Furtherance to the first six (6) rounds, the players had the opportunity to relax and socialize via the Bermuda party, where everyone at the party had lots of fun, because the next day is a free day, and the players could rest.
Although there was rest for the players, it was election time for Africa, and Africa spoke with a large majority as regards those who should lead the continent into the future that will benefit Africans generally. You can read about the elections in our prior article.
Thus, we dive into the final set of rounds at the Chennai Chess Olympiad.
In a round where Nigeria started as the second best chess playing nation on the continent, it was Nigeria facing off against Belgium. At the end of the round, Nigeria lost 3-1, but the one point was a brilliant display of grit and resourcefulness from the Nigerian International Master Oluwafemi Balogun.
Wielding the white pieces, Oluwafemi started out with the 1. e4 pawn push, while his opponent met him with the Sicilian opening. However, after the early trade of pawns and minor officers, both queens step forward, and an intriguing game ensued.
Oluwafemi further sacrificed his two rooks for what seemed like a killer blow, however, there was still much work to be done. After losing the initiative during the transition point into the middlegame, gaining it back was no mean feat, daunting even, but not for Oluwafemi.
Fide Master Sim Maerevoet tried to complicate the position with a few checks, but Oluwafemi was allowed to give a knight check that brings him back into the game. A few moves after and Oluwafemi was a bishop up against Sim, even though Sim had more pawns (2). Oluwafemi ensured that his transition into the endgame was much better, and he finished the game masterfully.
As 16-year old D. Gukesh breaks the internet with his win over Fabiano Caruana that puts him well above everyone on board 1, with a performance rating of 3,300+; we take a look at the female section, where Cotê d’Ivoire’s unrated Ayemou Mazan Emmanuela Esther, defeated Ali Amy of Trinidad and Tobago with a brilliant endgame understanding.
The game started as the classical variation of the Italian game, and while the game never went against her, Esther’s coordination of her pieces during the game was masterful.
Esther went ahead to show her prowess in the endgame in such a manner as only a master would (in the last 4+ moves). A good game to go through.
It is also good to note that Cotê d’Ivoire had the youngest African participant at the Olympiad, with 9-year old Ayemou Akissi Victoire Sinchie, who also scored a healthy 4.5/8 points (3W-3D-2L).
Zimbabwe, led by the legendary IM Makoto Rodwell, stole victory from the grasps of Mexico, in a keenly contested match. IM Rodwell’s game against GM Hernandez Guerrero Gilberto is our pick of the round.
As his opponent employed the Ruy Lopez opening line, it was obvious that the game was going to be a battle of positional understanding as well as structural piece placement, which delivers the final results.
On the 11th move, I wondered why the knight pin was not protected from b7, and d7 was chosen for the bishop.
However, a move after, the a8 rook was sacrificed for the greater good, when it was obvious that white is not castling to the kingside.
The moves that followed were just so interesting that the exchange sacrifice was returned in a bid to keep the game balanced. Eventually, a draw was agreed, which sufficed for both players at the end.
The penultimate round was a very important round for African nations who had a shot at the category medals, and only a few were able to make the best of the opportunity.
The key African battle was between Zambia and Malawi. This match had a lot of fight in it, and only produced a single victory (of the four games played).
The top board was one to watch as the match between IM Gillian Bwalya and FM Joseph Mwale was always going to be a cracker (and boy, was it a cracker).
Opposite side castling has always been a recipe for all out war in the chess game, and the game between Joseph and Gillian was no different.
The game was largely unorthodox and was the kind of game you see at a swindling park in New York City or Joubert Park. However, both players know their onions and traded heavy blows throughout the game.
The threats were countered and the exchanges were forced. In the end, the rook was sacrificed to keep the king far off, while a solitary pawn secured the all important draw.
The final round presented a big win for IM Mohamed Ali Boudriga and Tunisia against Paraguay (a 3-1 victory), in what secured the top spot for the team in Group C.
Whether it was fatigue that made the grandmaster lose guard or pressure or providence, it went Africa’s way in the final round.
Although, it was not just Tunisia who came out tops in the final round, as both Zimbabwe and Uganda also secured 3-1 victories over Scotland and Faroe Island respectively.
At the end, Egypt was the best performing African nation; unfortunately, they did not secure any medal in the top Group B.
Meanwhile, in Group C, Tunisia (who finished 2nd in Africa) secured gold medal, while Zimbabwe held on to the silver medal.
Group D had Libya claiming the gold medals, while Botswana secured bronze.
Group E then had Sierra Leone taking home the silver medals, while Eritrea picked up bronze, to wrap up the awards for the Open section.