GM Maurice Ashley

GM Maurice Ashley was inducted into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame back in April and thus a culmination to the decades of service rendered to the worldwide chess community. Known to the world primarily as a commentator, Ashley had dabbled in the organization realm by successfully hosting the HB Global in 2005, but in 2013 he actually formed a company with Canadian businesswoman Amy Lee, called Millionaire Chess.

This ambitious vision was to hold chess events that would set a high bar while also lifting the profile of chess to attract sponsorship. While building a powerful brand with a regal color and recognizable logo, Ashley and Lee held three wonderful events (2014, 2015, 2016) and captured the imagination of many with high stakes chess. However, there was reticence to support the tournaments even after the third tournament dropped its entry fee to $499 for a prize fund that had a high payout. Nevertheless, the tournament experienced the best ratings in terms of overall organization.

Daaim Shabazz and Maurice Ashley before the opening round.

“El General” Ashley looks on during opening of the round.

Maurice Ashley with opening remarks of round four. He informed us that Amy Lee had successful surgery. All photos by Daaim Shabazz (unless otherwise stated).

Before the third tournament, Ashley made a statement on Facebook that it may be the last MC tournament for the foreseeable future. A week after the tournament, The Chess Drum was granted an exclusive interview in which Ashley was asked about his recent activities, but most importantly, the future of Millionaire Chess. Two audio clips follow:

Part 1:
Grand Chess Tour, African Tour, Queen of Katwe, Baku Olympiad
30:06 minutes

Part 2:
MC3, MC3 in retrospect, Future of MC
23:18 minutes

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Photo by Billy Johnson.

The 2016 Millionaire Chess Open

Thursday, October 6th through Monday, October 11th 2016
Harrah-s Resort, Atlantic City, New Jersey


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Drum Interviews @ Millionaire Chess Open #3

One of the most gratifying assignments in covering chess events are the interviews of various personalities. The Millionaire Chess Open attracts players from around the world and the diversity was apparent in all sections. In the under-2200, there were a number of interesting personalities and one of them was pleased to grant his first interview!

Naphtali Smith
Photo by David Llada

Naphtali Smith (Columbus, Ohio, USA) – Hailing from Columbus, Ohio, Naphtali was inspired by his cousin Billy Turner and began a serious push to improve his play. Entering the under-2200 with a rating of 2188, Naphtali ended with 4.5/7 with still a handful of points to make National Master. During the tournament, he was amused at his friends’ reactions to his photo at the board with his trademark… the well-kept beard! James Harden should be on alert! The personable young man plans to get involved with coaching at some point in the near future and make his contribution to the development of chess in Ohio. 8:13 minutes


Prince Eric Junior Guipi Bopala
Photo by David Llada

Prince Eric Junior Guipi Bopala (Montreal, Canada) – This 9-year old has five names, but one mission… to be a Grandmaster. The Canadian junior has won a number of national honors and started playing chess at age two!! He has been a mainstay in American tournaments having played in the World Open just a few months back. In this tournament, he scored 5/7 in the under-1800 section. His father, an immigrant from the Central African Republic has been the driving force in his son’s chess career and was able to share his thoughts in this joint interview. Enjoy! 11:44 minutes

GM Pontus Carlsson (Sweden) – The Chess Drum audience will know Carlsson quite well as he has been the subject of numerous articles at the website. The Colombian-born Swedish national took his first trip to the U.S. and wanted to support the Millionaire Chess initiative. While he was critical of his play, he offers suggestions of parallel tournaments. He relished the moments with Maurice Ashley and there were a number of iconic photos taken of two of the five the Black GMs in the world. Carlsson now splits his time between Sweden and the Czech Republic. 16:54 minutes

GMs Pontus Carlsson and Maurice Ashley… double exclam!!
Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

Wachania Wachira (Kenya) – Wachira was one of the African qualifiers from the MC Satellite tournament in Kenya. The field was tough for him as he struggled to gain his bearings under the weight of strong players. Nevertheless, he was intrigued by the U.S. and said that it was not what he expected. “It is too developed,” he asserted with a smile. It is with a bit of irony that in such a developed country, chess is not getting the attention it rightly deserves. 10:11 minutes

Pan-African Unity! CM Wachania Wachira (Kenya), IM Daniel Jere (Zambia), Daaim Shabazz (USA), IM Oladapo Adu (Nigeria), IM Farai Mandizha (Zimbabwe). Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

GM Cristian Chirila (Romania) – Chirila came to the U.S. six years ago to pursue his education at the University of Texas at Dallas. After being part of the successful teams at UTD, he moved to California where he would become a chess professional. In this interview, an obviously elated under-2550 winner described his experience at MC3 (he has attended all three), but remains skeptical at the model. Notwithstanding, this was his most successful tournament to date. 7:00 minutes

GM Cristian Chirila (right) receiving his prize from GM Maurice Ashley.
Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

FM Daniel Anwuli (Nigeria) – This talented 19-year old earned his FM title two years ago and became the nation’s highest-rated player at age 18. He recently represented Nigeria at the Baku Olympiad and has sights to further his studies and pursue the GM title. In this interview, he reflects on the tournament and how his slow start didn’t dampen his spirit. He scored 4.5 in the last five rounds to make Millionaire Monday. 14:13 minutes

FM Daniel Anwuli upsetting GM Conrad Holt.
Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

IM Daniel Jere (Zambia) – This Zambia came to MC3 after winning the qualifier in South Africa. His maiden visit to the U.S., he seemed enjoy the interaction with strong players and got a creditable 4/9 drawing GM Zhou Jianchou and 2500-rated IM Andrey Gorovets. Jere had taken a hiatus in chess and has since moved to South Africa where there are more opportunities. 14:02 minutes

IM Daniel Jere (right) blitzing between rounds.
Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

Githinji Hinga (Kenya) – Having served as President of the Kenyan Chess Federation, Hinga was interested in seeing the Millionaire Chess Open closeup. He had helped to host two qualifying events and wanted to lend support. While he did not participate in the events, he was able to provide moral support to qualifier Wachania Wachira and witness the excitement firsthand. 11:57 minutes

Githinji Hinga visited MC3 from Kenya.
Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

GM Emilio Cordova (Peru) – Having been a part of the 10th place Peruvian team in Baku, Cordova came to Millionaire Chess at the urging of a friend. While he admits that the cost is prohibitive, he was able to take 4th place overall. Surprisingly he mentions that there is not much support for chess, but the Olympiad result certainly brought honor to the country. Likewise, Cordova represented Peru well in Atlantic City. 6:59 minutes

GM Emilio Cordova versus Chinese GM Zhou Jianchou
during Millionaire Monday. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

GM Samuel Sevian (USA) – Born in New York, Sevian has been a sensation for a long time. He became an Expert at age 8, a National Master at age 9 and an International Master at 12 and 10 months. He broke a national record by becoming an International Grandmaster at 13 years, 10 months and 27 days. Since then he has played in two U.S. Championships and has begun to make his presence felt in international circles. In this joint interview with his mother Armine, he talks about his evolution as a chess player. Hopefully we will see good things from this raw talent. 9:49 minutes

GM Samuel Sevian and mother Armine chatting with
GM Pontus Carlsson of Sweden. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

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Maurice Ashley presents winner’s check
(US$30,000) to GM Dariusz Swiercz.
Photo by Daaim Shabazz

With the Isle of Man is full swing and American Olympians such as Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So playing, Sam Shankland and a number of junior stars were left to defend home turf. It was an unfortunate conflict of schedule and perhaps the Millionaire Chess Open would have shined brighter in its third edition. The prize offerings were certainly more generous than what was offered at Isle of Man tournament which attracted the lion’s share of the elite players.

While there has been talk of the entry fee for MC tournaments and there is certainly an argument for lower entry fee. The first two editions drew 550 entrants at $1000, but the this edition only drew 400 at $549. It was rather counter-intuitive that players did not support the event since one of the issues was the higher entry. Apart from the actual entry fee, one must also consider the depth and width of the prize offerings for the MC tournaments and chances to win. There were 50 prizes in the Open section for US$129,900 alone at only 60% of original prize fund! Let’s look at the breakdown vs. Isle of Man.

Isle of Man (Open Section)

1st: £12,000 ($14,630.58); 2nd: £6,000 ($7,315.28); 3rd: £4,000 ($4,876.86); 4th: £3,500 ($4,267.25); 5th: £3,000 ($3,657.65); 6th: £2,500 ($3,048.03); 7th: £2,000 ($2438.43); 8th: £1,500 ($1828.82); 9th: £1,250 ($1,524.02); 10th: £1,000 ($1,219.21) (full prize list)

For MC3 (Open section)

1st: $30,000; 2nd: $15,000; 3rd $8,400; 4th: $5,400.00; 5th: $3,600.00; 6th: $2,400.00; 7th: $1,200.00; 8th $900.00; 9th to 20th – each $600; 21st to 40th – each $360 (full prize list)

The prize structure for MC tournaments are generally higher and much deeper than most open tournaments giving more people a chance to win. In fact, the total prize fund ended on $306,000 and would have reached $500,000 if meeting the requisite number of registrants. Apparently, several players had prior commitment to Isle of Man, since MC3 was announced only in February.

There was the issue of travel and expenses for foreign players. For the MC tournaments, there are no conditions given, but for U.S. players it should be an advantage. There is also the format of two rounds per day at the MC. It is a brutal format, but it also reduces the player expenditure with fewer days. Ironically, the MC tournaments have had a healthy number of foreign players and attracting about 50 federations at MC2. This year the winnings were dominated by foreign players. So, the debate continues.

While players in the Open Section were still battling…

… Millionaire Monday was the main event!

Taking the Millionaire Monday festivities with Bob Ali,
long-time organizer in New York.

GM Oliver Barbosa battling GM Cristian Chirila in under-2550 final.

Crowd watches the tense, see-saw battle of Swiercz-Jones.
Photos by Daaim Shabazz

At MC2, there was no favorite, but Adhiban Baskaran topped the scale at 2689 and Sam Shankland was second at 2679. However, an unheralded Dariusz Swiercz of Poland waded through the torturous path and claimed the $30,000 first prize. The first-year St. Louis University student happily took honors after defeating GMs Emilio Cordova (Peru) and Gwain Jones (England). The final with Jones was a nail biter.

The Millionaire Monday is an exciting format in which the qualifiers (top four players of each section) get to play in an accelerated format for a larger prize fund. If you did not qualify for Millionaire Monday, you will simply continue on in the Open and play two more rounds. The format is very interesting, but the major difference was the lack of commentary and the live broadcasts that rachet up the excitement and the viewer appeal. The “Confession Booth” was also missing. Nevertheless, was carrying the games lives and the viewership was active. David Llada was capturing the images with his usual mastery. So while MC3 did not have the panache of the first two, it was well-done. The conditions were optimal and there is still the idea that the tournament is something special.

Maurice Ashley opens the closing ceremonies with warm gratitude and complimentary words of his MC partner, Amy Lee. Amy had emergency surgery during the tournament and could not attend the closing. Her presence was sorely missed.

Players texting their family and friends about their winnings.

Players appears to be grateful and there were several rounds of applause.

Since 60% of players won money, most of the people at the closing ceremonies had to stick around to collect… including myself!

David Llada doing what he does best!

19-year old FM Daniel Anwuli, the future of Nigerian chess.

Winner of Millionaire Chess Open, GM Darius Swiercz (Poland)

The 2016 Millionaire Chess Open

Thursday, October 6th through Monday, October 11th 2016
Harrah’s Resort, Atlantic City, New Jersey


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One of the most unique features of the Millionaire Chess Open is the qualifiers for Millionaire Monday. The final round of the preliminaries will determine who advances to the championship round of each section. However, today features some spellbinding playoffs as a result of several people will tie scores. The playoffs were round robin with time controls depending on how many players were in the tiebreak. However, all of the sections turned out to be 7m/3s.

There were also those who took advantage of the “Redemption Jackpot” feature where only the last three rounds are counted. In order to enter, one had to have a score of 50% or less after four rounds. The top scorers in all sections were lumped together. Kian Sol Morgan (under-1600) and Saket Kumar (under-2000) each won $607.50 for scoring a perfect 3/3 in the last three rounds.

So Millionaire Monday will begin with the top four players of each section playing a double round robin with the top two going for the title in the finals. The details of the qualifiers are listed at…


The schedule is as follows:

Semi-Finals Schedule
Game 1 (G/25 +5sec delay): Monday, October 10 @ 11:00 a.m.
Game 2 (G/25 +5sec delay): Monday, October 10 @ 12:30 p.m.

1st Tie-Break Round (if necessary)
Game 1 (G/15 +5sec delay): Monday, October 10 @ 2:00 p.m.
Game 2 (G/15 +5sec delay): Monday, October 10 @ 2:45 p.m.

2nd Tie-Break Round (if necessary)
Game 1 (5min +2sec delay): Monday, October 10 @ 3:30 p.m.
Game 2 (5min +2sec delay): Monday, October 10 @ 3:45 p.m.

3rd Tie-Break Round (if necessary)
1 Game (White 5min, Black 3m 30s w/draw odds): Monday, October 10 @ 4:15 p.m.

Finals Schedule:

Played to determine 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th places
Game 1 (G/25 +5sec delay): Monday, October 10 @ 5:00 p.m.
Game 2 (G/25 +5sec delay): Monday, October 10 @ 6:30 p.m.

1st Tie-Break Round (if necessary)
Game 1 (G/15 +5sec delay): Monday, October 10 @ 8:00 p.m.
Game 2 (G/15 +5sec delay): Monday, October 10 @ 8:45 p.m.

2nd Tie-Break Round (if necessary)
Game 1 (5min +2sec delay): Monday, October 10 @ 9:30 p.m.
Game 2 (5min +2sec delay): Monday, October 10 @ 9:45 p.m.

3rd Tie-Break Round (if necessary)
1 Game (White 5m, Black 3m 30s w/draw odds): Monday, October 10 @ 10:15 p.m.

Games from Round #7

The 2016 Millionaire Chess Open

Thursday, October 6th through Monday, October 11th 2016
Harrah’s Resort, Atlantic City, New Jersey


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Things are tightening as we go into Millionaire Monday. The Open Section was a bloodletting with a number of decisive games. There is currently a seven-way tie for first with GMs Baskaran Adhiban (IND), Rauf Mamedov (AZE), Jeffery Xiong (USA), Gawain Jones (ENG), Emilio Cordova (PER), Dariusz Swiercz (POL) and Jianchao Zhou (CHN) leading on 5/6.

Games from Round #5

Games from Round #6

The 2016 Millionaire Chess Open

Thursday, October 6th through Monday, October 11th 2016
Harrah’s Resort, Atlantic City, New Jersey


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The good news is that Amy Lee had successful surgery and was released from the hospital. Her Facebook update showed that she received an outpouring of support and love and the tournament hall will be glad to see her at the beginning of the 5th round.

Favorites are still holding sway in the tournament. As the day ended most of the top 10 seeds were still at near the head of the field. Following are the games from rounds 3 and 4 along with some photos from David Llada and The Chess Drum.

Maurice Ashley with opening remarks of round four. He informed us that Amy Lee had successful surgery. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

Adia Onyango
Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

Anita Stagl of Germany won “Best Dressed” prize.
Photo by David Llada.

GM Eduardo Iturrizaga (Venezuela)
Photo by David Llada.

No… it’s not James Harden at the Millionaire Chess Open…
it’s Naphtali Smith with the great beard
Photo by David Llada.

This is how it looks outside. Very nice bike path by the water.
Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

A taxi driver told me of the beach community across the water.
Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

Wachania Wachira (Kenya)
Photo by David Llada.

GM Jeffrey Xiong
Photo by David Llada.

Russia is represented!
Photo by David Llada.

The 2016 Millionaire Chess Open

Thursday, October 6th through Monday, October 11th 2016
Harrah’s Resort, Atlantic City, New Jersey


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MC3 is underway as 400 entrants began the festivities at Harrah’s Resort at Atlantic City. This edition of Millionaire Chess Open had all the familiar themes from the previous two editions… the purple accents, beautiful facility and people dressed to impressed. There was one thing missing from the hall … Amy Lee. The Chess Drum received a message from Amy from her hospital bed and she said, “Hospital for 3 hrs now. Ultrasound came back. It’s gallstones.”

So the indefatigable force behind the Millionaire Chess franchise would not be at the opening of the event. She expressed disappointment, but the next morning she had successful surgery and was resting. We are indebted to Amy for her investment in chess, her tireless energy, her vivacious persona and for sacrificing three years of her life to promote chess. Get well Amy!

Some of the hallmarks of MC tournaments were the efficient registration process, the smiley faces, the omnipresent MC logo and red carpet photo area. David Llada had his studio prepared and his camera ready for those who wanted to take individual photos or group photos. These are clearly special moments and you need the best photographer to capture them. David had risen to be the best chess photographer in the business in a short time.

Great photo of the lovely couple!
Photo by David Llada.

There were some noticeable differences at MC3 including the opening breakfast. Instead of the stuffy banquet-style, sit-down breakfast, the dining area had tall tables so that mingling was much easier and the mood appeared to be much more apparent. The Chess Drum furnished photos below. Not Llada quality, but you get the idea.

All photo by Daaim Shabazz (unless otherwise stated).

Opening Breakfast

GM Pontus Carlsson (right) chatting with GM Samuel Sevian and his mother.

All the way from Nigeria!!

Given the lower numbers at this year’s event, there was a different look, but the conditions of the tournament hall were excellent. The tables were nicely-space, set with boards and clocks, decorated purple MC monogrammed runners and the hall was festooned with portraits of the World Champions. Inspiring indeed!

Taking a cameo shot in the Millionaire Chess #3 playing venue.

Announcements with Maurice “The General” Ashley observing.

This year’s event was scaled back in a number of ways. While the prize fund was halved to $500,000 (of which 60% is guaranteed), more than half of the participants stand to win a prize. That is not counting the extra prizes such as the daily “best dressed” prize. The other noticeable differences mentioned were no commentary. In fact, one of the players asked about the “Confession Booth.” When told that there was none she exclaimed, “What happened this year??” Other mentioned that there was no advanced pairings notice and that one had to go downstairs to see the pairings. However, these details take a couple of rounds to work out.

The tournament also did not have any of the top 20 players in previous years due to schedule conflicts, but there were definitely some stars shining in the hall. The very personable Adhiban Baskiran flew in from India to take part and was seated on table two behind Sam Shankland.

GM Sam Shankland is the top seed.

IM Awonder Liang hopes to make an impact.
All photo by Daaim Shabazz (unless otherwise stated).

GM Maurice Ashley opened the tournament graciously thanking all the attendees for coming and supporting Millionaire Chess events. While the podium lacked Amy’s bright aura, Maurice held down with his polished style as usual. He announced the opening of the round and we were ready to rumble. There was only one upset in the first round with FM Rico Salimbagat taking down GM Alejandro Ramirez. GMs Christian Chirila and Magesh Panchanathan were held by FM Lim Zhou Ren and Sanjay Ghatti, respectively. The second round also went mostly by seedings. There are currently 16 players on 2/2 and another 15 on 1½/2. Action will heat up tomorrow with the following pairings:

Round Three (Open Section)

GM Iturrizaga B. (2) 2658 — GM Shabalov, A. (2) 2550
GM Holt, Conrad (2) 2549 — GM Xiong, J. (2) 2647
GM Barbosa, O. (2) 2515 — GM Shimanov, A. (2) 2639
GM Cordova, E. (2) 2637 — GM Paragua, Mark (2) 2503
IM Chandra, A. (2) 2490 — GM Swiercz, D. (2) 2636
IM Liang, A. (2) 2478 — GM Akobian, V. (2) 2625
GM Bruzon L. (2) 2615 — FM Rozman, Levy (2) 2354
Lederer, Yoav (2) 2324 — GM Sevian, S. (2) 2591
GM Fishbein, A. (1½) 2474 — GM Adhiban, B. (1½) 2689
GM Shankland, S. (1½) 2679 — GM Ashwin, J. (1½) 2468
GM Ivanov, A. (1½) 2476 — GM Mamedov, Rauf (1½) 2678
GM Jones, G. (1½) 2647 — GM Boros, Denes (1½) 2447

The 2016 Millionaire Chess Open

Thursday, October 6th through Monday, October 11th 2016
Harrah’s Resort, Atlantic City, New Jersey


email address:



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Millionaire Chess #3 is finally here. More than 400 players have registered for the latest edition in another premier tournament. As we move toward the end of 2016, the chess community has had a big year and looks to close on a high note. Maurice Ashley officially opens the latest of the MC tournaments today Thursday, October 6th.

Harrah’s Resort (Atlantic City, New Jersey)

There is excitement in the air here are Harrah’s Resort and The Chess Drum is on site to capture the moments. Amy Lee has been the driving force behind this movement and her efforts have ignited the idea that chess tournaments can be fun, but also show a touch of class. The American chess scene could use a bit of sprucing up to attract positive media attention and possibly sponsorships.

This year’s lineup is not as top-heavy as the previous two years, but two-time Olympiad gold medalist Sam Shankland will headline a cadre of solid GMs looking to win the $50,000 first prize. World Junior Champion Jeffrey Xiong (15) will also be looking to continue his climb up the rating ladder. Get ready for fierce action as the scene has been set. It is lights, camera… action!

2014 Millionaire Chess Open
October 6th-11th, 2016 (Atlantic City, New Jersey, USA)
OPEN Section (FIDE Rated)
1 Sam Shankland GM USA
2 Adhiban Baskaran GM India
3 Rauf Mamedov GM Azerbaijan
4 Eduardo Iturrizaga GM Venezuela
5 Jeffery Xiong GM USA
6 Varuzhan Akobian GM USA
7 Dariusz Swiercz GM Poland
8 Alex Shimanov GM Russia
9 Emilio Cordova GM Peru
10 Gawain Jones GM England
11 Jianchao Zhou GM China
12 Varuzhan Akobian GM USA
13 Lazaro Bruzon GM Cuba
14 Yaroslav Zherebukh GM Ukraine
15 Samuel Sevian GM USA
16 Zhou Jianchao GM China
17 Alejandro Ramirez GM USA
18 Alexander Stripunsky GM USA
19 Andrey Gorovets IM Belarus
20 Conrad Holt GM USA
Games Coming!


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At the 42nd Olympiad last month 1,583 players from around the world assembled in Baku, Azerbaijan to compete in the marquee tournament of they year. Players donned their colors and beautiful cultural garments bringing with them the history and pride of their chess communities. At the Olympiad there are so many stories that we never hear. Each federation has a player who can tell a very interesting life story of how they found their way to national repute as an Olympian. Phiona Mutesi is one such player with such a story.

The Queen of Katwe

On September 30th, “Queen of Katwe” opened in theaters across the U.S. after a week of pre-screenings. The movie was highly-anticipated and adaptation from the book whose full title was The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess and One Extraordinary Girl’s Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster. The book was written by Tim Crothers who took interest in the story after tip about a girl from Uganda who won a chess tournament in the Sudan. The clipping was from a missionary newsletter called Sports Outreach Institute. Crothers went to Uganda to get the scoop for an ESPN article.

After arriving in Katwe, Crothers was overwhelmed by the abject poverty and knew this story had to be told. No… it was not a story from a chess enthusiast, website or organization, but from a sports writer who entered a world he had not known before. It was another one of the common narratives of an individual overcoming insurmountable odds. The article titled, “Game of her Life” won high acclaim and turned into a book deal. Queen of Katwe was born.

“Phiona Mutesi is the ultimate underdog. To be African is to be an underdog in the world. To be Ugandan is to be an underdog in Africa. To be from Katwe is to be an underdog in Uganda. And finally, to be female is to be an underdog in Katwe.”

~Tim Crothers

When the book was released in 2012, it got little traction in the chess community. The Chess Drum featured about a dozen articles on the story, but the chess community viewed the story with a bit of detachment. The problem with chess is that the community is enamored with top players and are purists in every sense of the word. They will often overlook the lessons in stories such as Phiona’s and focus only on whether she has a high rating or a title.

Chess game is elitist and populist at the same time, so this story represented a dualism. These are the type of stories that attract media attention, but draw ire from those that feel that it is “slum shaming.” However, this is more than a random story about a girl coming out of the slum and excelling at chess. It is a girl’s story of survival with chess being a vehicle.

Robert Katende, left, at the chessboard in Katwe, Uganda, with Phiona Mutesi, the girl who he believed he could teach to become a prophet and eventually a national chess champion. (David Johnson photo /

Robert Katende (left) in Katwe, Uganda, with Phiona Mutesi.
Photo by David Johnson,

As word got around that Disney would be producing an adaptation of the book, many wondered what would be the angle. Media’s handling of chess has always been a bit clumsy… overstating the intelligence needed to play and reinforcing the stigmatized “geek” narrative. In the early days of the film reviews were glowing, but obviously written by those who did not understand the peculiar world that chess is.

There were of course the detractors who whined that Phiona was getting too much attention when her skill level doesn’t warrant such praise. There was even a piece on the racist, White-supremacist website, American Renaissance attempting to discredit her 1600 rating, Olympiad performances and even used Judit Polgar as a comparison! It is doubtful that any of these detractors even knew how to play. Many players in the U.S. have tremendous resources, access to chess literature, access to coaches/trainers and cannot make 1600 (1700 USCF). If people cannot understand that the movie is less about chess than a fight for survival, then there is no hope for such dark souls.

The Review

Directed by Mira Nair, a highly-acclaimed, Indian-born director. Known already for her amazing movies such as “Monsoon Wedding,” “Mississippi Masala,” “Salaam Bombay,” she decided on the idea of turning the Phiona’s story and casting her former film production intern, Lupita Nyong’o. The Kenyan actress first met Nair after her father (Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o) mentioned that he had a friend (Mahmood Mamdani) whose wife (Mira) was a film director. Lupita became Mira’s understudy and years later after her 12 Years a Slave fame, got an e-mail in 2014 about the Queen of Katwe script. According to her recent Vogue interview, “Five pages in I wrote my manager and agent with the words, ‘I must do this film.'” said Lupita.

Robert Katende breaking a coconut in celebration of the start of filming. Director Mira Nair (center) and Lupita Nyong’o (right) look on. Photo courtesy of

The movie opens with a poignant scene with Phiona (Madina Nalwanga) asking Robert Katende (David Oyowelo), “Am I ready?” Nair filmed countless touching scenes throughout the movie and the vibrant colors gave life to an otherwise depressing setting. Katwe is a cesspool of despair, yet the people are moving about with purpose. They still greet each other conveying a sense of humanism in a place where they have been forgotten.

Phiona left school at age six to help her mother Harriet Mutesi (Lupita Nyong’o) sell maize and other vegetables in the market. She lugged “jerry cans” in what would be a daily five-kilometer trek (three miles) for clean water. “Phiona! How’s your life?” a neighbor joyously called out. Despite her bright smile and cheerful response, life was certainly not a crystal stair for young Phiona and the family often went hungry. However, her hunger turned out to be a blessing in that it was transferred to a hunger for a better condition.

The Queen of Katwe

Harriet teaching Phiona hard lessons of life. The chemistry between Lupita Nyong’o and Madina Nalwanga was exceptional. Image from Walt Disney.

After following her brother to a strange, tin-roofed building, Phiona peered inside to see children playing a strange game. Katenda, seeing the 9-year old girl, beckoned her to join the club. She then learned the moves from Gloria (Nikita Waligwa), a younger club member. When the girl described pawn promotion to the eighth rank, she said, “The small one can become the big one.” You could see the light emanate from Phiona’s smile.

The Queen of Katwe

The book had much more detail, but the movie provides enough subplots to show how desperate the situation was. Harriet’s husband died of HIV/AIDS and she was left to take care of four children, including a toddler. Phiona’s older sister Night was being courted by an older Katwean on a motorcycle whom Harriet berated by calling him a “hyena.”

Fearing she was losing her entire family after losing a husband and a daughter already, Harriet desperately clung to Phiona. After following her one afternoon, she discovered that her daughter was playing chess at a club. She confronted Robert who later convinced her that chess was a “game of kings and queens.” Still skeptical, but open-minded, Harriet saw the light shining in Phiona and ultimately allowed her to stay with the coach.

“Focus on what you have!”
~Robert Katende

One of the most interesting scenes occurred with the “Katwe Kool Kats” traveled to Kings College Budo, a British-style colonial school where the boys wore smart uniforms and had an unshakable air of confidence. Many of us who have competed in junior chess have seen this. The team from Katwe strolled in awe of the well-kept grounds of the private school with their rather unpolished, but noble bearing.

On the first night, the team members from Katwe slept on the floor since no one had ever slept in a bed before. Katende had become a father figure, reassured them and allowed the team to grow. “Focus on what you have!” he would tell them. This metaphor is true in chess as it is in life. Needless to say everyone learned a valuable lesson… including the humbled boys at King’s College.

Phiona won the qualifying tournament for the Ugandan Olympiad team and at 14, she would take her story to Khanty-Mansiysk, Siberia, Russia. Siberia is a 32-hour drive from Moscow and certainly the climate was not hospitable. It was on this trip that Phiona had seen snow for the first time, but the joy would be short-lived. The bitter losses that followed were harsh, but after the wounds healed, she developed growing confidence, not only in her chess play, but in her ability to find a better lot in life.

Madina Nalwanga

Madina Nalwanga getting set for battle.
Image from Walt Disney.

The acting was superb and Nalwanga was excellent in her debut film. Of course Nyong’o and Oyowelo put in sterling performances along with the rest of the supporting cast. What was most striking was the cinematography and array of bright African garments and bold expressions. The massive sea of destitution stood no chance against the African spirit of “hakuna matata.” Africans are generally happy and optimistic about the future and this certainly a movie that conveys a sense of hope.

For the most part, the movie got the chess dynamics right. The boards were set up correctly so there were no weird game scenarios. There was even a nice sequence where Phiona demonstrated the well-known Philidor’s smother mate. The other common scenes had Phiona triumphantly winning against favorites sometimes reducing them to tears. We wanted her to win… we wanted to see that beaming smile… we wanted Phiona to live life abundantly.

Phiona has been traveling the world telling her story. Few will ask her about the Sicilian Najdorf perhaps realizing that chess is only the undercurrent of her life. Perhaps some will ask her to play a game out of curiosity, but to be able to play a game with someone who has overcome such odds is something that should inspire us all. So many chess players at a given Olympiad can tell a similar story, but there can only be one Queen of Katwe.

Official Trailer “Queen of Katwe”

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The Olympiad ended less two weeks ago with the USA being crowned the champions for the next two years. The teams was among the favorites which included top seeded Russia, host Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Georgia, Netherlands and defending champion, China. With Armenia absent, this site predicted USA, China and Azerbaijan. However, if one looks at the final standings there are some very surprising countries to note. Below is a list of the top 25.

If we look at the chart, we will see some unlikely names gracing the top 25. The top three are would be expected in any of the past 10 Olympiad tournaments. India at #4 made a break through in 2014 with a bronze medal despite not having Viswanathan Anand or Pentala Harikrishna. This year came Harikrishna with the emergence of young stars, relatively unknown GMs.

  Coach R.B. Ramesh, Vidit Gujrathi, B. Adhiban, S.P. Sethuraman, Pentala Harikrishna, Murali Karthikeyan

Coach R.B. Ramesh, Vidit Gujrathi, B. Adhiban, S.P. Sethuraman,
Pentala Harikrishna, Murali Karthikeyan

At #5 you have Norway who only finished in top 20 on one other occasion. They achieved their best showing at an Olympiad with World Champion on top board. Magnus Carlsen congratulated his team for the fifth place finish before making a regrettable comment about the U.S. team importing American-born Fabiano Caruana and Filipino Wesley So. Nevertheless, the Norwegian team performed surprisingly well as did Carlsen.

In sixth place was Turkey, not a biennial favorite for the top ten finishers. With Alexander Ipatov and Dragan Solak leading the pack, they got their best showing with the previous high being 21st in the previous Olympiad in Norway. Poland, England and France on were 16 points, but so was Peru! Without Julio Granda-Zuniga they tallied an impressive score with former prodigy Jorge Cori getting 8/10 and a bronze medal.

Canada also beat all expectations with their 11th place finish. With Evgeny Bareev and Anton Kovalyov now playing for Canada and Alexadre Lesiege coming out of retirement, it allowed Eric Hansen to mop up on board four with 9/11. Canada had placed 7th in Buenos Aires in 1978 with Abe Yanofsky on board one. China was surprising as defending champions finishing 13th. The normally unbeatable Wang Yue underwhelmed on top board losing three games.

Belarus, native country of Boris Gelfand, came in 14th, silver medalist from 2014 Hungary came in 15th, followed by surprising Iran who was buoyed by young talent. Sixteen-year old Parham Maghsoodloo was an untitled player, but after 8/11, he earned the GM title without having previously earned a FIDE title. His 2566 Elo rating was more telling than his lack of a title. In addition, 17-year old IM Shahin Lorparizangeneh got 7/11 scoring +2 against seven GMs. He also earned the GM title. On fourth board was the national champion, 13-year old Alireza Firouzja!

Latvia with Alexei Shirov played well for 17th place while Greece at 18th went undefeated. They were the only team to do so besides the USA. It was clearly a historic result with reserve Stelios Halkias scoring +5. Paraguay was also totally unexpected with their Cuban emigre Neuris Delgado on top board. Slovenia excelled with Alexander Beliavsky still going strong and Croatia at 21. Italy finished at 22 and actually performed better than previous Olympiad when they had Caruana on top board. Brazil, Georgia played around their level, while Cuba disappointed at 25th.

So there you have it. The 2016 represents a watershed moment for many federations who will see this tournament as a key point in the development of their chess teams. On the other hand some federations will soon be in the rebuilding mode as some of the top players will soon retire. Fortunately for teams like China and India, they do not have to rely on a rigid lineup as they have deep pools of talent.

We failed to mention here all of the board upsets by less-fancied nations. The first round is a snake pit for higher-rated teams as they are facing federations whose real strength is hard to gauge. Thus we will get a handful of upsets such as Sudan’s 2-2 draw with Bulgaria! During that match these two upsets occurred…


Sudanese player destroys Bulgarian GM!

We even see a sitting Finance Minister of Latvia beat a sitting World Champion! We saw the Filipino women beat perennial powerhouse Georgia. Speaking of Filipinos, Eugenio Torre’s 10/11 in his 23rd Olympiad is worthy of note! So many examples about the changing balance of power.

Filipinos celebrate victory over Georgia!

Filipinos celebrate victory over Georgia!
Photo by (Mike Klein)

In the magazine New in Chess, there is always the question in Just Checking segment, “What will be the nationality of the 2050 world chess champion?” Increasingly, the answer will be from any number of nations. If you look at the individual Elo rating list, the top 25 is more diverse than it has ever been. Who would have thought that Norway would produce a World Champion? In the above question lies a truism… change is constant and thus the balance of power has changed for the better. GENS UNA SUMUS.

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GM Maurice Ashley has had an eventful year with the Grand Chess Tour (U.S., France, Belgium), the Millionaire Chess African tour (Kenya, Madagascar and South Africa) and the Chess Olympiad in Baku, Azerbaijan. From his posts on Facebook it was clear that the Brooklyn-based Grandmaster had developed a new vision. Then… less than a month from the third Millionaire Chess Open, co-founder Maurice Ashley posted a stunning announcement on Facebook:

The reaction to this post was swift and hundreds of comments followed. The idea of the Millionaire Chess has had its strong supporters and ardent detractors, but what has resulted is an honest conversation about the chess circuit in the U.S. While there were some innovative ideas being tried and touted, the ultimate drawback is the lack of readiness of the chess community to try anything different from the current model.

While the first two tournaments attracted 550+ players, the numbers were far lower than anticipated. The MC concept added an element of class with nice touches. Despite this, it has been a hard sell to the sponsors which are not exactly clamoring to connect with chess, on any level. With the U.S. winning the Olympiad and the World Chess Championship coming in November, this should be an opportunity to make an aggressive pitch to corporate sponsors.

Unfortunately, the gold medal team got little attention in the national media and chess continues to struggle for attention. All we got was a debate on whether the U.S. team imported their talent or not. No welcoming party at the airport, no celebration by the chess community and of course, the excitement has subsided already.

The narrative of a successful team beating 165 other teams seems to have gotten lost behind a rather dubious notion that the U.S. got the medal the easy way. Despite the sterling effort and growing excitement in U.S. chess, sponsorship seems unmoved and franchises like Millionaire Chess have to consider their losses.

Nigerians at the inaugural Millionaire Chess Open.

Nice touch at MC1!

Amy Lee and Maurice Ashley present a triumphant Wesley So with the winner’s check. Photo by Paul Truong.

Was there a beauty pageant happening at MC2? No… these are chess players!
Photo by David Llada.

Hikaru Nakamura enroute to his victory at MC2.

At MC2, you could input the result of your game through the wristband.

When they got it to work, it’s easy as 1-2-3.
Photos by Daaim Shabazz (unless otherwise stated).

So what did the Millionaire experience yield? It appears that the idea has introduced a number of ideas such as satellite qualifiers in the U.S. and in Africa, opening breakfast, Millionaire Monday concept, video contests, water service, automated recording through RFID technology and chance to win $1,000,000! Who can forget the red carpet promenade, massage chairs and comedians. Well… maybe the last one we’d rather forget! The game show… fun, but probably a no-go.

“I had given MC and chess every possible effort.
I left nothing undone.”

~Amy Lee

With perhaps the last edition of the Millionaire Chess, Ashley has stated that he will focus on promoting chess in a number of other ways and cited his experience in Africa as an example. Nevertheless, the third Millionaire Chess Open will begin on October 6th and it is a concept with a “big idea,” but perhaps in a sport with small aims. Players may not believe that chess deserves such a big stage and that it should remain as a weekend hobby with no professional pretense.

Amy Lee revealing the $1,000,000 panel in the MC Square contest.
Photo by Mike Klein.

However, heaps of gratitude should be extended toward Amy Lee in supporting the chess vision. She told The Chess Drum, “I had given MC and chess every possible effort. I left nothing undone. Every single (winner) got paid every single penny over last 3 years.” As it were, MC seems to have run a cycle similar to the tournaments trying to carve a niche in market of conservative customers.

Hopefully one day, the chess world will revisit some of the ideas of the Millionaire Chess franchise. It took a visionary leader like Maurice Ashley and a tireless organizer in Lee to achieve the standards in the trilogy of tournaments. A chance to win $1,000,000 by choosing a square? Wrap your head around that one! That being said, we have MC3 coming. Come be a part of history! If this is the last one, let’s go out with a bang!

Thanks Maurice and Amy!

Reflections of the 2014 Millionaire Chess Open
Reflections of the 2015 Millionaire Chess Open

The 2016 Millionaire Chess Open

Thursday, October 6th through Monday, October 11th 2016
Harrah’s Resort, Atlantic City, New Jersey


email address:



* * *

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Heading into the Baku Olympiad, there was heightened anticipation of how the USA would do given the two new additions on the team. Out were Gata Kamsky and Alexander Onischuk and in were Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So. These were very favorable replacements of two players who had served the national team admirably and helping to wins bronze medals in 2006 and 2008. However, this year the USA was going for gold. With the return of Fabiano Caruana to the U.S. and with Wesley So’s switching of federations, the team suddenly became a contender to favorites. The top three boards of the American team were unmatched.

Hikaru Nakamura, Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So.
Photo by Chris Bauer

After Caruana switched federations, there was all types of snide remarks made about Rex Sinquefield’s role in the transfer. In fact, New York Times writer Dylan Loeb McClain penned an article titled, “U.S. Wins Gold at Chess Olympiad With Help of Imported Talent,” a very misleading piece on the matter. Bear in mind, the thought of returning to the U.S. has been on Caruana’s mind already and he implied this in interviews. However, he was certainly encouraged by the support and development of chess on the American landscape and wanted to be part of the movement in his home country… and not returning as an immigrant. In So’s case, he was a student at Webster University and there was never a pretense about him coming to switch federations.

Magnus Carlsen tweet on USA Olympic victory

Instead of congratulating the tournament victors, World Champion Magnus Carlsen posted the above tweet suggesting that Sinquefield “bought” a super team the way an executive assembles a collection of stars with free agent signings and transfer fees. The comment was met with harsh reaction and he will most likely hear some objection when he arrives in New York for the championship match in November.

For 20 years, the USA had mostly Russian emigres playing on Olympiad teams and no one mentioned “buying” players although there were the usual jokes about there being three Russian teams at Olympiad: Russia, USA and Israel. In addition, having highly-rated players does not constitute a gold medal. Of course, Russia and their own import Sergey Karjakin has proven this.

10-year old FM Fabiano Caruana. Copyright © Daaim Shabazz, 2003.

Pictured is a 10-year old FM Fabiano Caruana playing at 2003 Foxwoods Open (Connecticut, USA). Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

In Caruana’s case, he was born in the U.S. and developed the passion for chess in New York where he was identified as a prodigy always desiring to play in the open section. He represented the U.S. at youth level before his parents decided to move to Europe to help him realize his chess talents. He then switched federations to represent his father’s native country, but never took up permanent residence in Italy. Hungary and Switzerland were listed as his locations as well as Spain. Nevertheless, much of the chess world assumed Caruana was born, raised and lived in Italy. None of which are true.

For 10 years, Caruana played under the Italian flag, a sense of family honor and certainly a boost to Federazione Scacchistica Italiana. Upon his return in 2015, Caruana received a hero’s welcome and moved to reacclimatize himself. Winning the 2016 U.S. Championship helped in the process, but now would come the true challenge of forming the Olympiad team.

Nakamura at the 2004 World Open. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

Hikaru Nakamura is a product of American Swiss system. Having cut his teeth and toughened himself on the brutal open tournaments and Internet chess, Nakamura was also identified as a young talent and proceeded to break most of Bobby Fischer’s records. Ironically, his teammates Caruana and Ray Robson, then broke most of his records.

Becoming a master at age 10, Nakamura was under the tutelage of his stepfather FM Sunil Weeramantry and followed his brother Asuka to tournaments. Eventually Nakamura began to soar in his mid-teens and in 2005 won his first of his five U.S. Championships at age 17. Although, he was snubbed from the Olympiad earlier that year in a minor controversy, he continued to improve and soon became the face of American chess. Now a four-time U.S. Champion, he was the elder statesman of this team at 28!

Wesley So is an interesting case. He rose to stardom in the Philippines as a junior player following the example of Eugenio Torre. The country has a vibrant chess culture, but internal strife caused some players to become disgruntled. So decided to test the waters as a student at Webster University studying international relations. He and Ray Robson were roommates, but after two years So sought a new direction. His leaving Webster was a bit controversial and occurred shortly after he won the $100,000 first prize at the 2014 Millionaire Chess Open.

Wesley So, in a beautiful barong, hoists the Sinqufield Cup aloft after winning the 2016 edition.

Wesley So, wearing a beautiful Filipino barong, hoists the Sinqufield Cup aloft after winning the 2016 edition. Photo by Lennart Ootes

Nevertheless, he had decided to remain in the US, paid his own transfer fee and changed his federation. He settled in Minnesota with a host Filipino family and competed in his first U.S. Championship. He fared poorly and also finished last in the 2015 Sinquefield Cup. Had he gone astray? The very personable Filipino righted his situation and began to fare well again in international tournaments. He had a creditable 2016 U.S. Championship (joint 2nd) and recently won the 2016 Sinquefield Cup. Thus, this has been a banner year for So. Prior to the Olympiad, he was the subject of an interesting interview by IM Sagar Shah where he discussed some of his challenges.

Samuel Shankland was initially an unheralded player on the international circuit, but widely recognized as a fine raw talent in America. “Sammy Shank” rose through the scholastic ranks, competed in a number of junior events in the U.S. and represented the country at the youth level. Back in 2010, he threatened to quit chess due to the poor opportunities for GM norms in the U.S. After some soul-searching he came back and in 2011, he created a stir by defeating Peter Leko in the first round of the 2011 World Cup. He won the Samford Fellowship in 2013 and continued measured improvement. At the 2014 Chess Olympiad in Tromso, Norway, he scored 9/10 and earned a gold medal on board four.

One can argue whether New York is still the capital of chess in the U.S., but St. Louis certainly has a stamp on the Olympic gold medal. Four members of the U.S. team has some connection either through the St. Louis Chess Club or through Webster University. Born in Guam and raised in Florida, Robson is another one of the new generation players raised on a diet of Swiss tournaments and junior chess. A heavily decorated scholastic player, Robson was recruited by both marquee chess programs, University of Texas-Dallas and Webster. He finally chose the latter and will graduate in May 2017 with a degree in International Relations.

GM Ray Robson with his father, Dr. Gary Robson.
Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

Robson earned spots on the 2012 and 2016 Olympiad teams winning the gold medal in Baku. He had the following results in the U.S. Championship: 5.5/11 in 2012, 5/9 in 2013, 5.5/11 in 2014, 2nd place on 7.5/11 in 2015 and 4th place on 7/11 in the 2016 edition. He was also a member of national team for the two World Team Championships (2009, 2013) and participated in the World Cup in 2009, 2013 and 2015. At Webster, Robson has been part of four national championship teams and earned a spot on the national team for the gold medal winning team. He has done all of this and he’s only 21!

With all of these respective histories, there is always a question of chemistry. Many of the past champions such as Armenia, Ukraine and China had incredible camaraderie and it showed. India also showed a similar chemistry that led them to the bronze medal in Tromso and 4th place in Baku. What about the Americans? Well… all of the team members were intricately familiar with each other since junior chess and they had an experienced captain in IM John Donaldson. Team coach GM Aleksandr Lenderman was also familiar with team events having played on USA’s World Team last year.

Participants...2012 U.S. Junior Championship.

The U.S. junior circuit has been the path of ascension to the national team. With the exception of Wesley So, all Olympiad members starred in these tournaments. Who will graduate next? Photo by CCSCSL.

There was a question about Wesley So after his debacle last year at the U.S. Championship when he was disqualified against Varuzhan Akobian, but he recovered from that incident quite nicely and the controversy subsided. In addition, Caruana’s changing of federation caused speculation that Nakamura would balk at playing board two. This was based on the false perception about Nakamura’s fulsome pride. However, he has carried a professional stance since his 2006 Olympiad debut and has been a valuable team player and leader.

2016 Chess Olympiad Tournament
September 1st-14th, 2016 (Baku, Azerbaijan)

USA Match Scores (+9=2 – 20 pts.)
1 Andorra
2320 4-0 WIN
2 Scotland
2434 3½-½ WIN
3 Argentina
2594 3-1 WIN
4 Czech Republic
2631 2-2 DRAW
5 Serbia
2599 3-1 WIN
6 Ukraine
2704 2½-1½ WIN
7 India
2683 3½-½ WIN
8 Russia
2768 2-2 DRAW
9 Norway
2654 3-1 WIN
10 Georgia
2613 2½-1½ WIN
11 Canada
2597 2½-1½ WIN
Full Team Results

For the future, Team USA has a torrent of talent coming through the pipeline. The gold medal will certainly have an impact on the desire of scholastic players to play for the national team. However, there is still the question of making chess a viable option for aspiring Grandmasters. GM Jeffery Xiong (2647 at 15 years), GM Daniel Naroditsky (2646 at 20), GM Samuel Sevian (2591 at 15), GM Kayden Troff (2534 at 18) and IM Awonder Liang (2484 at 13) are poised to compete for a position on future Olympiad teams. In the meantime, USA will enjoy the renaissance that is currently taking place on the chess scene.

Players’ Scores
1 GM Fabiano Caruana 2808 7/10 (+4=6-0) 2838
2 GM Hikaru Nakamura 2789 7.5/11 (+5=5-1) 2762
3 GM Wesley So 2782 8.5/10 (+7=3-0) 2896
4 GM Samuel Shankland 2679 5.5/8 (+4=3-1) 2661
5 GM Ray Robson 2674 3/5 (+2=2-1) 2585

The winning USA team (wearing papaqs) accepting the trophy. Pictured from left to right: GM Aleksandr Lenderman, GM Hikaru Nakamura, IM John Donaldson, GM Samuel Shankland, GM Ray Robson, GM Wesley So and Fabiano Caruana. Photo from Chess Cast.

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2016 Chess Olympiad: Round #11
Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Open Section

USA 2½-1½ Canada
Ukraine 3½-½ Ukraine
Russia 3-1 Italy
Turkmenistan 1-3 Azerbaijan 1
India 2-2 Norway

Full Results

Finally… the USA can call themselves Olympic champions in chess for the first time in 40 years! Led by Fabiano Caruana and with a strong supporting cast, the Americans edged out the Ukraine on tiebreaks despite the latter’s stirring 3½-½ win over Slovenia. After the legendary Alexander Beliavsky resigned, Pavel Eljanov broke out in jubilant emotion perhaps thinking that such a result would have secured the gold medal. With the team missing their top player, it was a fantastic result and such a victory would have been deserving. However, the USA pipped the Ukrainians and were one of two undefeated teams in the open section. The other? Not Ukraine, not Russia, but Greece (+4 =6)!!

The day started with fairly safe predictions… the favorite would win on the top three board and snare the medals, but the order of the medals was in doubt. USA was playing their northerly neighbor and despite wonderful relations, Canada wanted to spoil the party. Caruana was simply too strong for Evgeny Bareev who is playing in his first Olympiad for Canada. Hikaru drew comfortably with Anton Kovalyov and Wesley So continued his dominance, by crushing Alexander Lesiege, the former Canadian ace.

A side story surrounds Canada’s fourth Eric Hansen, who is very popular and well-liked in American circles. He has competed in many open tournaments and most recently has handled commentary at major event at the St. Louis Chess Club. So… when Hansen had to replace Maurice Ashley, he had to take over interviewing duties. He was quickly chided for the types of questions he would ask and it soon became an Internet parody. In fact, Caruana wore a shirt to the match poking fun at Hansen’s line of questioning.

Hansen took the joke well, but then was able to beat a very in-form Sam Shankland and serve as spoiler for his board medal quest. The game was an interesting Ruy Lopez and of course white spurned a draw offer and went forward with 22.g4. Shankland went astray, perhaps seeing that his teammates were comfortably ahead. Hansen seized the initiative, planted a knight on e6 and black’s position collapsed quickly. However, after So mopped up Lesiege, the gold was a matter of verification.

World Champion Magnus Carlsen had a creditable tournament leading Norway to their highest position in history… 5th place. He scored 7.5/10 and was satisfied with the team’s performance. However, he made a rather unfortunate and classless comment about the USA’s victory.

The reaction was swift and although it was clearly tongue-in-cheek, it was in poor taste and something that he has mentioned before. The truth is (and apparently unbeknownst to a sizable portion of the chess world), Caruana was born in Miami and raised in Brooklyn and after spending 10 years in Europe, returned to his native country. Although he has dual citizenship, he has never been a permanent resident in Italy.

Perhaps Carlsen’s comment is more of the continued spite of an American victory. Such sentiment is very widespread in Europe and is no doubt a side effect of America’s repugnant foreign policy decisions for the past 50 years. Nevertheless, this team is hard to criticize. Wesley So was the star of the team and now a gold medalist (9/11)… Caruana got a bronze.

For Hikaru (7.5/11) and Shankland (5.5/8), they had decent results as well. Finally, Robson (3/5) who at 21, still has a bright future ahead. There is also a pipeline of talent which includes 2600-rated teen GMs Jeffrey Xiong and Samuel Sevian. This victory will certainly inspire yet another generation of players. Furthermore, the landscape is changing in chess. The USA is now a perennial contender, but in the top 25 you had teams such as India, Turkey, Peru, Iran, Paraguay, Brazil and Cuba. Certainly the balance of power has shifted and the Olympiad is gradually living its motto.

Thanks for a wonderful tournament Baku. See you in Batumi in 2018… inshallah!

Medal Standings




Winners: Ukraine (silver), USA (gold), Russia (bronze)

Winners: Ukraine (silver), USA (gold), Russia (bronze)
Photo by Maria-Emelianova

Women’s Section

China 2½-1½ Russia
Hungary ½-3½ Poland
Ukraine 3-1 Bulgaria
Azerbaijan 1 3-1 Malaysia
USA 2-2 India

Full Results

China was heading into the last round needing at least a draw to secure their first gold medal since 2004. The last game to finish was two champions, Hou Yifan and Alexandra Kosteniuk. For Russia, it was not to be. Not only did they fail to defend their title, they failed to medal. For China it was a relief after having earned three consecutive silver medals behind Russia.

Guo Qi was one of four Chinese
to win a board medal.

During the closing ceremonies in Istanbul, the Chinese women were visibly upset. In Tromso, they were a bit more spirited, but certainly the quest for gold never left their minds. The Chinese team in 2018 may have a decided different look. Perhaps Zhao Xue at 31 is making her last stand and if so, will go out with a gold medal (as Ni Hua did in 2014). The rise to Tan Zhongyi is a very good sign and according to Zhao, there is a lot of talent in the pipeline.

For Poland, it was a triumphant tournament and was their highest placement, a fact readily celebrated in social media. The Ukraine was able to continue their string of success with Anna Muzychuk ensconced on board one next to her sister Mariya and a former world champion on board four! Ukraine, a battle-scarred country, had a good result and won the Gaprindashvili Cup for the federation with the best combined result. To return to Ukraine with silver and bronze is quite a feat and they will be showered with a hero’s welcome in Kiev.

Medal Standings (Women)




Winners: Poland (silver), China (gold), Ukraine (bronze)

Winners: Poland (silver), China (gold), Ukraine (bronze)
Photo by Maria-Emelianova

Video by GM Daniel King

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2016 Chess Olympiad: Round #10
Monday, 12 September 2016

Open Section

Georgia 1½-2½ USA
Czech Republic 1-3 Ukraine
India 2-2 Russia
England 2½-1½ Azerbaijan 1
Latvia 1-3 Canada

Full Results

USA and Ukraine win… tied doing into last round.
Tiebreak advantage to Americans.

Sam Shankland’s gold medal performance in Tromso Olympiad was a surprise, but perhaps people are beginning to take him seriously. As the USA races toward a gold medal, Shankland has given his team the stability they need on the bottom boards. Now on +4, he won his second game in a row over Georgia GM Tornike Sanikidze to offset a loss by Hikaru Nakamura.

Many seem surprised when hearing Shankland analyze his games with clarity and blinding speed. With a 2679 Elo, it is more surprising that people are surprised at his ability. His win today will put an exclamation point on the career of a player who nearly quit chess a few years back.

While Shankland has been a bedrock on board four, Wesley So has been the most consistent. Standing now at +6, he is clearly the MVP of the team and is exactly what the USA team needed to reach the medal stand again. So demonstrated an impressive display of power in his win over GM Levan Pantsulaia.

The finale tomorrow is USA-Canada a very unlikely matchup given that Canada was in no one’s list of medal contenders. GM Eric Hansen, a regular USA resident gave his impression…

Besides USA-Canada, there is Ukraine-Slovenia, Russia-Italy, Turkmenistan-Azerbaijan and India-Norway. The Americans own the best tiebreaks and will be watching Ukraine closely. If the top three boards go as expected, the medals will be USA, Ukraine and Russia. It will be a history-making moment for the USA who haven’t won gold since 1976 Olympiad in Haifa, Israel. It was actually the year of two Olympiad with the unofficial being held in Tripoli, Libya. Most of the strongest teams (Soviet Union, East Germany, Hungary, Yugoslavia) nixed both events. Thus, there will be no asterisk if the USA should win this time.

Women’s Section

Poland 1½-2½ China
India 2-2 Ukraine
Russia 2½-1½ Georgia
Azerbaijan 1 3-1 Colombia
Mongolia 2-2 USA

Full Results

China and Russia to battle in Olympiad finale!!

We’d better take a good look a Hou Yifan, she could be playing in her last women’s Olympiad. Is this true? No one is sure, but if her comments are to be taken as an intention, she would like to begin devoting her efforts on the biggest stage and against the toughest competition. A gold medal will certainly be the end of Zhao Xue’s brilliant Olympiad career.

Tan Zhongyi is a player who is heading for a board medal as she has been on fire the entire tournament with +6. They will attempt to win gold for the first time since 2004. They only missed winning a medal once since 1990. They have tallied four gold, four silver and four bronze. They hope to break the tie tomorrow.

Video by GM Daniel King.

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2016 Chess Olympiad: Round #9
Sunday, 11 September 2016

Open Section

Ukraine 2½-1½ India
USA 3-1 Norway
Iran 2-2 England
Azerbaijan 1 1-3 Russia
Latvia 2-2 Slovenia

Full Results

America racing to gold… Ukraine in dead heat

Interesting matchups in today’s Olympiad billing as USA faced Norway and Magnus Carlsen who have slowly climbed into medal contention. The Americans were a heavy favorite to win the match, but all eyes were on the board one matchup of Caruana-Carlsen. That game took an interesting course after Carlsen trotted out 1…d5 for a Scandinavian. He has beaten Caruana with the opening before in the last Olympiad and was anxious to see if there would be any improvements.

Caruana had also faced the Scandinavian of Loek van Wely in 2012 Tata Steel and was unable to get anything. Carlsen essayed the 3…Qd6 line and the queens came off early. Caruana admitted to missing 17…c5! which won a pawn after 18.dxc5 Bxc3! However there were nothing in the position and they repeated moves.

The other boards were a wash as the Norwegians were simply outclassed on the other boards. Hikaru Nakamura took down Jon Ludwig Hammer in a King’s Indian after an initial white aggressive was rudely pushed back into passivity. Sam Shankland played another novel game and spoke to Anastasia Kharlovich about his Najdorf game with Frode Urkedal. Daniel King also analyzed it at length with Shankland in his highlights. You can see it at the end of this report.

In the other games, India has a setback losing to the Ukraine with Anton Korobov beating SP Sethuraman in the 11th hour when the black bishop reigned supreme over the white knight. The win moved the Ukraine into a tie with the USA, but the Americans have tremendous tiebreak advantage. Russia walloped Azerbaijan 1 3-1 putting serious jeopardy the hosts medal aspirations. Vladimir Kramnik absolutely crushed Teimour Radjabov in a kingside onslaught. It was in the Giuoco Piano which has come back into fashion lately as an anti-Berlin method.

Notes by GM Elshan Moradiabadi

Grischuk also won against a struggling Arkadij Naiditsch who has lost three consecutive games in the tournament. He will most likely sit the last two games. So the order is USA, Ukraine and Russia with USA-Georgia and India-Russia being key matches. Azerbaijan 1 hopes to keep medal chances alive with a win over England.

Women’s Section

USA 1½-2½ China
Israel ½-3½ Poland
Vietnam 1½-2½ Russia
Ukraine 3½-½ Azerbaijan 1
India 3-1 Netherlands

Full Results

China back on top… time running out for Russia

Crucial game for the USA women’s team as they faced China in a pivotal matchup. Coming off a historic win against Russia, the Americans were hoping to hold the Chinese. Being heavily outrated on the top two boards, it would be a tall order. Krush was able to equalize Hou Yifan in a rather placid game… no fireworks to speak of.

GM Ju Wenjun (China) vs. IM Nazi Paikidze (USA), 1-0

GM Ju Wenjun (China) vs. IM Nazi Paikidze (USA), 1-0
Photo by Lana Afandiyeva

However, in Ju Wenjun’s game against the USA national champion, white was able to squeeze a win out of the position for the margin of victory. It was a disappointing loss for Paikidze. Poland beat Israel who has surprisingly crept onto the top boards. Russia dispatched a spirited Vietnam team who created a sensation earlier in the tournament by drawing China (Nguyen over Zhao Xue) and beating Romania.

Russia moves into 4th place and while a gold medal seems unlikely, they are still competing for a medal. Meanwhile India is also in the hunt after their 3-1 count over the Netherlands. They will play the Ukraine next for a key matchup.

Video by GM Daniel King.

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2016 Chess Olympiad: Round #8
Saturday, 10 September 2016

Open Section

Russia ½-3½ USA
Georgia 1-3 Ukraine
England 3½-½ India
Azerbaijan 1 ½-3½ Latvia
Italy 3-1 Iran

Full Results

USA maintains lead… India soars…
Ukraine sits Eljanov, crushes Georgia

The USA has not won the Chess Olympiad since the 70s, but they are the odds-on favorite to win with four rounds remaining. However, they would face a Russia team who are also looking to break a drought of Olympiad gold. So the marquee matchup on board one was highly-anticipated. Russia had two heavyweights in Karjakin and Kramnik and Nepomniachtchi who is on 7/7. The USA went with their “Murder’s Row” and Ray Robson on board 4… an interesting choice.

The Ukraine decided to rest Pavel Eljanov who had lost two games in a row and possibly needed to regroup. Former FIDE Champion Ruslan Ponomariov would be playing the hypercreative Baadur Jobava of Georgia. England would be playing India, a nation with which they have a long history, but also a nation that is looking to beat them in every activity whether chess, cricket or field hockey. India did prevail. There is an interesting history of Indians playing in the British Championship (along with Commonwealth federations)… until India got too strong and starting winning! Short was one of the more vocal dissenters and the policy was changed.

Nigel Short (England) vs. SP Sethamuran (India), 0-1
Photo by Maria Emelianova

Latvia is the surprise team thus far and will play the host Azerbaijan, who is in need of a win to close the gap for a chance at the medal stand. Lastly, two new entrants on the top tables in Italy and Iran. The latter country Iran has one GM and three young talents who are doing remarkably well. Parham Maghasoodloo is a 16-year old untitled player with an ELO of 2566! He is on an undefeated +4. Also 17-year old Shahin Lorparizangeneh is also having a great showing. Thirteen-year old Alireza Firouzja is the current Iranian national champion!

In So-Grischuk, White has to give way
after 40…Kf6!

So as the USA-Russia unfolded, tension increased in the room, it appeared that Nepomniachtchi was in grave danger of losing his first game. Wesley So was completely dominant on the black side of a Guioco Piano. This ancient opening is being used as a way to avoid the Berlin Defense of the Ruy Lopez. However, the Russian went wrong in the middlegame. So got a strong initiative and slowly dismantled the Russian in fine positional style. Now So equals Nepo’s 7/8 score.

In Robson-Grishcuk, the young American got an equal position and it appeared that the Russia would lose the match. Robson was under some pressure, but when Robson tried to ease the pressure by trading queens, he blundered into a lost pawn ending after 39.Qf2+? After 39…Qxf2+ 40.Kf2 Kf6 white was in zugzwang. Unbelievable. Nevertheless the USA maintained their team lead.

On board two, Ukraine had a good day against Georgia, but on board one Baadur Jobava scored a brilliant victory against Ponomariov. Take a look.

So the USA keeps the lead followed by India and the Ukraine. India won on the strength of SP Sethuraman over the iconic Nigel Short. Short was involved in an embroglio on being drug tested during the game. He refused and after he won, he was asked once again and was warned by Klaus Deventer, a member of the Anti-Cheating Committee. There was a question whether he was going to be forfeited and his result overturned. It wasn’t. According to report Short exclaimed, “Go ahead, forfeit me! I’ve played chess for thirty years. A World Championship, for God’s sake!”

Certainly there will be discussions on this procedure at the General Sessions.

Women’s Section

Russia 1½-2½ USA
Poland 2½-1½ Netherlands
Hungary 2-2 Ukraine
China 3½-½ Azerbaijan 1
Turkmenistan 1½-2½ Israel

Full Results

Russia held… China, USA, Azerbaijan wins.. USA-Russia tomorrow!

Krush and Kosteniuk had a minor incident.

Both sections featured a USA-Russia battle. On board one there was a minor incident in Russia-USA when Krush had claimed a three-fold repetition. After reconstructing the position, the arbiters determined the claim was false. They played on and Krush won an epic game and clinched the match for the USA. In 2008 Krush also beat Kosteniuk enroute to winning the bronze medal. The Americans want more in 2016.

Video by Mike Klein (

Notes by GM Elshan Moradiabadi.

China has been showing some inconsistency on top boards while Tan Zhongyi has been the star of the team with +5 and Guo Qi with +4. All of the frustrations were relieved as China crushed the hometown favorites 3½-½, a truly deflating loss and perhaps eliminating medals hopes for Azerbaijan. Poland is still on the mark after beating the Netherlands despite Monika Socko losing to Anne Haast on board one. Hungary and Ukraine drew 2-2 trading wins on boards two and four.

Mexico women’s team (L-R): Ivette Garcia Morales, Miriam Parkhurst Casas, Lilia Fuentas Godoy, Diana Real Pereyra. Photo by Rasim Huseynov.

Video by GM Daniel King.

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Harrah’s Resort (Atlantic City, New Jersey)

In less than a month Millionaire Chess will host their third edition of the high stakes chess tournament in Atlantic City, New Jersey. This new venue and lower entry fee hopes to give access to players who are located where the majority of the chess players are located and who are finding the cross-country trek to Las Vegas cost-prohibitive.

This relocation is not something that was a knee jerk reaction to any issue at Planet Hollywood, but merely an attempt to find the right equilibrium so that the tournament can reach the most people. In the future MCO hopes to have tournaments around the country as a staple.

The idea of lowering the entry fee was one of the issue in the first two iterations of the tournament. Some stated that they could not afford the $1,000 entry fee. Of course with the lead time given, it is a reasonable goal, but not always attainable for all. The $549 entry fee was a compromise, but with this reduction came a commensurate reduction in the prize fund (US$510,000). One may argue that the marketing mystique of the “Millionaire” franchise has been lost since it does not have the million-dollar prize incentive, but here another adjustment.

What else? There is a new idea of the “Redemption Jackpot” where players can re-enter and compete in a mini-tournament with the remaining rounds. It is designed to give players a chance who may otherwise have lost hope in winning a prize.

With all of these changes you will still have a top flight tournament with the same panache as the first two. There is still the “Millionaire Monday” theme alone with a plethora of extra prizes to be won. The first two editions tried a number of ideas… some worked, some didn’t. However, if one is satisfied with the same run-of-the-mill tournaments which tout no new ideas, then one should also be satisfied that chess will die a slow death. The model has to change.

See you in Atlantic City!

The 2016 Millionaire Chess Open

Thursday, October 6th through Monday, October 11th 2016
Harrah’s Resort (Atlantic City, New Jersey)


email address:


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2016 Chess Olympiad: Round #7
Friday, 9 September 2016

Open Section

India ½-3½ USA
Latvia 3-1 Netherlands
Russia 3½-½ Czech Republic
Croatia ½-3½ Azerbaijan 1
Georgia 3-1 Romania

Full Results

The USA brutally crush India… Russia back in hunt,
USA-Russia showdown on tap!

The USA is sending a loud message that the hype surrounding the “Dream Team” is real. They dismantled a very determined India team for a sole lead in the tournament. Hikaru Nakamura got a quick pawn advantage on Baskaran Adhiban to immediately put pressure on the Indian side. Wesley So was pressing in his game against an undefeated Santosh Vidit and took the first point.

On board four was the game of the round… Shankland-Sethuraman was turning into a “Fire on Board” battle with white’s king on d3 and black rooks doubled behind it on the 2nd rank. Meanwhile, white had conjured up an attack of his own. None of the commentators could figure out what was going on. Can you? Never mind GM Alejandro Ramirez takes us through this crazy game!

What a ride! Evgeny Miroshnichenko and Dirk jan ten Geuzendam of New in Chess had quite a time trying to figure out what was going on, but fortunately Shankland had everything under control. So had won, Caruana drew which meant both Indian players had to keep fighting. Both Adibhan and Sethuraman were tortured in those endings and may have used up valuable energy. However, giving their “fitness videos” they may be in shape enough to make a run in the last four rounds.

Netherlands was riding high the entire tournament and for the time in a long time was vying for the top board. Unfortunately, they had another thought after Alexei Shirov led Latvia to a crucial team win with an IM playing board four. IM Nikita Meskovs beat Benjamin Bok in a Sicilian Taimanov and Ivan Kovalenko beat Loek van Wely for the margin of victory. Who would have predicted that Latvia would be making a deep run for a medal? They will play Azerbaijan 1 next.

The Azeris beat Serbia 3½-½ to get back into the hunt for the medal stand. Russia also won 3½-½ with Ian Nepomniachtchi winning his seventh straight game! It is often better to lose a match in the first half instead on the last few rounds and perhaps Azerbaijan and Russia will muster up enough energy to make a strong push. Tomorrow’s USA-Russia battle will be epic.

On another note, World Champion Magnus Carlsen was playing his game against Turkey and created a stir. No… he did not play 1…g5. He played the Pirc, but that wasn’t the sensation… it was his shirt!

The jokes were swift. Many were critical of the World Champion for wearing a hoodie more suited for a teenager, but at least the slogan wasn’t “Pimpin’ ain’t easy,” or “Bi!%^ better have my money!”

Women’s Section

Russia 2-2 Poland
China 2½-1½ Ukraine
USA 2½-1½ Romania
Azerbaijan 1 2½-1½ India
Netherlands 2½-1½ Georgia

Full Results

Russia held… China, USA, Azerbaijan wins.. USA-Russia tomorrow!

The Russians have finally been caught, but they are so far ahead on board points that it will take a head-to-head victory to prevent them from getting their fourth consecutive medal. Who will be that team? Tomorrow the USA will get a crack after beating Romania.

Despite not having Tatev Abrahmayan (native Armenian), the USA team has been steady since losing to the Ukraine in round three. The top three boards have played every match with national champion Nazi Paikidze on board two. It has been Anna Zatonskih who has bee the star with 5½/7. It will be a tough task to unseat the Russians without Abrahamyan, but stranger things have happened.

Azerbaijan’s Zeinab Mamedjarova
Photo by Lana Afandiyeva

Azerbaijan is now third and in the running for a medal after beating India. They will have a tough test in facing China who needs to win big to make up ground on board points. Zeinab Mamedjarova will most likely be facing the World Champion Hou Yifan. There was talk as to whether this would be Hou Yifan’s last Olympiad since she has ambitions to compete at the highest levels. She has already hinted that she will no longer compete primarily in the women’s circuit, including the world championship cycle. Her strength has stagnated a bit since approaching 2700. She has only played in four matches thus far, but will no doubt be in the Chinese side tomorrow.

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2016 Chess Olympiad: Round #6
Thursday, 8 September 2016

Open Section

India 2½-1½ Russia
USA 2½-1½ Ukraine
Czech Republic 2-2 Georgia
Greece 2-2 Azerbaijan 1
Canada 2½-1½ Belarus

Full Results

India and the USA win… head for another showdown tomorrow!

The rest day worked out well for the Indians. They became Internet sensation with the team showing athletic feats in the park. There was Pentala Harikrishna doing pull-ups, a plank contest between Soumya Swaminathan and S.P. Sethuraman and Santosh Vidit’s mimicking of a gymnast on the “monkey bars”. Maybe this was simply a way for the team to have fun and exercise at the same time. Check out RB Ramesh’s YouTube channel for some good laughs!

  Coach R.B. Ramesh, Vidit Gujrathi, B. Adhiban, S.P. Sethuraman, Pentala Harikrishna, Murali Karthikeyan

Coach R.B. Ramesh, Vidit Gujrathi, B. Adhiban, S.P. Sethuraman,
Pentala Harikrishna, Murali Karthikeyan

Padmini Rout, Soumya Swaminathan, Tania Sachdev, Harika Dronavalli, Pratyusha Bodda

Padmini Rout, Soumya Swaminathan, Tania Sachdev,
Harika Dronavalli, Pratyusha Bodda
Photos by RB Ramesh.

On the serious note, chemistry has been the key to Olympiad success in the last decade. There is a sense of trust that goes into have teammates whom you enjoy. It is apparent that India is undergoing a rebuilding process with Krishnan Sasikiran and Surya Ganguly making way for younger talent. Baskiran Adhiban, Santosh Vidit and Karthikeyan Murali represent the future of Indian chess. Today they got by the Netherlands with Ervwin L’Ami trying desperately to hold a difficult ending. He sacrificed an exchange, but it had little effect is drawing the game and match.

GM Jeffrey Xiong is not yet in the USA Olympiad team, but along with GM Samuel Sevian, he is but one of several talented juniors waiting for a shot. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

The USA is another team with a lot of upside. While they have a lot of varying parts, all of the players except for Wesley So were products of USCF tournaments. In fact, you would have to go back a few decades to find so many homegrown talents on the Olympiad team.

The running joke had been, “Have you seen the Russian team?” The other person replies, “Which one?” This is in reference to the composition of the USA team being all players from the old Soviet Union. The joke worked with Israel as well. Nevertheless, it is refreshing to see this change, but the USA women’s team cannot say as much as none were born in the USA. Krush developed her talents solely in America after coming from the Ukraine. Things are changing.

The beauty of the USA having three top 10 players on your team, is that you worry less and have more confidence at the board. After there were three draws in the match against Ukraine, Caruana-Eljanov went down to the wire. As Nakamura left his game, he took a look and nodding his head in affirmation that Caruana’s position was winning. Sure enough, 15 minutes later, Eljanov resigned and the Ukraine could not take down it’s third giant in a row.

GM Sam Shankland, one of the bright homegrown talents. So it is USA-India on tomorrow for an interesting matchup. Will the 2014 medalist get the call? Photo by Eteri Kublashvili.

Women’s Section

Ukraine 2-2 Russia
Romania 2-2 China
Kazakhstan 2-2 Hungary
Georgia 2-2 Azerbaijan 1
Poland 3-1 Vietnam

Full Results

The race heats up… 4/5 top matches drawn, India gains!

Olga Girya may have won the most important game of the tournament for Russia. With the Ukraine holding a lead, Girya-Ushenina went down to whether the former women’s champion could hold her position together. Her king was dangerously exposed and the Russian was pressing. In the end, Girya had too much initiative and took the point… to the relief of Moscow. If Russia loses, it changes the complexion of the tournament.

As it were all the top countries held their positions while Poland and India gained in the standing. Poland crushed Vietnam while India (the new Internet stars) won against Latvia and beat their Finance Minister. The world shook at Danan Reizniece-Ozola beat reigning world champion Hou Yifan, but in this match Dronavali Harika took her down.

Azerbaijan 1… (starting near right) Narmin Kazimova, Nino Batsiashvili,
Lela Dzagnidze, Zeinab Mamedjarova.
Photo by Lana Afandiyeva.

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Prior to traveling to Baku, Azerbaijan, Ian Wilkinson as the Jamaican national teams were received by the Honorable Olivia Grange. She was introduced to the Jamaican players and briefed on their success. Wilkinson, the President of the Jamaica Chess Federation since June 2003 and has been a pillar of leadership on the “land of “wood and water”.

Jamaica Jamaica Jamaica Jamaica Jamaica

At the conclusion of the meeting, Grange presented Wilkinson with a check for $J1,250,000. The Federation had received JM $750,000 previously making the total contribution $J2,000,000 through the Sports Development Foundation (SDF). The government website stated,

The Jamaica Chess Federation has done extremely well under the leadership of President Ian Wilkinson. You have had your challenges with not having enough funds to do all that you want to do and that is why when you asked for help so that you could make it to the Olympics I did not hesitate. (full story)

Sports Minister, Honourable Oliva ‘Babsy’ Grange presents President of the Jamaica Chess Federation, Ian Wilkinson with a cheque during a Courtesy Call paid on the Minister at the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport on Thursday, August 25, 2016. The two were joined by members of the team that will represent Jamaica at the 2016 Chess Olympiad in Baku, Azerbaijan, September 1-14. Photo by Jamaica Information Service.

A FIDE member since the iconic year of 1972, Jamaica has had a history of participating in the Olympiad going all the way back to the 1978 when Buenos Aires hosted the festivities. In 1984 at the Thessaloniki Olympiad John Powell won a silver medal on board 4 with a score of 7/9. In 1990 at the Novi Sad Olympiad Christine Bennett brought the women firmly to the fore by scoring 6/7 to win a silver medal on board four.

Jamaican Olympiad team for 1990 Chess Olympiad in Novi Sad, Yugoslavia.

Jamaicans for 1990 Chess Olympiad in Novi Sad, Yugoslavia.

In those days the Olympiad medals were determined by the more democratic win percentage instead of the performance rating (which is biased toward top teams). In other words, a player from a less powerful team can get a 10/11 score and not win a medal since a player from a more powerful team could have a 5/8 score against other top teams. Those from less powerful teams are practically eliminated from any individual board medals.

Today, Jamaica has continued the tradition in the legacy of founder Enos Grant and continue to be one of the most recognizable teams at any Olympiad with their congenial persona and bright-colored uniforms. Wilkinson’s presidential tenure has one of ambitious plans, but what is more important is the profile he has given Jamaica within the FIDE arena. An accomplished lawyer with a successful law practice, the “Queen’s Counsel” honoree and President of Jamaica Bar Association, Wilkinson has sought a higher profile for the island of approximately three million.

Jamaica teams in Baku, Azerbaijan! WIM Deborah Porter, CM Russel Porter, FM Ras Malaku Lorne, FM Damion Davy, WCM Melisha Smith, IM Jomo Pitterson, Sheryas Smith, CM Rachel Miller, WCM Ariel Barrett, WCM Annisha Smith, CM Brandon Wilson, FM Warren Elliott. Photos courtesy of Jamaican Chess Federation.

In Baku, the Jamaicans are quick to make an impression… and new friends! Most of all the Jamaicans are in Baku to make a stellar effort for the black, gold and green! Led by captains and former Olympians Jomo Pitterson and Russel Porter, each team is focused on winning the group prize and competing for norms. There are 185 members of FIDE and 166 have traveled to Baku to engage in competition and fellowship for the greatest game in history. Following are the results and in the comments is a synopsis of Jamaica’s performances with insightful reports by Ian Wilkinson.

2016 Chess Olympiad Tournament
September 1st-14th, 2016 (Baku, Azerbaijan)

JAMAICA (Open Section)
Match Scores (+4-5=2 – 10 pts.)
1 Argentina
2594 3½-½ Jamaica
2 Jamaica
2166 3½-½ Oman
3 Austria
2449 4-0 Jamaica
4 Jamaica
2166 2½-1½ Nigeria
5 Jamaica
2166 ½-3½ Uruguay
6 Scotland
2434 3-1 Jamaica
7 Sudan
2191 2-2 Jamaica
8 Jamaica
2166 1½-2½ Nepal
9 Jamaica
2166 3-1 Mauritania
10 Tunisia
2086 1-3 Jamaica
11 Jamaica
2166 2-2 South Africa
All Games from TWIC

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2016 Chess Olympiad Tournament
September 1st-14th, 2016 (Baku, Azerbaijan)

JAMAICA (Women Section)
Match Scores (+4-5=2 – 10 pts.)
1 Bulgaria
2387 4-0 Jamaica
2 Jamaica
2449 4-0 Barbados
3 Mongolia
2332 3½-½ Jamaica
4 Jamaica
1787 2-2 Taiwan
5 Zambia
1787 1½-2½ Jamaica
6 Jamaica
1882 0-4 Belgium
7 Jamaica
1882 3-1 Malta
8 South Africa
1810 3-1 Jamaica
9 Jamaica
1882 1½-2½ Wales
10 South Korea
1720 2-2 Jamaica
11 Jamaica
1882 2½-1½ Trinidad & Tobago
All Games from TWIC

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2016 Chess Olympiad: Round #5
Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Open Section

Ukraine 2½-1½ Russia
India 2½-1½ Cuba
USA 2-2 Czech Republic
Romania 1-3 Azerbaijan 1
China 3-1 Italy

Full Results

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee…
Ukraine is knocking out top heavyweights…
beating China, Yuriy takes down Yu Yangyi!

Yu Yangyi suffered China’s first board loss and they tumble to 10th place with only 75 board points. Wei Yi may have sensed danger. Photo by David Llada.

Ukraine defeated tournament leader China with Yuriy Kryvoruchko beating the star of Tromso, Yu Yangyi. The win was a smooth one despite being a 6.f3 Najdorf. There were turbulent waters in the middlegame which the Ukrainian waded through just fine.

Ukraine has started off with a perfect 5/5 score along with the surprising Dutchman and the surging Indians. The Netherlands (where the Ukrainian Ivanchuk is playing draughts) dispatched the Belarus with Benjamin Bok getting an interesting victory against Kirill Stupak. Bok fianchettoed the black queen after white king moved to e2 on move nine! He then sacrificed a whole rook, but with the white king strolling in the middle of the board for a walk, Bok went on the prowl.

Benjamin Bok looks calm, but the board is burning… definitely ‘Fire on Board’.

The game ended with a series of hard-to-find and aesthetically-pleasing moves including the spectacular 30…d3!! Actually white had to be brave and take the pawn with 31.Kxd3, give back the rook and hide the king. It’s easier said than done. Stupak played passively and the end was swift as the white king was drawn forward into a death march by the slicing black bishop. In the end, white would suffer massive material loss. Get some popcorn for this one!

Shirov uncorked 14.f4! and won in 22 moves!

Speaking of “Fire on Board,” there was an official WTF moment when Alexei Shirov of Latvia played his kindred spirit Richard Rapport of Hungary. Both play hypercreative chess… live by the sword and die by the sword. There was fire and also blood. Yikes. The game from irregular Ruy Lopez with 7.h4 and black playing 11…f5. Both sides try to pry open the kingside. There were some creative patterns in the process. The game is only 22 moves so here it is

In other action, the USA scored 3-1 victory over Serbia and still have not lost a board point. Hikaru Nakamura scored a quick victory over Robert Markus now tying Wesley So for the team leadership with three wins. Nakamura’s win comes right before the rest day.

BTW… here is Ivanchuk playing draughts at the Salou Open in the Netherlands. Wait for it!

Women’s Section

Serbia 1-3 Ukraine
Russia 3½-½ Kazakhstan
Israel 1½-2½ Romania
Azerbaijan 1 3-1 Germany
Vietnam 2-2 India

Full Results

And there were two… Russia and Ukraine lead with a perfect 10 points

The Ukraine affirmed their place in both the open and women’s competitions with another victory for the politically-ravaged nation. The Muzychuk did their part and beat their overwhelmed opposition. This wasn’t the round for overachievers as Kazakhstan also lost to Russia 3½-½. They had beaten two higher-rated opponents and were tied for first going into the match. This loss showed that they were simply overmatched.

Romania beat Israel 2½-1½, Azerbaijan 1 got the win over Germany 3-1 and India suffered yet another setback being held by the pesky Vietnam team (who have also drawn China). They are pronouncing that China and India are not the only Asians vying for a medal. Nguyen Thi Mai Hung beat Tania Sachdev after earlier beating China’s Zhao Xue. They come with incredible chemistry with something to prove. They have yet to lose a match and face Poland after the rest day.

While Asians are wonderful at many things, they have a lot of candidates for most photogenic with Hou Yifan and Dronavali Harika leading with their 1000-watt smiles. The Vietnamese and Filipinos will be candidates for congeniality and the following picture of Ruja Phitchayarom of Thailand is simply stunning.

Ruja Phitchayarom (Thailand)
Thailand Thailand Thailand

In other news, Phiona Mutesi tweeted about the challenges of Uganda getting to the Olympiad, but also mentioned the forthcoming movie, “The Queen of Katwe,” which is based on her life story. Fantastic! Hopefully, the chess world will get a chance to see this movie of a wonderful story of how chess can have a profound effect on people in the most remote and impoverished parts of the world. The Olympiad is where a lot of these stories can be found.

Stories of “Queen of Katwe”

The Chess Drum, “Queen of Katwe” is coming!, 13 April 2016.
The Chess Drum, Life Stories: Interview with Phiona Mutesi , 1 December 2015.
The Chess Drum, Mutesi, ‘Queen of Katwe’ on 33-day tour!, 15 April 2015.
The Chess Drum, Lupita Nyong’o to star in ‘Queen of Katwe’ film, 19 November 2014.
The Chess Drum, Queen of Katwe battles Kasparov!, 6 April 2013.
The Chess Drum, Coming to America: The Queen of Katwe , 8 December 2012.
Mutesi graces cover of Chess Life , 5 November, 2012.
The Chess Drum, Phiona Mutesi: The Queen of Katwe, 24 October 2012.
The Chess Drum, Mutesi’s trek to Siberia, 5 January 2011.

Here is her adrenaline-pumping game… a nice parting shot!

Video by GM Daniel King.

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2016 Chess Olympiad: Round #4
Monday, 5 September 2016

Open Section

Ukraine 2½-1½ Russia
India 2½-1½ Cuba
USA 2-2 Czech Republic
Romania 1-3 Azerbaijan 1
China 3-1 Italy

Full Results

Ukraine shocks Russia! The Kremlin must be scrambling for answers concerning the withering chess empire.

The biggest shock was the Ivanchuk-less Ukraine beating Russia in today’s traditional rivalry. After Vassily Ivanchuk decided to play in a draughts tournament instead of the Olympiad hear is what Ruslan Ponomoriov said about it in a report.

Vassily no doubt is a great chess player. He dedicated lots of his time to play for the national team. I think he even played once in Soviet times. We can’t blame him, if he decides to rest and not play one Olympiad.

Ponomariov also noted that Ukraine has been playing with virtually the same players for a long time now; few new strong players appear on the scene in Ukraine. “It would be nice to see some fresh blood.

This is working out well for the Ukraine as Russia took advantage of the volatility of Evgeny Tomashevsky. Here he does down against Ponomariov. Notes are by GM Elshan Morodiabadi.

So there is a major crisis within the Russian Chess Federation whose team has not won a gold medal since 2002. Perhaps it is a lack of chemistry or lack of leadership, but certainly not the result of individual talent. However, giving the apparent lack of motivation by some players, it is no wonder that Russia seems to be spinning its wheels. Alexander Grischuk, who also lost, seems to be listless at times. A player with magnificent talent, he seems to be more and more volatile as the years go by.

The readiness and the posture says it all…

All jokes aside… certainly not the posture of a championship pedigree and not befitting of a top seed!

Nice touch by Santosh Vidit…
42.f6! wins forces resignation.

In other action, defending bronze medalists India continue their onslaught with their young talent. This time they beat a tough Cuba squad with the margin of victory being (again) Santosh Vidit who beat Yuniesky Quesada in a nice endgame finesse. In the final position, the Indian GM, play 42.f6! ending the game by means of a number of instructive tactics. After four rounds, India is in fourth position and joins five other teams with 8 points (2 point for win, 1 point for draw).

The Netherlands (Bok wins), USA (Nakamura, So wins) also won their games to keep pace. Currently, the order is China, Azerbaijan 1, Netherlands and India. Will India continue their wonderful progress? Vidit sits on 4/4 along with Ian Nepomniachtchi of Russia for board 3. A new star is born!

The biggest star Magnus Carlsen is in the Baku, but he is not slaying the competition as promised. He has to settle for another draw which became an Internet sensation for GM David Smerdon of Australia. In his preparation, he shared this tweet:

Here’s the result!

Women’s Section

Ukraine 2½-1½ Russia
India 2½-1½ Cuba
USA 2-2 Czech Republic
Romania 1-3 Azerbaijan 1
China 3-1 Italy

Full Results

Russia, Ukraine and China all win… Azerbaijan 1 and India held!

The biggest news in today’s women’s tournament was Hou Yifan’s loss to the sitting Minister of Finance of Latvia. In an example that chess is filled with all types of personalities, Dana Reizniece-Ozola has been Minister since February and has been instrumental in city planning and in a number of technology-related projects for the country.

Certainly one technology she may have mastered was the use of databases to study the games of Hou Yifan. She must’ve seen a chink in the champion’s armour and went for the jugular. The game was one of sheer aggression as she marched her pawns forward without fear of recrimination. Latvians can say to anyone country in the world, “My Finance Minister is stronger than yours!”

Wow… perhaps the is the only government official to beat a world champion in a competition, but there you have it! The news traveled swiftly. Anyone who discussing digital startups can’t be all bad. Very articulate and accomplished, she is a great ambassador for chess.

In other action, Russia beat Hungary on the strength Natalija Pogonina’s win. Nevertheless, Russia won by the most narrow margin, and lost ground on board points with both the Ukraine and Serbia ahead of them. Ukraine pasted France 3½-½ and Serbia beat Sweden 3-1. India stumbled trading wins on boards 2 and 3 and losing ground on the leaders.

The USA got back on the winning track after beating Bosnia & Herzegovina 2½-1½. Matches are expected to be a bit closer in the middle rounds. Toward the end, there will be the weird pairings because all the top teams have already battled. However, things are heating up as we have one more round before the rest day.

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2016 Chess Olympiad: Round #3
Sunday, 4 September 2016

Open Section

Moldova 1-3 Russia
Cuba 2½-1½ Poland
Azerbaijan 2 1-3 India
Azerbaijan 1 3-1 Hungary
Netherlands 2½-1½ Vietnam

Full Results

Cuba beats Poland… joins Russia and others on 3/3

The Chess Drum picked the following top five team to finish Olympiad: USA, China, Azerbaijan, Russia, Cuba. So far, so good. After the third round today the order is: Russia, Azerbaijan, Cuba, USA and China. There are 15 teams with 3/3 and no team has a perfect amount of board points. That is because Grandmasters were facing their equals.

There was someone who was playing like a GM, but…

That game occurred between Tang Tang (Japan) vs. Handszar Odeev (Turkmenistan) where white, three hundred points lower had delivered checkmate, but was forfeited after officials found a cell phone on his person. Meanwhile, one of the draconian rules to prevent possible cheating was met with harsh criticism by team captains.

The Azeri teams had mixed results. Azerbaijan 2 was actually on a higher board than Azerbaijan 1, but lost against a young team from India. Santosh Vidit is a young star most have never heard of. He is poised to have a breakout result.

China beat Brazil 3-1 to remain on pace with Wang Yue and Yu Yangyi scoring the wins. The USA got a scare from Argentina as Hikaru Nakamura seemed to be in a bit of trouble against Sandro Mareco.

A miracle save by Nakamura, but Caruana and So had won, so a match loss was never in question. Robson bailed out with forcing a perpetual check to clinch the match which left Nakamura fighting for half a point. This save avoids falling behind on the crucial board points in the event of the a tiebreaker. There are now 16 teams at 3-0.

Women’s Section

China 2-2 Vietnam
Russia 1½-2½ Uzbekistan
Cuba 1-3 Lithuania
Poland 1½-2½ Azerbaijan 1
Argentina 2½-1½ Italy

Full Results

Russia out front while China falls off pace.

Nguyen Thi Mai Hung is all smiles after beating Zhao Xue.
Photo by (Mike Klein).

China had a setback today and was held to a 2-2 draw by the always tenacious Vietnam team. While Hou Yifan beat Le Thao Nguyen Pham, it was Zhao Xue who was checkmated by Thi Mai Hung Nguyen (37…Bxd3!). (Note: Nguyen is a common surname in Vietnam and is pronounced as “win”.) Vietnam has always had strong players on the open team, but the women are also a good standard and they proved it today with their competitive spirit.

This is a big setback for China, but not as tragic as Georgia’s last round loss to the Philippines. However, it is a long tournament and they have yet to play the other contenders. Zhao has been somewhat volatile in recent years and she may be the key if China is to win gold. However, she will have to stop playing her eccentric opening. Here is how she lost to a beautiful combination…

Russia coasted once again with an impressive 3-1 count over Uzbekistan. Lithuania held Cuba despite being outrated on the lower boards. Gold medalist Oleiny Napoles was held by Daiva Batyte. Azerbaijan 1 upset Poland 2½-1½ while France stayed on pace by beating Columbia 3½-½. The Ukraine beat the USA today who does not have one of their star players Tatev Abrahamyan, a Armenian native. It’s unfortunate that politics has to sway the event in such a way.

Thirteen teams are on a perfect score and the next round will feature some of the heavyweight clashes.

WFM Lorita Mwango

Zambia’s WFM Lorita Mwango
Zambia Zambia Zambia

Video by GM Daniel King.

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2016 Chess Olympiad: Round #2
Saturday, 3 September 2016

Open Section

Russia 4-0 Turkmenistan
Scotland ½-3½ USA
China 3½-½ Belgium
Macedonia 0-4 Azerbaijan
Albania ½-3½ Ukraine

Full Results

Favorites hold, but many top teams shedding half-points

In the second round of the Olympiad, there are more competitive battles and the beginning of the regional rivalries. However, gone are the high number of whitewashed games with 4-0 scores. While Russia won 4-nil against Turkmenistan, the USA had some difficulties against Argentina and it appeared that Sam Shankland was in danger of dropping the full point. However the 2014 gold medalist held the position together and got the draw.

England was a victim of a relay error which had them losing to the ICBA (blind team) when in reality they won 4-0. However, against Indonesia they squeaked by on the slimmest of margins with GM Luke McShane dropping his game to IM Irwanto Sadikin The. In fact he totally outplayed and at one point had to resort to fianchettoing his rook! In the ensuing queen ending, the Indonesia played well and won a textbook queen ending (2 vs. 1 pawns).

Some of the stories of the round has to be the debut of some of the top players including World Champion Magnus Carlsen. The Norwegian had white against Bangladesh player GM Enamul Hossain and essayed the powerful 1.e3.

No… not a mouseslip this time! Carlsen proved that almost any opening is playable and unleashed a powerful attack ending in the 33.Bxg6! Yikes!

Some of the other news around the hall had to do with security. All players have to notify an arbiter before going to the bathroom. It is a rule that has receive as much scorn as the “zero tolerance” rule in 2008. Ironically, GM Ian Rogers has pointed out that the cell phone rule has been applied unevenly with a few phones going off during the match and even a case of someone taking the call! Here is the saga…

Jamaica’s Ian Wilkinson told The Chess Drum that on the first day journalists were ran out of the hall after 10 minutes and restricted access. Other official photographers like David Llada, Paul Truong and Anastasia Karlovich were exempt. In fact, Wilkinson reports that journalists were locked out of the playing hall for more than 30 minutes and there was a photo to this effect. What would an Olympiad be without the usual controversies!

Journalists were initially banned, but the issue was ultimately resolved.
Photo by (Mike Klein)

Women’s Section

Montenegro 0-4 China
Ukraine ½-3½ Moldova
Ecuador 3½-½ Russia
Azerbaijan 0-4 Mexico
Georgia 1½-2½ Philippines

Full Results

Philippines shocks Georgia!

The story of the day was the upset of the traditional powerhouse of Georgia by the Philippines. Janelle Frayna toppled Nana Dzagnidze while the victory of margin came in a thrilling finish in Christy Bernales win over Salome Melia. The Filipino women had a min celebration with their captain GM Jayson Gonzales.

Filipinos celebrate victory over Georgia!

Filipinos celebrate victory over Georgia!
Photo by (Mike Klein)

While India won their bout over Brazil 3-1, Dronavali Harika took a loss against Juliana Teroa. Irina Krush of the USA was forced to split the point against a resourceful Sheila Sahl of Norway. The Bulgarian men have already given up a shocking draw with Sudan and in this round it was the Bulgarian women! They outrated Denmark by 200+ points on every board, but could only manage a 2-2 draw. This is exactly why you play the board and not the person’s rating.

Angela Naa Amerley Ayiku.jpg

Ghana’s Angela Naa Amerley Ayiku
Ghana Ghana Ghana

Video by GM Daniel King.

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2016 Chess Olympiad: Round #1
Friday, 2 September 2016

Open Section

Nigeria 0-4 Russia
USA 4-0 Andorra
Kosovo 0-4 China
Azerbaijan 4-0 Zimbabwe
Ukraine 4-0 Jordan

Full Results

Favorites dominate, but Sudan draws Bulgaria…
FM Tagelsir crushes GM Nikolic in a mating attack!

First round matches in the Olympiad are usually character-building experiences for lower-rated teams and players. Many of the scores are summarily 4-0 or 0-4 depending on the color. However, in the opening round of the 2016 Chess Olympiad, 10 underdogs out of the top 25 boards escaped a whitewash. There are usually a number of upset draws and every now and then there is a shocker! It seems like these upsets are increasingly meted out by African players, largely overlooked.

Even in the tournament reports, the upset by Sudanese player FM Abubaker Tagelsir (2216) over Bulgarian Grandmaster Momchil Nikolov (2585), barely got a mention. Even the usually astute GM Daniel King missed this one in his video wrap-up! In fact, the double-upset was that Sudan actually drew Bulgaria when Mohamed Abdelazeez beat IM Martin Petrov!

As mentioned many times on these pages, African players often play above their level at the Olympiad since they are eager to play strong competition. In addition, their strength is not clear so it is no surprise that these upsets occur, but a 400-point scalp is rare. Sudan’s neighbor South Sudan was on the verge of a similar upset, but after going up 1-0, their only rated player got overzealous in a winning position against GM Helgi Dam Ziska and collapsed. The final count was 3-1 Faroe Islands.

According to Peter Doggers’ report, Rehan Deng Cypriano (1899) was offered a draw. He confidently stated, “I refused because I was winning — even a beginner would win.” Unfortunately, the game got out of control and he ceded the full point. The article also pointed out that South Sudanese team came on micro-financing loans from their compatriots and only brought four players with no captain or coach.

There was not only one major upset… in fact, there were two! Trinidadian FM Kevin Cupid scored a victory over Serbian GM Nikola Sedlak. A few months ago, Cupid had traveled to the US to play in the World Open and had an abysmal result. Perhaps that poor showing was enough motivation to study harder. Although Trinidad & Tobago lost 3-1 to Serbia, this win will show that the aura of invincibility is all but gone. There are simply too many examples and players from smaller federations are no longer afraid of their highly-fancied opponents.

Women’s Section

China 4-0 Luxembourg
Portugal 0-4 Ukraine
Russia 4-0 Scotland
Nicaragua 0-4 Azerbaijan 1
ICCD 0-4 Georgia

Full Results

No team upsets, but a 500-point scalp by Lankan player!

Most of the other matches (in both sections) were dominated by the favorites, but the real fun starts tomorrow when regional rivals face off and top players will take their boards. For the women, the favorites bludgeoned the underdogs, but there was a 500-point victory in Sri Lanka-Greece. The Sri Lankans are known more for cricket and here Zainab Saumy scores a run… totally outplaying her opponent in a Sicilian Najdorf.

Video by GM Daniel King.

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