Reflections on Tromso Olympiad

Every two years, FIDE hosts the Olympiad with a chief organizing body. It is like no other tournament, so generally no expense is spared to make it successful. Most everyone was anticipating the Tromso Olympiad in the idyllic and quaint city. Besides it is the home country of World Champion Magnus Carlsen, so it was obvious that the tournament would receive worldwide attention.

When planning for the Olympiad, I registered for my journalist credentials on chess24.com, a relatively new project. Months ago Macauley Peterson sent me an e-mail introducing the site and it appeared to have great potential. One of things I can say is that chess24.com coverage of Olympiad was superb. The website was well-done easy to navigate and apart from the few broadcast glitches the productions were professional. I actually got to see Macauley in the production room and it is a clear contrast from what we see online.

I had just finished playing in the U.S. Open in Orlando when I made it back to Tallahassee and began immediately preparing for Tromso. I would have to drive two hours to Jacksonville to get my plane to Newark, New Jersey… then from Newark to Oslo, Norway and then on to Tromso. I actually missed my initial flight by a few minutes and had no option but to stay another night in Jacksonville since the 6:55pm flight was the last. This gave me a chance to catch up on coverage, an extremely difficult task.

On the next day, I was able to get my flight to Norway without any issues. I watched “Divergent” on the plane and read a few more pages of “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell. The movie “Divergent” was a good… diversion on the seven-hour plane ride from Newark to Oslo. On the layover, I tried to catch up with my reports on Olympiad. I had to pay to get on an Internet service called “homerun”.

When I finally got to Tromso, I collected my bags and prepared to get a taxi, but there was someone holding a sign “Chess Olympiad”. They instructed me to get on the Olympiad van which then took me to the Radisson Blu. On the way, I took a few photos and was amused at a restaurant called, “Burger Man”. The mountains were certainly the most obvious characteristic.




Finally made it… Norway! 🙂
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When I got to the Radisson, there was some initial confusion on my accomodation. Since there were no more rooms available, they had located an apartment for $900.00 for six days. Pricey. However, it turned out well since I was in a spacious apartment in a nicely-renovated basement… actually two apartments in one. The problem was that I had to walk 15-20 minutes to the venue. Twice I had to do so in a steady drizzle. I thought this was fun except I was wearing a suit on one of the rainy days.

Once I got settled, the first event for me was the “Polar Bear” festival hosted by the Garry Kasparov ticket. I received an e-mail invitation from Ian Wilkinson that I was on the VIP list. I didn’t know exactly where the venue was, so I stopped at a hotel to ask around. There I saw Barthelemy Bongo of Gabon passing out literature about his case against FIDE. We chatted before I made my way to venue, but he was busy making his case with other federations. He pointed out a gentleman from the Sudan who was going.

When I got to the festival venue, I recognized many faces… players from a variety of nations and a few journalists. Peter Doggers of chess.com said hello as well as players and delegates from a variety of federations. There was a magic show being performed where the magician did a Houdini-like escape at the end, but then Ian (who had performed earlier) came onstage with a viking helmet and entertained the crowd. For a man to be such a high-powered lawyer, he certainly knows how to have fun.




Kasparov “Polar Bear Festival”
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After the event I walked home and got my first experience of the “midnight sun”. At 11:00pm, it appeared to be daylight and I took a photo. Then it began to get dark. After three hours of working on reports, the sun started peeking out again. I texted a picture to my sister both at 11:00pm and one at 2:00am. Of course, it is a hard concept to grasp.

My apartment was great (fully furnished), but the bedroom was slightly cooler, so I used my black windbreaker to cover my head from the daylight and for warmth. In the morning I indulged on the snacks I brought. Hikaru Nakamura had already warned me about the prices for food, so I stocked up on dried fruit, nutritional bars, almonds, seeds. I also brought my NutriBullet portable blender, but just like in Ghana, the converter couldn’t handle the voltage. I stopped a second after I saw sparks flying. 🙁

My morning route to the Olympiad Village… 15-20 minute walk.

It was a pleasant walk as I caught a glimpse of the mountainous landscape at a distance. My first Olympiad activity was the African Continent Congress at the Radisson Blu. I took photos and got an idea of the discussion. There was a discussion of proxy votes on the floor. There was a coffee break, so I decided to head to the venue for the 8th round of play. I saw Ian Wilkinson and stopped to chat. He invited me to stop at the Kasparov hotel to have lunch. Kasparov was in an animated discussion with a few people and Ian was summoned to a meeting so I ended up having lunch with Ian’s ebullient wife, Shawn.




Norway sites… African Continental Congress… trek to Olympiad venue
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Ian finished his meeting and took the scenic route to the venue. I finally settled into the press area. Little did I know that the African meeting would later descent into chaos. This would become important later on. As I surveyed the playing area, I noticed that is was “irregularly-shaped” with players in different sections. Thus, I took my first set of photos in haphazard fashion.

Occasionally, I’d run into a familiar face. I did get many good shots including photo of Kurt Meier of the Seychelles died of a heart attack in the final round. It was good catching up with many of the journalists including Cathy Rogers. I would later find out that players were no longer welcome in the press room to avert cheating attempts.



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Round #8 in action!
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The next day was the long General Assembly meeting. I had to stop by the Radisson Blu to find out the location and hopefully get a shuttle. Fortunately, the delegate from Aruba flagged me down and asked if I was going to the General Assembly! I was on my way. The assembly took place in a cavernous auditorium as the federations were seated by zone. The translators were busy at work. I saw Githinji Hinga (Kenya) and Vianney Lugguya (Uganda) talking in the back.

Throughout the day there was a recurring theme around delegates and proxy votes, but the Gabon case was prominent in the discussion. I conducted several interviews including one with Dr. Jean-Claude Essoh who got into a shouting match with Georgios Makropolous over a point raised about attention to Africa. This represented a bad omen and there was more to come. Several FIDE officials had heated exchanges with African delegates… something I did not see with any other delegates.

Dr. Jean-Claude Essoh of Cote d’Ivoire was a thorn in the side of FIDE officials as he repeatedly brought up uncomfortable points on Gabon and on FIDE’s record in Africa. He was also heard in a shouting match with Georgios Makropolous during a coffee break of the FIDE Congress. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

With one day of shooting photos under my belt I was able to get most of the top players and matches. I was also in time to see Nakamura’s 1.b3 against Fernando Peralta of Argentina… and win! As you span the room full of chess players, there are so many stories. There are the world-class players, but there are the local heroes defending their nation’s honor. The dotting of the hall with national colors, head adornments and uniforms is one that makes the Olympiad a unique experience. These expressions show national pride, but also an essence of unity in effort. It’s wonderful to see.

The Palestinian women drew a lot of admiration for their traditional outfits, national pride and words of peace. There were three sisters playing on the women’s team. They gave numerous interviews including one for The Chess Drum. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

Meeting others who are so passionate about chess gives one joy in knowing that they are part of a larger community. I remember meeting Sheryas Smith of Jamaica on the street. He was practically overwhelmed by the experience! For most, they will never attend an Olympiad, but for the chosen few it is one of indelible memories, lifetime friendships and associations. It is unfortunate when chess is boiled down to political associations and proceeds to drive a wedge between countries and even within federations. That much was evident in the African Assembly and the bidding for the 2018 Olympiad.



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Delegation from Jamaica.

“GENS UNA SUMUS”
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I had an opportunity to make many new acquaintances and renew old ones. I was pleased to have interviewed a number of delegates and players and to understand their passion for chess. I also saw the tremendous effort being made by the Norway Olympiad Committee (NOC). There was highs (China and India) and lows (two deaths at the end of the tournaments). Of course there were glitches and logistical challenges, but the effort expended was appreciated in most cases. Certainly there will be improvements made in Baku, Azerbaijan and there will be no election (thank goodness). Below I leave with you memories from the Tromso Olympiad. Enjoy!

Best Memories of the Olympiad were…

  • …witnessing the “midnight sun”… daylight at 2:00am. I sent a photo to my sister. Here is Tromso at 2:00am!
  • …meeting and chatting briefly with Aisha Al-Khelaifi of Qatar… an absolute sweetheart!
  • …my short conversation with GM Nguyen Ngoc Truongson of Vietnam while leaving Tromso. I talked about my trip there and he was telling me about chess in Vietnam and the fact that he is focusing solely on chess. Very pleasant young man.
  • …having an interview with Aseel Faheeq of Palestine. It’s hard for me to get an idea of what she may have experienced in her 17 years. She was so strong and resolute.

Palestine made quite a strong statement in this Olympiad in appearance and in their words. Yara Faqih, Rahaf Jehad Mohamed with Aseel Faheeq pictured on the right. One Palestinian teammate Anwar Al-Bzoor (not pictured) scored 8.5/9 on board five. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

  • …the outfits of Afrika Msimang of South Africa.
  • riding the public bus in Tromso.
  • stable Internet access in my apartment.
  • spending time with Ian Wilkinson and experiencing his exuberance for chess… quite contagious.
  • …the sing-along of Bob Marley songs on the bus leaving the Closing Ceremonies. Classic!
  • …an innocent moment of sharing The Chess Drum site with players from Malawi.
  • … interview with Sonja Johnson of Trinidad & Tobago.9:41 minutes
  • …walking in the steady drizzle of rain on two occassions. Makes Norway more memorable. 🙂
  • …seeing the head coverings of the various Muslim women teams… something regal and gallant about the tradition.
  • …watching the visually-impaired player from Puerto Rico, Natasha Morales Santos.

Natasha Morales Santos (Puerto Rico)
Photo by David Llada.

  • …witnessing Jean-Claude Essoh’s on adamant stance in the FIDE General Assembly. Whether one agrees with his style or not, it helped to show that African cannot be taken for granted. 3:40 minutes

  • …the chess adornments throughout the city of Tromso.
  • …as a professor, being able to visit UIT.
  • …the passion and professional of the African federations. Thirty-four nations present!
  • …brief chats with Cathy Rogers in the press room.

  • …the endless snacks and drinks in the press room. Given the prices for food in Norway, this was a nice convenience.
  • Yubin Kim (10) of South Korea and her smile! Enchanting!

    Yubin Kim (South Korea)
    Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

  • Afrika Msimang, her colorful African outfits and her strong convictions about children’s chess.

    Afrika Msimang (South Africa)
    Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

  • …the outfit and the wreath of flowers on the head of Iva Videnova of Bulgaria. If you Google her, you will find she has a history of wearing flowers in her hair. Nice!

    Iva Videnova (Bulgaria)
    Photo by David Llada.

  • …being able to have a lengthy chat with Regina Riberio of Brazil. I considered her a legend being an eight-time Brazilian champion, but she said this was her first interview! 11:40 minutes

  • …meeting Beatriz Marinello… wonderful person!
  • …being happy for GM Ahmed Adly for winning a team medal after missing the World Cup. He has three more months of military service.
  • …getting a scarf from Ethiopian delegate Ghidey Debessu.

  • …the group photo of several African officials.

Officials from Burundi (2), Rwanda, Ethiopia, Algeria,
Malawi, Sudan, Zimbabwe and Namibia.
Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

  • …several members of the Burundi team disappearing.
  • …giving t-shirts as gifts to Kenyan delegation 🙂
  • …the emotional celebration of the Chinese men after winning the gold and the emotion at the closing ceremony.
  • …being able to meet IM Rodwell Makoto of Zimbabwe.
  • …the fresh air of Tromso, Norway.
  • …having dinner with chess24.com Macauley Peterson at Radisson Blu.
  • …meeting Kenyan journalist Jacinta Odongo.
  • …my interview with GM Adibhan Baskiran of India. 4:51 minutes
  • …meeting GM Sam Shankland in the airport and getting a photo of him with his medal.
  • Enjoying a delightful conversation with GM Daniel King at the Oslo Airport.
  • …the “kalpak” hats of the Kyrgyzstan team.

Kyrgyzstan winning a category prize evoked a cheer!
Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

Worst Memories of the Olympiad were…

  • …Tromso Airport upon departure. CRAZY!!!
  • … paying US$4.00-5.00 for snack bar. Fortunately, there was a “3 for 2” sale.
  • …the mistreatment of African federations repeatedly.
  • Israel Gelfer’s comments about Africans being “lazy” and unable to hold a meeting.

Githinji Hinga of Kenya expressing himself after Israel Gelfer called African federations “lazy” because of the rift created in the African Assembly. Here’s part of the exchange.6:22 minutes

  • Nigel Freeman’s contention that Georgia was the superior Olympiad site before the body voted between South Africa and Georgia. The FIDE bias was very obvious and it turned into a partisan issue.

  • …leaving my glasses behind at UIT and having to spend 310NOK (US$50.00) on a taxi only not to find them. I found them the next day.

  • …the expression on Jacinta Odongo’s face when she told me about Kurt Meier’s (Seychelles) demise.
  • GM Eltaj Safarli of Azerbaijan accusing me of jumping ahead of the line at the Tromso Airport and being disrespectful in the presence of Azeri players and Alexander Khalifman. We had all struggled with the chaotic process and had been in line for an hour trying to check luggage. He said, “I don’t care. You go after all of us.” I asked if he was Azeri and he asked me where I was from. When I told him the country, his demeanor changed.

  • …lack of food choices in the evening. I got a spiced raisin bun one night and some expensive gourmet chips.
  • …being far away from the players’ hotels. Ghanaian players telling me they have to take 250NOK taxi ride to get to their residence.

  • …my NutriBullet blender almost blowing up.
  • …World Champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway leaving Tromso early to return home. This caught many by surprise and the social networks blew up. He had lost two games, but there was apparently a contractual agreement obligating him to play a specific number of matches. Still a shock.

It’s all over! 🙁

14 Comments

  1. Interesting and nice report. But I am wondering:

    “…there was apparently a contractual agreement obligating him to play a specific number of matches.”

    What makes you say that? That’s incorrect. Magnus played 9 games (no other played more) and was ready to play the last round as well in order to help Norway reach their goal of top 10. However, as Norway lost disastrously 3,5-0,5 to Croatia, all hopes of a top 10 placement were destroyed. When in the last round they were paired against lowly ranked Malaysia with a 2300 on board 1, it become rather clear that it was no point in having Carlsen play the last round. Norway won the match 4-0.

    1. The word in the press room was that he had an agreement to play a minimum number of games (because of the Norwegian telecasts) and since he had already reached that amount, he could decide to opt out and skip the last round if he chose. What you stated is logical, but there were reports with so many views… his form… Norway’s standing… his agreement.

  2. But there was no such agreement. The exact amount of games he was supposed to play was not decided beforehand. The reason he played so many games was because Norway was still in the run for a top 10 placement, faced tough opposition all the way and it was necessary for him to play if Norway was to accomplish that.

  3. Pingback: Daily Chess News Links August 23, 2014 | blog.chesscafe.com
  4. Hello Daaim and thanks a million for your summary. I felt like I was there!! I wish chess had more journalistis exposure in main stream US media.

  5. The best report on the Olympiad.

    If only Ian Wilkinson had run for president rather than GK. I bet he would have won!

    1. I asked the Zimbabwean delegate that question and did not get a straight answer. I heard that he had a small family, but that was not the reason I was given. It is a mystery that as the star of the Bled Olympiad going 9/9 he never recovered his form to put “GM” in front of his name. I think he even has two norms.

    1. There are different interpretations on Islamic dress. The Palestinian girls are wearing a cultural outfit and not a religious one. I have seen many variations in my travels and in religious circles, but most will agree that the general idea in Islam is modesty. You will see different styles here.

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