Hans Niemann and the USA had a tough event | photo: Mark Livshitz, FIDE
It’s China-Poland, Spain-Azerbaijan, Ukraine-Uzbekistan and France-India in the World Team Championship quarterfinals after the Netherlands, USA, Israel and South Africa were knocked out in the group stages. Anish Giri’s planned flight to Jerusalem for the knockout stages had to be cancelled.
The playing hall during the final round of the group stages | photo: Mark Livshitz
The 2022 World Team Championship is taking place in Jerusalem, though the precise venue has drawn criticism. The Dan Jerusalem Hotel is located in East Jerusalem on land much of the world considers to be illegally occupied, and BDS, a Palestinian-led organisation, called on FIDE to move the event. A similar call to move or boycott the European Society of International Law’s Research Forum in 2017 gives an idea of the particular complexities of the Mount Scopus site — the Dan Hotel is outside the borders of the Israeli enclave from 1948-1967.
Almira Skripchenko and Vishy Anand are commentating each day | photo: Mark Livshitz, FIDE
5-time World Champion Vishy Anand is an excellent official commentator, joined by Almira Skripchenko, but since he’s now FIDE Deputy President some eyebrows have been raised. When asked for his “chicken of the week” on the Chicken Chess Club podcast Peter Heine Nielsen nominated himself for having been reluctant to criticise his friend and former boss:
I generally don’t want to criticise him and that is chickenish, but I’ll make an exception here. He’s the official commentator for the Team World Championship. When you are Deputy President you should not take jobs like that, in my opinion. They should give it to someone else — that’s not how it works.
Lastly the format of this year’s event has been somewhat controversial, since, like the Women’s World Team Championship in 2021, the time control has been changed from classical to rapid chess — but to a hybrid slow rapid format played almost nowhere else. There are 45 minutes per move, with a 10-second increment from move 1, meaning 40 moves last less than an hour and the games are rated as rapid chess.
That’s not the only change, as what was in the past a round-robin now starts with a group stage before knockout matches. Two Pools of six teams were created, with the teams playing each other once before the bottom two in each pool were eliminated.
Let’s take a look at the action:
The Pool A final standings | source: chess-results
The one certainty in this group looked to be that South Africa would fail to qualify, since they were rated hundreds of points below their rivals. That proved to be the case, with the team scoring just three draws in 20 games. That left the remaining five teams competing to avoid just one final "relegation" spot.
On paper you wouldn’t expect the Netherlands to end up there, but their top-listed player was Anish Giri, 12,000 km away in San Francisco for the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Finals. Robby Kevlishvili commented on Day 2 of the event:
He's playing a tournament in San Francisco and it finished, I believe, yesterday, so we’re just waiting for him to get on his flight, which will be like 14 hours. I believe he’s still asleep right now. So we’ll see.
Alas, nothing went the Netherlands' way, as they lost three matches, drew one, and only beat South Africa. Before the final day, with a single round remaining, it was already hopeless for the team, since they knew they could only survive if Spain lost to South Africa (they won 4:0). Max Warmerdam was asked if Anish had come to the event:
The idea was that we should survive the group phase and then he was going to join us, but we didn’t, so he’s never going to come to Israel.
Among the other teams the shock was perhaps that China, who had sent a 2nd or 3rd team in their first team participation since the pandemic, performed to their usual formidable level. Only France, led by Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and the highest seeds of the whole event, managed to hold China to a draw. 22-year-old Li Di top-scored with 4.5/5.
Laurent Fressinet scored 3.5/4, and with MVL playing (still no Firouzja) the team has much greater winning chances than at the Olympiad | photo: Mark Livshitz, FIDE
Ukraine’s appearance was particularly notable. The World Teams had been scheduled for earlier in the year but was postponed after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with FIDE likely hoping that Russia could still participate if the fighting stopped. That hasn’t happened, and when Kirill Shevchenko, the top performer with wins over Jules Moussard, David Anton and Lucas van Foreest, was asked to introduce himself, he commented:
My name is Kirill Shevchenko and I’m representing the bravest country in this period, Ukraine.
Igor Kovalenko is back playing chess after serving in the Ukrainian army, while Vasyl Ivanchuk left Ukraine for the first time since the outbreak of war to play in the recent Chess Bundesliga and now in Jerusalem. The chess legend needs no introduction, but if you do ask him to introduce himself…
On paper Vasyl’s performance so far doesn’t look that impressive, four draws and then a loss, but that loss featured probably the move of the event so far.
You can’t ignore the knight, or it takes on f6 with check, but all captures are bad! After knight captures, Rxc7 follows and the bishop on d6 is overworked, while in the game we saw 26…Rexd7 27.Bxd6 Rxc2 28.Rxc2 Rxd6 29.Rc8 — this crucial detail had to have been foreseen.
Ukrainian team captain Oleksandr Sulypa watches Jorden van Foreest vs. Vasyl Ivanchuk | photo: Mark Livshitz, FIDE
Vasyl was winning, but the later 46.Bd3? (46.h3!) allowed Jorden van Foreest to turn the tables.
After the only move 46…Rd1! there was no way to prevent Rd2+ and trouble ahead.
The most shocking game in Pool A, however, was Spain’s David Anton against France’s Jules Moussard, not because it ended in a crucial 124-move win for David that gave Spain a draw, but because on move 80, after thinking for 12 seconds, he played 80.h4??
The rook on a4 could simply be taken, but Jules blitzed out 80…gxh4?? and after 81.Rxh4 the chance had gone.
Pool B had no clear underdog, which promised a much more interesting fight. On rapid ratings alone the Uzbekistan team was the lowest rated, but even without Nodirbek Abdusattorov no-one was surprised to see the young Olympiad champions finish top. 16-year-old Javokhir Sindarov has scored 3.5/4.
Uzbekistan are looking to add World Team gold to their Olympiad gold | photo: Mark Livshitz, FIDE
Azerbaijan also justified their billing as hot favourites, with Teimour Radjabov joining Shakhriyar Mamedyarov as the team finished just behind Uzbekistan on tiebreaks.
The US team, led by Hans Niemann, was far from the most powerful they could have fielded, but with the experienced Alexander Onischuk and Varuzhan Akobian they could still hope to do well.
When they beat Poland in Round 1 everything looked good with the world… but they went on to lose the next four matches and crash out of the event.
There were fine margins, for instance in Niemann-Mamedyarov, when Hans seemed to get off to a powerful start, before Shakh, playing in two events at the same time, managed to turn things around.
Little went right for Hans, who also lost to Vidit, and was not really in the mood to talk about his swimming.
India ultimately qualified with room to spare, helped by a win over Azerbaijan when Shakh seemed to get carried away.
The desire to clear lines to attack the black king was understandable, but after 29…fxe4 30.Qg2 there are a number of winning defences. Vidit invested 3 minutes and found the best, 30…Nxf4!
The big question that remained was whether hosts Israel or Poland, playing without Jan-Krzysztof Duda, would be knocked out.
Poland made one of their four 2:2 draws against India | photo: Mark Livshitz, FIDE
It came down to the final round, where Poland drew against an Uzbekistan resting their top two players, while Azerbaijan beat Israel. Poland and Israel finished level on both match and game points, but Poland had the better Sonneborn-Berger tiebreak. It’s notable that with four draws and a loss Poland managed to qualify for the knockout without winning a match.
The team qualifying last from a pool faces the team finishing top in the other pool, so it’s Poland-China in the quarterfinals, and also Spain-Azerbaijan, Ukraine-Uzbekistan and France-India.
With no margin for error the event should now be much more exciting, with the teams playing two matches a day, with reversed colours, against each other. If it ends in a 1:1 tie they then play 3+2 blitz matches (on all boards) until one side wins.
The games begin at 3pm in Jerusalem, which is 08:00 ET, 14:00 CET and 18:30 IST and you can follow them live here on chess24.