Pre-Olympiad Quandary… Choosing the Team

If you are a fan following professional sports, you know that choosing national teams is a difficult process. There is always a question of who qualifies as it relates to nationality, skill level, experience, etc. Chess Olympiad teams are no different.

The U.S. team was coming off of a disastrous 2002 Olympiad where they came in 41st with only 30.5 points… less than Ireland. They went forth to decide on a team and controversy brewed when they left leaving teen phenom Hikaru Nakamura off the team in 2004 because a largely inactive Boris Gulko had a higher rating on a year-old rating list they used. Alexander Goldin and Igor Novikov, both inactive and around 40 years of age, also made the team.

GM Wesley So, Philippines

While the team made a big improvement, they came in 4th and out of medal contention. The U.S.C.F. corrected their wrongs when a resurgent Nakamura (along with Varuzhan Akobian) made the 2006 team and helped the U.S. to a well-deserved bronze medal.

Currently, the Philippines and Nigeria are facing similar challenges. In the case of the Philippines, two veteran players feel they should be seeded on the team without a qualification. This is bringing controversy because the federation has several Grandmasters who can qualify for the team. Florencio Campomanes added that seeding players is already outdated. It appears that the formed FIDE head is making a case for younger talents such as GM Wesley So (pictured above).

“When Eugene became a grandmaster in 1974, it was okay to seed him on the team because he was the only Filipino grandmaster, but currently we have more grandmasters,” Campomanes explained.

Nigeria’s case has a twist. While the team has no Grandmasters, it has five International Masters and players like IM Odion Aikhoje (England), IM Oladapo Adu (U.S.) and National Champion Chikwere Onyekwere (U.S.) are spread out around the world so choosing the best team becomes problematic. There is the thought that the strongest players should be seeded on the team because of the titles or as national champions, but does this stunt the development of up-and-coming players? Nigeria is considering a tri-continental qualifying tournament, but they are still in negotiations with the Nigerian Chess Federation on this issue.

IM Odion Aikhoje

IM Odion Aikhoje

These are recurring issues in countries that have traditionally not had much of a qualifying event. Teams generally hand-select their best players and wish them well. With a surge in strength in national federations, up-and-coming players want a fair shot at representing their country in the chess world’s biggest stage. It is now July, so the time is late and many teams have already registered for the November event. Stay tuned for updates.

See Filipino story, “Ex-world chess chief: ‘Seeding players outdated’


  1. I just read on that the Philippines has selected their men’s Olympiad team. What’s shocking to me is not that 19-time Olympian GM Eugenio Torre is not on the team, but GM Mark Paragua didn’t make the team! Unbelievable. Their new champion is an International Master by the name of John Paul Gomez!! Other team members are GMs Wesley So, Bong Villamayor, Darwin Laylo, Jayson Gonzalez. People talk about China and India, but I see the Philippines (and Vietnam) as a rising power.

    While there there is something to be said about not automatically seeding the highest-rated players, it’s a shame that someone with the talent of Paragua is not going. It shows that rising players can be given a chance to show their strength. I interviewed at last year’s World Open Paragua and he does not seem to be focused on a particular goal. Immensely talented, but maybe a wake-up call for him. Gomez will relish this opportunity to go to the Olympiad as the National Champion.

  2. I read in the New York Times today that NBA star Gilbert Arenas traveled to the Philippines as part of a basketball promotional tour. He was overcome by the mob scene and the affection of the Filipinos. In my years I have noticed a cordial relationship between African-Americans and Filipinos… at least in the chess world.

    Perhaps it has something to do with the media in the Philippines, the military base or the documentation of “Afro-Filipinos,” but Arenas wrote on his blog, “It was like nothing I’ve sever seen before, and I’ve seen crazy fans all over the world. If you’re having a bad day or you’re having a bad career, go to Manila. They’ll bring your spirits up.”

    Some people traveled across country to see him and had him signing toy basketballs, jersey and… chessboards! This is why I believe the Philippines will be one the rising stars in the chessworld. If you’ve seen Filipinos at tournaments, they are passionate, seek constant improvement and strong. For chessplayers, the game is very much a part of their essence and the passion is undeniable. I plan to interview at least one member of the team in Dresden.

  3. Here is a U.S. Chess Federation press release on the naming of the U.S. Olympiad teams. This year there appears to be no controversy on the selection. Both teams are carrying several players from the 2006 Olympiad in Turin. The men will add U.S. Champion Yury Shulman and the women will add a couple of new players.

    USCF Announces 2008 Olympiad Teams
    By Jerry Nash
    July 17, 2008

    Contact: Jerry Nash
    931-787-1234 x 145

    (Crossville, July 18, 2008) The United States Chess Federation (USCF) announced the teams and captains for the 38th Chess Olympiad scheduled for November 12 – 25, 2008, in Dresden, Germany. The Chess Olympiads, begun in 1924, are the most prestigious of the world team tournaments organized by the World Chess Federation (FIDE). Teams from more than 100 nations participate in this event scheduled every two years. In the previous two Olympiads, US teams achieved success in bringing home medals. In 2004, the US Women’s team won the Silver in Calvia, Spain, and in 2006, the US Men’s team captured the Bronze in Turin, Italy.

    The 38th Chess Olympiad United States Teams

    Men’s Team: Varuzhan Akobian, Gata Kamsky, Hikaru Nakamura, Alexander Onischuk, Yury Shulman, Captain – John Donaldson.

    Women’s Team: Tatev Abrahamyan, Rusudan Goletiani, Irina Krush, Katerina Rohonyan, Anna Zatonskih, Captain – Michael Khodarkovsky and Coach – Gregory Kaidanov.

    The players were selected by a formula which takes into account several factors including USCF and FIDE ratings. Yury Shulman and Anna Zatonskih also qualified by winning the 2008 US Men’s and Women’s Chess Championships. The captains and coaches were selected by a vote of the players of each team.

    Significant modifications in the tournament format will impact the play at the 2008 Olympiad. The event has been reduced from 14 rounds to 11 rounds and scoring has been changed from game to match points. Another change is the composition of the teams themselves. The men’s teams have been reduced by one alternate player to the current Four Boards plus One Board alternate player. The women’s teams have been increased by one player to an identical 4+1 composition.

    The members of the United States Chess Federation offer their encouragement to the players and coaches as they go for the Gold! The USCF offers special thanks to the Kasparov Chess Foundation as the Official Sponsor of the 2008 U.S. Olympiad teams.

    Individuals and groups are welcome to contribute for additional sponsorship by contacting the USCF.


  4. Barbados has announced their Olympiad team for the 2008 Olympiad in Dresden, Germany. Not sure how the team was determined here, but Barbados has made a practice of sending very young players. It is hard to determine whether this helps development of talent since past junior players like Askari Elson and Junior Taitt are no longer active.

    Shamel Howell and Barbados Junior Champion Justin Blackman will make their debuts and former Junior Champion Martyn Del Castilho will make his second trip. FIDE Masters Delisle Warner and Philip Corbin will return. IM Kevin Denny and FM Terry Farley will not make the trip.

    Barbados to be represented at Chess Olympiad
    Web Posted – Mon Jul 21 2008

    FIDE Master Dr. Philip Corbin has been included in the team selected by the Barbados Chess Federation (BCF) to represent Barbados in the Open Section at the 2008 Chess Olympiad being staged in Dresden, Germany between November 12 and 15.

    The other members of the team to play in the Open Section are Justin Blackman (Queen’s College), Martyn Del Castilho (The Lodge School), Shamel Howell (UWI Student) and Delisle Warner (FIDE Master and Barbados National Chess Champion).

    The team to play in the Women’s Section will be Katrina Blackman (Coleridge and Parry), Juanita Garnet, Rosamund Holder (UWI Student), Corinne Howard (Woman’s National Champion) (Barbados Community College) and Cheri-Ann Parris (The Lodge School).

    The Management Team will comprise Peter Dawson (FIDE Arbiter); Beverley Howell-Mayers; Dirk Austin; and Coach, International Master Jose Vilela.

    International Arbiter, Mr. Rohan Waithe will be an Arbiter at the Olympiad. Allan Herbert, CACDEC Chairman, will attend the FIDE congress.

    Source: Barbados Advocate

  5. Just heard from Ian Wilkinson of the Jamaican Chess Federation. The Olympiad team will consist of FM Warren Elliott, Duane Rowe, Shane Matthews, Jomo Pitterson and Brandon Wilson.

  6. I hate the changes to the point system and team number composition,I doubt the event will be still as thrilling as ones from the past .

    Coming to selection ,it comes natural to me older players should give way to up and coming players in an ideal set up .

    Ukraine look very strong in this Olympiad but could face still competition from usual Russia especially with the trusted Peter Svidler and ingenious Alexander Morozevich.

  7. I like the system determined by board points. I believe that the Russians complained about this. There was a lot of talk about China’s silver and their lopsided scores against weaker teams. One could argue that China beat the people they were paired with.

    I do not believe Russia will score a gold medal in 2008. In 2004, I predicted they’d get a silver and they did. In 2006, I predicted they would not medal and they didn’t. This year, I believe they may score a bronze… maybe a silver, not a gold. Kramnik was their steadiest performer in 2006 and it is doubtful that he’ll play.

    China (men and women) will shine and could win both golds. If the Chinese women win, it will be their sixth consecutive gold medal. The Ukraine will be strong as will the U.S. and Israel. Armenia could be hurt by Karen Asrian’s loss. India will not be a factor in this Olympiad without Anand and Humpy. You heard it here first… watch out for Vietnam. People are sleeping on them! I will reserve my full predictions until later.

  8. I’m not sure of the accuracy of this report, but reports that Vladimir Kramnik will play in the Olympiad as well as Viswanathan Anand. Anand has stated that he will not play. Russia is sending a powerful team with an average rating of 2750. This will be the strongest team in Olympiad history. However, it is my opinion that it will not bring them the gold medal. Sorry.

    Russia had practically the same team was at the 2006 Olympiad… swap out Bareev and Rublevsky for Jakovenko and it’s the same. Each team will only have one alternate instead of two. I don’t see what will be different although Jakovenko is an upgrade given that he is on the upswing.

    Dresden Olympiad – Russia sends the strongest team of all times
    Posted by Webmaster at Saturday, 23rd August 2008, 15:49 CEST

    “Russia, lead on by world championship candidate Vladimir Kramnik, will participate in the Chess Olympiad with the strongest team ever to take part in a team competition” – announced First Mayor of the City of Dresden, Dr. Lutz Vogel, welcoming the Board of Trustees of the Chess Olympiad 2008.

    With Kramnik and his team collegues Alexander Morozevich, Peter Svidler, Alexander Grischuk and Dmitry Jakowenko the first five players of the current Russian FIDE rating list are about to arrive, having an incredible ELO average of 2.750 points.

    “Even the current world champion will come” – added Dr. Vogel later on. Joining Viswanathan Anand are the strongest Indian players. In this succession also fits Hungary, bringing along Peter Leko, Judit Polgar (the world’s strongest women) and Zoltan Almasi.

    Regarding registrations of the national federations Dresden, with 133 registrations four months prior to the event, is on a good path. At the past Olympiad in Torina 146 were registered immediately before the beginning of the tournament. Among the preregistered are further well-known chess nations, but also some exotic ones like Trinidad and Tobago or the British Virgin Islands. Approximately 1.350 participants of the 2008 Olympiad are yet know by name.

  9. Revised OLYMPIAD Qualification Rules
    (revised November 2005)

    The following are the general requirements for USCF national and international invitations. Contact the USCF office for more details. Whenever possible, invitations shall be issued several months prior to the scheduled beginning of the event. Eligibility for USCF invitations shall be based on several factors including: rating, age (if applicable), activity, and residency. Players must be USCF members in good standing at the time of invitation. Reasonable efforts shall be made to accommodate players with expired memberships who would otherwise qualify for USCF invitations.

    Players shall be ranked by invitational rating, calculated as follows:

    3. FIDE Olympiad and FIDE Women’s Olympiad:

    For all except one team member, the following method shall be used: Average of the 1) current published USCF rating at time of invitation; 2) current published FIDE rating at time of invitation; 3) average of peak published USCF rating and peak published FIDE rating, both going back 24 months from time of invitation.

    After invitational ratings have been calculated for the highest rated players for all but one spot on the team, the following method shall be used to determine the final spot: Average of the 1) current published USCF rating at time of invitation; 2) current published FIDE rating at time of invitation. To this number shall be added the following adjustment points based on the player’s age as of January 1 of the Olympiad year: 5 points for age 25, 10 points age 24, 15 points age 23, 20 points age 22, 25 points age 21, 30 points age 20, 35 points age 19, 40 points age 18, 50 points age 17, 60 points age 16 or below.

    NOTE: For the 2006 Olympiad only, instead of using published USCF ratings as part of each formula, the latest ratings at as of March 17, 2006 shall be used. If any contending players have games played but not yet rated as of that date, they should notify the USCF office of these results by March 22, and the office will adjust the March 17 MSA ratings for invitational purposes based on these games.

    Board order for the teams shall be determined by the team captain.


    Automatic qualification of the U.S. Champions is currently not in effect, but the issue will be reviewed after we have a decision on the date and format of the 2006 U.S. Championship.


    In the 12 months prior to computation of invitational rating, players must have completed at least one FIDE-rated or USCF Grand Prix tournament of 6 or more rounds in the United States. Half point byes are permissible so long as 6 games are actually played, or are unplayed wins. Tournaments rated only by the USCF’s Quick Chess rating system do not count toward the activity requirement. For the 2006 Olympiad only, a FIDE-rated or Grand Prix tournament of 5 or more rounds is acceptable.


    During the 12 month period prior to the computation of invitational rating, players should have played at least 30 games against opponents rated 2200 or above (2100 or above for the Women’s Olympiad) in FIDE-rated or USCF Grand Prix events. Foreign tournaments are acceptable. For opponents with no established USCF rating, those with a FIDE rating of 2100 or above (2000 or above for the Women’s Olympiad) are counted. Tournaments rated only by the USCF’s Quick Chess rating system do not count. Unplayed games do not count.

    Players who complete all games in the US Open without taking byes are guaranteed a minimum of 6 credits. While unplayed wins are not credited, they are adequate toward having completed the tournament. Players who do not play sufficient games will have one invitational rating point deducted for each game by which they are short of 30 games. For the 2006 Olympiad only, the standard shall be 20 games rather than 30. One invitational rating point shall be deducted for each game by which the player is short of 20 games.

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