2018 Chess Olympiad (Batumi, Georgia)

Chess players, fans and friends!

The 43rd Chess Olympiad will open tomorrow with the opening ceremonies. There has been a lot of fanfare about the entertainment for the opening. Approximately 180 countries will be traveling to Batumi, Georgia to take part in the competition and the proceedings.

There are some very intriguing developments with the highlight being the 89th FIDE Congress and the election of FIDE President. Given the intensity of the campaign leading up to the election, it will prove to be a very contentious battle since the winner will usher in new leadership to carry chess forward. This means a lot given the publicity nightmare the FIDE brand has suffered in the past which included the embarrassing decertification of FIDE bank accounts.

It would be presumptuous to say that chess is secondary in the most important event in the sport, but given what the community faces in the coming years, the ability to develop for FIDE for forge a path may dictate what course is taken. Hopefully the political battles will translate into a better future for chess.

The Olympiad is a must-see for every chess player because it embodies the spirit of chess. Too often, we only focus on the top 10 players and cover the top 10 countries. In fact, each team traveling thousands of miles to partake in the festival have just as much passion and there are stories that have yet to be told. It is symbolic that Georgia is hosting the event given its rich history in chess. Media reports have shown that the city of Batumi has moved into high gear in creating a wonderful event.

The Chess Drum has covered five Olympiads, and will be onsite for the first half of the event. We will cover the news of the day and hopefully conduct a series of interviews from a variety of players. Please “like” The Chess Drum on Facebook and “follow” on Twitter to get the latest updates.

Enjoy the festivities. GENS UNA SUMUS!

~ Dr. Daaim Shabazz, The Chess Drum


  1. African Diaspora heading to Batumi!!

  2. Preview & Predictions for the 2018 Chess Olympiad

    (Daaim Shabazz)

    In a few days, the 43rd Chess Olympiad will open in the seaside city of Batumi in the Republic of Georgia. It is projected that approximately 180 nations with convene at the biennial event which will feature battles for team and individual medals as well as the election for FIDE President. The festivities will run from September 23rd – October 7th and culminating with the Closing Ceremonies and announcement of new leadership. It should be an exciting event.

    Nations large and small will dot the playing hall with a spectrum of colors as they will compete for medals, but more importantly to hold the banner of their nation and represent with honor. One of the most beautiful features of an Olympiad is the camaraderie and lifelong friendship built. The cultural exchange is awe-inspiring as Batumi will soon become the shining star of the chess world.

    The Olympiad Opening Ceremony will officially open the event tomorrow Sunday, September 23rd at 21:00 local time, with games starting Monday at 3:00pm Batumi with the following times in other regions: New York 7:00am, London 12:00pm, Mumbai 2:30pm, Beijing 7:00pm, Sydney 9:00pm.

    Official Site: https://batumi2018.fide.com/en

    With the Americans returning to defend their crown and the Armenians will be ready after skipping the last Olympiad held in Baku, Azerbaijan. India will see a resurgence with Viswanthan Anand returning to action (since 2006) to lead a nation of 56 GMs and a handsome collection of talent. They hope to vie for a medal as they did in 2014 when the took bronze.

    Azerbaijan will be gunning for a medal after winning the European Team Championship last year and after a disappointing 12th place as the host country in 2016. Speaking of additions, Georgia has added Ivan Cheparinov from a FIDE-sanctioned Bulgaria. The host country will be immeasurably stronger with a great theoretician in their camp.

    So where does that leave us in terms of predictions? This is always a fun exercise, but in recent years, the task is not so easy. The leveling of the field and the diversity of players in the top 100 means there are a lot of winning combinations. The usual suspects are there, but will we see a new power emerge? Iran looks poised to make a leap with the new World Junior Champion lead a youth movement. Parham Maghsoodloo has just turned 18 last month and will lead Iran to battle.

    Parham Maghsoodloo of Iran
    Photo by Amruta Mokal

    On the women’s side, there are some additions such as Humpy Koneru which will strengthen India’s solid side, but will be hard to match both Russia and host Georgia. While India gains their top board, China (defending champion) will lose theirs.

    Hou Yifan will not make it to Batumi since she has already begun her graduate studies in England and seems to be withdrawing a bit from professional chess. However, they still have a World Champion on top board in Ju Wenjun. Russia looks strong with the improvement of Aleksandra Goryachkina who is now over 2500. The Ukraine will bring their usual sister tandem of Anna and Mariya Muzychuk to vie for medal contention.

    France will get a boost from the return of GM Marie Sebag and IM Almira Skripchenko, a professional poker player. Strangely enough, the U.S. will not have the service of two-time reigning champion Nazi Paikidze who is a native Georgian. She will be at an event in Florida. It would lead one to believe that there are some complications with her home country. Nevertheless, the Americans will have GM Irina Krush and IM Anna Zatonskih along with the young Jennifer Yu playing in her first Olympiad.

    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 will be preparing for the World Championship in December, but watching the games carefully for ideas. Here are the list of active heavyweights who will not be traveling with their national teams.


    GM Magnus Carlsen (Norway)
    GM Alexander Grischuk (Russia)
    GM Peter Svidler (Russia)
    GM Leinier Dominguez (Cuba)
    GM Wang Yue (China)
    GM Lazaro Bruzon (Cuba)
    GM Alexei Shirov (Latvia)
    GM Nigel Short (England)
    GM Jon Ludvig Hammer (Norway)
    GM Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria)
    GM Alexander Ipatov (Turkey)
    GM Richard Rapport (Hungary)
    GM Paco Vallejo (Spain)
    GM Julio Granda-Zuniga (Peru)
    GM Eugenio Torre (Philippines)

    Bulgaria’s suspension renders them ineligible, but the individual absences will certainly hurt teams’ chances for success. Cuba’s roster has been hit the hardest among eligible teams with Dominguez and Bruzon choosing not to suit up for Cuba. In fact, both players are frequently in the U.S. The Chess Drum interviewed Dominguez last year just after he migrated. Nigel Short will not be in the English team due to his participation in the upcoming election for FIDE President.

    Russia will not lose much in their strength, but young players will be looking to make their marks. China will be incredibly tough to beat despite the solid Wang Yue not making the trip. As always, first-round upsets are inevitable so top federations should be especially careful in the first round when underrated teams will be looking to haul ELO points away by the dozens. The wonderful news is the two Latin American teams rounding out the top 20. Here are the top 20 teams and their top player (by rating).

    2018 Chess Olympiad Tournament

    September 23rd-October 7th, 2018 (Batumi, Georgia)

    Team ELO
    Top Player
    1 USA
    2777 GM Fabiano Caruana 2827
    2 Russia
    2764 GM Vladimir Kramnik 2779
    3 China
    2756 GM Ding Liren 2804
    4 Azerbaijan
    2748 GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov 2820
    5 India
    2724 GM Viswanthan Anand 2771
    6 Ukraine
    2698 GM Vassily Ivanchuk 2710
    7 France
    2688 GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 2780
    8 Armenia
    2688 GM Levon Aronian 2780
    9 England
    2688 GM Michael Adams 2712
    10 Israel
    2676 GM Boris Gelfand 2703
    11 Poland
    2673 GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda 2733
    12 Hungary
    2673 GM Peter Leko 2690
    13 Netherlands
    2671 GM Anish Giri 2780
    14 Georgia
    2637 GM Ivan Cheparinov 2715
    15 Czech Republic
    2633 GM David Navara 2740
    16 Germany
    2628 GM Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu 2661
    17 Belarus
    2615 GM Vladislav Kovalev 2664
    18 Croatia
    2609 GM Ivan Saric 2689
    19 Peru
    2602 GM Emilio Cordova 2609
    20 Argentina
    2600 GM Sandro Mareco 2649
    Team Rosters (Open)

    USA – Olympiad Champions returning to defend title

    PREDICTIONS – Open Section

    USA – GOLD

    As the top seed and defending Olympiad champion, it would be difficult not to pick the U.S. as the favorite. This Olympiad will mark the first time the Russian Republic will not hold the top seed. The irony is that the last time they won the event was in Bled in 2002 when World Champion Garry Kasparov led them to gold.

    Fabiano Caruana
    Photo by Anastasia Kharlovich

    With the same seasoned team returning with two more years of experience, a world championship contender in Fabiano Caruana and the emergence of Sam Shankland, anything less than a medal would be a huge disappointment.

    In Shankland’s case, he had a 64-game unbeaten streak and vaulted over 2700 for the first time in his career. Almost at the point of quitting chess in 2010, he had second thought, refocused and now has made it into the top 100. With Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So holding the middle of the lineup, they both have style where they can play for wins if needed.

    This is not the end of the good news for the U.S. They have a cadre of strong players waiting in the wings. Jeffrey Xiong (2651), Samuel Sevian (2634) and Awonder Liang (2575) are all seeing incremental improvements in their games. All are home-schooled and dedicated to the pursuit of chess excellence. Ray Robson, who recently graduated from Webster University, will hold down the reserve board. He knows if he is off-form, Xiong (who has national team experience) would be ready to take his place.

    Video by CCSCSL

    In the video “Path to Gold,” there was mentioned the great team chemistry that existed in Baku. Championship Olympiad teams such as Armenia (2006, 2008, 2012) and the Ukraine (2004, 2010) seem to have that element. The U.S. hopes to keep the winning formula.

    India – SILVER

    This selection may be a longshot, but with Viswanathan Anand on top board and the emergence of Vidit Santosh (now over 2700), India has a very solid lineup. After many years of leading India in the Olympiad, Krishnan Sasikiran is now playing in a reserve role… rated 2671!

    Pentala Harikrishna is on board two giving India their strongest team in history. In 2014, The Chess Drum interviewed Baskaran Adhiban and he mentioned that while he was pleased with the bronze medal, he felt that India has a ways to go. Maybe that time has come. Now with 56 GMs and prodigies such as Nihil Sarin and Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa, the future is bright for India and Anand would be able to retire comfortably with Indian chess in good hands.

    Viswanthan Anand at 2006 Olympiad in Turin, Italy
    Photo by Daaim Shabazz

    Azerbaijan – BRONZE

    Winning the European Team Championship last year was Azerbaijan latest feat in a history of successes. They have won three European golds, a silver and bronze in the past 11 years. However, they have never won Olympic gold, nor have the placed in the top three! The highest was 5th place in 2014 in Tromso.

    With the strength of their team and an absolute killer on top board, Azerbaijan are poised to make the medal stand. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov has become a solid 2800 player. Of course, Teimour Radjabov is a mainstay, but after starting a family, he is no longer sniffing the top ten and his last tournament was Shakmir in April.

    It is a tribute to fallen teammmate, Vugar Gashimov. If there is a chink in the armor of the Azeri team, this would be it. Arkadij Naiditsch joined the Azeri team in 2016 and has made an immediate impact. He is the latest of European players who have joined already-strong federations. Without the pressure of being the host nation, the Azeri team will be focused and look to makes some waves in Batumi.

    PREVIEW – Women Section

    Not much change at the top of the women’s competition. Since 1992, only seven federations have won medals at the Olympiad. Although China will be hard-pressed to defend their gold with the absence of their top player Hou Yifan. Ju Wenjun is more than capable of leading China, but with a strengthened Russia, it will be a tough task. Kateryna Lagno will not be with Russia, but Aleksandra Goryachkina will be expected to produce in a big way.

    The Ukraine and Georgia are always tough and are regular medalists in these games. The question is whether India will get their first Olympiad medal with the return of Humpy Koneru. It’s not clear whether she will have good form after such a period of inactivity. Dronavali Harika was on top board in Baku, but moving to board two reduces pressure and may result in rising star Padmini Rout to score big as a reserve. Rout won a gold medal on the reserve board in Tromso and is the reigning four-time Indian women’s champion.

    There is a lot of parity in the women’s circuit which makes predictions so challenging. It is very easy to stick with the heavy favorites, but teams like Kazakhstan (finished with bronze in 2014) can certainly make things very interesting. Zhansaya Abdumalik made a splash at the 2017 World Open in the U.S. with an impressive 7/9 and GM norm.

    Despite the average team ratings being a bit higher than in Baku, several top players will not compete for their countries this year. The suspension of Bulgaria breaks the consecutive Olympiad streak (13) of former women’s champion Antoaneta Stefanova. Nazi Paikidze, who has nixed past tournaments for sociopolitical reasons, is not going to her native country to represent the U.S. The untimely death of Georgia’s Nino Khurtsidze on April 22nd, 2018 may give Georgia extra motivation.


    GM Hou Yifan (China)
    GM Antoaneta Stefanova (Bulgaria)
    GM Pia Cramling (Sweden)
    IM Nazi Paikidze (USA)
    IM Nino Khurtsidze (Georgia)

    2018 Chess Olympiad Tournament

    September 23rd-October 7th, 2018 (Batumi, Georgia)

    TEAM RANKING (Women)
    Team ELO
    Top Player
    1 Russia
    2523 GM Alexandra Kosteniuk 2559
    2 Ukraine
    2486 GM Anna Muzychuk 2564
    3 China
    2485 GM Ju Wenjun 2566
    4 Georgia
    2484 GM Nana Dzagnidze 2519
    5 India
    2458 GM Humpy Koneru 2557
    6 France
    2418 GM Marie Sebag 2480
    7 Poland
    2406 GM Monika Socko 2454
    8 Kazakhstan
    2403 GM Dinara Saduakassova 2495
    9 Germany
    2397 IM Elisabeth Paehtz 2500
    10 USA
    2382 GM Irina Krush 2429
    Team Rosters (Women)

    Georgia – GOLD

    It is almost spineless to pick the Georgian women to win the gold, but there are a number of reasons they will vie for the gold. One obvious issue is the fact that they don’t have to travel a long distance and deal with jet lag and environmental issues. They will be well-rested and have at their disposal the immense support of the Georgian government and populace.

    The legendary Maia Chiburdanidze (center) was clearly the leader.

    The legendary Maia Chiburdanidze (center) led Georgia to gold in 2008.
    Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

    In fact, Georgian chess’ tradition is intact with the women winning a silver at the 2017 European Women’s Championship behind Russia. They won gold at the 2015 World Team Championship in Chengdu in front of Russia and China. Their last Olympiad gold was in 2008 in Dresden when Maia Chiburdanidze (World Champion (1978-1991) led them to an emotional triumph.

    Nino Batsiashvili got 9/10 in Baku for a silver medal on 4th board. Photo by David LLada

    Nana Dzagnidze has been the top player for years and was a member of the Georgian team that won the gold medal in 2008. While she was not a member of the team that won the 2015 World Team title in Chengdu, she helped the team to silver in the 2017 European Team in Greece.

    For the past eight years, the team appears to be an iteration of the same 5-7 players. Besides Dzagnidze, Bela Khotenashvili, Lela Javakhishvili, Meri Arabidze, Nino Batsiashvili and Salome Melia have been the bedrock for the Georgian side. There seems to be tremendous chemistry which is a key factor in medal contention.

    Arabidze is returning to replace Melia who was not in form at the Baku Olympiad. The team lost a devastating match to the Philippines in round three. With the matriarch of all Georgian chess, Nona Gaprindashvili (World Champion 1962-1978) and Chiburdanidze will be on hand to provide support.

    Ukraine – SILVER

    The Ukraine is always in the thick of things when it comes to medals in team competitions. Despite losing Kateryna Lagno to Russia, the Ukraine continues to hold themselves to a high standard. Losing only to eventual champion China, they scored the bronze medal in Baku.

    Last year, they bagged another bronze in the European Team Championship in Hersonissos, Greece. Unfortunately, they lost to both Russia (gold) and Georgia (silver). They failed to place at the 2017 World Team in Khanty-Mansiysk, but their chemistry from top to bottom will certainly help.

    Mariya and sister Anna after advancing to the final.

    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. Since then they have won bronze medals in Istanbul (2012), Tromso (2014) and Baku (2016).

    As usual, they will be in contention until the end and may have a better chance with a weakened China. Iulija Osmak will replace Inna Gaponenko and was with the bronze team at the 2017 European Championship. The experienced Natalia Zhukova will be in a reserve role for the first time since beginning her Olympiad career in 1996.

    India – BRONZE

    Why India? Isn’t Humpy out of form? It is unclear, but the camaraderie among this team is something special. They are selfless and with Koneru Humpy on board one and Dronavali Harika on board two, they will have their chances. It will be interesting to see Humpy fares in her first Olympiad since 2006. Dronavali seems totally committed to chess and will certainly have a positive energy after her recent marriage.

    A relaxed Koneru Humpy before Game #2. Photo by Frederic Friedel (ChessBase).
    GM Koneru Humpy
    Photo by Frederic Friedel (ChessBase)

    The key may be Padmini Rout who is the defending four-time champion. She had a poor showing in Baku on board two (4½/10) after winning gold in 2014, but now the pressure is off as a reserve. This team has been together for a few years now. The highest standing was 4th in 2012 and 5th in 2016. In addition, Tania Sachdev and Eesha Karavade have vast experience in team competitions.

    Other intangible reasons is the presence of Viswanathan Anand playing at the Olympiad. It gives the national teams a chance to learn from him. In the past, Anand had complained about Olympiad because you have to put so much on the line as a professional player. The fact that both of the Indian legends are playing on the respective teams will provide quite a bit to cheer for in a nation of 1.3 billion. Of course Sagar Shah and ChessBase India will be providing them with encouragement.


    Of course one would be foolish to discount Russia in any team competition, but it appears as if the men are still searching for that leader to take them back to golden glory. Thus far Vladimir Kramnik has not been enough. That being said, they have added new pieces to improve the chemistry. For other contenders such as the Ukraine and Armenia, they are also very experienced and solid.

    Israel is also very solid with Boris Gelfand at the helm. Apart from the veterans, there are some risers such as Iran with their team of young GMs. They will be hungry and may stand to get some huge upsets on the way. Poland’s Jan-Krzysztof Duda, the 20-year old phenom on top board, scored 8½/11 in 2014 and will be looking for make an impact in his third Olympiad. It will be his debut as the top board.

    Can Aleksandra Goryachkina help
    Russia to the medal platform?
    Photo by https://www.allsportspk.com/

    For the women, China may find Hou Yifan’s absence to be a bit much to overcome. However, they have tremendous fighting spirit and it would not be out of the question to medal… even gold. There should also be some attention paid to France who will have their top two players.

    As far as Russia, they have four players who have been on multiple medal teams, so they know how to get it done. They will be looking to avenge their last round lost to China in 2016 which determined the gold. As a newly-minted Grandmaster, Goryachkina will be an X-factor due to her rapid improvement. She has nerves of steel and will be looking to score on board two and perhaps board one.

    There are upsets brewing and teams like Vietnam, Mongolia and Cuba have proven they can bite. Predictions are for fun mostly, but what can’t be debated is that the Olympiad in Batumi will be an exciting tournament!

    Video by Batumi Olympiad Committee

    Official Site: https://batumi2018.fide.com/

    Predictions: 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016

  3. 2018 Chess Olympiad: Opening Ceremonies
    Sunday, 23 September 2018

    Video by Batumi Olympiad Committee

    Opening Ceremony (Full Broadcast)

    Video by Batumi Olympiad Committee

  4. 2018 Chess Olympiad: Round #1
    Monday, 24 September 2018

    Open Section

    Round One - Open Section

    Full Results

    The first round of every Olympiad is one of intrigue given the disparity of the strength. However, each Olympiad makes it evident that the balance of power is leveling and that smaller federations are able to snatch valuable points from stronger teams.

    It used to be a forgone conclusion that the first round would go 4-0 or 0-4, but in Batumi we saw quite a number of 3-1 scores with huge rating upsets on some of the boards. Take these three examples… unrated Biniam Araya Zego of Eritrea win in dominant fashion over ICBA IM Piotr Dukaczewski (2259), Andreina Quevado (1809) of Uruguay winning over Sabina Foisor (2311) of the USA, and the biggest, Morocco’s Mohamed-Mehdi Aithmidou (2244) over Li Chao (2708) of China.

    Even when there wasn’t a decisive result, there were some interesting stories including Sagar Shah’s delightful interview of IM Andrew Kayonde of Zambia.

    In essence, the first round went as expected, but the reality is that these board points that were dropped could turn to be very crucial to the top teams. India will be a contender for the top medals and dropping a half-point to El Salvador may not seem to be a big deal but could loom large later on in a tiebreaking situation.

    Women Section

    Round One - Women Section

    Besides the aforementioned upset of Foisor, IM Lela Javakhishvili (2475) of host Georgia also lost against WFM Roza Eynula (2030) of South Korea. Sophie Milliet (2389) of France forced Rozana Gjergji (1924) of Albania to prove her technique in a Q vs. R ending. Silvia Carolina Mazariegos (1922) upset Anna Warakomska of silver medalist Poland. There was a near 600-point upset with Wang Mi (1585) of Taiwan winning over Kathie Goulart Librelato of Brazil (2110).

    A few other top players in the women’s section dropped 1/2 points including top rated Russia with Aleksandra Goryachkina being held by Maria Rodriguez Arrieta of Costa Rica and Huang Qian of China (2446) being nicked for a draw by Nadezhda Antonova (2038) of Tajikistan. Again, crucial half-points being dropped. Going forward it will be interesting to see how the top teams deal with the leveling of the field.

  5. 2018 Chess Olympiad: Round #2
    Monday, 25 September 2018

    Open Section

    Round One - Open Section

    Full Results

    A couple of surprises in today’s games (including the Russian women dropping their match to Uzbekistan), but before we get into today’s proceedings, there are a couple of matters to discuss.

    The opening ceremonies was splendid by all accounts and it was widely touted as the “best opening performance” at an Olympiad… at least in recent memory. That being said, the organization of the event has seen a few cracks. Firstly, the logistics have gotten off to a poor start with drivers losing their way to the venue in more than one instance. In addition, the security process has been a bit spotty.

    According to a chess.com report, the USA team nearly forfeited when their team arrived 2:35pm and waited 50 minutes to get cleared. The round did not officially start until 3:15pm. The “zero tolerance” rule allows 15 minutes before a team forfeits. The Americans arrived at 3:22pm looking smart in their blue blazers, but also very flustered at the experience. They proceeded to win 4-nil.

    Chaos during the security screening. Photo by Amruta Mokal

    This shows the chaos outside the security area. It was difficult for journalists for figure out where to enter since there was no obvious signage outside. This rush almost resulted in the USA forfeiting the match. Photo by Amruta Mokal.

    There was a press conference during which Zurab Azmaiparashvili stated some regret in the problems, but stated that they would be remedied. It is not uncommon that the first couple of days will have some glitches, but these problems are major!

    On the other hand, there was some good news. It did not happen in the playing hall, but in the exhibition hall. There was a wedding proposal by India’s Niklesh Jain to an unsuspecting Angela Lopez of Colombia. They had met in Spain and one-and-a-half years later, he proposed. Here is the moment!

    Video by ChessBase India

    Now for chess…

    A couple of big stories. In my view, the USA giving up 1-1/2 points to Georgia 3 was big news. The result was unexpected and the impact is that USA will have to pile up board points to ensure they are in a good tie-breaking position. In Baku, tiebreaks were crucial in USA winning their first gold medal in 40 years. In their contest against Georgia 3, Wesley So provided the victory of margin with a nice positional crush over Luka Oboladze (2340).

    It’s still a long tournament and there will be many opportunities to gain ground in head-to-head battles with contenders.

    What is becoming more apparent is that individual rating differences appear to mean less in these board matchups. It appears that lower-rated players are more prepared given the availability of information about the opponents. Speaking with Susan Polgar about the issue, she felt that it may be because the “underdogs” have the opportunity to play stronger players and in beating them online, it provides them with confidence and the aura of superiority of the stronger player is lost in classical matches.

    Susan Polgar interviewing India’s Vidit Gujrathi after his quick win. Paul Truong and Sagar Shah were recording. Photo by Daaim Shabazz

    In round two, the matches were even closer. Russia gave up a point to Ireland with GM Alexander Baburin equalizing his game for the Irish. Baburin publishes the invaluable resource called “Chess Today.” Czech Republic’s David Navara lost his game to Farrukh Amonatov (2615) of Tajikistan, but his team won on the other boards. Navara did an interesting interview after his win the previous round on the difference between he and Magnus Carlsen. Interesting insights!

    Host Georgia 1 stumbled to a 2-2 draw against a weakened Norway with former World Junior Champion Tari Aryan and Ivan Cheparinov scoring for each side. Despite not having Carlsen and Jon Ludwig Hammer, the Norwegians were able to hold the match. So in essence, things are still on track with the favored teams winning the matches, but things will get much tighter as things settle down into a routine.

    Women Section

    Round One - Open Section

    Full Results

    Here Gevorgyan would play 41.Nxf7! Black played 41…Kxf7 and should lose to 42.Ng5+ Kg8? 43.Qxg6 Ne7 44.Qe8+ Bf8 45.Qh5 Bg7 46.Qe8+ and repeated moves for a draw. However, she should play 45.e6! when black suffers heavy losses. Missed opportunity!

    The biggest upset thus far is top-seeded Russia losing to Uzbekistan! The “stan” countries are really upsetting the tables and have already created uncertainty. Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are the strong “stan” countries with emerging chess traditions. For the Uzbek women, their 1-point victory was huge, but it could’ve been a wider margin had Irina Gevorgyan found a way to finish the mating attack against Valentina Guinina.

    It was the last board on which the match was decided. It appeared that white had a comfortable opening, but misjudged the position and ended up in a bad endgame. The upset of Natalia Pogonina (2469) by Nodira Nadirjanova (2167) to give the margin of victory is given in full here:

    Basically all the other top seeds one despite giving up points here and there. The next round will be a real test as some of the stronger teams are not facing. More upsets coming! Stay tuned!

    Faces in the Crowd

  6. 2018 Chess Olympiad: Round #3
    Wednesday, 26 September 2018

    Open Section

    Round Three - Open Section

    Full Results

    The calm before the storm. Round three had some interesting matchups, but the favorites are still holding sway in this 11-round marathon. France finally gave up a 1/2-point, but holds the lead on board points with 11.5 while Israel has 11 and four teams (India, Iran, Poland, Croatia) are on 10.5. Still no upset equivalent to the Russian women losing to Uzbekistan. So the heavyweights will meeting in the 4th round on schedule.

    India’s Viswanthan Anand taking a question from Susan Polgar
    after his win over Canada’s Eric Hansen.
    Photo by Daaim Shabazz

    France won its game over Algeria giving up its only draw thus far. Poland won over Portugal, but was upset on board 1 with Luis Galego toppling the young phenom Jan-Krzysztof Duda. Both USA and China won their matches by a 3-1 count over the Netherlands and Peru, respectively. Azerbaijan, England, Vietnam and Israel stayed in the early hunt with wins as well.

    Out of the matches today, Iran beating Belarus was perhaps one we can note. The young team led by World Junior Champion Parham Maghdsoodloo representing the new guard of Iran after the era of 11-time Iranian champion Ehsan Ghaem-Maghami. The future seems bright and it appears that Iran may be medal contenders in the future.

    So today there are intriguing matchups:

    Czech Republic-Iran

    Women Section

    Round Three - Women Section

    Full Results

    Before getting into the women’s competition, there was a very special moment in the press hall when Georgian legends Nona Gaprindashvili and Maia Chiburdanidze granted a press conference to Susan Polgar and while there was a loud buzz from the adjoining exhibition hall, there was intrigue in the press room. The two legends talked about their respective careers, challenges and answered questions. Gaprindashvili mentioned her pride of the Georgian teams at the Olympiad. You could see the pride she had as the matriarch of Georgian chess.

    One of the questions was whether they still followed chess. Surprisingly, Gaprindashvili said she still looks at chess daily while the younger Chibrudanidze has not been as diligent in keeping up. This writer asked about the impact of computers in chess and it was apparent that a generation gap existed between Gaprindashvili’s and Chiburdanidze’s. The elder was adamant that one should not use computers incessantly because chess should come from the soul.

    Chiburdanidze, who was in the middle of the technology revolution in chess, said she understood the value as a tool and the ability of computers to find interesting ideas. Paul Truong told me, “You’ve started a debate.” Indeed… the two went back and forth for a few rounds before bringing the session to a close. Truly a delightful moment.

    Susan Polgar with Georgian legends
    Nona Gaprindashvili and Maia Chiburdanidze
    Photos by Daaim Shabazz

    Back to the games.

    India has ambitions to medal in both competitions with their two legends playing. When the women drew their match Serbia, it was a bit of a setback. While Humpy Koneru and Dronavali Harika won, the two lower boards failed to hold a 1/2-point for the win. The draw drops them from a perfect score, puts them 1-1/2 behind on board points. Azerbaijan and Iran follow on 11 points. Iran got a gift when Slovakia’s Eva Repkova hung a rook in one move against Sarasadat Khademalsharieh.

    Repkova has a huge advantage and could perhaps play 35.f6 and crash through. No one knows what caused her to play 35.Rd7?? Iran still would’ve won, but to win that point must’ve been quite relief.

    Azerbaijan, Vietnam, Ukraine, China all cruised to 3rd round wins and will be battling in the next round. At this point, all the top players of each team have played at least a game and hopefully have found a groove. If not, the next few rounds can decide whether a team will be a team contender or merely playing for individual accolades (medals, Elo points or titles). The next key matches are:

    Vietnam-Georgia 1
    Hungary-Georgia 2
    Georgia 3-Australia

    The Georgian women will need a victory to assert themselves as contenders. The USA has had a good result thus far without their national champion Nazi Paikidze, who ironically is from Georgia. They will get the perennial contender Azerbaijan. India-Poland will be the 5th and 2nd place finishers in the Baku Olympiad. Key matchup!

    Video by Batumi Chess

  7. 2018 Chess Olympiad: Round #4
    Thursday, 27 September 2018

    Open Section

    Round Four - Open Section

    Full Results

    The heavyweights were beginning to meet in round four and when the smoke cleared France and Israel remained above the fray with identical scores. Each have won the four matches for two points and have accumlated 14 board points. The USA defeated India on the strength of Fabiano Caruana’s win over Viswanathan Anand. It was a key win for the defending champions to keep pace with the group of nine team on perfect scores.

    USA-India shake hands before battle!

    The heavyweight matchup on board #1…
    Fabiano Caruana vs. Viswanathan Anand
    Photos by Daaim Shabazz

    Here is Caruana’s win in the Catalan…

    While the defending champions held their position, Russia suffered a tremendous setup in their medal aspirations by dropping their match to medalist Poland. The young and ambitious Poles got two wins in dramatic fashion with former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik being checkmated on the board! This was not the Russian’s finest moment as he was totally off form this game. The kingside attack crashed through while Kramnik was dithering on the queenside.

    There was also a bishop and knight versus king situation, but when Kamil Dragun showed he knew the technique, Dmitry Jakovenko resigned and Poland took the match. This loss matches that of the Russian women and now both teams will be forced to “win out” if they want to vie for medal contention. If the Russians do not medal in this Olympiad it will be only the second time in recent history that neither the men nor women will no approach the medal stand.

    Azerbaijan, Armenia and China won big to remain perfect in the standings. Czech Republic and Ukraine are also sitting on 4/4. Germany with Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu on board one beat Hungary who is without Richard Rapport this trip. Incidentally, Nisipeanu switched his affiliation from Romania to Germany. Romania is faring well.

    Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu (Germany)

    In other news, host Georgia 1 is struggling and lost to Lithuania 3-1. The young Iranians fell to the Czech Republic despite them resting David Navara. We have not mentioned much about China, but they are gradually gain momentum and another win world put them in a firm position before the rest day.

    So today there are intriguing matchups:

    China-Czech Republic

    Women Section

    Round Four - Women Section

    Full Results

    China in a good mood before facing giant-killer Uzbekistan.
    Photo by Daaim Shabazz

    China continues to show their class without Hou Yifan and remains atop the field after beating Uzbekistan, the team that famously beat Russia. Ju Wenjun and Shen Yang won for the margin of victory. Armenia, Mongolia and Georgia 1 joins China, the Ukraine and the USA with 4/4.

    The USA is riding high after the win over Azerbaijan and the team is certainly playing well with rookie Jennifer Yu holding her own. Anna Zatonskih won a thrilling game and mentioned that time pressure was a factor. In fact, The Chess Drum sitting with the winner when chess.com asked her about the chances to win that R+N vs. R ending. She replied, “About 50%.” This was due to her opponent’s time pressure and the fact that her king was trapped at the edge of the board. Indeed Gunay Mammadzada walked into a mating net and the USA would get the win.

    The next key matches are:


    Georgia-Ukraine should be interesting as you have two countries with a history of medals competing in the 5th round. India got back on track with a win in the last round, but has ground to make up. Since this is such a long tournament, top teams will have played each other and in the last few rounds there will be strange pairings with teams facing each other who are two points apart. This is when board points become very crucial. A contending team can pile up points toward the end and jump several positions onto the medal stand.

    Video by Batumi Chess

  8. African Diaspora in Spotlight

  9. 2018 Chess Olympiad: Round #5
    Friday, 28 September 2018

    Open Section

    Round Five - Open Section

    Full Results

    Levon Aronian (Armenia)
    Photo by Daaim Shabazz

    Things have heated up before the rest day at the 2018 Chess Olympiad. The marquee matchup between Azerbaijan and Armenia was a thriller, but ended up in heartbreak for the Armenians. Levon Aronian ran into the Shakhriyar Mamedyarov buzzsaw and lost a tough battle. Gabriel Sargissian, the Olympiad “destroyer,” lost to Teimour Radjabov who seems extra-motivated after a stretch of mediocre results.

    Apparently, the Armenians took the loss very hard and journalists mentioned that players had to be consoled after the loss. Bear in mind that this was only the 5th round and not a heart-breaking last round lost. There is still time, but the loss to Azerbaijan is a huge blow.

    Poland toppled France 3-1 with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave getting the only win over Jan-Krzysztof Duda while the Czech Republic crushed China by the same score. Wei Yi is not in good form which does not bode well for their medal chances. Here is the game and GM Daniel King discussing Wei Yi’s loss.

    Video by Daniel King

    USA-Israel drew 2-2 exchanging wins on the top and bottom. The defending champions will now have to make up ground not only in board points, but now in match points. Ukraine won again for their 5th match win in a row. Finally, both the Netherlands and India crushed 3½-½ to get back in the race. There are only four teams with 5/5 or 10 points, three teams with 9 points and a staggering 17 teams sit on 8 points.

    Boris Gelfand in tense moments against Fabiano Caruana.
    He would go on to lose the game.
    Photo by Daaim Shabazz

    After the rest day, play will resume with the following matchups:

    Azerbaijan-Czech Republic
    Bosnia & Herzegovina-USA

    Women Section

    Round Four - Women Section

    Full Results

    The story of the day would the team from the USA winning yet another match. The result was not completely expected, but the team is playing with so much fight and the camaraderie seems to be strong. Jennifer Yu has 4.5/5 and Irina Krush has a perfect 4/4. Mongolia is usually a very tough out and actually featured a player who once played in the U.S. Women’s Championship. IM Batchimeg Tuvshintugs attended graduate school in the U.S. and qualified for the tournament in 2006 (when the tournament was mixed gender).

    In this match, Tuvshintugs met another championship participant in 15-year old Jennifer Yu. Unfortunately for the Mongolian, she let a clear advantage slip away. As soon as the queens were traded, the tide turned and Yu kept the balance. Then Tuvshintugs made a horrible blunder and fell into a mating net. Armenia-China was level after trading one win. India smashed Argentina 3½-½. Georgia 2 has now caught up with Georgia 1 after winning by a 3½-½ verdict.

    The next key matches are:


    Video by Batumi Chess

  10. 2018 Chess Olympiad: Round #6
    Sunday, 30 September 2018

    Women Section

    Round Six - Women Section

    Full Results

    First, the women…

    The Americans are making a run for medals in both sections after the 6th round proceedings. The story thus far has to be the play of unheralded FM Jennifer Yu who is now on 5.5/6 after winning against India. The team traded wins on the four boards with white winning each encounter. This win pushes the USA into sole possession of 1st place and a date with Armenia in the 7th round.

    Jennifer Yu has led the charge for USA.
    Photo by Daaim Shabazz

    Yu is one of several young girls rising on the American chess landscape. In fact, four school girls (i.e., Annie Wang, Akshita Gorti, Carissa Yip, Maggie Feng) played in the U.S. Championship in recent years. As the women’s team relies on the mainstay of Irina Krush and Anna Zatonskih, new players will have to replace them and perhaps we have found the candidates.

    China has had problems getting a string of wins together, but they were held by another contender in the Ukraine. Former women’s champion Mariya Muzychuk beat Shen Yang while Huang Quan defeated another women champion in Anna Ushenina. In this 144-move game it appeared to be headed for a draw, but Ushenina had a failure in her technique and could not obtain the drawing setup.

    Perhaps the biggest news of the day was Russia losing (again) to rival Armenia 3-1. This is a big blow to Russia and it is improbable that they will be able to recover from two losses. Outrated by more than 100 Elo on every board, Armenia was able to get the match win on the strength of victories by Lilit Mkrtchian and Siranush Ghukasyan (2205).

    In other action, Azerbaijan, Italy and Georgia 1 won their matches. Gerogia 1 actually played Georgia 2 in a match between colleagues and friends. In fact, the top board for Georgia 2 Salome Melia had been a member of several medal teams including the silver medal team in last year’s European Championship.

    Maia Chiburdanidze

    Georgian legend Maia Chiburdanidze has been supporting the national teams and is very visible around the playing hall, press room and exhibit hall. She seems to be enjoying herself very much! Photo by Daaim Shabazz

    As we get into the later rounds, all of the top teams will have played each other and there will be some strange pairings in the last round. For now, all of the pairings look normal. For round 7, we have:

    India-Georgia 1

    Open Section

    Round Six - Open Section

    Full Results

    Poland got a key won over the Ukraine today as Jan-Krzysztof Duda got the margin of victory with a win over Vassily Ivanchuk in a highly-complicated battle.

    The win puts Poland in joint first position (1/2-point less in board points) the rampaging Azerbaijan and ahead of the defending champions, the USA. Azerbaijan won over the Czech Republic while the USA crushed Bosnia and Herzegovina 3½-½.

    The Americans had a good pairings and simply overpowered the Bosnian team with Hikaru Nakamura giving up a 1/2-point to IM Dejan Marjanovic, who may be in line for a GM norm. The Americans have be steady thus far with no real letdowns. The draw with Georgia 3 could be considered a setback, but with five rounds remaining they stand in the third spot with 11 match points. Fabiano Caruana is in top form and the Americans have not lost a single game!

    China got back on pace by beating Iran 2½-1½. They are hanging around the top 5-6 positions and hope to make a run toward the end. Perhaps one match attracting attention was Russia-India with two legends suiting up for battle. While Vladimir Kramnik and Viswanathan Anand didn’t play each other, there was this iconic photo taken.

    There is no telling whether we will see either player playing for the national team in 2020, but such photos are certainly classic and a fine tribute to chess history. That picture will certainly be a topic of conversation for years to come.

    For round seven, key matchups are:

    Croatia-United States of America
    Czech Republic-Israel

    Video by Batumi Chess

  11. 2018 Chess Olympiad: Round #7
    Monday, 1 October 2018

    Open Section

    Round Seven - Open Section

    Full Results

    Key battles in the 7th round. Poland-Azerbaijan was drawn 2-2 while the USA beat Croatia 3-1 moving into a three-way tie for first. The USA benefited from favorable pairings the last two rounds, but will certainly play everyone that they’ll need to play. In fact, they will battle Azerbaijan the next round. This could very well shape the medal race. Poland will face a motivated Armenia who won against Moldova and Belarus to take the sting out of the loss to Azerbaijan.

    India is still in the hunt as they beat African Champion, Egypt who had quietly moved within the top 10 boards. Bassem Amin (2800+ TPR) is in medal contention for board one. China drew with the Ukraine and German, the Netherlands shook hands on all four boards and Czech Republic and Israel split the match point. Algeria also eased to board nine only to be dismantled by Spain by a 3½-½ score. Ouch.

    Lastly, Russia continues to struggle and had to split the match was a heavily outrated Serbia team. At each board, Serbia was outrated by 200 points by held on boards one and three. Marko Nenezic beat Jakovenko to tie the match after Vladimir Kramnik had dispatched of Milos Roganovic in an interesting Sicilian Sveshnikov.

    What’s in store with four rounds left? USA-Azerbaijan will be a thriller as will Armenia and Poland. India is looking for a win, but is far behind on tiebreaks and they have only played two contenders. Tough road for the Indian “Tigers.”

    For round seven, key matchups are:

    Czech Republic-India

    Women Section

    Round Seven - Women Section

    Full Results

    China is back in the mix with another win over Netherlands. They have moved into second position with 12 points. Ukraine has the same number of points fewer board points. They will face Armenia who leads with 13 points. The Ukraine will be favorites, but this tournament has made evident that rating gaps are not always a good predictor of performance.

    Jennifer Yu’s torrid pace continued as she score another victory, but it was not enough to prevent the Americans’ six match winning streak from coming to an end. The one-point match loss dropped the USA all the way down to 11th. Sabina Foisor has not been able to find her form and lost again. She is now on 1/2 point from four games. Yu has neutralized Foisor’s poor form with a sterling 6.5/7. Here is her last victory… a king hunt.

    The USA India-Georgia failed to keep up and drew 2-2, but continue to be among the contenders. For round 7, we have:

    United States of America-Italy
    Georgia 2-Azerbaijan
    Georgia 1-Kazakhstan
    India-Georgia 1

    Interview with GM Nana Dzagnidze

    Video by Batumi Chess

  12. 2018 Chess Olympiad: Round #8
    Tuesday, 2 October 2018

    Open Section

    Round Eight - Open Section

    Full Results

    Clutch!! In USA-Azerbaijan, Fabiano Caruana won a thrilling game that appear to be equal, but the trump was that black’s king was more exposed than white’s. This came to bear when Shakhriyar Mamedyarov’s king was being checkmated on move 64. With an unstoppable mate looming, the Azeri offered his resignation. What a performance by the World Challenger!

    Here was his impressions caught by ChessBase India…

    Video ChessBase India

    On board two Teimour Radjabov tore in Wesley So’s leg like a pit bull terrier and didn’t let go. The Azeri player grabbed space, but after 19…b5!? 20.cxb5 Rxd5 the game entered murky waters. White still had a slight edge, but it appeared that black was holding on. Radjabov kept pressing with his extra passed a-pawn. The problem was that black’s pieces would remain tied down to watching it.

    Ultimately, white got the queens off and got a technically-winning position. It was a rare loss for So who was on 6/7 before the round. In fact, it was only the USA’s second loss of the tournament! Hikaru Nakamura drew again for the 6th straight game.

    For someone who detests draws, he has taken a team approach and has essentially stabilized the middle of the lineup at the expense of his own Elo rating. However, he has proven his fighting spirit. Sam Shankland won a gold medal in Tromso for his performance on board five and is acquitting himself well in Batumi. The last game to finish, he beat Mamedov in a 96-move game giving the USA the match win.

    Armenia-Poland had four hard-fought draws keeping Poland in 2nd with Azerbaijan and the USA switching places. India beat the Czech Republic on the powerful win of Krishnan Sasikiran. The last time Anand played in 2006, he was criticized because he couldn’t get a win, but this time he came up big. India is now in 4th position. Germany and England won over Spain and Israel, respectively.

    France topped the Ukraine and China beat the Netherlands. Meanwhile, Russia is trying to get onto the medal stand, but it is too late for the gold. A convincing win over Belarus gets them just outside the top ten, but with only three rounds remaining, they’ll have to win out. Can Russia do it?

    For round nine, key matchups are:

    Poland-United States of America

    Women Section

    Round Eight - Women Section

    Full Results

    Wow! China has pulled into the lead after beating Romania 3½-½. Having only one draw in eight matches (and no board losses), the defending champions finally was able to grab a hold of 1st place. Ukraine, USA and Hungary won by 3-1 counts with the latter resulting in a shocking loss for India. Armenia’s loss to the Ukraine jeopardized their chances at their first Olympiad medal.

    The USA continued to roll on the strength of Jennifer Yu (7/8) and Irina Krush (6.5/7). Humpy Koneru of India suffered her first loss to Hungary’s Hoang Thanh Trang as the tension is ratcheting up. Both Georgia 1 and Georgia 2 lost their matches to Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, respectively. Kazakhstan is making a breakthrough. Russia smashed the Netherlands 4-0 to creep into the 8th position.

    For round 9, we have:

    United States of America-Hungary

    Video by GM Danny King

    Behind the Scenes

    Video by Batumi Chess

  13. Arkady Dvorkovich wins FIDE Presidency!

    Arkady Dvorkovich
    Photo by David Llada

    Months after announcing his candidacy, Arkady Dvorkovich has won the favor of chess federations around the world by winning the office of FIDE President. In the lead up to the vote, There were several endorsements including a last minute show of support for fellow candidate Nigel Short who withdrew his bid during his statement to the General Assembly.

    Other notable endorsements came from Association of Chess Professionals and two candidates for African Continental Presidents, Lewis Ncube and Dr. Essoh Essis. The vote came at the culmination of charges, accusations and insults. In fact, Georgios Makropoulos filed a charge against Dvorkovich for engaging in corruption to sway votes.

    The actual charge was labeled case no. 5/2018 and pertained to an “Alleged electoral irregularity in regard to the Serbian Chess Federation relating to sponsorship and substitution of delegate.” (complaint here)

    The charge could have disqualified Dvorkovich from the election proceedings, but the ruling by the FIDE Ethics Commission found that no infraction had been made.

    “Mr Dvorkovich is found not guilty on the complaint levelled against him under case no. 5/2018 for alleged violations of art. 2.1, 2.2.1, 2.2.2, 2.2.3 and 2.2.11 of the Code of Ethics on the basis of the the absence of sufficient proof, at the level of the ETH’s comfortable satisfaction, of an involvement by Mr Dvorkovich or his representatives in the substitution of the delegate for the Serbian Chess Federation and the conclusion of the sponsorship contract FIDE Ethics Commission between the Serbian Chess Federation and Mr Cogoljevic’s educational institution”.

    After that tense moment, the voting proceeded at the Sheraton Hotel and when the votes were counted Dvorkovich had won comfortably 103-78, with one invalidated tally.

    Jamaican delegates Terrence Lindo and Ian Wilkinson QC
    speak with Malcolm Pein during roll call of federations.
    Photo by David Llada

    There were some important statements made by Dvorkovich that strengthened his case. As an organizer of the last FIFA World Cup, he mentioned that FIDE needed to be a bit more egalitarian in holding the Olympiad.

    Africa has never organised a Chess Olympiad. The last time the Olympiad was in the Americas was 40 years ago. The last time in Asia was 26 years ago. Could you imagine FIFA holding its World Cup in Europe only? That would be ridiculous.


    Ironically, South Africa bid for the 2018 Olympiad only to be beaten out by the Georgia delegation. There was a minor controversy when FIDE Treasurer Nigel Freeman gave his report on the venues, but also offered his opinion on which he preferred. That created quite a stir in the meeting hall. Georgia proceeded to win the vote.

    Nevertheless, Africa has never hosted the Olympiad, but neither has North America. The last Olympiad held outside of the European region (if counting Turkey as European) was Manila, Philippines in 1992. The Olympiad will return to Khanty-Mansiysk in 2020 and Belarus was the only bid for 2022.

    Nigel Short then made his speech where he introduced his ticket, thanked them and then announced a withdrawal of his candidacy.

    As the camera panned the room, there was applause and also a look of bewilderment from some of the delegates. As Short took his seat, he shook the hands of both Dvorkovich and Makropoulos. It was a very surreal moment. The last to speak was FIDE Deputy President Georgios Makropoulos, who was still in shock by what just happened.

    Georgios Makropoulos
    Photo by David Llada

    He proceeded to give a speech which condemned Short’s remarks and included references to Russian meddling and corruption. At the end of the day, the FIDE delegates had heard enough and the Ethics Commission’s ruling appeared to have taken the strength out of those arguments. The vote was an overwhelming condemnation of Makropoulos and the Ilyumzhinov era that he represented.

    So we have a new era. Time will tell whether these campaign promises will come into fruition. Rest assured that the campaign was a strange one with a number of unprecedented occurrences. The accusations, complaints and then the entente of two competing candidates. The timing of Short’s withdrawal and endorsement of Dvorkovich was very strategic. The British Grandmaster waited until the Ethics Commission ruling to make the decision.

    Dvorkovich conferring with his General Secretary,
    Enyonam Sewa Noël Fumey of Togo, a small West African nation.
    Photo by David Llada

    Dvorkovich had also campaigned in Africa and received endorsements from two candidates for African Chess Confederation (ACC), Lewis Ncube and Dr. Essoh Essis. Essis announced his endorsement only a few days ago. In a twist, the third candidate Tshepo Sitale withdrew his candidacy. Ultimately, Ncube won the ACC vote 23-21 and will serve another four years.

    What will this election result mean for FIDE? Many are concerned about Dvorkovich ties to Vladimir Putin, but were weary of continued mismanagement of FIDE affairs by a Ilyumzhinov legacy. Dvorkovich will have to act fast to show that he is serious about reforming FIDE.

  14. 2018 Chess Olympiad: Round #9
    Wednesday, 3 October 2018

    Open Section

    Round Nine - Open Section

    Full Results

    Top story of today was the election of the new FIDE President, Arkady Dvorkovich. He becomes the 7th to hold that position and his election concludes a thrilling campaign battle with Georgios Makropoulos.

    However one cannot ignore the fact that “Polska” was the theme of the round! Poland beat the USA in a tight battle to take sole lead of the tournament and pushing the Americans to second. Poland won on the strength of Kacper Piorun’s win over Hikaru Nakamura. This left it to Fabiano Caruana to try to win his game against Jan-Krzysztof Duda.

    Caruana was able to get the R+B vs. R ending but the Polish phenom held and earned the match victory. Polish (open team) has not won a medal in the Olympiad since 1939, the even of World War II. The women won a silver in Baku and the men want to add to the national treasure of accomplishments!

    Here was the ending caught by ChessBase India…

    Video ChessBase India

    In other news China and Armenia won their matches and fall in 3rd and 4th positions. It will be a very thrilling final two rounds with spoilers waiting in the wings.

    For round ten, key matchups are:

    Armenia-United States of America

    Women Section

    Round Nine - Women Section

    Full Results

    China continues to roll through the field with yet another win over Kazakhstan. This time it was the bottom boards carrying the load as the young Kazakh team could not hold the Chinese. Lei Tingjie is sitting on 7.5/9 and is in medal contention. Azerbaijan-Ukraine was a drawn match trading wins on boards 1 and 3 and the USA got past Hungary with Tatev Abrahamyan winning nicely against Ticia Gara. Armenia took a 3-1 verdict over Iran and Russia is still trying to sneak into the medal picture with a 3-1 win over Romania. After a disappointing 6th round loss to Armenia, the Russians have won three matches in a row with big scores.

    For round 10, we have:

    China-United States of America

    Video by GM Danny King

    FIDE Presidential Election

    Video by Batumi Chess

  15. 2018 Chess Olympiad: Round #10
    Thursday, 4 October 2018

    Open Section

    Round Ten - Open Section

    Full Results

    China ended a strong run by Poland despite their epic win over the USA the previous round. That result was sure to put the Poles into a position to medal, but their 3-1 drubbing at the hands of China throws those ideas in doubt. Ding Liren has had a fantastic result despite his continuing rehabilitation of his hip injury.

    Polish star Jan-Krzysztof lost the thread in the complications and was brutally crushed. Li Chao essentially avenged his first-round loss to a Moroccan master and won another key game. While Bu Xiangzhi may be China’s Most Valuable Player this tournament, Li Chao did well to right the ship.

    USA got a key win over Armenia with Sam Shankland handing Hrant Melkumyan his first loss of the tournament. The Armenians had won four medals since 2004 with three being gold. However, this loss will certainly eliminate them from medal contention. On the other hand the Americans are firmly in the hunt to defend their Olympiad crown. Hikaru Nakamura sat out today to give him a chance to recover from a tough loss and a suboptimal showing. He will certainly suit up tomorrow in the finale against China.

    Russia had roared into medal contention after a sluggish start in the first half. After losing to Poland the stood in 25th position with any medal chances fading rapidly. Nevertheless, it’s a long tournament and they proved they had the strength to rebound Karjakin’s stability on board one along with Vladimir Kramnik’s resurgence helped to catapult them into 5th place after their win over England. He won again against David Howell.

    There was a light moment before the round started. FIDE Presidential candidate Nigel Short made a cameo appearance at the table.

    The Chess Drum asked Short before the event if he wished he was playing and he stated that after playing in so many Olympiad, he feels that at this moment there are more pressing matters at hand (paraphrasing). Indeed! Short had played in every Olympiad since 1984 in Thessaloniki when he was an International Master. Will he ever suit up for the English again?

    France has been somewhat of a surprise and have quietly crept in the standings at 4th position! France has never medaled in an Olympiad tournament and this would be a tremendous result. While Vietnam has been a surprise, Azerbaijan has simply collapsed. Losing their third match in a row, they are clearly out of contention in 20th position. Wow.

    For round ten, key matchups are:

    Ukraine-Czech Republic

    Women Section

    Round Ten - Women Section

    Full Results

    The first seven boards were drawn so no real change in the standings. The order is still China-UKraine-USA. India did win 3-1 over Peru with hopes of having a respectable ending.

    For round 10, we have:


    Video by GM Danny King

    Interview with FIDE President-elect Arkady Dvorkovich

    Video ChessBase India

  16. 2018 Chess Olympiad: Round #11

    Friday, 5 October 2018

    Open Section

    Round Eleven - Open Section

    Full Results

    China has won Olympiad gold after beating medal contender Poland in a thrilling last-round battle. The medals were not decided until the final tiebreaks were calculated. Ironically, the result was not dependent on the medal contenders, but Bangladesh-Panama! It was already determined that the USA, China and Russia would medal, but that the encounter on board #64 would determine the strength of the tiebreaks and the medal order. Bangladesh won meaning that USA would get less favorable tiebreaks from having beaten Panama.

    There is still no consensus on how tiebreaks should be determined. Years ago when China won Olympiad silver in 2006, there was a complaint because they had piled up huge scores against overachieving teams. So there was a switch to a different match-based system. Now that China wins on this count, there is another issue concerning the type of tiebreaks. Caruana said it best.

    Russia was able to beat France and get onto the medal stand in a photo finish. Poland was unable to beat India and match the 18 points of the USA, China and Russia. The crushing loss to China was a big blow. It was disappointing because Poland had faced the top eight seeds and were certainly in line for the gold medal. However, India held on all four boards and finished 6th.

    Germany-Armenia and Ukraine-Czech Republic ended in 2-2 draws, but England blasted Kazakhstan to finish 5th! Vietnam also ended on a high note beating the Philippines 3-1 and getting the 7th place. Besides Armenia, France and the Ukraine finishing 8th-10th you had Sweden finishing just out of the top 10. The best result for Sweden since 1935 when they won the silver medal.

    Women Section

    Round Eleven - Women Section

    Full Results

    To make it a “double-gold” China got a miracle in the finale when China survived on the fourth board in a totally lost position and turned a draw into a win on the top board.

    The two heroes celebrating after a miraculous comeback.
    Photo by Maria Emelianova/Chess.com

    The imposing black pawns looked certain
    to promote!

    Gut wrenching finale!

    Olga Girya of Russia was unable to win a complete dominant position (+9) and allowed China’s Lei Tingjie get a three-fold repetition. Girya was racing her a- and b- pawns toward their queening squares, but Lei was creating threats against the exposed black king. This game started as a bad experiment for white as black equalized rather easily. Girya then essayed 15…Ba3! with multiple threats.

    The Russian held that threat throughout the middlegame. Fast forward to move 51…Qb4 when the end seemed to be near for the Chinese player. The evaluation was a +9.20. Russia must’ve have been confident. Not to mention that Alexandra Kosteniuk seemed to be clearly drawing. However, in a few moves it was clear black couldn’t escape the checks!

    One the top board, Kosteniuk and Ju Wenjun were gripped in a tight battle. The game looked to be equal, but black’s position was a bit more active. In fact, white lost a pawn, but only had to set up a blockade and wait for black to run out of ideas. It’s easy enough to see these ideas without the pressure, but a medal was on the line for Russia. In a tense moment, Kosteniuk claimed what she thought was a three-fold repetition. Upon a review it turned out to be only two and two minutes were added to Ju’s clock.


    A dejected Kosteniuk when she learned her claim was incorrect.
    Photo by Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

    In an unbelievable turn of events, China had risen from the dead and won the gold! Russia was knocked off of the medal stand. Meanwhile the Ukraine was completing a 3-1 drubbing of the USA, who had played above their expectations without their national champion Nazi Paikidze. The only respectability was Tatev Abrahamyan delivering a picturesque checkmate on the board against Anna Ushenina. Jennifer Yu lost to Natalia Zhukova, but finished on 8/11, a bronze medal and an IM norm.

    Ukraine took the silver since Russia failed to close out China and Georgia 1 won the bronze and was able to lift the flag on the medal stand as host nation. Russia was just out of the medals for 4th with Hungary, Armenia and the USA following. India, a pre-tournament contender, faltered against Hungary in round eight and had to settle 8th position. Humpy said out the last round, but had a credible showing in her return to Olympiad play.

    Interview with Chinese National Teams

    Video ChessBase India

    1. Congratulations to China on a fine success, they are all young and talented I wonder if Gm Wei Yi is on the ICC server i would love to go back there and test him out with Na6!!! hahahaa.

  17. Lewis Ncube wins African Chess Presidency!

    Lewis Ncube at African Congress
    Photo by Africa Chess Media

    Lewis Ncube, the incumbent, declared to hold his position as President of the African Chess Conferation after two competitors emerged. It appeared that he would have quite a challenge after Tshepo Sitale and Dr. Essoh Essis released very impressive campaign statements. There was also the debate hosted by African Chess Media that gave more insight as to the candidates’ suitability.

    The challenge for incumbents is that there is always a question of what they had accomplished in the previous term. For the others, they can build a sense of optimistic vision and their own track records (which they present). Ncube has been a survivor having been a FIDE Vice President, he was maligned by Georgios Makropoulos concerning a US$30,000 account. Ncube told The Chess Drum that this matter was settled and he had long paid back the loan. This issue had a chance of creating a cloud over his campaign, but he was able to state his case.

    In a turn of events. Sitale withdrew from the campaign and lent his support to Dr. Essis. This was a tactic used by Nigel Short to help unseat Makropoulos in favor of Arkady Dvorkovich. However, the combined tickets were not sufficient to unseat Ncube and he won the vote 23-21.

    Lewis Ncube with Arkady Dvorkovich in Kisumu, Kenya during 2018 African Youth Championship. Dvorkovich won the FIDE Presidency in Batumi, Georgia a few days ago. Photo by Chess Kenya Federation

    With an impressive 47 African Federations on the books, what’s next? Will we finally see sustainable chess development in Africa after FIDE has long neglected the region? With Dvorkovich at the helm, he has promised many ideas favorable to the continent. He also made a very important admission.

    Africa has never organised a Chess Olympiad. The last time the Olympiad was in the Americas was 40 years ago. The last time in Asia was 26 years ago. Could you imagine FIFA holding its World Cup in Europe only? That would be ridiculous.

    Perhaps we will see a new system of Olympiad bidding. Since 1992, all Olympiad have been held in the general European region. Will we soon see an African host? Perhaps, but what is more important is to build a plan that will result in long-standing programs and not merely one-shot tournaments that lasts a few years. With Dvorkovich’s support of Ncube and his initiatives, we can only hope that there will be some progress made in Africa in the next four years. Ncube will have to carry this vision forward.

  18. African Diaspora made a colorful presence in Batumi

    Aster Bantiwalu (Ethiopia)
    Photo by David Llada

    The Chess Olympiad is a special event and by some accounts is the most important event in chess. It is at the biennial Olympiad that various expressions of chess are seen from every corner of the planet. Apart from the colorful outfits from the various delegations, there is the infectious spirit and often the endless passion to brighten the playing hall.

    African and Caribbean chess federations are not usually mentioned as being in the forefront of chess, but many are beginning to understand that chess is far more than what is shown in the professional ranks. Even in these times, smaller federations have demonstrated that they are able to win admiration for their exuberance and optimism. In Batumi, they are a dominate presence in the exhibition hall milling about, playing blitz, listening to campaign pitches and simply enjoying the moment.


    Ghana Ghana Ghana
    Photo by Ambrose Amexo

    Jamaica’s IM Jomo Pitterson giving encouragement to WCM Adani Clarke
    Photo by Amruta Mokal

    It appears that this spirit is exactly what chess needs in these days of contentious campaigning. In fact, Africans were factors in all three Presidential tickets and had a heavily contested election for the African Chess Confederations in which Lewis Ncube was victorious. There was even an online debate.

    Out of the 54 African countries, 47 federations from the continent registered and participated in the proceedings. This attests to the fact that chess has begun to sprout on the continent. Cynics may believe that the strong showing is due to the elections and that may be partially true, but there wass something else in the air in Batumi.

    Chess journalists: Haydn Gill (Barbados), Daaim Shabazz (USA), Jacinta Odongo (Kenya), Ian Wilkinson (Jamaica)

    Zambian delegation!
    Photos by Daaim Shabazz

    If you look at the media coverage players and officials of the African Diaspora and being met with acceptance and intrigue. Social media is filled with many photos of the African delegations in different modes of expression. It is a welcome sight when two decades ago, players from these same countries were all but ignored. There are certainly some issues moving forward.

    African delegate casts vote for FIDE President
    Photo by chess-news.ru

    Firstly, the voting system of one-nation, one-vote must be maintained! This came up when Anatoly Karpov ran for FIDE President and suggested making the voting system weighted based on a criteria which would favor larger, more powerful federations.

    Leading up to the Batumi Olympiad, this debate resurfaced and the refrain was that “it was shameful that (insert any African country) has the same vote as Russia or Germany.” It implies smaller chess nations do not contribute their equal share, but of course we can see that many smaller federations are fully active and making attempts to grow chess in their respective countries. If FIDE ever considered giving a majority of power to the larger federations, FIDE has to ask itself about its overall mission.

    African delegates discussing the issues of the day.
    Photo by Daaim Shabazz

    Secondly, while smaller federations must take a more aggressive approach to developing momentum, FIDE must be more proactive in developing regions… not just in election year. The last 20 years, little has been done in terms of helping to grow chess as a universal game. Hopefully, the Dvorkovich regime can figure a viable branding model for chess that any federations can use to convince sponsors and sports ministries to stay vested in the sport. It appears that chess has only gained traction in a few nations while others struggle for recognition. That leads to my third and last point.

    IM Robert Gwaze receiving his gold medal at closing ceremonies at 2002 Chess Olympiad in Bled, Slovenia.
    Photo by Barbados Chess Federation

    Thirdly, there needs to be more promotion of the Olympiad landmarks of the African Diaspora. While there was obvious camaraderie and good fellowship among participants of various nations, there needs to be a better way of charting the progress of teams and players within the Africa Diaspora. Back in 2002 and 2004, The Chess Drum charted the Olympiad results of participating African and Caribbean teams. It was quite a laborious task since there was no chess database of results. The Week in Chess (TWIC) was an outstanding source, but you were not going to get any reports on specific regions.

    IM Robert Gwaze’s 9/9 (2690 performance) at 2002 Olympiad was thrilling to follow and is still talked about in the African Diaspora. These days chess-results, chess24 and Facebook makes it much easier to follow the statistics of your favorite teams and players. However, this is not sufficient. The former lacks the context and the latter lacks accessibility. Facebook content isn’t fully indexed in search engines so information posted will only be seen by a small segment.

    Apart from The Chess Drum, there has been increased coverage in smaller federations thanks to the work of Africa Chess Media, Kim Bhari’s Chess Masala and Kasparov Chess Foundation for Africa. Photojournalists David Llada and Alina L’Ami have also done beautiful impressions of a variety of chess players. These efforts are not unnoticed and represent a demand for information that rarely appears on other mainstream chess websites. These resources provide a source for our players and helps them build a digital chess profile upon which they may market their accomplishments for coaching jobs, norm tournaments or simply their professional careers.

    Mashala Kabamwanishi of Democratic Republic of Congo scored 9.5/10. Wonderful result!
    Photo by Congo Chess Federation

    During the Batumi Olympiad a sterling performance was turned in by Mashala Kabamwanishi from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He scored a spectacular 9.5/10, but did not qualify for a medal… not even an award for highest percentage. Despite Olympiad being “point-driven,” his feat was given very little attention in the chess media.

    After Gwaze’s gold medal performance in 2002, some of the elite players scoffed at the idea of a player winning gold while facing less competition. If we can’t celebrate a 9/9 and 2690 rating performance, then there is no hope for chess. Perhaps things will change when a player getting 4.5/9 and 2850 performance wins the gold medal. There has to be more balance in medal criteria. More on that in another article.

    While Kabamwanishi got no medal, he did get the FM title. While we understand and respect that there are variances of play at an Olympiad, we must recognize strong performances at all levels. Could the Olympiad be the only chess tournament in the world where you score 9.5/10 and not even get a mention? Nevertheless, we honor him here.

    One quick note… ChessBase has the wrong flag associated with DRC. That is the flag of the neighboring Congo Republic. The DRC flag can be found here.

    In honor of Mashala Kabamwanishi, the Congolese National Anthem…

    In addition, there was the appearance of Phiona Mutesi of Uganda whose Queen of Katwe story has won her the admiration of people worldwide. She was a popular photography target in Batumi. What we cannot allow is for people to trivialize her story because of her playing level. Perhaps those who distributed the movie missed the mark in delivering the true message.

    Phiona Mutesi of Uganda, the “Queen of Katwe”
    Photo by Daaim Shabazz

    Queen of Katwe was not about chess excellence as much as it is a story of survival and how chess help her to come out of a condition of abject poverty. Coming out of Katwe, Uganda, it is a miracle that she has gotten to the point of attending university studies. While she declined to be interviewed by The Chess Drum (due to fatigue), she did share that she was doing well in Seattle!

    There are other accomplishments including the work of arbiters and officials. FIDE Arbiter Rehema Khimulu of Kenya directed her debut Olympiad with measured confidence and it was a wonderful sight. Her compatriot Purity Maina (not at Olympiad) is another pioneer in officiating as well as Botswana’s Tshepiso Lopang. When The Chess Drum asked Lopang if she missed representing Botswana. She said, “I’m not missing anything!” Indeed. Lopang is fully engaged in chess and now serves on the ACC Executive Board under Lewis Ncube.

    Kenya’s Rehema Khimulu (FIDE Arbiter) directing Denmark-Myannmar
    Photo by Daaim Shabazz

    There are always a multitude of stories on how players arrived at their current state in chess. IM Andrew Kayonde of Zambia is one of Africa’s bright talents and gave some interesting insights about his approach to chess in a very impressive interview. He gave a very bold reflection on his hard-fought draw… “I know he is Vassily Ivanchuk, but I’m the Zambian Champion.” This is the type of confidence that breeds Grandmasters.

    The idea that players are easy outs in the first round and are beginning to want and cause opponents to be cautious. There was another interesting moment when Eritrean player Araya Biniam turned in this impressive performance with the black pieces over International Master Piotr Dukaczewski.

    Also was the Moroccan player Mohamed-Mehdi Aithmidou toppling Li Chao in a near 500-point scalp.

    Speaking on performances, Egypt won the Category B prize anchored by GM Bassem Amin, the four-time African champion. Amin scored 8/11 with a 2766 TPR including a draw with Viswanathan Anand. Egypt has long been the top African nation and with Amin and Ahmed Adly, they continue to hold sway on the continent. They also had top junior Adham Fawzy who gained some notoriety on these pages after a scintillating win over GM Parham Maghsoodloo last year.

    GM Ahmed Adly is always ready to show his exuberance.
    Egypt also won the Category B medal at 2014 Olympiad.
    Photo by David Llada

    While Egypt took Category B, South Sudan brought home the gold…

    As far as the Americas you have the usual vivacious spirit complete with their bold colorful uniforms. However there is another story coming out of the Bahamas. Two ladies competing for the island nation have joined the national team, 30 years after they represented the country in youth chess. Six-time Bahamaian national champion Antoinette Seymour and Juliette Storr were participants in the 1983 World Youth Team tournament held in Chicago, Illinois.

    The Bahamian Youth Team at the 1983 World Youth Team Championship, Chicago Illinois. Pictured above, the team consisted of (left to right) Juliette Storr, Anthony Moss, Percy Rolle, Antoinette Seymour. In Batumi was Antoinette’s cousin Erica Seymour who won the Jr. Championship in 1992. She also came out of retirement after decades.

    Bahamas @ 2018 Chess Olympiad (Batumi, Georgia)
    Bahamas Bahamas Bahamas
    (L-R) WCM Daijah Johnson, Antoinette Seymour
    Dr. Juliette Storr and Erica Seymour
    Photo by Bahamas Chess Federation

    Jamaicans making a fashion statement with their
    football-oriented “#10” uniforms!
    Photo by Daaim Shabazz

    Of course the Jamaicans always make a bold presence led by their distinguished head of delegation, President Ian Wilkinson QC. The women from Barbados had their signature hairstyles adorned with the national colors. The Guyanese had the beautiful red, black, green and gold jackets.

    Ogunsiku Babatunde (Africa Chess Media)
    Photo by Daaim Shabazz

    Below you will find photos from the Batumi event capturing the spirit of the Olympiad. They will feature shots by various journalists such as David Llada, Alina L’Ami, Amruta Mokal and Africa Chess Media’s Ogunsiku Babatunde.

    Finally, I was honored to interviewed by ChessBase India’s IM Sagar Shah who asked me about my vision as the founder of The Chess Drum. As a site that provides a platform for the accomplishments of players of the African Diaspora, know for a surety that a contribution was made in Batumi!

    Video by ChessBase India

  19. Congo’s Mashala Kabamwanishi shines at Olympiad

    The Chess Olympiad is chock full of inspirational stories that become part of the event’s history. The Olympiad in Batumi had more than 180 nations participating so there was no shortage of them. In fact, ChessBase India did the best job in capturing the essence of wide experiences among the players. The story of Dr. Saba Al-Qamachi of Iraq comes to mind. However, there was a bright light coming out of Africa in the Dmeocratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

    Mashala Kabamwanishi
    Photo by Daaim Shabazz

    At the end of the Olympiad proceedings one player amassed the win highest percentage among all players. Playing in his first international event, Congolese Mashala Kabamwanishi scored a sterling 9.5/10 and while he did not earn a medal, he honored his nation proudly.

    Back in 2010, The Chess Drum ran an article about the DRC and collaborative efforts with the Spanish Chess Federation and its Embassy in Kinshasha (link). The Congelese national team first suited up in 2016 in Baku, Azerbaijan. It was a break though since in 2012 and 2014, the federation registered, but was unable to send a team.

    Congo sent a team to Batumi, Georgia with the modest ambitions of a fairly new federation. They sent three players to Baku and were led by Willy Kutesa Mimbasa who got 7/10 and was awarded the FM title. In that tournament, they scored draws with Bermuda and Togo, and closed out the tournament with a win over Swaziland. Of course these were the highlights of the tournament.

    In Batumi, Mimbasa was on the top board, but the star performer was Kabamwanishi. Congo brought four players to improve on their team record. After missing the first round due to delays, they earned draws with Djibouti, Somalia, Tanzania and the Gambia. They handed the Bahamas a surprising 4-0 thrashing. While they lost the other matches, they never gave up a 3½-½ or 4-0 score.

    Mr. Mashala Kabamwanishi
    (Democratic Rep. of the Congo)
    # Player ELO Nation
    2 Ntagasigumwami, Deo 1720 Burundi
    3 Theko, Khanyapa 1644 Lesotho
    4 Mohamed Ali, Dima 1576 Djibouti
    5 Abdikani Nor, Mohamed 1517 Somalia
    6 Small, Byron 1721 Bahamas
    7 Diaz, Brian 1737 Aruba
    8 Diaz Montes, Edwin 2034 Puerto Rico
    9 Lobe Belhe, Prosper 0 Cameroon
    10 Hassuji, Nurdin 1766 Tanzania
    11 Jallow, Jalamang 0 Gambia
    Score: 9½-½

    Here are the games of Marshala Kabamwanishi.

    In essence, Kabamwanishi’s performance may appear to pale compared to professional players, but his performance was far above his expectations as an unrated player. Ding Liren of China who won the individual gold medal on board one, got a 2873 performance while toting a rating of 2804. Kabamwanishi ended with a performance of 2043 which is wonderful for a player in his first international event. His performance will help to build the DRC chess culture and provide grounds for continued sponsorship and investment in the country.

    In honor of Mashala Kabamwanishi, the Congolese National Anthem…

  20. Reflections on Batumi Olympiad

    Back to another Olympiad… another new place… another adventure. I had been to Calvia, Turin, Dresden, Istanbul, Tromso and now would venture to a place abutting the Black Sea in a city known for vintage wineries. Nevertheless, I geared up for this trip not knowing what was to come after a contentious FIDE campaign that had been brewing for months.

    Sunday, 23 September 2018

    (Tallahassee, Florida to New York)

    Hotel Luxor… my destination.

    As are most of my international travels, this would be a long journey. I live and work in a rather small, college-oriented town that doubles as the state capitol. Tallahassee, Florida is actually a nice place to live, but don’t ever try flying out of the airport. It is generally US$350 minimum so I drive two hours eastward and fly out of Jacksonville. For the international fare, the difference was nearly $500!

    I get on the road hoping not to meet traffic (from construction or accidents) or get a “blue light special.” That’s a police stop. A blue light special in the U.S. is not a good thing… especially for a Black man. You may have heard. I reach Jacksonville International Airport in plenty of time to get my Jet Blue flight to New York’s Kennedy International. I love New York, but I had not been there since the Carlsen-Karjakin World Championship in 2016.

    Sunday, 23 September 2018

    (New York’s Kennedy International Airport)

    Despite the 5½-hour layover, I stayed in the airport and settled for a place to work. Checking on pre-Olympiad buzz, I see Tweets of some of the teams. Nice!

    Happy moment for these players.

    While checking on my accommodations with Expedia, they said I had canceled my reservations with Daisi Hotel. What??? A month prior, I did cancel a reservation (for the 23rd) and reserved for a day later (for the 24th). I suppose the second reservation did not go through. After speaking with Expedia, they found another accommodation at Hotel Luxor for $41 per night. I had been covering Olympiad since 2004 and wasn’t looking for luxury. All I needed was a comfortable place and the Internet. Book it!

    So after sorting that out, I grab a bit to eat at a sushi place. I ate next to a mother and her two children who were devouring cupcakes with glee. She looked at me and smiled as I bit into the sushi roll. This would be a good trip I thought. After finishing I wandered around the airport before getting the shuttle to the concourse.

    The gate was crowded with passengers taking Turkish Airlines to Istanbul. I got the window seat. Hate window seats for flights longer than a couple of hours. I like to get up and walk. Anyway, “Rampage” seemed to be something I could watch, but I watched “Ready Player One,” a technogeek movie about virtual reality. Very imaginative, but I fell asleep at some point.

    I ordered a special vegan meal in advance. When they brought the meal, it was clearly not what I had ordered. Some type of codfish. I admonished them for the mistake. They then gave me some rosemary potatoes which weren’t bad. I then dozed off. Sometime later, I woke up with an awful feeling and rushed past my two neighbors to the latrine. Needless to say, whatever they served me didn’t agree and I spent the next 20 minutes in the latrine. Sick at 30,000 feet… with turbulence. Not good.

    I emerged a bit weakened and I told the attendants of my “digestive crisis.” They were remorseful and tried to give me drinks, but couldn’t keep it down. After an additional 15 minutes of sitting in the back with the attendants, I went back to my seat and took it easy the rest of the flight. Whew! Was it the sushi? The non-vegan meal that I had a bite of? The potatoes? Not sure. As we were exiting the plane in Istanbul, my two Turkish neighbors wished me well.

    Monday, 24 September 2018 (Istanbul, Turkey)

    After a bout with food poisoning on the plane, Starbucks chamomile tea got me back to normalcy.

    The Kemal Attaturk Airport is a spacious facility, but requires a bit of walking. After getting to the area for connecting flights, I realize the gates had not been posted. So I walked around and found a Starbucks where I ordered chamomile tea to settle my stomach. There were a lot of people looking at the monitor waiting for the gate number to appear on their flight. This included a prominent group of African men. They were excited. Had I felt any better, I certainly would’ve asked them who they were and where they were going. I wandered around a bit more and visited another vendor selling fresh fruit drinks. I had one made of coconut milk, pineapple, lemon and ginger. It was exactly what I needed.

    Finally… the gate was announced and I walk over to find there were no seats in the waiting area. Several people were stretched out over 2-3 seats. I did see the Togolese team sitting. The team from Ivory Coast (with bright orange uniforms) came into the area but left when there were no seats. One African lady woke up from her slumber and I took the seat next to her.

    The Nigerian team then walked in and I recognized Oladapo Adu, Bunmi Olape, Bomo Kigigha and Femi Balogun. It was good to see “Dapo” and we embraced. He was a mainstay in U.S. tournaments but had been in Nigeria for the past year. I asked the Nigerians why they were late because the first round had already begun. They said there was a delay in West Africa.

    Nigeria’s IM Oladapo Adu preparing to board Istanbul-Batumi flight.
    Photo by Daaim Shabazz

    Finally, we were on our way to Batumi! I was feeling so much better and was anxious to see how the first round went. It is generally a round where you only pay attention to upsets. The team results are fairly certain. Unbeknownst to me, the biggest upset was happening as we were in the air.

    Finally we landed!
    Photo by Daaim Shabazz

    Monday, 24 September 2018 (Batumi, Georgia)

    I had been checking the games on chess24 until it was time to board. By the time we landed Morocco’s Mohamed-Mehdi Aithmidou had beaten Li Chao of China! There were a few more upsets, but a near 500-point scalp is rare when it involves an elite player.

    Would my cabbie find my hotel?

    Getting through customs was quite a breeze, but by the quizzical look, it appears that the Georgian official had seen few Black people with a U.S. passport. It was also a brand new passport, so I expected questions. I watched the African teams behind me apply for their visas. The El Salvadorans were in front of me. On the outside, there was a desk with volunteers for the Olympiad. My name wasn’t on the list for transport and didn’t realize I could have taken the Olympiad bus to one of the hotels and walked. I took a taxi and learned that many of the drivers in Georgia don’t speak a lot of English, and me… zero Georgian.

    There was a big discussion on where my hotel was since they had problems reading the Expedia printout. A volunteer put me in a cab and told me (with a concerned tone) that the fare was “15 lauri” for the trip. I was concerned. As I watched this cab driver navigate the traffic, I took in the Batumi sites and noticed the distinctive Georgian letters.

    Of course, a silent cab ride is not the most pleasant experience. To my surprise, the cab driver drove right down a dark road (Akhvlediani Street) and I saw my hotel on the right on a residential block. I gave him 20 lauri and he thanked me profusely.

    I carry my bags up several stairs. I had no expectations, but the lobby of Hotel Luxor is a very nicely-decorated style. I go to the desk and meet Irma, a friendly Georgian lady. We had a few communication issues, but we figured out everything. Finally, entered my room and did a quick survey of the place. Not bad! It was US$41/night and as I would later discover, conveniently located. What more could I want?

    Tuesday, 25 September 2018

    (Round #2 – Batumi Sports Palace)

    OK… so I get a good night’s sleep and begin the adjustment of my body (eight-hour time difference). After getting a bite to eat in the hotel’s dining room, I set out to find the place which is supposed to be nearby. I Googled the address given to me by the Olympiad volunteers “Batumi, Asatiani Street. N 27” and it was about an eight-minute walk.

    Where is the venue?
    The address on Asatiani Street led me to a park near a city building.

    This was NOT the Olympiad venue. After asking other clueless Georgians, I found my way back to the hotel and had to find out the location of the venue. I looked on Google Maps to show the hotel manager where I needed to go. She wrote a note to give to the cab driver. I got in a cab and it was 10-15 minutes away. I then learned that the venue was actually the “New Sports Palace” as the other arena was about 40 minutes out. I learned the players also had their issues.

    The security procedure was a bit awkward, but I got through and found my way into the press room. I saw the usual journalists with whom I have covered many events. I saw my friend Ian Wilkinson from Jamaica and had to go and greet him first. I then went back to say hello to the chess.com team and Mike Klein (as usual) briefs me on everything. He’s a great help.

    Peter Doggers is on top of all the new tips and Maria Emelianova is in the right place at the right time with her camera. I was seated next to Spain’s esteemed journalist Leonxto Garcia of Spain and Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam of New in Chess. I had introduced myself to Sagar Shah and Amruta Mokal not realizing that their colleague Niklesh Jain had shocked the chess community with a marriage proposal earlier that day!

    Sagar Shah and Amruta Mokal of ChessBase India
    Photo by Daaim Shabazz

    I was too late to take any photos (so I thought) so I greeted Susan Polgar and Paul Truong and asked them about Josh Colas and Justus Williams (both IM-elects and players at Webster). Optimism was in the air! I then went into the exhibition area where a LOT of players were milling about and socializing at the various booths including two of the FIDE Presidential candidates… Georgios Makropoulos and Arkady Dvorkovich.

    As I was talking to Joy Mtine of Zambia, GM Nigel Short walked up and gave me a slap on the back and greeted me warmly. I guess he hadn’t found anything wrong with my articles. He was in a good mood. I asked him if he missed participating as a player and he stated that he had competed since 1984, but realized at this point, that there were more important things at hand. Looking around the room, I didn’t need clarification. He mentioned that he was going to go and socialize since that is what you have to do when you’re in political mode.

    CLICK to see larger images. Hover to get descriptions.

    Click on Facebook icon in upper right!

    So I officially finish my first day, but I have yet to visit either playing hall. I also had to figure out where to eat. On the previous night, I did visit a local store and pick up water, bananas and a few other snacks to go along with the stash that I brought with me. That was dinner.

    Wednesday, 26 September 2018

    (Round #3 – Batumi Sports Palace)

    I woke up and had a modest breakfast in the hotel dinner… loved the black olives and a type of cole slaw. The breakfast reminded me of the place I stayed in during the Istanbul Olympiad. This would be my first official day on the floor of the Olympiad. Typically you want to have a plan when photographing such an event due to its size.

    On the first day, I decided to focus my energy on the larger playing hall where the lower boards were. Here I would see most of the teams that I came to photograph. There was a beautiful historical display adjoining both hall of Georgian chess accomplishments.

    Adjoining corridor featuring the rich chess history of the Republic of Georgia.

    For a federation to have such a rich history is certainly admirable and to fill both sides of a 200-foot corridor is visually impressive. I was fortunate enough to participate in press conference with Nona Gaprindashvili and Maia Chiburbanidze. The two legends spanned the entire history of the display.

    So now it was time to shoot…

    Click on Facebook icon in upper right!

    Overall it was an exciting day. I was able to shoot the whole floor and greet some players in the process. I was able to watch the press conference of two legendary figures in Georgian chess. In the end, I asked a question that I knew would spark a difference of opinion. The question was about the role of computers in chess.

    A very passionate exchange ensued with Gaprindashvili taking a more cautious view toward relying on computers. She stated that chess has to come from the soul. Paul Truong told me, “See you’ve started a debate!” Chiburdanidze smiled, but then offered that computers help us to see ideas that did not occur before. Great discussion!

    By the way, a week from this date on October 3rd, 2018, a new FIDE President would be elected. There was tremendous energy brewing in the exhibition hall.

    Thursday, 27 September 2018

    (Round #4 – Batumi Sports Palace)

    Bermuda’s Daniel Cabral

    After two days of taking the taxi back and forth to my hotel, I figured that the Hilton was only a 10-minute walk through the park and I could take the shuttle with the others. I would only have to endure occasional stares from the locals. I got to the hotel just before 2:00 pm and the bus had not boarded.

    Before boarding I had a conversation with Daniel Cabral, a player on the Bermuda team. We talked about the old Bermuda Open. He stated that it was a very successful event, but since both Nigel Freeman and Nick Faulks had left the island, the impetus died. However, he mentioned that there had been talks to revive the event. He also talked about the Bermuda party and gave me a history.

    The event first started in one of the Bermuda player’s hotel rooms and after it became popular, a suite was rented. Before long, a facility was needed. He said that in coming years they would hope to give it a more “Bermuda” feel with Gombey dancing and colorful aesthetics.

    So we get to the venue, I wish Daniel well and I set up my camera to get shots of some of the teams coming into the venue. That’s always a nice photo-op because you get to see teams in the outfits and also in a good mood.

    It would be my first day photographing the hall with the top teams and learning of the 15-minute allowance for photos. The scene was very electric and you could feel the tension in the air. It was a crucial round with USA-India on the top table. I saw Hikaru Nakamura briefly and he reached out to shake my hand. It was good to see him at another Olympiad shooting for the gold. I had witnessed both of his bronze medals (Turin and Dresden), but was not in Baku for the gold.

    USA-India shake hands before battle!

    The heavyweight matchup on board #1…
    Fabiano Caruana vs. Viswanathan Anand
    Photos by Daaim Shabazz

    I witnessed an epic battle and the battle of the generations with the American coming out on top of the Indian legend. It was a thrilling match. Fabiano Caruana could very well be the next World Champion and here he seems to be putting everyone on notice that it is a strong possibility.

    Click on Facebook icon in upper right!

    Besides all of the chess being played, there was also lots of socializing, new friends being made and new alliances being forged. Wonderful environment. Of course, the Africans were in the middle of it!

    Click on Facebook icon in upper right!

    Friday, 28 September 2018

    (Round #5 – Batumi Sports Palace)

    Unfortunately, this would be my last round of live coverage. There was the Bermuda Party in the evening and the rest day was tomorrow. I will generally use the rest day to catch up on reports, conduct interviews, attend some business sessions or simply tour the city. I had no idea what I would do on the rest day, but I knew I had to cover as much as I could on my last day. It’s also good to have your own pictures of top players despite having built up a decent relationship with chess photographers. The objective was to shoot any chess personalities and teams that I wanted for my archives. I went crazy and shot both halls!

    I attended the Bermuda Party, an interesting experience. In fact, I was also interviewed by Amruta Mokal of ChessBase India at the Bermuda Party as I was leaving. It had been raining for a while and needed to call it a night. Sagar, Amruta and I ended up walking in rain back to our hotels. We were soaked, but that’s what memories are made of!

    Daniel… here is proof that I was there!

    Video by ChessBase India

    Saturday, 29 September 2018

    (Rest Day – Batumi Botancial Gardens)

    Unfortunately, I had to bid farewell to a number of people. We had the rest day and it was possible that we would see each other around town. I woke up not having any idea of what to do for the rest day. I looked online and decided to go to the Batumi Botanical Gardens. It was a 20-minute cab ride away. Being a man who loves to shoot pictures and a lover of gardens, this would be a peaceful break from the raucous Bermuda Party the previous night. What a great choice!

    View of the Black Sea!

    Click on Facebook icon in upper right!

    After walking more than 15,000 steps, I decided that I would take a cab from the summit back to the Hilton. It had gotten a bit dark and it was enough of a workout. I get to the hotel and saw Sagar and Amruta once again.

    One of the most pleasant experiences of the Batumi Olympiad was meeting Sagar Shah and his wife, Amruta Mokal. They are a very energetic husband-wife team doing a fantastic job at ChessBase India. I had a chance to have dinners with them at the Hilton Hotel and was intrigued by their story. Operating out of Mumbai, India they are basically traveling from venue to venue without keeping a residence. That’s quite a bit of dedication. Hopefully, they will receive the blessings they deserve.

    Ultimately, I decided I would present Sagar with Triple Exclam!!! The Life and Games of Emory Tate, Chess Warrior. I knew he would appreciate it because I saw one of his videos where he was discussing vintage chess books. His work for ChessBase India has given the massive country an invaluable platform in the same way The Chess Drum is giving a platform to those of African descent. He was even gracious enough to interview me about it.

    With Amruta Mokal and Sagar Shah of ChessBase India
    Photo by Daaim Shabazz

    Sunday, 30 September 2018

    (Leaving Batumi)

    I left Batumi not knowing what would happen in the FIDE election. I would not be able to attend any of the General Assembly sessions, but the feeling I got was that the momentum had swung to Dvorkovich. This occurred to me while looking at the activity at the respective campaign booths. Dvorkovich was throwing a party while it appeared that Makropoulos was working hard to keep people engaged.

    With the amount of vitriol that was exchanged, I envisioned shouting matches, tete-a-tete battles in the aisles and maybe even a fistfight. Fortunately, it didn’t happen. Despite the legal case involved, this election turned out to be more civil than the ones involving Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and his $20 million pledges.

    As it turns out Batumi was spared the drama and the new President was ushered in with minimal incident. There was a matter of someone stealing marketing literature from Georgios Makropolous’ booth, but that controversy simmered down quickly. Say what you want about Makropoulous, but at least he took the result in a dignified fashion and didn’t muck it up with some fabricated controversy.

    When I saw the cameraderie between Makropoulos and Arkady Dvorkovich after the bitter campaign, they appeared to be two friends who never wanted to hurt each other in a fight. FIDE politics are indescribable.

    Final Thoughts

    All in all, I enjoyed my short stay but would have preferred to stay until the end. Alas, life does not always grant us these wishes. Perhaps one time, I will be able to attend an Olympiad for the duration. For now, it’s either the first half or the second half. They should have these events in the summer when people plan for vacations. 🙂 If I missed seeing you in Batumi, God willing, we shall meet in 2020 in Khanty-Mansiysk!


    Best Memories of the Olympiad were…

    • Enjoyed meeting my friend, Ian Wilkinson, President of Jamaica Chess Federation
    • Ian Wilkinson QC & Daaim Shabazz

    • Meeting Yolander Persaud of Guyana. 🙂 She’s a successful lawyer and now sits on the FIDE Ethics Commission.
    • Meeting IM Andrew Kayonde, top player for Zambia. He is now famous for saying, “I know he is Vassily Ivanchuk, but I am the Zambian champion.” Twenty years ago, few (if any) African players would have had the courage to say this. Unfortunately, I left before we could get our own interview.
    • Having dinner with the U.S. team, most notably Anna Zatonskih and Melikset Khachiyan. I found Anna to be very pleasant and a loving mother!
    • Watching Nana Alexandria walk around with a constant smile on her face
    • meeting the Malawian team and getting a shot of them watching teammate being sketched
    • Malawians watching teammate Desiderata Nkhoma
      get a sketch done by Temur Dadiani

    • Meeting Ogunsika Babatunde of Africa Chess Media, a very noble venture to highlight African chess news
    • Georgian boy greeting me “What’s up bro?” It could’ve been his first interaction with a Black person. I don’t believe people in the neighbhood knew that the Olympiad was happening and probably wondered why I was there.
    • Discussion with Australia’s Cathy Rogers about President Donald Trump. She’s definitely not a fan.
    • When asked why I’m not playing in the Olympiad? My response was, “I need a 2-7.” In other words, I need to be 2700 FIDE. Many times people forget which country I’m from. Can I play for U.S. Virgin Islands?
    • Pleasant conversation with GM Ray Robson. I interviewed him at the Istanbul Olympiad in 2012 and now he has graduated. We discussed a variety of topics including veganism, rising American talent (on his tail) and his plans for post-graduation. Wish him the best!
    • Chatting with Uganda’s Patrick Kawuma about his brothers Moses and Stephen
    • Listening to Watu Kobese of South Africa explain his cynicism about chess politics. He said, “There are too many envelopes being passed around.”
    • See Susan Polgar and Paul Truong riding down the Botanical Garden trail as I was going up the incline. I told them, “C’mon don’t be lazy.” 😀
    • The ladies at Hotel Luxor… especially Irma. Very charming place.
    • View of the Batumi skyline during sunset

    Worst Memories of the Olympiad were…

    • Falling sick on the New York-Istanbul leg.
    • No snacks in the press room. Did I miss something?
    • Nervousness brought on because the taxi drivers could barely make out Georgian street names in Latin-based characters.
    • A taxi driver who wanted 20 lauri for a short trip. He was not an honorable man although he kept saying “Barack Obama”.
    • Riding to the Batumi Botanical Gardens with a taxi driver and see him perform the sign of the Christian cross across his chest before speeding to overtake a vehicle in traffic. My eyes widened and maybe my heart valves did too.
    • The four-hour headache the morning after the Bermuda party. The techno music was relentless, and the smoke was awful, but the social atmosphere was nice. Check out this view and sound of the music and Black Sea!

    Thanks for the great time Batumi!

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