By Dylan Loeb Mcclain
Eastern Europeans have dominated chess for decades, and one reason may be that they come from countries where the average citizen is simply more passionate about the game. That was illustrated on Monday when the Armenian national team flew home after winning the gold medal in the Chess Olympiad in Istanbul — its third top finish in the last four Olympiads.
Team members were greeted by hundreds of flag-waving fans, as well as by President Serzh Sargsyan, who also heads up the national chess federation. The team was then honored with a parade through Yerevan, the capital. It is impossible to imagine the United States chess team receiving a comparable welcome.
Although Armenia has just 3.3 million people, as a chess power, it ranks No. 6 in the world, just ahead of the United States. (Rankings are based on the average rating of the top 10 players in each country.)
Before the Olympiad’s last round, the Armenians were tied for the lead with Russia and China. But China then lost, and Armenia and Russia finished with identical records. Tiebreaker points gave Armenia the gold.
The Armenians were led by Levon Aronian, the world’s No. 2 player, who also won an individual gold medal. One of his best games was his victory in the penultimate round against Anish Giri of the Netherlands.
Though 4 Qb3 was a bit unusual, there was nothing wrong with Giri’s move. But 9 Rc1 neglected his development, and 9 Nc3 would have been better.
Giri’s decision to trade a bishop for a knight by playing 12 Bd6 was not bad, but he came to regret letting Aronian keep his bishops.
Aronian’s 18 … e5 offered up a pawn sacrifice to open up the board for his pieces. Giri could have taken the pawn by playing 19 de5, but he did not because the game might have then continued 19 … Qe7 20 f4 f6 21 ef6 Rf6, when Aronian would have had a dangerous attack. Aronian persisted with his idea of sacrificing a pawn to create an attack by playing 19 … f5.
Giri gave up his extra pawn in order to get his pieces developed, but it was too late. Aronian ripped open the position with 26 … f4 and 27 … Bf2.
Giri did not take a bishop with 28 Kf2 because 28 … Rf4 29 gf4 Qd2 30 Kg1 Rc1 would have given Aronian a strong attack. Unfortunately for Giri, 28 Kh1 also left Aronian with a large advantage.
Giri managed to survive to the endgame, but it was hopeless. He resigned after playing 48 Bb7, as Aronian would have eventually promoted his g pawn to a queen.
A version of this article appeared in print on September 16, 2012, on page A23 of the New York edition with the headline: World’s No. 2 Player Leads Armenia to a Gold Medal.