Radoslaw Wojtaszek beat Etienne Bacrot as Poland took down France | photo: Mark Livshitz, ECU
Poland and Germany are the only teams on a perfect 6/6 match points after three rounds of the Open section of the European Team Chess Championship, and face a showdown in Round 4. Magnus Carlsen escaped with a draw in Round 2 and won in Round 3 to move to 2.5/3, but Norway lost both matches. In the Women's section France and Azerbaijan are the only teams still perfect, but Spain's Round 2 defeat of top seed Georgia has been the stand-out result so far.
Alojzije Jankovic and Dragana Nikolovska are commentating on the European Team Championship action.
Things are heating up fast in Budva, Montenegro. After just three rounds of the European Team Championship, only two teams in each section remain perfect, while the favorites in both the Open and Women's section have suffered defeat.
Given some of the missing players and teams, underdogs may dare to dream that this European Team Chess Championship is their chance to shine. In 2011, Germany defied the odds to triumph, and three wins in three matches suggests they're in the mood to do it again. 18-year-old Vincent Keymer is their new star, and he was the hero against Hungary as he shrugged off a piece sacrifice by Viktor Erdos to emerge with an overwhelming position. Team captain Jan Gustafsson, a veteran of the 2011 campaign, looked on.
In Round 3 fortune turned against Keymer, but by the time he lost to Serbian GM Alexandr Predke Germany had already won the match. Alexander Donchenko increased his score to 2.5/3 by crashing through against Velimir Ivic.
31...Qxg8 32.Qxh5+ Kg7 33.Qg6+ and Ivic resigned with mate-in-two on the board.
Can Germany repeat their 2011 European Team Championship victory? | photo: Mark Livshitz, ECU
Arguably more dramatic, and certainly more amusing, was the way Matthias Bluebaum's king endured 18 consecutive checks from Aleksandar Indjic's queen. The king, which had been driven across the board and back, was about to escape the checks when White resigned.
Germany will now play Poland, who owed their round-two win over Slovenia to a remarkable game where Mateusz Bartel was essentially winning in 12 moves against Jure Skoberne.
In Round 3 Poland faced France, who are known from combining fine chess with the finer things in life.
This time, however, it was Poland who emerged victorious in a hard-fought match.
Poland-Germany will be the matchup to watch in Round 4.
There are just four teams within a point of the leaders.
One of those teams that you underestimate at your peril is Armenia, who defied the odds to win the Olympiad three times in four attempts from 2006 to 2012, an astonishing result for a country of under 3 million people. They also finished runner-up to Uzbekistan in 2022, and that's partly down to their team spirit—and above all willingness to help each other out.
We got an example of that in round two, when Croatia took control with a powerful counterattack from Ivan Saric against 23-year-old rising star Haik Martirosyan. That was our Game of the Day, with annotations by GM Rafael Leitao below.
Someone else would have to win to save Armenia, and that's just what Hrant Melkumyan managed to do, by living very dangerously against Sasa Martinovic. Melkumyan gave up a piece, and though our silicon overlords were far from convinced, it ultimately worked out, when Martinovic made a mistake of which his teammate Saric commented the next day:
I thought it’s like a transmission error!
In the recent Qatar Masters, seven of the players Magnus Carlsen faced in the nine-round event were rated under 2600, meaning that whenever he played them he was putting a lot of rating points on the line. The pressure is high, and it's not looking as though the pattern will change in Budva.
Carlsen has handled the task well, on paper, and the Icelandic team proved right to be worried about the openings in Round 3.
That game went smoothly for Carlsen, who built up a big advantage, both on the board and the clock, with the little trick 19.Nh4! establishing complete dominance, while Hjorvar Steinn Gretarsson was 50 minutes down on the clock.
The world no. 1 went on to win smoothly.
Carlsen won on the top board, but Norway lost the match | photo: Mark Livshitz, ECU
That hasn't been the whole story, however, since, as in Qatar, the attempt to win with the black pieces threatened to backfire horribly. Carlsen was objectively lost for much of the game against Austrian GM Valentin Dragnev in Round 2, although the near finish he was tempted to play again for a win.
The heroics of Carlsen's king at the end drew the attention of Fabiano Caruana (or his podcast partner-in-crime Cristian Chirila).
Carlsen's healthy personal score isn't going to bring him higher-rated opposition, at least without some luck, since Norway lost in both rounds two and three and now face Finland, highest-rated player 2527-rated IM Toivo Keinanen, in Round 4.
Top-seed Azerbaijan was put to the sword in Round 1 of the Open, while in Round 2 of the Women's clear favorite Georgia crashed to defeat against Spain.
23-year-old IM Marta Garcia Martin was the catalyst for that victory, outpreparing and outplaying the formidable GM Bela Khotenashvili.
The French women have conceded just three draws so far | photo: Mark Livshitz, ECU
Chess is cruel, however, and in the very next round Martin blundered at the end against France's IM Deimante Daulyte-Cornette with 35...f5?. Can you see the killer blow?
There was no shame in the match defeat, however, since France has been cruising so far.
Round 4 will be a tough test, since they take on the other team on a perfect score, second-seed Azerbaijan, who overcame the strong Netherlands and Poland teams in Rounds 2 and 3.
Azerbaijan beat Poland 3-1 | photo: Mark Livshitz, ECU
The only teams a single point back are Germany and Hungary, who also meet in Round 4.
Will we end up with sole leaders on Tuesday?