Reflections on Istanbul Olympiad

I have always wanted to visit Turkey. It is one of those places that one reads about in school. The Ottoman Empire and the vision of Kemal Attaturk are those I had known about, but to see the famous Blue Mosque was something I had to witness. The 40th Chess Olympiad was held in the history city of Istanbul, Turkey and two years ago I pledged that I would get my chance.

The famous Blue Mosque… would I get my chance to visit?
Photo by Wikipedia Commons.

I started my long journey from Tallahassee, Florida (USA) driving three hours to Jacksonville Airport. Then a 90-minute flight to Detroit with a four-hour layover until my Air France flight to Paris was scheduled at 21:50hrs. The flight was uneventful. I watched “Prometheus” once again as well as did stretches and trying to get some rest.

I have my own candy in France although they mispelled my name! 😉
I’ve seen this candy in the Europe, Caribbean, Africa and the Middle East.

We disembarked on time at 11:30 am, but by the time I got to the gate, the flight was closed and I had to get the next flight at around 18:55hrs. Yikes… another six hours in the airport. I wandered around drinking overpriced beverages, eating some dark chocolate purchased in Detroit, and passing time on the airport’s Internet… five euros for one hour!

After I made the five-hour Paris-Istanbul flight, I landed in Istanbul at 23:30hrs. I got my luggage and took a taxi to the Otel Kocasinin. In exiting, I noticed trash strewn about in the street. I had a sinking feeling that I was in a bad area. Trying to check in with hoteliers who spoke no intermediary languages was difficult. The next day, we started using Google Translate!

After checking into the surprisingly immaculate room I discovered that the Internet was very reliable!! I soon posted a message on Facebook so if anything strange happened, they would know. It turns out that my credit card did not work and after some drama, I had to get some cash to pay for the first three nights.

My humble abode for about eight nights, but I woke up to squealing mini-buses!
Turkish coffee was a nice touch! 🙂
CLICK to see larger images.

My hotel was in a rather noisy area, but by morning the streets were clean and the Turkish morning was buzzing. I would find out that the trash was from the vendors who line the bustling streets at night. In the morning, the minibuses made a loud squealing noise. I left the hotel around 11:00hrs on my first day out and learned to take the metro two stops to the CNR Expo Center at the Fuar Merkezi stop. It was three lira (US$1.60) Fortunately, I saw one of the Olympiad volunteers on the train and he showed me how to get to the playing venue.

I walked across the complex and found Hall 10. As I walked toward the hall, I saw banners for the Olympiad, but it was the under-16 Olympiad being held concurrently. However, I knew I was in the right place. I got to the registration, and they got my information and pulled my badge. On it had a 100 euros note. I had asked what this fee was for, but never got an answer. I went to the ATM and got the money I needed and I was off to the press room. On the way, I stopped to get a few shots of the venue.

View of Turkish commerce on my way to the metro… three liras gets you on the platform.
After two stops and a 10-minute walk, I’m here!!
CLICK to see larger images.

While walking toward the press room, I could see various players donning their national colors. To the left was the bookstore which doubled as an analysis and socialization area. I got to the press room and marked my territory. It was after 12:30hrs and was quite early since the round started at 15:00hrs. After I got settled, I was feverishly attempting to catch up on reports. I planned to travel on the rest day, so I would not be too far behind.

Several joined me in the press room such as Sam Sloan and later GM Jonathan Speelman who was coaching the Australian under-16 team. I had a chance to tell him how much his Encyclopedia of Chess Endings helped me. We shared nice chats throughout and often debated on the Olympiad proceedings. I had even warned him about the Philippines-England showdown. Soon it was time for the start and I entered the security station and would for the first time go through the ritual. There is a big concern about cell phones now and they were banned completely.

My first view of the playing venue. You can see Hou Yifan and if you look hard enough you can spot WGM Oleiny Linares-Napoles of Cuba. Mauritius and Uganda pose for a pre-game shot. Finally a stunning shot by Arman Karakhayan of the Angola team members.

One of the most difficult tasks at an Olympiad is one’s strategy on which boards to shoot. I shot the top boards each round but tried to get most of the African and Caribbean nations as well. I basically swept through the hall in ten minutes. I tried to take pictures that told a story… there are many stories in the hall that will never see the light of day. Unfortunately, most journalists only focus on the top boards.

Jamaicans tried to bring the “Lightening Bolt” to Istanbul.

So… I made sure I got all the nice uniforms, interesting hats, scarves, or nationalistic motifs. I caught players in joyful expressions and pensive poses. Of course, it was more interesting photographing the women since they are more relaxed and a bit more animated. Chess is such an activity and evokes various expressions.

There were excellent photos taken by David Llada and Arman Karakhayan. I also captured some interesting shots throughout the complex. It is amazing to find such diversity amongst thousands of people who travel around the world and spend countless hours on this activity called chess. Phiona Mutesi story from the 2010 Olympiad was most compelling. Whose story would make the headlines this year?

Zimbabwe vs. Uruguay with Robert Gwaze seeing his first action since his golden 9/9 performance at the 2002 Olympiad in Bled, Slovenia. While I may have ruined many shots, this shot of Wesley So was one of my better ones. He was attentive enough to pose for this shot before taking on Bulgaria’s Veselin Topalov. The Filipinos did exceedingly well and have a bright future. Hikaru Nakamura and one of his signature expressions… in action against Germany.

I also met some very dedicated journalists and chess organizers. There were a variety of personalities in the press room including Albert Vasse of DGT technologies, Mike Klein of USCF, Peter Doggers of Chessvibes and a wide range of international press including a dedicated group from Armenia. The Germany-based Macauley Peterson came for the last round finale. Also filing reports were the tireless efforts of Allan Herbert of Barbados and Ian Wilkinson of Jamaica. Herbert quipped that he was having problems staying positive since the Bajans were not faring well.

I actually got a chance to chat with Albert Vasse about his latest products and the competition which includes on Monroi’s system. We also talked about the political shambles around the world. Enlightening. All of the journalists paid the 100 euro fee, but the press room was strewn with cables that went into the network routers on the tables. I called it “spaghetti” and it was no doubt much more hazardous than the noodles. I saw people nearly tripping themselves.

Hilda Vukikomoala and Gloria Sukhu of Fiji.

I met Hemang Pandit, an enterprising young man who has created a chess portal in India called There was also Sam Sloan who had many colorful stories to tell (to those within earshot) about his publishing company and many other topics. 🙂 Al Lawrence who is the new Director at Texas Tech University was there and discussed his appointment a bit. So… the Olympiad is an event where most of the biggest chess personalities are assembled in one location for a fortnight.

Even the less-heralded nations bring pride in countries where they are national heroes. Examples are players such as Duane Rowe and FM Warren Elliott (Jamaica), IM Farai Mandizha (Zimbabwe) and organizers Tshenolo Marautona (Botswana) and Kebadu Belachew (Ethiopia). I interviewed about a dozen, but my chat with Hilda Vukikomoala and Kieran Lyons of Fiji was enchanting because we rarely hear about the small island in the Pacific. I also got a chance to interview GMs Levon Aronian, Nigel Short (England), Abhijeet Gupta (India) and Ray Robson (USA).

The highlight of Olympiad events may be the excitement building up in the rounds and the greeting of the players who were filled with optimism each game. There was always the buzzing in the lobby as new friendships were being made and delightful photos taken.

Nice shot of the Namibian team.
Photo by David Llada.

(From L-R): Women in action… Suriname’s Rosangela Dos Ramos and Tesora OoftDaaim Shabazz and Tshenolo Marautona, Vice President of Botswana Chess Federation; Ana Malenda of Mozambique giving everyone a bit of laughter… battle of champions (Hou Yifan vs. Antoaneta Stefanova)…Ethiopia signing a Chess-in-Schools contract with FIDE… the Maldives!… they were passing out their flags which I now have in my office… Armenia celebrates… Ian Wilkinson giving GM Levon Aronian a Usain Bolt t-shirt.

NIGERIA wins Category E!

Each day I arrived there was something new and as the day wound down, I could see the gleam in the eyes of journalists clicking away at the keyboard. I was often the last to leave as the cleaners were already doing their duty near after 10:00 pm.

By the way… I did get my chance!! 😀
All photos by Daaim Shabazz unless otherwise listed.

On the final evening, I saw the workers dismantle the setup for the Olympiad. It is amazing how a place can be transformed into a village and then the day after, there is no sign of it… only memories. Here are mine listed below. Enjoy!

Best Memories of the Olympiad were…

  • …the activity at the chess boards by the bookstore… great idea;
  • seeing GM Pontus Carlsson of Sweden and having a long chat;
  • Daaim Shabazz & GM Pontus Carlsson (Sweden)

  • meeting several of the African officials and players who seemed happy to meet me… particularly Vianny Luggya and Harold Wanyama of Uganda;
  • breakfast at my hotel which was basically choppeed cucumbers, tomatoes, black and green olives, bread and honey, tea or coffee (I abstained from the boiled eggs and cheese);
  • walking about the area of the Otel Kocasinin in the evening;
  • chatting with GM Jonathan Speelman;
  • meeting Hemang Pandit of;
  • seeing the Jamaican players each round and full of hope;
  • interviewing GM Levon Aronian for the third time… I have done so each year they have won the gold medal;
  • the watermelon I bought from a vendor by the hotel;
  • seeing IM Oladapo Adu and getting warm reception from Nigerian players and officials;
  • finally meeting Patrick Li-Ying from Mauritius after missing each other for three Olympiad in which we were both present;
  • interview with Fijian players Hilda Vukikomoala and Kieran Lyons (who is from Australia, but plays for Fiji);
  • seeing the passion of the journalists including the Armenia press corps;
  • seeing the Muslim women in their beautiful scarves (hijabs);

    Noura Mohamed (UAE)
    Photo by Arman Karakhayan.

  • meeting players of the Ghanaian team and and taking a team photo of them;
  • blitz tournament for journalists;
  • stable Internet access in Otel Kocasinin;
  • relative friendliness of Turkish people;
  • sweets at the Turkish bazaar;
  • the good nature of Levon Aronian before rounds to keep everyone relaxed;
  • strong performance of the Philippines;
  • seeing IM Daniel Jere of Zambia wearing The Chess Drum t-shirt;
  • seeing Nsisong Asanga of Nigeria who ran toward me and hugged me upon spotting me;
  • beautiful weather in Istanbul;
  • meeting Chessdom’s Anton Mihailov;
  • meeting the Haitian delegate;

  • Jean Lamothe, President of Haitian Chess Federation.
    Photo from

  • seeing Sunil Weeramantry of Sri Lanka;
  • Cathy Rogers response when Sam Sloan claimed to have discovered Arianne Caoli at a U.S. tournament;
  • introducing Ethiopia’s Kebadu Belchew to Carlsson… he didn’t know about the Swedish GM;
  • touring with the Ethiopians for a day… they are quiet and reserved, but very nice;
  • seeing Ethiopia and Malawi sign the Chess-in-Schools agreement at the General Assembly;
  • listening to the cacophony of languages in the press room;
  • being able to communicate with Turkish hotel manager without a common language;
  • the Turkish hotel lady who told me she was tired from cleaning 17 rooms in the hotel… none of this was in English, but I got the point;
  • seeing Indian women come in 4th despite the absence of Humpy Koneru;
  • the performance of the African continent with many upset wins;

Worst Memories of the Olympiad were…

  • the morning noise outside my hotel window;
  • no air conditioning in hotel;
  • catching a cold on my Detroit-Paris flight from my neighbor;
  • not getting a chance to go inside the Blue Mosque;
  • my laptop keyboard becoming dysfunctional on the first day;
  • understanding the Turkish Lira;
  • stares on the streets… I suppose not many Black people in Turkey although there were Francophone Africans in my neighborhood selling jewelry;
  • African seats in the back of the General Assembly;
  • lack of food choices;
  • being far away from the players’ hotels;
  • the horrible crowd at the shopping bazaar… quite dangerous;
  • not meeting Sabrina Chevannes of England only to chat on Facebook later;
  • relatively mediocre performance by Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad;
  • Hikaru Nakamura’s tweet that was taken the wrong way. Fortunately, it did not affect the team and they won in the last round over Poland;
  • leaving the press room at 10:00pm and not being able to find anything substantive to eat… fortunately I brought plenty of snacks;
  • seeing an empty press room after the last round… the finality of the event;
  • very reserved crowd during the music performances at the closing ceremonies.
  • the Chess Olympiads & Istanbul book which was plagiarized 90% from Wojciech Bartelski’s and sold for 28 euros. When I contacted him, he told me he did not grant permission for use of his material!

It’s all over! 🙁


  1. Never mind, I’ll just copy and paste the address bar. Daaim, consider a fb and other sites share button at the end of articles.

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