The premier team competition in chess, the 180-nation Chennai Olympiad, ended on Tuesday with Uzbekistan, average age 20 and seeded only 14th, edging gold after a battle with three-time winners Armenia and India’s teenagers, while the top seeded United States finished out of the medals. 

India’s Gukesh D, 16, and the Uzbek Nodirbek Abdusattorov, 17, stood out as fast rising talents headed for the world top. Gukesh won his first eight games, and was awarded the individual board one gold.

Abdusattorov is already world champion in one-hour rapid chess, where he defeated Magnus Carlsen.

David Howell, a former prodigy turned online commentator,  captured the individual board three gold medal with 7.5/8, an achievement recalling the glory years of the 1980s when England were No2 to the former Soviet Union. England also had a great chance for a high position in the team table, but spoilt it in the final round and finished 14th.

The big losers in Chennai were the United States, who in the absence of Russia (banned) and China (Covid and visa issues) were odds-on favourites. World top 10 players Fabiano Caruana and Levon Aronian were undone by the energy of the Asian teens. Round eight, when the US lost 1-3 to India 2, seemed like a new version of the infamous 1945 radio match against the Soviet Union.

US chess strategy in recent years, masterminded by FT reader Rex Sinquefield and the globally renowned St Louis chess club, has been to encourage established star players to transfer to the US and so build a highly rated national team. What occurred in Chennai shows the limitations of this approach.  The ambitious and fearless Uzbek and Indian teenagers are the future of chess.

This dramatic game was significant for the gold medals.  India’s Gukesh stood better but let it slip, and then failed to bail out for the required draw.  Abdusattorov stoked up the tactical melee, and was rewarded with a fatal blunder of a knight. 

Puzzle 2481

Fabiano Caruana v Gukesh D, USA v India, Chennai 2022. Black to move and win. How did the 16-year-old defeat the former world No 2?

Click here for solution

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