Drum Predictions for 38th Olympiad

2008 Chess Olympiad

The Dresden Olympiad is here and there have been a lot of changes since the last biennial tournament. Armenia took the men’s gold while the Ukraine took the women’s gold in a tournament marked by the rise of the Chinese men (2nd) and the fall of the Russians (6th). This year, these two nations will be vying for gold with Russia bringing a team boasting an average rating over 2750. China touts the rising quartet of 2700-rated players under age 25. This presents a breakthrough for China who along with India are the fastest rising powers in the chess world.

Other federations will be stocked with their best talent and we will see the usual powers from Armenia, Israel, USA, Georgia and Azerbaijan shoot for medals. What is more exciting is the emergence of young stars from France (GM Maxim Vachier-Lagrave), Cuba (GM Lenier Dominguez), the Philippines (GM Wesley So), Vietnam (GM Nguyen Ngoc Truong Son) and Mexico (GM Manuel Leon Hoyos). The landscape of chess is changing. This tournament has broken a record for the number of teams registered (156) and Africa will have 24 teams represented! Here are the top ten Drum Predictions for 2008!

1. GOLD – CHINA

Analysis: The fastest rising chess power in the world. At the 2006 Olympiad, Wang Yue (2736) had not reached 2600, but led the Chinese side with a blistering 10/12 and 2837 performance. Bu Xiangzhi (2714) scored a solid 8/12 with a 2790 performance. China will be even stronger and will replace Zhang Zhong (now Singapore), Zhang Pengxiang and Zhao Jun with rising juniors Wang Hao (2696) and Li Chao (2622). With the momentum China has created, the team cohesion and the improvement of their junior stars, China stands an excellent chance to take the gold.

X-factor: The key here will be experience of the young Chinese players Wang Hao and Li Chao. This will be their first Olympiad and it remains to be seen how they will fare in pressure matches. Wang Yue will hold his own on top board. His flexible style can match-up with other board #1 contenders well. Bu Xiangzhi is actually the elder statesman at 25 and he has been in the international spotlight since age 13. He has a tendency to be inconsistent as does Ni Hua (2710). However, all have shown tremendous form in the World Minds Sports Games. This cohesion and team spirit has been the golden formula for both the Ukraine (2004) and Armenia (2006).

2. SILVER – AZERBAIJAN

Analysis: This young cadre of players from Azerbaijan have had the potential to bring home the medal the past Olympiad tournaments, but inexperience and the absence of Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in 2006, hurt their chances. With a “dynamic duo” on #1 and #2, Azerbaijan’s Teimour Radjabov and Mamedyarov will be ready. Radjabov appears to be in excellent form and will have a young and talented quartet to follow (Mamedyarov, Vugar Gashimov (right), Gadir Guseinov and Rauf Mamedov)… all under 24.

X-Factor: The main factor here will be Radjabov’s stability on board #1. He has a tendency to take risks in tournament play, but in team play he has proven to be more solid. Azerbaijan can put Mamedyarov on board #1 without a loss in strength in case Radjabov needs rest. Mamedyarov also has a provocative style which can squeeze crucial 1/2-points when needed. The surprise could be Gashimov who has breached 2700, won Cappelle LaGrande and tied for FIDE Grand Prix tournament this year and is on the rise. He is the player to watch. Like China, they are young with very good team chemistry.

3. BRONZE – RUSSIA

Russia's Vladimir Kramnik leads onslaught against China. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

Russia’s Vladimir Kramnik led onslaught against China in 2006.
Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

Analysis: By all accounts, most will pick Russia merely because they boast an average rating of over 2750. However, they have had powerful teams in the past two Olympiads and have not struck gold. This year will be no different. While Kramnik will certainly provide a strong showing on board #1, five-time Russian Champion Svidler has to be more consistent. Morozevich will perhaps be asked to push for points, but he has a tendency to suffer lapses with his pragmatic style. Russia will have a better alternate in Dmitry Jakavenko who will hopefully replace Sergei Rublevsky’s -1 performance in 2006.

X-factor: Which Svidler will show up? Will it be the world championship contender or the player who crashed in Aerosvit and the FIDE Grand Prix? Alexander Grischuk is playing a lot of poker these days and there remains a question of his focus. We will see. Look for Kramnik to play well and to prove something after his loss to Viswanathan Anand. However, a team of stars does not equal a strong team. We will see who Russia places on boards #2 and #3 and how often they go to Jakovenko.

4. Ukraine – This team is practically the same from the previous years, but young talents Sergei Karjakin, Andrei Volokitin and Alexander Moiseenko have stagnated. Vassily Ivanchuk often plays so many tournaments one wonders if he will have enough energy to play at a high level. He has recently played in the World Blitz Championship and the Cap D’Agde losing in the finals to Lenier Dominguez and Hikaru Nakamura, respectively.

5. Bulgaria – This team looks solid. With former FIDE champ on board #1 and with a Ivan Cheparinov on #2, Bulgaria will not stand a chance of losing on both boards in the same match. The Bulgarians have a reputation of being well-prepared and have unfurled a number of novelties in crucial games. This provides somewhat of a psychological advantage and may affect the board match-ups since some teams may not want to run into prepared lines. This is perhaps the strongest team Bulgaria has had in recent Olympiads.

6. Armenia – The defending Olympic champions will miss Karen Asrian’s stability. Asrian died tragically this year and will be replaced by the World Champion namesake, Tigran Petrosian. The lineup is still very powerful, but they lack power on the lower boards. Gabriel Sargissian scored a stunning 10/13 at the 2006 Olympiad playing every match. He may go the distance this time as well. Levon Aronian and Vladimir Akopian are a solid duo, but the latter has been quiet in recent years.

7. USA – USA was the surprise bronze medallists in 2006, and it would not be out of the question if they scored a medal in this tournament. Hikaru Nakamura has been on fire and is playing with a more universal style. Gata Kamsky is itching for a fight since his match with Veselin Topalov has been delayed. The downsides… Alexander Onischuk has been playing in Europe without spectacular results. He remains a very solid team player. US Champion Yury Shulman will be making his debut. Varuzhan Akobian is a good team player to have in reserve, but he has struggled lately. Nakamura could win a board medal and can squeeze 1/2-points if the team needs them.

8. Israel – A perennial power with a mixture of veterans and youth. Boris Gelfand will most likely be playing one board #1 with his solid style, but he has tailed off lately. Teenage sensation Maxim Rodshtein will be a new face. It seems like yesterday that Boris Avrukh and Emil Sutovsky were rising juniors, but are both at least 30. They will have to show that they have something left if Israel is going to get into medal contention.

9. India – This is a surprise since World Champion Viswanathan Anand is not playing. However, India is riding on tremendous national pride and have a cadre of young players who will be able to compete. The team is rather young and got a bit younger with G.N. Gopal as an alternative. Nevertheless, the chemistry is exceptional and look for India to make a surprising showing despite the absence of their national hero. India came in 8th in 2004, but a disappointing 30th in 2006. This tournament will show how much the Indians have matured.

10. France – With rising star Maxim Vachier-Lagrave on #2, France may make some waves. Etienne Bacrot proves he can still play at the elite level and has a good supportive cast with Vachier-Lagrave and Laurent Fressinet. They also have blitz specialist Vladislav Tkachiev and young star Sebastien Maze.

Regional Predictions

Top African Teams – (1) Egypt (2) Algeria (3) South Africa
Top Asian Teams – (1) China (2) India (3) Vietnam
Top Caribbean Teams – (1) Cuba (2) Dominican Republic (3) Barbados
Top European Teams – (1) Azerbaijan (2) Russia (3) Ukraine
Top North American Teams – (1) U.S.A. (2) Canada (3) Mexico
Top Latin American Teams – (1) Brazil (2) Argentina (3) Venezuela
Top Middle Eastern Teams – (1) Israel (2) Iran (3) Turkey

Drum Coverage: https://www.thechessdrum.net/tournaments/Olympiad2008/

Daaim Shabazz

Daaim Shabazz is the founder of The Chess Drum, while serving as a tenured faculty member of Global Business & Marketing at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida, USA. He holds a B.S. Computer Science from Chicago State University, an MBA in Marketing and a Ph.D. in International Affairs & Development, both from Clark Atlanta University. He has served the journalist community for more than 30 years and still competes in tournaments occasionally.

6 Comments

  1. Nice one, I didn’t blink once till the last word of the write up. I think the team gold would go to Team Russia or China, sorry I cant back up my predictions with accurate points like ChessDrum! Did Nigeria make it to the Olympiad?

  2. As I correctly predicted,Russia started with their most trusted player on Board 1 ,Peter Svidler against Switzerland today .I tip Azerbaijan strongly.

  3. Predictions for the women’s competition

    1. Ukraine – It’s hard not to pick this team for the gold. They are the defending champ and the ratings of 1-4 are identical. This stability is important in long tournaments and will give them flexibility needed in terms of lineup changes.

    2. Russia – World Champion Alexandra Kosteniuk will lead Russia into battle. She is in form and has a strong supporting cast with the Kostinseva sisters and IM Ekaterina Korbut. Russia also has WGM Pogonina Natalija who played well in the World Mind Games.

    3. China – This team is going with the youth movement with 14-year old star Hou Yifan on board #1 followed by Zhao Xue (23) and Shen Yang (19). Missing from the team is Xu Yuhua, Ruan Lufei and Huang Qian. These three players were key to China’s success at the World Minds Sports Games. Ju Wenjun (17) and Tan Zhongyi (17) are new faces on the Chinese side.

  4. I believe the Chinese women was hurt by picking two inexperienced players at the bottom and then playing Hou Yifan and Zhao Xue so often. This was risky and perhaps they simply tired out losing in crucial matches. The Chinese men simply came up short in the last round against a highly-motivated Armenian team.

    Azerbaijan slipped again. I found out that there were chemistry problems in 2006 and perhaps in this tournament. I was not aware until I got to Dresden and Ian Wilkinson told. I would not have picked them for the silver or even top ten had I known about the dispute over board #1 in 2006.

  5. Drum Predictions (projected vs. actual)

    Men

    1. China (7th) – Lost in the last round to champion Armenia. There is nothing more they could have done, but to win the last round. Wang Yue did his job by holding board #1. He got +3 and a 2773 performance. China just didn’t win in the clutch. Wang Hao didn’t play last three rounds and may have fallen ill.

    2. Azerbaijan (6th) – Lost to champion Armenia and was upset by Serbia. The latter loss really hurt their medal chances. There were no real lapses other than Mamedyarov two consecutive losses.

    3. Russia (5th) – High expectations were not met. This shows that one cannot merely assemble talented players and win a team championship. This team was not cohesive and really suffered in the second half. Two straight non-medal Olympiads mean that Russia has to rethink their system for team events. Nothing more to say.

    4. Ukraine (4th) – The last-round collapse against the USA was a crushing blow. This team had good balance and good match strategy. Ukraine had lost four games, but won each match. They then lost three games in one match… a total collapse.

    5. Bulgaria (14th) – Never really got any momentum going.They lost in round #1 to Nicaragua! Topalov was in good form, but he collapsed against Spain’s Shirov. Kiril Georgiev turned out to be a liability and lost to two IMs.

    6. Armenia (1st) – Chemistry, chemistry, chemistry. They had it again and had a lot of motivation to win the gold… Karen Asrian’s death, President’s visit to Dresden, defending champions. Vladimir Akopian and Gabriel Sargissian had 2800+ performances and both won board prizes. Sargissian continues to own the Olympiad.

    7. USA (3rd) – Good result. A bit surprising was the solid play of Yury Shulman. After an initial loss and some spotty play, he rounded into form and scored the clinching victory against the Ukraine. Akobian helped team chemistry and has been an important part of both bronze medal teams.

    8. Israel (2nd) – What can you say? Boris Gelfand had the best tournament in recent times. The key to this team may have been the youthful exuberance of Maxim Rodshtein. This seems to be the formula for winning team tournaments, combination of youth and experience.

    9. India (16th) – India was not expected to medal in this tournament, but a stretch of three bad rounds (7-9) showed that the team lacked the killer instinct needed to get points and stop a slide. Anand would have put them in serious contention by being a “stop-gap.” India was the only top team without their big board #1.

    10. France (22nd) – Faltered after an inspired start. They were on board #1 in round #8, but got crushed by Armenia 3½-½. They then lost to China and a last round lost to Azerbaijan capped off a disappointing finish.

    Women

    1. Ukraine (2nd) – Played good enough to win. They did not face Georgia head-to-head, but was slowed by some unfortunate occurances. An apparent forfeit match win turned into a 3-1 win when the Mongolian team was allowed to play despite a protest. The draw with Serbia was not fatal except that Georgia had so much momentum in the end. There was not much they could’ve improved on. Silver medal is a good result.

    2. Russia (4th) – Never recovered from the 3-1 thrashing from the USA. Alexandra Kosteniuk did not appear focused and had trouble winning games at the top. Again… Russia is struggling. Kosteniuk and the Kosinteva sisters are still young, but they are not matching China, India, Vietnam and Poland in building talent.

    3. China (8th) – Hou Yifan and Zhao Xue played every round. This is risky since stamina is important in such a tournament. China went winless in their last five matches as game losses piled up in the second half. They missed the experience of Xu Yuhua, but even Ruan Lufei and/or Huang Qian would have helped helped to take pressure off the top two boards.

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