Pool A: the favorites challenged; Pool B: smooth sailing for the top-rated teams
The Israel Chess Federation, in close collaboration with FIDE, has raised the level of chess excitement in Jerusalem. An opening ceremony on Sunday, starring internationally renowned mentalist Lior Suchard, set the stage for tension-filled rounds 1 and 2. After each amazing act by Suchard, several in the audience wondered aloud, “How did he do that?” Suchard replied, “I could tell you, but then I would have to kill you.”
Likewise, in Sunday’s games, mind-bending manoeuvres led to soul-crushing defeats in time scrambles. Out of 12 matches played, 10 ended decisively. Clearly, teams were out to kill. In Pool A, some rating favourites stumbled. In Pool B, the top-rated teams generally prevailed.
The Dan Hotel Jerusalem and the organizing team have provided ideal playing and auxiliary spaces. The playing hall is spacious and well-lit, with clear signage. Spectators instantly know which teams are playing. The team rosters are posted next to each match, so spectators can see who is playing on each of the four boards. Imagining the room as a chessboard, the players occupy files b-g while ropes cordon off the a- and h-files, where dozens of spectators switch their gazes between the seated players and large display screens showing games in real-time.
Players can access a special area with beverages, fruits, and sweets and use “players only” restrooms.
Commentating from a nearby room filled with chess fans are former World Champion GM Viswanathan Anand and IM Almira Skripchenko. The technical crew has its own room near another room set aside for members of the press. Replay Day 1 video coverage here
Anti-cheating precautions are strict. No cell phones or bags are allowed in the playing hall. Everyone – participants, spectators, officials, etc. – is scanned before being allowed to enter the playing hall.
The pool stage is played with rapid time control (45 min + 10-second increment). On Wednesday, the top four teams from Pool A and the top four teams from Pool B advance, facing off in quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals from Wednesday through Friday. While the matches also are played with the same time control, the tiebreak games will be in blitz 3+2 format.
Many dignitaries took part in the opening ceremony, and three of them also performed roles in the playing hall. In round 1, Ze’ev Elkin, Minister of Jerusalem Affairs and Minister of Housing, made the first ceremonial move for Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, who had White. President of the European Chess Union, GM Zurab Azmaiparashvili made the first move for Black, Uzbekistan’s Nodirbek Yakubboev. Right before Round 2, Moshe Slav, FIDE Delegate from Israel, rang the gong signalling the start of the battles.
Round 1, Pool A
The average rating of each participating team comes from its four highest-rated players by rapid rating. The Netherlands has a rating of 2638, including GM Anish Giri’s rapid rating of 2721 in that average. However, the Netherlands played without their leader in Rounds 1 and 2, as Anish is still on his way from the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Finals in San Francisco.
Despite having a lower average rating of 2589 Spain beat the Netherlands by a score of 2.5-1.5. While the other three boards were draws, GM David Anton Guijarro (pictured below) delivered a win on board two to clinch the match for Spain.
Another upset was Ukraine’s (2637) defeating France, the top-rated team in Pool A (2688 rating average). The last game to finish in that match was an encounter on the first board in which Vasyl Ivanchuk (Ukraine) drew against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France). Ukraine tipped the balance in their favour thanks to the victories by Kirill Shevchenko and Igor Kovalenko over Jules Moussard and Tigran Gharamian respectively. As expected, China (2557) dispatched much lower-rated South Africa (2261).
With two upsets in Pool A in round 1, the commentators thought that the only safe prediction was that South Africa would exit the competition at the end of the round-robin stage.
Round 1, Pool B
Making the host federation proud, Israel (2589) drew on all four boards to tie with India (2611). The United States of America (2643) defeated Poland (2556), with draws on the top three boards and GM Varuzhan Akobian‘s winning his game over Szymon Gumularz and the match for the United States.
Azerbaijan (2662), the highest-rated team in Pool B, prevailed over Uzbekistan (2524), the lowest-rated team in Pool B, 2.5-1.5. At the end of Round 1, the commentators were unwilling to make predictions about which Pool B teams would survive the round-robin stage.
Round 2, Pool A
China (2557) beat a slightly higher-rated Spanish team (2589) after scoring victories on boards one and four. Grandmaster Kenneth Solomon drew on the first board, but his South African team (2262) could not do much against Ukraine (2637). The ratings-favourite France (2688) downed the Netherlands (2638) by 2.5-1.5.
After two rounds, there have been three upsets in six matches in Pool A. Every match in Pool A ended in a victory.
Standings after Round 2:
1. China – 4 (6½);
2. Ukraine – 4 (6);
3. France – 2 (4);
4. Spain – 2 (3½);
5. Netherlands – 0 (3);
6. South Africa – 0 (1).
Round 2, Pool B
Uzbekistan (2524) upset Israel (2589) 2.5-1.5, and Azerbaijan (2662) convincingly won against the USA (2643). India (2611) drew with Poland (2556) after the teams exchanged blows on boards 3 and 4.
Discounting the two tied matches (one in round 1 and one in round 2), there were four decisive outcomes on Sunday in Pool B.
Standings after Round 2:
1. Azerbaijan – 4 (5½);
2. India – 2 (4),
3. Uzbekistan – 2 (4),
4. USA – 2 (3½);
5. Poland – 1 (3½);
6. Israel – 1 (3½).
Lior Suchard offered to predict the winner of the FIDE World Team Championship 2022 during his opening ceremony performance. No one in the audience took him up on that offer, perhaps because everyone is passionately rooting for their teams and keeping their national dreams of glory alive.
The Israeli chess fans at the venue and the thousands of fans worldwide are watching this tournament play out in real-time. Games are broadcast without delay, and commentary begins 10 minutes before each round.
Text: WIM Alexey Root, FIDE Press Officer, Jerusalem
Photos: Dr. Mark Livshitz and Maria Emelianova