USA and Italy share first place in the S50 coming into the final round, while Germany Lasker Schachstiftung GK need just a draw in their last match to clinch the title.
The penultimate round saw the favourites win their matches, and the derby on board one ended in a draw after a couple of unexpected results.
Iceland faced Italy in a direct duel for the leading spot.
The first game to finish was the draw on board three between Arnason (2419) and Ortega (2410). Ortega surprised his opponent with the choice of the Cordell Variation in the Ruy Lopez (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Bc5) and easily equalised. Moreover, he continued with confident play and obtained an advantage. The only mistake Ortega made was to accept a draw in an advantageous position.
Black accepted a draw here, but it's a risk-free position for him, and he should have continued the game, for example by 23…Qb7 24.Bb3 Bf5 when it's clear that Black is more active.
This draw could have easily made all the difference as soon enough, Thorallsson (2382) beat Bellia (2388) with the black pieces. In the Classical Sicilian, Bellia chose the Rauzer Attack, but it was Black who sprung the real surprise.
In this fairly standard position, Black played the surprising 12…0-0-0!?. The move has been tested in several correspondence games with good results for Black. After the careless 13.h5?! (White had to take some measures against the threat of …d5) d5! Thorallsson already took over the initiative.
Soon enough, it was Black who started an attack on the queenside, and he crowned it with a nice sacrifice.
Black crashed through with 26…Rxd3! 27.cxd3 Bxb2 since the bishop cannot be taken in view of …Rb6 and …Qe5, mating, while 28.Kb1 Rb6 only prolonged the agony.
At this point, the match seemed to be going in Iceland's favour. The position on board two was drawn, and on board one, they had an advantage.
A drawn position doesn't always mean that the game will end in such a result.
Godena (2429) didn't get anything out of his favourite Alapin Sicilian against Petursson (2396), and the game slowly but surely was going towards a draw. The endgame should lead to that result with reasonable play by both sides, but something happened, and Petursson started to make strange moves. He allowed White to get the king to c4 and push b4. Suddenly, things were not easy anymore.
Here, Black should have started counterplay on the kingside with 32…h4, with the idea to reduce the material there. Instead, he went for the very passive 32…Nd8? and after the natural 33.b4 White was close to winning! After the exchange of pawns on b4 it was a last chance for Black to play …h4, but he missed it, and once the pawn marched b5-b6, White had a winning advantage, which he converted.
A victory for Italy almost out of nowhere!
With the match tied, everything was to be decided on board one.
Hjartarson (2432) seemed more patient than David (2523), who found himself under pressure soon after the opening. He saw no other way out but to sacrifice two minor pieces for a rook and a pawn. However, it was clear that the minor pieces were much stronger.
White untangled with 23.Qc4 and started moving forward with Nf4. Both players committed imprecisions as the evaluation swung from better for White to better for Black, but after the time control, it became apparent that White consolidated the position.
White went for 43.Nb2-c4, eyeing the d6-square. Black's problem was that his rooks lacked open files and David tried to do something about it with 43…g5, followed by …Kg8 and …Rg7.
White is winning, and the simplest way was to exchange the bishops with 46.Bf3, as White's bishop is not very active, while Black's is on a very solid square. White, however, went for 46.e5 but this only helped Black as it opened files for the rooks. After 46…fxe5 47.Ndxe5 gxh4 48.gxh4 Bd1! Both rooks were very active on open files. White was no longer better, but keeping in mind his game from the previous day, when he squeezed a win against Georgiev in more than 100 moves, Hjartarson kept pushing, as he knew that a win would win the match for his team and give them the lead heading to the final round.
This time, he went too far with it.
After massive exchanges, Black's remaining rook broke free and started going after White's weak pawns. The knights are notoriously bad at dealing with passed pawns on a or h files, and here Black was getting a passer on the a-file. It was now White who needed to save the draw.
The position was not easy to play for both sides, but more difficult for White, who needed to find a way to deal with the passed a-pawn and also with the threat of losing the h4-pawn.
Hjartarson decided to bring the king to the queenside, but here 57.Kd2? was a losing mistake. It was better to take on c6 and engineer counterplay with the passed c6-pawn.
After 57…Rh3! Black was winning, but it was not simple.
With very little time on the clock, David went for the safety-first move 60…Rc3, eliminating the dangerous pawn on c5. Instead, 60…Rxh4! 61.Nxc6 Ra4 62.Ka1 h4 was winning for Black.
As played, White took on a2 and brought the king to b3 to secure a draw.
A truly topsy-turvy match that could have gone either way! In the end, perhaps a draw was a fair result, which kept Italy one point ahead of Iceland.
The other favourites won relatively easily.
USA routed Uruguay 4-0. It was hardly surprising outcome as their rating advantage on all boards was several hundred rating points. Kaidanov (2549) beat Braso (2058) in a technical manner in a Catalan. Ehlvest (2530) executed a mating attack against Escofet (1902) in a French-like position arising from the Modern. Novikov (2513) easily refuted Barandiaran's (1897) Polish Defence, and Yermolinsky (2419) overtook the initiative in a Sicilian after Barboza's (1777) passive approach.
England 1 beat Montenegro 3-1, thanks to victories on the first two boards.
Adams (2662) kept the position alive against Nikcevic (2358) by sacrificing a pawn in the Queen's Gambit Declined.
White should have taken the pawn with 12.Bxh7 Kh8 13.0-0 Nxc5 although Black has decent compensation. Instead, White panicked and went 12.c6? but then after 12…Nb4! 13.Bxh7 Kh8 14.Qe4 Bxc6 15.Qxd5 Bxd5 16.Bb1
Black was certainly better thanks to White's weak queenside. Here the best option for Black 16…Bf6! Not fearing 17.Be5 because of 17…Rac8 18.0-0 Bxf3 19.Bxf6 Be2! winning an exchange.
Adams went for 16…Bxf3 17.gxf3 Bf6 first, but his advantage evaporated after the accurate 18.Be4. The game was balanced, but a few moves later White committed a serious mistake.
White should have played 23.Be5, or if he wanted to move the king, then at least 23.Kg2. Putting the king on e2 was a bad choice as it simply lost a pawn after 23.Ke2? Nxa2. The point is that 23.Ra3 Nc3 comes with a check! After winning the pawn, Adams smoothly cruised to victory.
Emms (2448) outplayed Pajkovic (2412) in the calm position in the Giuoco Piano and won a pawn. He was winning, but the end was abrupt.
Black should have defended the e5-pawn by 43…Qc7 and White will have to play on for a bit to win. Instead of this, Black just abandoned the pawn with 43…Rf8 and resigned after 44.Rxe5.
Miljanic (2331) could have been more precise when dealing with Flear's (2405) compensation for the pawn. He allowed Black to draw a bit too easily.
Arkell (2352) sacrificed a pawn for good compensation against Nikac (2275) but misplayed it, and his best move in that situation was to offer a draw, which, luckily for him, was accepted.
Black accepted the draw, but he could have won after 32…Rxd8 33.Rxd8 b4! as even winning the queen after 34.Nxg6 Qxg6 35.Rh8 Kxh8 36.Qxg6 b3 wouldn't help White stop the queenside pawns.
In the S65 section, the favourites kept winning. Both Germany Lasker Schachstiftung GK and England 1 won 3-1.
Things could have been more complicated for the German team had Garcia Palermo (2410) used a golden opportunity to beat Knaak (2438).
White is winning, in his desire to win straight away he he got greedy and played 30.Re8? missing the saving resource 30…Rf5! with a draw. The simple 30.Bxg6 would have been winning for White.
Meister (2439) beat Messa (2289) in the Exchange Variation of the Queen's Gambit Declined by combining play on both wings. Messa was suffering from time trouble from early on in the game and couldn't find a proper defence.
Kalintschew (2377) won his seventh game in the tournament against Cocozza (2226), but this time, he was on the verge of defeat.
Instead of the simple 16…Qc7 with a subsequent capture of the c5-pawn, Black went for the good-looking, but not erroneous 16…b5? After 17.cxb6 Rc4
White had a unique chance to put an end to the German's winning streak with 18.f3! Nf6 19.Bxf6! Bxf6 20.Qxc4 with a decisive advantage after 20…dxc4 21.Rxd8 followed by Nc5.
Instead, White played 18.Qxc4? immediately, which was just losing after 18…dxc4 19.Na5 Bg5.
A little bit of luck for the German player, but fortune favours the strong!
On board four, Koehler (2189) and Santolini (2178) played a correct game and drew in a double-rook endgame in 37 moves.
England 1 beat Finland thanks to victories by Kosten (2352) against Westerinen (2237) on board one and Povah (2229) against Kivimaki (2172) on board four.
Kosten quickly overtook the initiative with Black in the Ruy Lopez with 3…Nge7 and was a pawn up by move 26. The conversion took time until move 55, but Black's victory was never in question.
Povah outplayed Kivimaki, but at some point wasn't sure how to make progress. When he finally figured it out, he was helped by his opponent.
Here, White had to get rid of the queen on d5 because Black always has …e4-e3 ideas. Therefore 43.c4 or 43.Ke3 was necessary when White's central pawns and dominating knight should decide the game.
However, White played the hasty 43.Nxg6? which turned out to be the winning move as Black replied automatically with 43…Kxg6?? Dropping the rook on f8 44.Qxf8, after which he resigned. Had he been a bit more alert and resourceful, he would have found the zwischenzug 43…e3! with a good chance to escape, though it wasn't simple after 44.Kg1 Rf6! 45.Ne5 Rb6! with enough counterplay because of White's weak king.
Chapman (2248) saved an inferior endgame against Binham (2280), while the game Tuomala (2180) – Baker (2222) was a nine-move draw.
The final round pairings in the S50 section are Poland-USA, Italy-Montenegro, China ShenZhen W50-England 1, England 2-Iceland and N.Macedonia Alkaloid-England 3.
The favourites are expected to win when everything will be decided on tie-break. A nail-biting finish!
In the S65 section, things are much simpler. Germany Lasker Schachstiftung GK play Germany, England 1 face Switzerland SG RIEHEN and Slovakia face France. Each team needs only a drawn match to secure their current place, though it's quite probable that they all win.
Written by GM Alex Colovic
Photos: Mark Livshitz
Official website: seniorteam2023.fide.com/