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Front runner!

August 26, 2023

If the best-dressed team were to be chosen in Düsseldorf, the Rapid Team World Championship would have been decided before the first round. But chess is not a fashion show. And no walk. The women and men in the fine suits of the "WR Chess" team found that out right in the first round. They had won 4.5:1.5, confidently and clearly, but that was only enough for 14th place in the first interim ranking. Winning one of the best fielded competitions ever on German soil will not be easy.

Rapid Team World Championship 2023
Look good, play even better? Team WR Chess at the photo shoot the day before the start of the World Championship. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/WR Chess

However, the team has laid the foundation for the long-awaited win of the World Championship and the "Rainer Niermann Cup". After the first four matches there are four wins and the lead in the table.

The first day of our team:

Round 1

WR Chess vs. FIDE Management Board 4.5:1.5

When a high-ranking politician plays chess against a world champion, it is usually a friendly exhibition match, not a sporting competition. And of course there are only two possible outcomes for such pairings: Either the world champion wins, or she grants the politician a friendly draw.

Once in chess history such a match was competitive: at the 2016 Chess Olympiad in Baku, when the Latvian women's national team met the Chinese. The reigning world champion played on the first board for China. The acting finance minister of the Baltic country played on the first board for Latvia – and won!

Seven years later at the "FIDE World Rapid Team Championship" in Düsseldorf, Hou Yifan, now ex-world champion, got the chance to take revenge against Dana Reizniece-Ozola, now FIDE Managing Director. The two met again in the opening match between the WR Chess team and the FIDE Management Board.

Rapid Team World Championship 2023
Revenge seven years later: Hou Yifan against Dana Reizniece-Ozola. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/WR Chess

This time the Chinese prevailed. Reizniece-Ozola had her back against the wall from the get-go. In the course of a one-sided game, she never found a way to free herself. For the WR team, Hou's victory laid the groundwork for an unchallenged 4.5:1.5 opening win over the chess world’s governing board.

Besides Hou, Vincent Keymer and Ian Nepomniachtchi won easily. Wesley So also won, but had to work hard on board against Viktor Bologan before turning a difficult endgame in his favor.

Nodirbek Abdusattorov contributed half a point. Assuming Nigel Short had saved himself into a perpetual check, the Uzbek drew the game.

Stockfish disagreed: "Mate in 30," the machine insists.

Round 2

WR Chess vs. Six-Pack 4:2

Six-Pack? Is that meant to hint at the amazing physical condition this team from India is in? However well the abdominal muscles on the side of the Indian six-pack team may be defined, it didn't help much in the chess match against the hosts. The muscles in the six WR heads worked better than their counterparts' in the second round as well.

However, after an interim 2-0 lead, a nail-biter was in the air. Vincent Keymer had predicted it: "The field is so strong, already the second round will be difficult."

Nodirbek Abdusattorov opened the round with a fine positional performance. For 32 moves of a game that went in one direction only, he needed little more than three minutes to think, and then it was 1-0. A little later Ian Nepomniachtchi followed suit. At the end of what was also a rather technical game, the runner-up presented his opponent with the unfortunate choice of either ending up in a lost endgame or in an overwhelming attack on his king.

If it's 2-0, it can't be that bad that Janek Duda (whom coach Jan Gustafsson had rotated into the team for Keymer) can't get more than a draw against Pranesh (India's 79th GM!)? Well. On the top board Wesley So’s endgame slipped away, and at the score of 2.5:1.5 it hung by a thread that Alexandra Kosteniuk on the women's board and Wadim Rosenstein on the u2000 board must not let go.

64.Kc5! – and the d-pawn runs.64.Kc5! – and the d-pawn runs.

Kosteniuk had comfortably equalized with Black against the multiple Indian youth champion Nutakka Priyanka, but never more than that. In the end, there was a knight ending on the board in which the sharing of the point was inevitable.

When the score was 3:2 it was up to Wadim Rosenstein to save the team victory. Rosenstein was up an exchange, but two pawns down. Under time pressure, he managed to play his last trump decisively: the passed pawn on the d-file. That one pawn that White still had turned out to be unstoppable while the three black pawns were not more than mere bystanders.

Rapid Team World Championship 2023
Match winner and team leader Wadim Rosenstein. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/WR Chess

Round 3

WR Chess vs Ashdod Elite Club 5.5:0.5

"I'm looking forward to playing in a team with friends and I'll do my best not to let the others down," said Ian Nepomniachtchi ahead of the tournament. So far he has kept his word.

Creative Keymer: 16…Kd7!?Creative Keymer: 16…Kd7!?

Nepo's win to make it 2-0 was particularly important for the team. After Vincent Keymer had ensured the lead with creative play, it became apparent that Nodirbek Abdusattorov would be in trouble in his queen ending on board one, while Jan-Krzysztof Duda's advantage threatened to evaporate and the other games were open. The 2-0 cushion was all the more important.

Rapid Team World Championship 2023
Well done, boy!: Coach Jan Gustafsson congratulates Vincent Keymer. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/WR Chess

It turned out to be a comfortable, unexpectedly clear victory. In the prestige duel between former world champion Hou Yifan and world-class grandmaster Mariya Muzychuk, the Chinese won a queen endgame that looked unwinnable. Duda also found his way back to winning ways after his intermittent wobble. And Abdusattorov held – 4.5-0.5.

Wadim Rosenstein found himself in the comfortable position of being able to knead his rook endgame with an extra pawn on the board and four extra minutes on the clock without pressure to score. He did it with relish, without letting up. After 95 moves there fell a second pawn, and after 126 moves the game was won.


Round 4

WR Chess vs. Columbus Energy Kings of Chess Krakow 5:1

Four teams led the table with a 6:0 score. Nevertheless, the duels against the really big chunks "MGD1" (Erigaisi, Nihal Sarin, Harikrishna...) or "Freedom" (Rapport, Anand, Dubov...) will have to wait another day. Instead, in the fourth round it was against the Polish surprise team "Columbus Energy Kings of Chess Krakow" – who shouldn't succeed in another surprise.

Rapid Team World Championship 2023
1.5/2 on the first day of the tournament: Alexandra Kosteniuk. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/WR Chess

10…e6, oh dear. Getting out of the opening like that against Ian Nepomniachtchi can't go well.10…e6, oh dear. Getting out of the opening like that against Ian Nepomniachtchi can't go well.

"Chessqueen" Alexandra Kosteniuk was winning with Black after ten moves, as was Ian Nepomniachtchi in a higher sense. Nevertheless, there were indications that it could be close when Vincent Keymer's queen suddenly got lost on the opponent's kingside and the German prodigy had to resign soon after.

If the coach or the team had any concerns, they were unfounded. Keymer's defeat was followed by three wins by Wadim Rosenstein, Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Wesely So to win the match 5-1. Team “WR Chess” ends the first day of the tournament as the front-runner.

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