News 2020

Online Olympiad Top Division: Preview

It is time for the decisive matches at the Online Olympiad. On August 21, 40 best teams divided into four pools are getting into action in Top Division to determine 12 participants of a playoff over the upcoming weekend. These 12 teams will fight for the champion title over August 27-30. The first place in every pool is particularly valuable as the winner gets straight into quarterfinals whereas the teams occupying 2-3d place will have to play an extra match to advance to this stage.

25 out of 40 teams got into Top Division outright (five best teams in accordance with “Gaprindashvili system” based on the last Olympiad in Batumi and five best teams representing each part of the world – Europe, Asia, Americas, and Africa), whereas the other 15 squads qualified from Division 2. There was a striking difference between Division 3 and Division 2 in terms of chess strength – none of the qualifiers from Division 3 had a bid for advancing to Top Division.

The situation will be somewhat different in Top Division – many teams, that started their Olympic quest last weekend in Division 2 have a fair chance to get into the top-3 in their pools.

Pool A (China, India, Germany, Vietnam, Georgia, Iran, Indonesia, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, Zimbabwe)

Two clear favorites – China and India – should not have many troubles progressing into the playoff. Both teams fielded optimal lineups which meant that they can count on maximum points on women's boards in almost all the matches. Indeed we will see in action #1 of women’s rating Hou Yifan, the World Champion Ju Wenjun, and the Rapid Chess Women’s World Champion  Humpy Koneru.

Humpy Koneru Photo: David Llada

It is really hard to predict the team to take third place in this group. Germany looks like a favorite based on the average rating, but the team has to enlist its best women (they did not play in Division 2) and solve the problem of a junior board (only 3 out of 9 points at the previous stage). Vietnam, Georgia, and Iran also have hopes for the third slot. A young and very promising team Uzbekistan is capable of springing a surprise as well. The team’s relatively low rating should not be misleading – young players from this country are really strong and have a great experience in online battles.

Pool B (Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Netherlands, Spain, Hungary, Slovakia, Norway, France, South Africa )

This is the most balanced pool out of four featuring two very strong qualifiers from Division 2 Spain and Hungary, whereas main favorite Ukraine did not manage to mobilize its best players. Nevertheless, team Ukraine headed by Vasyl Ivanchuk and Anton Korobov looks impressive but this quick tournament won’t be a walk in the park for this squad.

Anton Korobov

The best Azerbaijani players, including the youngsters who have made their presence felt lately, banded together under the banner of the national team. Most likely we will see this squad lead by Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Teimour Radjabov in the knockout stage.  

Kazakhstan has the most powerful duo on women’s boards – Zhansaya Abdumalik and Bibisara Assaubayeva can make the difference and pull the team into the next stage. It will be very interesting to follow the Netherlands – the team jumped into a bandwagon, scraped through to Top Division but in the decisive match Anish Giri and his teammates showed their mettle. Since the Dutchmen take on Azerbaijan in the first round, the team will have no time for a warm-up.

Pool С (Russia, Armenia, Romania, Turkey, England, Croatia, Bulgaria, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco)

The composition of this pool is similar to that of pool A. There are two clear favorites – if either Russia or Armenia does not advance this news will hit the headlines. Alexander Grischuk and Kateryna Lagno, who had skipped the Online Nations Cup, returned to team Russia; strong junior boards are another thing going for Russia. Indeed the online European Champion Alexey Sarana is just a substitute player, whereas the World Junior Champion U18 and U20 Polina Shuvalova plays on women’s junior board. Armenia is traditionally very good at team events. This time around it can boast of a very strong and balanced lineup.

Alexander Grischuk

Pointing out the main candidates for the third spot in the playoff is just an impossible mission. Two African teams – Algeria and Morocco don’t have enough experience on such a high level to count on a place in the top-3; all the other teams have a shot. Romania and Turkey are very consistent, England has very strong men’s boards, Croatia counts on Ivan Saric who has been in great shape lately, Bulgaria pins hopes on Antoaneta Stefanova who most likely will score a lot of points on a women’s board.

Pool D (USA, Cuba, Poland, Greece, Italy, Canada, Peru, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay)

Team USA is the main candidate for first place in this “American” pool. Even in the absence of Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura but with Wesley So on the first board and Jeffery Xiong on a junior’s board this squad appears to be a prohibitive favorite. Cuba has the second-best average rating. As Cuban players are not very well known outside of the Caribbean area, the Online Olympiad, followed by thousands of people around the world is a great chance to make a name for them.

Jeffrey Xiong

Poland fielded a very impressive lineup lead by Jan-Krzystof Duda and Radoslaw Wojtaszek. It is worth mentioning that the best players of this team already played a few tournaments after the quarantine and gained momentum. Peru with brother and sister Cori regularly showing good results in online tournaments looks the strongest of South American teams. Nevertheless, it will be quite a challenge for both Peru and Argentina, which became a real breakthrough in Division 2, to advance to the playoff.  

The matches in Top Division start on Friday, August 21 at 08:00 UTC. The teams of Pool A are first to get into action. Then at  11:00 the matches in Pool B get underway, at 14:00 - Pool C, and finally, at  17:00 it is time for Pool D. We will know all the participants of the knockout stage by Sunday late night.