Russia-USA: who will win?
The main competitive attraction of the 8th round undoubtedly was the dual Russia-USA clash, on the top board of both the Open and Women’s sections. Shortly before the start of the round, Susan Polgar sought the predictions of some interested observers about these matches.
GM Spyridon Skembris (captain of Mauritius)
I think there will be a great fight. There is a traditional rivalry between these two superpowers; the Cold War may be over, but we can expect some kind of Fischer-Spassky proportions! In the Open section, I await this match with great interest, because the United States have three players of the absolute top level; on the other hand, the Russians have Ian Nepomniachtchi, who shows here in Baku that he belongs to the chess elite (ed: Ian lost his game, for the first time in Baku). We’ll see what will happen… I think the result on the last board will decide the fate of the match; overall, I think 2-2 is the most likely result.
IM Oladapo Adu (Nigeria)
In the Open section match, I think the United States will win by 2.5-1.5; I think Hikaru’s (Nakamura’s) game will be decisive. As for the ladies, it’s quite close, but I’d still give the edge to the Americans, probably with the same score, 2.5-1.5. I have to support the United States because, apart from being a Nigerian, I am an American citizen, so I’m definitely rooting for the USA! I think the winner of these matches will win the Olympiad.
GM Ramesh Ramachandran (captain of India)
In the Open section, I think the fourth board will be crucial, the deciding factor in the match. As for the women, I think it’s balanced, maybe slightly favoring Russia; but we can just say that whoever plays better will prevail. May the best win – best wishes to all the teams!
GM Ketino Arakhamia-Grant (Scotland)
The two matches are really exciting, though I’d say that in this Olympiad we have many interesting teams, lots of interesting matches. It’s really very difficult to predict. If I’m really pressed to make a prediction anyway, I would say maybe draws in both matches? (laughs)
IM Tea Lanchava (Netherlands)
It’s really a very difficult prediction… For the ladies, I’ll go for Russia; as for the men, I’m leaning towards the United States. Difficult to say, but that’s my opinion!
Quite some of these predictions were vindicated. The men’s match ended in a 2-2 draw, with the fourth board indeed proving decisive, as Alexander Grischuk turned the tables on a drawish position and won the game, at the same time as Ian Nepomniachtchi was failing Skembris’ faith in him by losing his first game in Baku, to Wesley So. The ladies’ clash ended in a victory for the United States by 2.5-1.5.