Nakamura's Olympiad snub hurts Chess

The problem in U.S. sports federations are no more glaring than the recent selection process of the U.S. Olympiad basketball team. With the competition getting stronger,  the U.S. Basketball  Association threw together a mish-mash of star players and coach Larry Brown to compete on the world stage against national teams. Despite lack of chemistry and only two months to practice, the multi-talented team limped to a bronze medal. Apparently, lessons were not learned from the 2002 World Championships and most recently the NBA Championship Finals. Chemistry beats talent at the highest levels. The U.S. is now scrambling to revamp their national selection process.

The same carelessness in the selection process has occurred again as the U.S. Chess Federation has found a way to leave one of the world's greatest chess talents behind for the Chess Olympiad in Mallorca, Spain. Critics are raging at
Hikaru Nakamura's omission from the squad in favor of players, most of whom have seen their best days.  Nakamura has played impressively in the past couple of years and has vaulted to 2601 FIDE which would be enough to make most national teams. Such is not the case in the U.S.  The selections are based on U.S. Chess Federation ratings (from April 2003)  which are less competitive than FIDE ratings. Just as the boring U.S. Championship (featuring the same 10-12 players every year) was successfully revamped, the Olympiad selection process needs the same.

The "U.S." team is comprised of 
Gregory Kaidanov (2749 USCF, 2621 FIDE), Alexander Goldin (2712 USCF 2624 FIDE), Igor Novikov (2708 USCF 2610 FIDE), Alexander Onischuk (2706 USCF 2655 FIDE) Alexander Shabalov (2674 USCF 2605 FIDE) and Boris Gulko (2705 USCF 2600 FIDE). In looking at such a lineup, all are solid Grandmasters, but given their respective ages (Onischuk is the youngest at 29), they may lack the youthful energy necessary in short time controls. Of course 16-year old Nakamura (2666 USCF 2601 FIDE) is deadly at these time controls and his fighting attitude has rapidly gained him respect and admiration from fans and peers.

The U.S. team finished 41st in the Slovenia Olympiad and if not for
Yasser Seirawan's performance, it could have been much worse (with six GMs). The truth of the matter is that this team may not vie for a medal because may lack the nationalistic fervor needed in these events. Will India fear the U.S. team with Viswanathan Anand on board #1 and young, hungry lions behind him? How about the teenage team of killer GMs from Azerbaijan? It's Larry Brown all over again and… it's time for a change.

Dr. Daaim Shabazz, The Chess Drum

GM Hikaru Nakamura at the 2004 World Open. Copyright © 2004, Daaim Shabazz.

GM Hikaru Nakamura at the 2004 World Open
(Photo by Daaim Shabazz)

Posted by The Chess Drum: 10 September 2004