiss ladder, when by winning in each round you move 10 tables up and you get more and more respectable teams around you.
Belgium was still an easy opponent on paper. And indeed we had little trouble beating them. My opponent allowed me a simple combination pretty quickly, in a complex advanced French and Jan won a nice game in his style, slowly expanding from the queenside and eventually dominating whole board.
Our next victim was Bulgaria. The team is powerful on the first two boards, having Topalov and Cheparinov. The last two, however, are pretty vulnerable, and indeed, even though I lost, our team won, thanks to Jan and Daniel who both crushed their opponents without any chance. I can't say the same about my game, as I had plenty of chances all along, but after a very rough time trouble (not mutual, unfortunately), I eventually found myself in a lost endgame after the time control.
Somehow it's easier to survive your loss when the whole team won, and already in the next round I had no trouble holding Shirov with black, who these days plays for Latvia. Again, our team was a clear favourite and we kept playing surprisingly good as a team. Perhaps only Loek can complain about this round, as he managed to save the totally winning position and make a draw :).
It was about the time we simply had no other option but to play a very strong team. And indeed, we got Israel. Somehow I kept on being the bad guy in the team, but my teammates backed me up again. When Gelfand played g6 in the English, I realized that my knowledge of the main-lines is supporting the conclusion that black is doing fine. So I decided to play a long game with g3, but after e6 I realized I am on a totally unknown territory and I decided to avoid any strategic risk and just fix the draw. By the time my embarrassing game was over, Loek already crushed Sutovsky and the other two games seemed pretty solid for us.
Jan continued his roll with yet again typical game of his. Somehow his affection for Botwinnik made him appreciate the queenside pawn majority and indeed he managed to queen his pawns there. Convincing victory it was, but when it was already getting too fairytale like, we got one of the most dangerous team of the Olympiad, the Armenians.
I aimed for a quiet positional game, but soon things got out of balance against Levon Aronian. I somehow was way too optimistic with my Qc4. As I later realized, any move was giving black clear advantage. Instead I should have desperately aimed for a draw with Nd6-xc8 exchanging the bad bishop, which though could potentially become dangerous.
I found an interesting pawn push, but it was too late, when I realized that after the planned c6 Ba6 c7? black wins easily with Bxc4!. It's funny, that even Grandmasters that were commenting this game failed to see this human resource. After that, the game became pretty hopeless, though I should have gone for my initial idea Rxc5, but there I didn't have enough compensation for the material.
The whole match went pretty much as my game. It started out solid, with Jan taking over the initiative with black at the early stage. However, his Qf6 and moreover Qe7 were asking for trouble and the situation in the match changed drastically. I was trying to be optimistic and hoped that Ivan's piece vs pawns will give us some points, but Ivan kept on giving more and more pawns away. Loek was the only solid guy that day, but things already were heading towards 3,5-0,5. Jan's save was nice, but still 3-1 was painful.
The last round we were obliged to win, in order to fight for the top 8 which would give us the National Olympic A-status, basically the highest achievement for a Dutch sportsman. We were pretty lucky to get Argentina, which even though was a solid team with all more or less 2600 players, was definitely not the most dangerous of the teams in our group. When I started to take over, against Peralta (already around move 10 I would say), I was again pleased to realize that the result of my game probably won't affect the result of the match (something that kept on happening throughout the whole tournament. I even suggested that for the next year, I may stay at home, but the guys should play with a default-guy on board one).
Peralta F. - Giri A. (click arrows to view the analysis)
My game was very nice and so was Loek's. Ivan's blunder was cute and unnoticed and Jan, who played a disgusting game with white, was forgiven and rewarded for staying tough, with a draw. 3-1 was a great finish, and when calculating how many teams are ahead of us, me and on-a-rest-day Daniel came to the conclusion that we make it to the top 8 at the very least.
For the next time, for me, it's maybe an idea to come a bit earlier to the tournament and perhaps not lose to all the scary names.
Oh and I forgot to mention that the tournament was held in a beautiful city (though pretty far from the centre, at least for a spoiled Dutch boy, like me) and was pretty well organized for the players, to my mind at least. The traditional parties were a lot of fun and our team atmosphere was, as usual, fantastic (with Dutch guys it can never be boring).
And well, I am eagerly waiting for the next team event when our glorious Dutch team will attempt to perform another miracle and prove once again that we are not AS overrated as one may think.