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.
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! Photo by chess.com (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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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, wearing a beautiful Filipino barong, hoists the Sinqufield Cup aloft after winning the 2016 edition. Photo by Lennart Ootes
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.
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)
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.
GM Fabiano Caruana
GM Hikaru Nakamura
GM Wesley So
GM Samuel Shankland
GM Ray Robson
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.
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.
Note the t-shirt choosen by Caruana for the decisive match against Canada
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.
@MagnusCarlsen probably need an even better squad to go further though, wonder if Caruana and So are still for sale
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!
Winners: Ukraine (silver), USA (gold), Russia (bronze) Photo by Maria-Emelianova
China 2½-1½ Russia Hungary ½-3½ Poland Ukraine 3-1 Bulgaria Azerbaijan 1 3-1 Malaysia USA 2-2 India
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) Photo by Maria-Emelianova
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.
Poland 1½-2½ China India 2-2 Ukraine Russia 2½-1½ Georgia Azerbaijan 1 3-1 Colombia Mongolia 2-2 USA
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.
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.
USA 1½-2½ China Israel ½-3½ Poland Vietnam 1½-2½ Russia Ukraine 3½-½ Azerbaijan 1 India 3-1 Netherlands
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 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.
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 chess.com 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.
Russia 1½-2½ USA Poland 2½-1½ Netherlands Hungary 2-2 Ukraine China 3½-½ Azerbaijan 1 Turkmenistan 1½-2½ Israel
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 (chess.com).
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.
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)
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 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.
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!
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.
Ukraine 2-2 Russia Romania 2-2 China Kazakhstan 2-2 Hungary Georgia 2-2 Azerbaijan 1 Poland 3-1 Vietnam
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.
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”.
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.
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)
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.
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)
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.
Planned for 5 rounds at the olympiad but late start caused me play only 2. Sad that am leaving my team, good that it's for movie premiere
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 chess.com 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.
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:
Prepping for @MagnusCarlsen with Eminem: "You've only got 1 shot/Do not miss your chance". Then noticed song's title is Lose Yourself.
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.
Dana Reizniece-Ozola, FinMin of Latvia, also represents her country at the chess Olympiad.
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.
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…
Hearing a player was caught cheating in #BakuChess, two devices found on him after scanning. Had checkmated his opponent, result changed.
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.
China 2-2 Vietnam Russia 1½-2½ Uzbekistan Cuba 1-3 Lithuania Poland 1½-2½ Azerbaijan 1 Argentina 2½-1½ Italy
Nguyen Thi Mai Hung is all smiles after beating Zhao Xue. Photo by chess.com (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.
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…
Security theatre at @bakuchessol2016. Arbiter asks why board 1 player has been to loo 5 times in an hour. Turns out just watching top games.
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 chess.com (Mike Klein)
Montenegro 0-4 China Ukraine ½-3½ Moldova Ecuador 3½-½ Russia Azerbaijan 0-4 Mexico Georgia 1½-2½ Philippines
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! Photo by chess.com (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.
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.
China 4-0 Luxembourg Portugal 0-4 Ukraine Russia 4-0 Scotland Nicaragua 0-4 Azerbaijan 1 ICCD 0-4 Georgia
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.
Today the 2016 Olympiad games will officially open with the Opening Ceremonies with 181 teams representing 176 countries. Many of these countries represent the best that each country has to offer. Within the last decade that generally meant a permanent balance of power tilting to Western Europe and North America. With the emergence of Asian powers China and India and strong players from various developing regions, the chess world is being transformed as the tools for chess improvement have become widespread. Other regions are soon to follow including Africa.
Olympiads are usually a display of patriotic grandeur. Africans always come in colorful pride. Photo by chess24.com.
No longer can one rely on large analysis teams and the latest Chess Informants for an advantage. Any person can obtain powerful training software tools to study the latest trends. This means that players from around the world can play at stronger levels and the upsets are becoming increasingly common. Four years ago at the Istanbul Olympiad, I catalogued several instances.
On a continent of tremendous energy and creative expression, chess seems to be something made for Africans to excel at. On a continent with a long tradition of games like mancala, senet, senterej and it is no accident that chess had gained a following. In fact, Africa touts some of the finest players in the world in draughts with nine players in the top 50. So if Africans can become elite in so many games, why has the growth of chess not produced the same world-class players seen in draughts?
The truth is chess requires quite a bit more attention and training with its intricate nature. However, unlike draughts’ Francophone tradition in Africa, chess thrives mostly in Saharan region and English-speaking African nations. Chess has developed unevenly with some Russian influence in Angola and most recently investments made by the Kasparov Chess Foundation in several countries. However, the large continent suffer from lack of strong competition and poor sponsorship. What the countries lack in resources they make up for it in determination and serendipity. Amon Simutowe basically started his journey to becoming a Grandmaster by reading magazines his brother sent him from England and a few books. He never had a trainer, harnessed the few resources he had at his disposal and his immense talent carried him through. This is a common theme in African circles.
When African nations travel in numbers to the biennial Olympiad, they do not go as tourists (despite this perception), but as enthusiasts looking to improve. Olympiad tournaments have been where Africans have made an impression and an increasing number of first round upsets attest to this. One can often hear some apprehension when players face a top African federation sprinkled with a few titled players. There is no way of knowing how strong they are since many of their games do not appear in the database.
At 2014 Chess Olympiad, Africa played a pivotal role in the FIDE General Assembly sessions. It showed that will African countries will no longer sit idly while other nations execute their development agendas. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.
Africans are also taking a larger role in administration. FIDE Arbiter Purity Maina of Kenya directing at the 2015 Africa Individual Chess Championships in Cairo, Egypt. Photo by Egyptian Chess Federation.
There are an increasing number of scalps taken by African players, but developing federations like Sudan hope to make a lasting impression. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.
South of the Sahara, Simutowe and players like IM Watu Kobese have been standard bearers for talent from humble beginnings. Today players even the smallest federations can have powerful 3200-strength trainers. If Asian countries are emerging, it goes without saying that other regions should also be improving incrementally.
So… the Olympiad is in the beautiful city of Baku. What should we look for from African countries? There are 40 federations registered from Africa from a continent of 54 nations. That is certainly evidence of growth and enthusiasm. Egypt is still the top African nation followed by Zambia (without three top players!) and South Africa. Egypt’s GM duo of Bassem Amin (2654) and Ahmed Adly (2603) are the continent’s top player, but Zambian sharks are often able to bite… very hard.
Despite not having GM Amon Simutowe, IM Daniel Jere, IM Stanley Chumfwa and IM Gillian Bwayla, Zambia’s FM Andrew Kayonde will carry the banner. South Africa has a number of veterans including GM Kenny Solomon who earned a double norm in Istanbul. If there is a team to pull off a number of upsets, it would be Nigeria. FM Bomo Kigigha has scored well in Olympiad tournaments, but look out for 19-year old FM Daniel Anwuli. He is certainly a quality talent. On the women’s side you have WGM Mona Khaled, but the one to watch is WFM Lorita Mwango. Very dangerous.
Team Nigeria! Photo David Llada.
This tournament should be an interesting one for the African continent. It goes without saying that some of the most enthusiastic about chess are not the elite players and federations, it may be those who are still looking to make their marks. The Olympiad has been a stage of mixed blessings for African players and teams. Plenty of GM scalps, several medal and norm performances, yet some instances of heartbreak. Let’s hope that this Olympiad in Baku will be one that African countries can remember with fondness.
The 42nd Chess Olympiad is bubbling with excitement as players are being treated to a seaside paradise in the capitol of Azerbaijan, Baku. A record-shattering event is on tap and most of the sport’s top brass will be competing while others will be carrying out the business of FIDE, the world’s chess body. While not an election year, there are issues hanging over the collective heads of the 185-member body. It is unclear what role FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov will play in the proceedings, but certainly there is an agenda and it will be executed.
This Olympiad has a chance to be special since it has the advantage of having a supportive chess culture. In fact, Azerbaijan is a Muslim nation with a rich history and varied landscape. It should make for an interesting experience for the attendees at the two-week festival. Reports are that the entire city is festooned with Olympiad paraphernalia and chess motifs throughout. There seems to be quite a spirit of hospitality which will put visitors in a great mood.
The Chess Drum has covered five Olympiads, but will be covering the action off-location. Nevertheless, we hope to bring you up-to-date reports, social media, and a collection of photos from some of the world’s best. We hope to conduct some live interviews as well.
In a couple of days, the 42nd Chess Olympiad will be assembling in Baku, Azerbaijan which sits off the Caspian Sea. Attendees will have an idyllic view of the famous seafront as they represent the flags of 176 countries. There are few sporting events like the Chess Olympiad… perhaps it is unique in its scope and diversity. There are few events where you have so many nations and so many different skill levels competing. The fact that you have professional chess players mixing with the general populace makes it quite appealing. In fact, professional players extol the opportunity to be close with their fans as it becomes more of a chess festival.
The skyline of Baku, Azerbaijan
There have been a few reports released by the organizers and by all accounts, it has the makings of being a top flight event. However, there will be a number of notable absentees. Peter Doggers penned preview at chess.com titled “Who Is (and Who Isn’t) Playing The Olympiad?” While teams like Russia, the U.S., China and host Azerbaijan are fully-loaded, three-time Olympic champion Armenia will not be in attendance due to the political tensions between the countries. There had been negotiations to provide security needed, but apparently the Armenian players felt that they would not be able to perform under those conditions. According to the chess.com article, GM Smbat Lputian stated,
Not as the Vice President as the Chess Federation but as a chess player I understand the decision of our chess players as taking part in this kind of important tournament they have to possess inner and external peace in order to show their best results. It’s a pity that according to chess players given the current situation Armenian-Azerbaijani relationship the latter is not possible.
Armenian players competed in World Cup tournament last year in Baku, but there is no report on their experience. Be that as it may, a powerful force missing at the Olympiad means that a number of other federations will have a shot. Teams like Cuba and Poland will become instant contenders and India looks to repeat last year’s success. Azerbaijan will have the addition of Arkadij Naiditsch, the host country will fill the strength gap of Vugar Gashimov, but of course the fallen Azeri’s loss was a blow to the teams camaraderie. The country will field three teams with Azeri 2 poised to attack strong teams in order to help Azeri 1… as in a cycling competition. Perhaps they have ambitions of their own!
PREVIEW – Open Section
Looking at the landscape of the Olympiad, many top players will not be present, but before we list them, it is important to note that both Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin will be playing for Norway and Russia respectively. Here are the list of active heavyweights who will not be traveling with their national teams (both open and women’s).
Viswanathan Anand (India) Vassily Ivanchuk (Ukraine) Peter Leko (Hungary) Boris Gelfand (Israel) Emil Sutovsky (Israel) Etienne Bacrot (France) Krishnan Sasikiran (India) Julio Granda-Zuniga (Peru) Ivan Cheparinov (Bulgaria) Kiril Georgiev (Bulgaria) Alexander Delchev (Bulgaria) Humpy Koneru (India) Tatev Abrahamyan (USA)
Without these top players (especially in the case of Bulgaria), the teams will certainly have an uphill battle, but young players will be looking to capitalize off of the opportunity. Also in the Internet age, we will see how much the gap has closed. First-round upsets are looming throughout the playing hall as we routinely see players from developing federations taking scalps. Asian countries continue to make strides and bagged the gold and bronze in Tromso. Such success will be difficult to repeat. Here are the top 20 teams and their top player (by rating).
2016 Chess Olympiad Tournament September 1st-14th, 2016 (Baku, Azerbaijan)
China’s Ni Hua hoists the cup at the 2014 Olympiad in Tromso, Norway. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.
PREDICTIONS – Open Section
USA – GOLD
It’s been a long time since the USA has won an Olympiad tournament and even longer since they were the odds-on favorite. With bronze medals in 2006 and 2008, the Americans looks to get the gold medal with with the most powerful team in the country’s history. With the “Murderer’s Row” of Fabiano Caruana (2807), Hikaru Nakamura (2791) and Wesley So (2771), anything less than a medal would be considered a disappointment.
In their version of “Murderer’s Row,” Hikaru Nakamura could score big. Photo by Lennart Ootes.
With So coming off of a strong performance in the Sinquefield, the team seems to be top heavy. However, they have the talented Ray Robson and Samuel Shankland who won a gold medal in Tromso with a sparkling 9/10. The key here will be whether the disparate parts fit together in this young team. Figuring out what to do with the top three boards is a luxury no team can boast… not even Russia.
China – SILVER
The defending Olympiad champions have been riding high since their emotional, tear-soaked celebration. It was the culmination and perhaps a relief of all the frustrations from the past. Ni Hua lead the team with solid result avenging his disastrous loss to cost China the gold medal in the 2005 World Team Championship. He retired from the national team with a clear conscience.
Yu Yangyi being and Li Chao share a light moment at 2011 World Team Championships. Cameraderie is one of the recipes of traditional success for China. Many of these players evolved as school kids together. Photo by Wang Liang, http://sports.sina.com.cn/chess/.
The good part is the Chinese team is young with Ding Liren and Yu Yangyi dominating lower board. Ding had 7.5/10 and Yu scored 9.5/11 carrying the team to gold. This team will feature Li Chao, who like Wang Hao, missed Tromso. How is it that you can leave three 2700s at home and still win? With the rise of Wei Yi and the rock-solid pedigree of Wang Yue on board one, China is in a good position to medal once again.
Azerbaijan – BRONZE
Eltaj Safarli was glad to boast to me about Azerbaijan beating the US while we stood in the airport line. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov’s win in the last round helped prevent the Americans from the medal stand. The result did not win the bronze for the Azeris, but allowed India to sneak in after the overachievers beat Germany and crushed a beleaguered Uzbekistan. Ironically, Germany’s Arkadij Naiditsch changed federations and will play his first Olympiad the Azerbaijan. Thus, the host country is the beneficiary of migratory talent.
Arkadij Naiditsch before beating Magnus Carlsen 2014 Chess Olympiad, Tromso, Norway Photo Paul Truong.
The buzz in the chess world was that the Latvian-born Naiditsch was approached by Azeri officials and he switched into a better situation. The reason that Azerbaijan will be in the medal hunt is obvious. They are seeded 4th, they have Shakh and Radja (Teimour Radjabov), they have home court advantage which includes immense support of the country. The chemistry is also incredible and has resulted in two European Team Championships. With the addition of Naiditsch (as a reserve!), the team will be in medal contention.
Vladmir Kramnik has been battling health problems lately and withdrew from the Sinquefield Cup as a result. Having “Big Vlad” is extremely important as he provides veteran leadership and steadiness at the top. However, Russia has not won the tournament since Bled, Slovenia in 2002 when Garry Kasparov was still running the tables. The Russian team has lacked chemistry and they have tried many different lineups, never finding the formula for gold. Despite their lofty rating, they will have to overcome this issue and Andrei Filatov is tasked with this job.
In Anish Giri’s book on candidates to dethrone Carlsen, ten players were featured. Sergey Karjakin was not one of them. Will this outing be an important confidence builder going into the match in November, or confidence breaker? Photo by Amrita Mokal.
Sergey Karjakin had medal outstanding performances with the Ukraine and scored 7/10 for Russia in Tromso. Will he be thinking about withholding preparation while Magnus Carlsen hides some of his (playing weaker teams)? Who will step up for Russia? Evgeny Tomashevsky hopes to bring his World Cup performance with him to Baku. If the lower boards don’t score, Russia may be off the medal stand.
GM Lazaro Bruzon was in fine form in Tromso. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.
A surprise pick for the top five, but this team has been itching to break through. The team that brought us Jose Raul Capablanca is ranked 14th, but has the same five core of players. Perhaps this group may not have quite enough to take a medal, but if Lazaro Bruzon gets 8/11 as he did in Tromso, the team may improve on their 7th place. Beating India, Israel and England was a feat, but the team will rely on the stability of Isan Suarez Ortiz. Ortiz won a silver medal on board 4 in Tromso. One x-factor is the chemistry. These players have been seen traveling the world representing the Cuban flag with great passion and valor. In a time where emerging nations are beginning to flex muscles, Cuba’s time to medal may be now.
REVIEW – Women’s Section
In the women’s field, the usual suspects are at full strength with three-time defending champion Russia leading the way with top-seed China on their heels and both the Ukraine and Georgia fielding strong teams. GM Humpy Koneru of India is not suiting up this year so it paves the way for one of the many talented juniors. Play in the women’s sector has stagnated a bit as China is the only team over 2500 and only four are over 2400. This issue may be taken up by the FIDE Women’s Commission on Chess as there has been problems in the championship cycle as well. In fact. Hou Yifan has already given hints that she will abandon the cycle if not reformed. Nevertheless, the games will be hotly-contested as the field will try to break the Russian streak.
2016 Chess Olympiad Tournament September 1st-14th, 2016 (Baku, Azerbaijan)
Kateryna Lagno defeated Hou Yifan in a key game in 2014 China-Russia match! Photo Paul Truong.
PREDICTIONS – Open Section
China – GOLD
China has been dominant in the women’s circuit for nearly two decades. They have scored twelve Olympiad medals in the last thirteen tournaments (four gold, four silver, four bronze). However, the last three Olympiad have been won by Russia. The disappointment of the Chinese has been apparent at the closing ceremonies, but perhaps they will be more focused. For a country with four women’s world champions and talented juniors emerging, the country is not satisfied with the past laurels. Nothing short of gold will be sought for. Hou will be at the helm and she has a strong supporting cast.
Will Zhao Xue get one of her Fischer-like scores?
Zhao Xue is now 31 year old. It seems like only a few years ago that she was rolling up prodigious scores as a teenager (11/12, 2002 Bled Olympiad; 10/12, 2004 Calvia Olympiad; 10/13, 2006 Turin Olympiad). Her results are still strong, but consistency is not always there. Ju Wenjun has taken up the role of executioner scoring 8/11 in Tromso. As a team, Chinese lost only to Russia (3-1), but is fielding the same exact team with the idea of keeping stability. This may be the last Olympiad before the country of 1.4 billion unleashes a wave of young talent.
Russia – SILVER
This team is still solid and even better chemistry with the wunderkind Aleksandra Goryachkina having come up through the national ranks. Kateryna Lahno won a medal, but the Ukrainian transfer is not in the team in Baku. Yet they have a credible chance to defend their crown. In Tromso, Valentina Guinina scored a prodigious 8/10 to take the gold medal on board two. Alexandra Kosteniuk is back on board one after a gold medal performance of 7.5/9 on board three. Both Natalia Pogonina and Girya Olga were on the gold-medal team in Tromso and are both seasoned veterans.
“Threepeat” for the Russian women in Tromso, Norway! Photo by Daaim Shabazz.
One to keep an eye on is the 17-year old Goryachkina. She is a heavily-decorated as the World Under-10 Girls Champion in 2008, the European Under-12 Girls Champion in 2010, and both the European and World U14 Girls Champion in 2011 (scoring 9/9 in the latter). In the last four years, she has continued her dominance winning both the European and World U18 Girls Championships in 2012 and winning World Junior Girls Championship in 2013 and 2014. She helped Russia win silver last year at the World Team Championship in Reykjavik and also bagged a silver medal on board three. Last August she won the Russian Women’s Superfinal becoming the youngest national champion since Kosteniuk.
The future of Russian women’s chess, Alexandra Goryachkina. Photo by Fred Lucas.
Ukraine – BRONZE
With two former women’s world champions (Anna Ushenina and Mariya Muzychuk) and one player having been over 2600 (Anna Muzychuk), the Ukraine hopes to bring the gold back to the Ukraine. With political tensions in the troubled nation, two defections (Sergey Karjakin and Kateryna Lahno) and Vassily Ivanchuk nixing the games for draughts tournament, it would be a sweet victory. In the past 20 years, only five teams have won a medal of any color: China (9), Russia (9), Georgia (5), Ukraine (4) and Poland (1).
Mariya Muzychuk and sister Anna Muzychuk. The strongest pair of sisters since the retirement of the Nadezhda Kosintseva and Tatiana Kosintseva of Russia.
The Ukraine won the title in 2006 and silver in 2008 before the inclusion of the Muzychuk sisters. Anna was recruited, sponsored by and played for Slovenia for ten years while Mariya was making a move up the ranks. Natalia Zhukova and Anna Gaponenko are wily veterans having represented the Ukraine in several Olympiad tournaments.
The 2018 Chess Olympiad will be hosted in Tblisi, Georgia, a country with a strong chess tradition. In fact, it is the women who carry most of the trophy hardware. Bolstered by the world champion tradition of Nona Gaprindashvili (1962-1978) and her protege Maia Chiburdanidze (1978-1991), both have left the tradition in capable hands. Nana Dzagnidze has been the top player for years and was a member of the Georgian team that won the gold medal in 2008. Ironically, she was not a member of the team that won the Women’s world team last year.
Georgian winning the World Team last year in Chegdu, China. Photo by Liu Yupeng.
Four members of the current Olympiad team were on that winning team. Bela Khotenashvili scored 7.5/9 points led the team with a 2699-elo performance and board medal while Lela Javakhishvili, Meri Arabidze, Nino Batsiashvili and Salome Melia were also . Arabidze is not in the team despite being a star performer at World Team.
Without Koneru Humpy on board one, it is hard to see India compete for a medal, but the Indian men showed how to beat the odds by winning bronze without Viswanathan Anand. India is blessed with a wave of young talent but will be led by Dronavali Harika and rising star Padmini Rout. Rout won a gold medal on the reserve board in Tromso, but has vaulted up to board two. Her improvement has been rapid and she has played internationally in the USA and Europe.
WGM Padmini Rout, the Indian star with her trademark wealth of hair, had a wonderful performance with 7.5/8. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.
The youngest member of the team is Pratyusha Bodda a past under-17 champion. Now 18, she has won in practically every national age group and is from the same region as Koneru and Harika. Here she is being interviewed prior to her press conference announcing her WIM title.
The Indian team has a nice mixture of veteran leadership in Harika, the youth of Rout and Bodda and the fighting spirit of Tania Sachdev and Soumya Swaminathan.
On the heels of the glorious Olympics held in Rio de Janiero, Brazil the world chess community prepares to assemble in Baku, Azerbaijan for the 42nd Chess Olympiad beginning next week on September 1st. A record number of participants will be representing their countries and holding their flags aloft. Thus far 176 nations are scheduled to partake in the games to compete for medals and also to conduct the business of the World Chess Federation (FIDE) in the General Assembly and Congresses. However all is not well in FIDE and Jamaican Chess Federation President Ian Wilkinson is preparing to submit a proposal to the General Assembly stemming from U.S. sanctions levied against President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov.
In a strange twist of events, the U.S. Department of Treasury levied sanctions against Ilyumzhinov for allegedly facilitating transactions with the government of Syria led by Bashar al-Assad. The press release (released on November 25, 2015) read in part:
Kirsan Ilyumzhinov was designated today for materially assisting and acting for or on behalf of the Government of Syria, Central Bank of Syria, Adib Mayaleh, and Batoul Rida. Ilyumzhinov is a wealthy Russian businessman, former president of the Russian Republic of Kalmykia, and long-time World Chess Federation president. He is linked to financial transactions involving Khuri-associated companies [Mudalal Khuri has had a long association with the Assad regime and represents regime business and financial interests in Russia] as early as 1997 and owns or controls the Russian Financial Alliance Bank, along with Khuri. An advisor to Ilyumzhinov, then-President of Kalmykia, was convicted in Russia in 1999 for the murder of an opposition journalist who reportedly was investigating an offshore business registration mechanism in Kalmykia tied to Ilyumzhinov. Russian authorities subsequently closed the offshore business registration mechanism after concluding that it was being used for illegal purposes. (full statement)
This statement was released amidst FIDE’s bid for a contract to host the World Chess Championship in New York. It complicated matters since the sanctions would mean that Ilyumzhinov’s status could affect the negotiations. FIDE briskly responded to the news with the following statement:
Athens, 6 December 2015
Following the announcement by the US Department of the Treasury that the US levied sanctions against Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, Russian citizen and FIDE President, Mr. Ilyumzhinov has informed the Presidential Board that he will withdraw from any legal, financial and business operations of FIDE until such time as Mr. Ilyumzhinov is removed from the Office of Foreign Assets Control sanction list.
Mr. Ilyumzhinov advised that he has initiated legal procedures in the US aiming to request additional information and reverse restrictive measures put by the US Department of the Treasury. During the next Presidential Board meeting, Mr. Ilyumzhinov will update the Board as to the progress of the legal procedures.
Mr. Ilyumzhinov’s decision to withdraw from any legal, financial and business operations of FIDE is to enable him to concentrate on clearing the situation with the US Department of the Treasury.
Until further notice, under section A.9.5 of the FIDE Statutes, if the President: “duly authorises, then he can be represented by the Deputy President who shall exercise the powers of the President. The Deputy President can thus represent FIDE officially and can solely sign for FIDE.” Therefore, Mr. Makropoulos will now be exercising these powers and representing FIDE officially. Makropoulos has long been considered the most influential executive in Ilyumzhinov’s inner circle.
Despite Ilyumzhinov stating that there were no transactions made in Syria and no illicit activities, he vacated his seat as President and ceded administrative control of FIDE affairs over to Georgios Makropoulos. Thus, Ilyumzhinov withdrew from any legal, financial and business operations of FIDE until such time as he is removed from the OFAC list, but he remains in control of FIDE. Many have pointed to Kasparov as the instigator of this incident (by Vladimir Kramnik no less), but that would be making a gross assumption about his influence in U.S. political affairs. Kasparov called Kramnik’s assertion “bizarre” and denied any role in the sanctions.
Like anyone who cares about chess, I was saddened when the United States Treasury Department sanctioned Ilyumzhinov in Nov 2015 for aiding and acting for the brutal Syrian regime of Bashar Assad. It was another blow to the reputation of the game I have devoted my life to, one of many Ilyumzhinov has inflicted (full story).
On the eve of the Olympiad, Jamaica’s Ian Wilkinson, a dynamic and charismatic attorney who stood with Kasparov in his failed bid for FIDE President, has filed a motion demanding that the general body officially remove Ilyumzhinov from the seat of President. Wilkinson will make an appeal for the motion to be discussed before the General Assembly.
His proposal is presented as such:
MOTION TO REMOVE FIDE PRESIDENT
1. President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov (hereafter called “the FIDE President”) has not kept a number of the promises he made during the last World Chess Federation (“FIDE”) Presidential campaign, including promises made on the 11th August, 2014, the day of the Presidential election at the Congress or General Assembly of FIDE in Tromso, Norway to provide specific sums for funding Chess activities.
2. Since in or about late 2015, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) has imposed sanctions on the FIDE President for, among other things, allegedly “materially assisting and acting for or on behalf of the Government of Syria and the Central Bank of Syria”.
3. By virtue of the said sanctions by OFAC, any assets owned by the FIDE President in the United States of America are frozen and citizens of the United States of America are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with the FIDE President.
4.The citizens of the United States of America include members of the United States Chess Federation, including any governing administration and players, with whom FIDE, in particular the FIDE President, is obligated to deal by virtue of his office as president of FIDE.
5. Based, among other things, on the said sanctions by OFAC against the FIDE President, FIDE’s operations, including its bank accounts, have been adversely affected or are likely to be adversely affected or subject to restrictions by OFAC.
6. The operations of the Confederation of Chess for the Americas (“FIDE America”) to which Jamaica belongs have also been adversely affected, or are likely to be affected, as a direct result of the sanctions by OFAC against the FIDE President.
7. In or about December, 2015 the FIDE President purportedly gave up his powers as President pending the resolution of the OFAC sanctions against him but, nevertheless, since then he has appeared at a number of events in his official capacity as President of FIDE.
8. In or about April, 2015 the FIDE President was elected as the Associate Members’ Council member on the Sport Accord Council but in or about late 2015 and 2016 the FIDE President was removed from the Sport Accord Council as the representative of the Associate Members and duly replaced.
9. FIDE’s reputation (and by extension the reputation of the sport of Chess) has suffered significantly due to the OFAC sanctions against the FIDE President with serious consequences, including loss of potential income, sponsorship opportunities and other forms of support for FIDE.
10.The said sanctions by OFAC have prevented the FIDE President from carrying out his duties as President of FIDE effectively. Further, while the said sanctions are in place they will continue to prevent the FIDE President from being effective or from discharging his responsibilities properly or at all.
11. The said OFAC sanctions against the FIDE President have devalued and/or weakened significantly the office of President of FIDE and brought disrepute and/or public scandal to the said office.
BE IT HEREBY RESOLVED
A. THAT the delegates or members of FIDE gathered at the Congress/General Assembly in Baku, Azerbaijan in September, 2016 call on the FIDE President to resign immediately as President of FIDE.
B. THAT if the FIDE President fails, neglects or refuses to resign as President of FIDE that the delegates or members of FIDE gathered at the Congress/General Assembly in Baku, Azerbaijan in September, 2016 vote to remove the FIDE President as President of FIDE.
C. THAT the delegates or members of FIDE gathered at the Congress/General Assembly in Baku, Azerbaijan in September, 2016, acting pursuant to the relevant FIDE statutes and/or regulations, authorize the Presidential Board, or any relevant official or body, to take the necessary steps to ensure that a new President of FIDE is elected as quickly as possible.
Dated the 15th day of July, 2016
Ian G. Wilkinson QC
President (and Delegate)
Jamaica Chess Federation
Wilkinson told The Chess Drum that he seeks abdication of Ilyumzhinov’s position, confirmation of Makropoulos as the Acting President for a specified time (determined by the body) and the possibility of arranging new elections prior to the end of the Ilyumzhinov’s term. It is Wilkinson’s contention that the current arrangement is causing irreparable damage to FIDE’s brand image. He also cited instances where chess officials attempting to raise funds for chess activities were rebuffed by sponsors due to the news of Ilyumzhinov’s sanctions.
Wilkinson emphatically contends that he is not a part of a conspiracy connected to Kasparov despite the fact that both share objection to the FIDE cabal. In fact, some of the supporters for his motion are not necessarily “pro-Kasparov” and have lent support to the idea of a FIDE shakeup two years after the election.
Wilkinson also excoriates FIDE’s inaction promoting chess in developing countries. For example, the money Ilyumzhinov pledged on the floor of the FIDE Congress has not materialized. In a more personal example to Wilkinson, funding for the UMADA Cup (held 2010 in Trinidad & Tobago and 2011 in Barbados) has dried up. This was a tournament launched during Ilyumzhinov’s campaign against Anatoly Karpov when he pledged an investment in the Caribbean.
With a record attendance in a non-election year, the 2016 General Assembly will have a clear focus on the business of FIDE and not be distracted with campaign politics. The bitter campaign of 2014 has had a lingering negative impact, particularly on fragile developing federations. Some federations have been fractured and wounds slow to heal in others. Be that as it may, Wilkinson’s proposal will not debate the rationale of the sanctions, but only to address the sanctions’ impact on FIDE as a body and chess as a sport.
Wesley So, wearing a beautiful Filipino barong, hoists the Sinqufield Cup aloft after winning the 2016 edition. Photo by Lennart Ootes
Wesley So is heading to Baku, Azerbaijan to compete for gold on the U.S. Olympiad team. He got an excellent tuneup for the event with his close victory in a strong field. Despite Magnus Carlsen and Vladimir Kramnik withdrawing, the field featured seven of the top ten (ten of the top 14) players in the world. The top seed would be Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France. Although there were a high number of draws in the tournament, the games were hotly-contested with So eking out the competition with +2. Fabiano Caruana, Levon Aronian, Viswanathan Anand and Veselin Topalov followed with +1 on 5/9. Below So talks about the what helped him to succeed in the tournament.
Video by Mike Klein (chess.com)
So played the steadiest of them all with a key win over Hikaru Nakamura in the first round. With Topalov and Anand in the running, So vanquished the Bulgarian in their sixth round matchup. Annotations by GM Elshan Moradiabadi.
After this win So vaulted to 4/6 with only one point separating the top eight players. Going into the last three round there were marquee matchups and there were no easy outs in the field. Both Anish Giri and Peter Svidler were having a rough time of it and could ably play the role of spoiler. However, the seventh round saw draws on every board and such a situation favored So. In round eight, Anand-Topalov would be a key matchup as was So-Caruana. Caruana had been the butt of jokes on the Internet about his seven consecutive draws.
Fortunes would not change as both of these games were drawn. Svidler-Giri was a bout of the tailenders and the seven-time Russian champion got his first win. It appears that Giri is taking more pride in his fashion sense than anything else. Truly a disaster for Giri who hemorrhaged 14 Elo points in the tournament. Both MVL and Ding Liren were not vying to win the tournament, but could certainly change the order of the tournament with an “upset”.
Nakamura watching the tension build in Topalov-Aronian. Photo by Lennart Ootes.
Going into the last round, So only needed a draw to clinch a tie for first. However, a potential three-way made things a bit tense. Svidler-Anand playerd a trivial 30-move draw meaning that the Indian legend was satisfied with letting the other 40-something player to catch So. MVL-So had a theoretical discussion in the Berlin, but it ended in a comfortable draw. Now only Topalov-Aronian was left to determine whether there would be a playoff or not.
Unbelievably, Topalov got a winning position but bungled the rook ending. The timely 48.f4! would have created a passed pawn thus rook cutting the king off. It should have been enough to score the full point. Instead Topalov traded kingside pawns without with forcing a concession from black. The black rook fronted the passed pawn and black had a fortress. Thus, So would take clear first pipping the field by half point.
One wonders what will become of the Grand Chess Tour. The London Chess Classic is indeed a wonderful close of the season’s tour, but with the defection of the Norway Chess and the repetition of the players in the field for four events, it may not have the legs needed for the tournament to have a long run. The field has expanded from four players in the first season, six players in the second and then expanding to the current format of ten. The tour was affected by the exit of Magnus Carlsen and Vladimir Kramnik, but maybe a bit of tweaking is needed. For example, replacing the bottom feeders (last two) in each tournament as an incentive for fighting play. That way there is more incentive not to play a torrent of drawing games.
The Grand Chess Tour seems to be replacing some of the languishing tournaments in the circuit such as the Tata Steel tournament (successor to ill-fated Hoogovens and Corus) and whose future seems to be uncertain. After Linares folded in 2010, the six-player Bilbao (part of the Grand Slam Masters) has remain as one of the mainstays. However, it also features a number of the same players. Although it was announced that Tata’s sell off of the steel business would not affect the event, it is unsure how long the India company will stay vested.
The Qatar Masters and Millionaire chess have risen as strong opens, but are brands that are still growing. Nevertheless, the Sinquefield Cup remains as a wonderful event and St. Louis has become quite the venue to host the event. With Carlsen winning the first event in 2013, Caruana in 2014 and Aronian in 2015, the tournament was buoyed by the last to first victory of the personable Wesley So. The commentary in St. Louis was excellent and the production team was first class and has set new standards for making chess watchable and entertaining. See you next year!
Defending Champion, GM Levon Aronian (Armenia) Photo by Lennart Ootes
With the World Champion Magnus Carlsen dropping out of the Grand Chess Tour to prepare for the World Championship in November and Vladimir Kramnik dropping out for what is presumed to be health issues, the Sinquefield Cup will be missing two legendary attractions, but will still be a powerful event. The American triad of Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So will hold down home court against the top seed and world #2, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave who has vaulted twenty spaces from last year.
MVL on his rise "My opening preparations have been working much better, so I'm getting positions I feel very much at ease" #SinquefieldCup
Top seed, GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave Photo by Daaim Shabazz.
In the 2015 Sinquefield Cup, MVL was #24 in the world at 2731, but now has a rating of 2819, a career-high. There have been wild fluctuations in rating of several of the competitors with drops by Giri (-24 from 2793), Anand (-46 from 2816) and Topalov (-55 from 2816) from a year ago. Levon Aronian is the defending champion of the Sinquefield Cup and has rebounded after a slump in 2014-2015.
The Sinquefield Cup had been rescheduled due to the changing of the Olympiad which was affected by the World Championship. It was a cascading effect. Nevertheless, the field has an All-Star line-up with China’s Ding Liren and seven-time Russian champion Peter Svidler filling in the vacated spots.
The 2016 Sinquefield Cup is an elite international event, featuring 10 of the strongest chess players in the world. Over the course of nine rounds, these competitors will battle for $300,000 in prize money (first: $75,000, second: $50,000, third: $40,000, last: $15,000) plus points toward the Grand Chess Tour and the coveted title of 2016 Sinquefield Cup Champion.
The venue is the Chess Club and Scholastic Center at 4657 Maryland Avenue, Saint Louis, MO 63108. Tickets cost $10 per round or $80 for all ten rounds. Full information available at the official web site. Live commentary will be given by an eminent line-up of Maurice Ashley, Jennifer Shahade, Yasser Seirawan with roaming commentating by Alejandro Ramirez. For more information, visit www.grandchesstour.com or follow along at @CCSCSL.
2015 Sinquefield Cup
August 4th – August 16th, 2016 (St. Louis, USA)
Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis (4657 Maryland Ave.)
WILKINSON RETAINS NATIONAL TITLE at Roper Memorial!
Ian Wilkinson Photo by Jamaica Chess Federation.
Defending champion Ian Wilkinson QC retained the National Veterans Chess title after drawing game three of the four-game Play-off match against Michael Diedrick in the 2016 Supreme Ventures Jamaica Veterans Chess Championship. The game was played at the headquarters of the Sports Development Foundation (“SDF”) on Sunday, July 31.
After winning the first two games and establishing a commanding lead, Wilkinson only needed a draw from the remaining two games to win the match. Armed with the white pieces in game three, he essayed the flexible and solid 1.Nf3 and Diedrick opted for the Queen’s Indian Defence with 2…b6. A tense struggle ensued as a determined Diedrick grabbed the initiative in the middle-game and went in search of victory. After thirty moves, however, he was uncertain how to proceed and worried that he might lose material. He, therefore, decided to settle for a draw (by repetition).
Arbiter Howien Foster (standing) looks on as Michael Diedrick assesses
his options close to the end of the drawn game 3.
The draw took Wilkinson’s tally to an unassailable two and a half (2 ½) points to Diedrick’s half (1/2) point, thereby allowing him to defend the title he won in the inaugural event last year.
The Play-off became necessary after both men scored six points in the William Roper Memorial Chess tournament (Jamaica Seniors Championships) that ended on Saturday, July 23. The overall event was won by World Chess Federation Candidate Master Robert Wheeler (seven points) who, therefore, retained his title as Jamaica’s 65 + year-old Seniors Champion.
By virtue of his victory Wilkinson will be Jamaica’s official representative in the 50 + year-old section at the World Seniors Chess Championships set for the Czech Republic in November, 2016. Wheeler will be Jamaica’s official representative in the 65 + year-old section.
The tournament (including the Play-off) was sponsored by Supreme Ventures, the Kasparov Chess Foundation, Medallion Hall Hotel and the SDF.
Wilkinson will be representing Jamaica at the World Seniors in November.
Sonja Johnson President of the Trinidad & Tobago Association Photo by TTCA.
Celebrating its 80th anniversary of the Trinidad & Tobago Chess Association (TTCA) by hosting the Masters Open (TTIMO). The tournament is apparently the country’s strongest and has attracted players from a number of countries including GM Elshan Moradiabadi, an Iranian now playing under the FIDE flag and now living in the U.S. Also German Grandmaster Ilja Zaragatski is vying for the top spot.
Action started July 28th at The Normandie Hotel, St. Anns, Trinidad and will extend from through 5th August, 2016. Midway through the tournament Zaragatski has pulled into the lead follow by IM Pablo Herrera of Chile, a 1/2-point behind. IM Jose Gascon Del Nogal of Venezuela, GM Jha Sriram of India and Moradiabad leads a group of players challenging the leaders on point behind the leader. There are a number of patriots defending the home flag including FM Ryan Harper, many times national champion.
There is also an Open section reserved for players below 2100 FIDE. Just over 70 players are competing including a couple of IMs (!), a number of rising juniors and wily veterans. While norms will not be possible, the competition will be just as fierce. Follow the action at chess24.com and the standings at chess-results.com.
Uganda was host to the 2016 African Individual Chess Championships held from 16th July 2016 up to 27th July 2016 at Tick Hotel in Kampala. Players from twelve countries came with visions and dreams of winning the title of African Champion. The event comprised two categories, the Open and Ladies category and had classical, rapid and blitz rate of play in each.
The tournament was competitive even through last year’s tournament was a bit stronger with GM Bassem Amin headlining the field with GM Ahmed Adly second seed. This year Adly would try to hold the board one position, but it is known that he has had trouble in first round matchups losing to less-fancied players. In the first round he was held by FM Patrick Kawuma of Uganda after going into complications that yielded black an exchange. Adly had to escape with a draw.
This would upset the charts and give other seeds a chance to hold the top table. It appeared that the top Egyptian players were being nicked by other players (or each other) and after four rounds, no one had a perfect score. GM Samy Shoker would also be in the hunt and he showed his mettle with this win over last year’s World Cup qualifier, IM Arthur Ssegwanyi. In this game, a queen sacrifice was on the board.
After five rounds, Adly was back at the top along with IM Arab Adlane, GM Essam El-Gindy and FM Andrew Kayonde. The Zambian Kayonde would become a GM-killer in the next round beating Adly and the Egyptian would never recover.
Meanwhile, Kayonde was now in first place heading for the title. He then beat El-Gindy staying ahead of the surging Egyptian IM Abdelrahman Hesham who had won four in a row. Kayonde was on 6/7 followed by Hesham’s 5.5/7 and the two would match up in an eighth round battle.
FM Andrew Kayonde
So Hesham would take the lead with the championship and GM title in sight. Kayonde also had such dreams, but had to take down another Grandmaster in Shoker who was trying to get one of the qualifying spots for the World Cup. All Hesham needed was a draw to clinch and he agreed to a rather effortless draw with South African IM Daniel Cawdery. Kayonde also split the point and would have to settle for the IM title. Nevertheless, the Zambian chess community was elated at his performance. In the end, the top four on the final table would be: Hesham on 7/9 followed by Kayonde, Adly and Arab on 6.5/9.
GOLD- IM Abdelrahman Hesham (Egypt)
SILVER- FM Andrew Kayonde (Zambia)
BRONZE – GM Ahmed Adly (Egypt)
FM Andrew Kayonde, IM Abdelrahman Hesham, GM Ahmed Adly
In the women’s section, a similar field from the previous year assembled, but without Africa’s top women’s player and defending champion, WGM Mona Khaled. Nevertheless several of the top competitors would be returning for another shot at glory. The top seed this year would be Shahenda Wafa and her sister two-time former champion WGM Shrook Wafa.
Both would be favorites along with Algerians WIM Amina Mezioud and WIM Sabrina Latreche. Last year’s 5th place finisher WFM Eman Elansary would be in the inner circle as would Zambia’s WFM Lorita Mwango. South Africa was sending five players with hopes to create some upsets. As it were, the favorites would hold their positions.
Zambia’s WFM Lorita Mwango
The initial round saw no upset, but in the second round Mwango was stopped by South Africa’s WIM Anzel Laubscher. However, it would be Mwango who would upset the pairings. After the upset loss, she with 3/5 against the top five seeds including a win over Shrook Wafa. However, Shrook was buoyed by her five wins to open the tournament and she got help from none other than her sister Shahenda who won a thrilling game against Mwango in round eight.
Botswana’s WIM Tshepiso Lopang, a long-time national player is now taking the role as organizer and arbiter in international tournaments.
Women in action!
Shakira Ampaire showing the Ugandan charm.
After eight rounds, Shrook Wafa was ahead of Shahenda Wafa and Eman Elansary by half-point. All three had already clinched medals, but the only thing left was to determine the 1-2-3 order. Shrook only needed a draw against Angola’s Esperanca Caxita to clinch the title which she duly earned. The other games were a formality, but of course South Africans Denise Frick and Robyn Van Niekerk were looking for upsets. While Wafa-Caxita was drawn, Wafa-Frick and Elansary-Van Niekerk went in favor of the Egyptians finalizing the clean sweep of the medals… Wafa, Wafa and Elansary.
GOLD – WGM Shrook Wafa (Egypt)
SILVER – WIM Shahenda Wafa (Egypt)
BRONZE – WIM Eman Elandary (Egypt)
WGM Shrook Wafa, WIM Shahenda Wafa, WFM Eman Elansary