In the early rounds of the Chess Olympiads, the favorites are all on pace

In the early rounds of the Chess Olympiads, the favorites are all on pace ...

On the opening two rounds, the 44th Chess Olympiad has closed the books. Though individual games have had enormous upsets and solid performances from lower-rated upstarts, the big names and tournament favorites have all performed as expected.

This is partly due to the way the Swiss system is constructed: in massive brackets like this one, which includes over 1700 players and 188 teams, the list of teams with the same score is shortened in half, and the team on the top gets to face the team thats just below the halfway line, giving a significant advantage. (Taking a 48-team bracket as an example, theyd face the 25th-rated team; similarly, the second-placed team would face the 26th-ranked team.)

Any early defeat can be hugely damaging, and the action will heat up later down the line as we separate the wheat from the chaff. In this 11-round affair, the top teams will meet off against each other at some point.

Carlsens back, back again

The absence of the world's best player (who will no longer be the world champion in the near future) in round one of the Norway team was all planned. Carlsen would arrive at some point, but not necessarily for the first few rounds because his team brought along a fifth player, which he was apparently eager to take for the initial round.

In Round 2, he scored a classic Carlsen victory against 2613-rated Georg Meier on the top board, knocking down his Uruguayan opponent in a marathon endgame. The players went for a rare (and somewhat drawish) sideline in the French Defense and entered uncharted territory on the move 13.

Georg restructured Carslens' structure by maneuvering his knight to capture the bishop on e3, allowing White to recapture with the f-pawn, at the cost of trading off every piece except the queens, leaving Carlsen with only a minor advantage.

Magnus excels in this particular situation: move after move, hour after hour, he kept asking his opponents questions, and all it took was a single wrong answer deep into the game (and low on time) for him to grab the entire point. As one of the pre-tournament favorites (in light of the absence of Russia and China), they advance to Round 3 with a perfect 2-0 record.

As India-1 crushes Moldova, the US squeaked by Paraguay to maintain a 100% record.

The top teams from the United States and India performed up to expectations in the first two rounds, although in very different circumstances. The United States team started the season with a dominant victory over Angola before falling into a hot water with Paraguay. Three draws and only a single victory might have made everything go much differently for them.

On table 3, Leinier Dominguez Perez defeated 2451-rates Cubas Jose Fernando, closing the game in 31 moves, opening the floodgates for Whites forces everywhere: first, the queenside was torn down, then the center collapsed, bringing Leiniers' dominance to a conclusion that was striking in sight.

Bulgaria's 3.5-0.5 victory over Croatia despite a 46-rank gap, and Zambia's victory over Denmark by international championships as FM Nase Lungu held the fort against the Grandmasters.

Zambia is on the verge of thumping Denmark as Lungu lands a new partner on the board! At the 2010 Olympic Games, Zambia's highest ranking was 47th.

The top five teams from the host nations won 4-0 against Zimbabwe and then 3.5-0.5 against Moldova to set up a round 3 clash against Greece. Such are the limitations of playing on this kind of huge field.

Womens section: a notable 9-move win

The favorite teams also held strong in the women's division, and in some instances, the display of leadership was nothing short of spectacular. After the first two rounds, it's too early to predict anything here. However, the brackets set up a highlight-worthy match between England and India for Round 3.

The Swedish side, whose members are the Cramling family, is among the many teams with a 2-0 record. However, not many can boast a nine-move victory at the event, which is exactly what happened in the second round between Knarik Moudarian and Pia Cramling:

The reason why 9. f3 was a game-ending mistake by the 2121-rated Lebanese is fairly obvious: White cannot actually recapture with Bxh3, since that would grant Black the defense of the now-weakened f3 square, thus allowing Black to take the pawn with the knight, forking the king and the queen in the process.

The only rest day of this tournament will be on August 4, next Thursday. There will be a lot of chess to be played until then.