Drum Predictions for the 37th Olympiad

All roads lead to Turin, Italy as more than 140 will "pawn off" at the 37th Olympiad. Two years ago, the Ukraine shocked the world by taking the gold ahead of a powerful Russian side. This year, Russia will add Vladimir Kramnik to their team in hopes of reestablishing the glory of Russian chess. However, Armenia will be a team to watch.  The U.S. has a invigorated team with the addition of teen phenom Hikaru Nakamura and will hope to medal in this tournament. Here are the Drum predictions for 2006!


Analysis: As tempting as it may be, The Chess Drum will not pick Russia to win the gold. Armenia may be ready for a breakthrough after bronze performances in the past two Olympiads. Levon Aronian was a candidate for the Chess Oscar with good reason… he has continued to impress in high-level tournaments and is now the #3 player in the world. He won the World Chess Cup and also the perennially-strong Linares and should be well-rested. Armenia will miss Rafael Vaganian's powerful +7 performance in the Calvia Olympiad and hope that Karen Asrian will be a viable replacement.

X-Factor: Armenia will miss Vaganian's veteran leadership and this will be Aronian's first Olympiad showing on top board. The pressure is much different in a team tournament, but of course Aronian's fighting style is well suited for the time control. Armenia will need a strong performance from the reserve players and hope that Artashes Minasian will score better this year. Gabriel Sargissian may be a key factor here.  This team will rack up big scores over weaker opponents.


Analysis: Last year, The Chess Drum correctly picked the Ukraine to win the gold and Russia to come in second. This year the composition of the team is different due to the shoring up of the Russian side with Vladimir Kramnik, Evgeny Bareev and current Russian champion, Sergei Rublevsky. However, Peter "The Rock" Svidler will be arriving from Sofia, Bulgaria and there is uncertainty of Vladimir Kramnik's form. The Alexanders (Grischuk and Morozevich) will hopefully provide punch in the middle. Unlike last year, Russia has more stable leadership and will not repeat their four losses from the 2004 Olympiad!

X-Factor:  The key to the Russian team will be the reserves Bareev and Rublevsky. It remains to be seen how many matches Kramnik will play, but the bottom boards will no doubt see lots of action. Alexander Morozevich has to avoid a poor start and hopefully Peter Svidler will not be exhausted from the M-Tel invitational. He will most likely miss the first few rounds of the tournament.


Analysis: This team faces very high expectations. With the addition of Hikaru Nakamura, Ildar Ibragimov and Varuzhan Akobian, the U.S. side looks very solid. Gata Kamsky continues to round back into form, but it is unclear what board he will play since Alexander Onischuk is the U.S. Champion. Kamsky certainly stacks up better against elite competition and may have regained his 2700 form. Nakamura, who was snubbed from the U.S. team in the last Olympiad, should be a welcome addition. There may not be any 2.Qh5 games, but look for some fighting chess and a possible medal.

X-Factor: The keys to the U.S. team will be Kamsky and Nakamura. Hopefully, Kamsky will have some gas left in the tank after a successful M-Tel Masters tournament. Both of these players fight, fight and fight. Enough said.

GM Hikaru Nakamura

4. India - Viswanathan Anand will miss the first couple of rounds of the tournament while he competes in the M-Tel Masters in Bulgaria. That means that Krishnan Sasikiran will have to man the top board as he did in 2000 and 2002. Pentala Harikrishna has come on very strong and will provide stability in the middle lineup. The Indian team will carry one non-GM player who is expected to see limited action, but current Indian champion Shekhar Ganguly should be able repeat his solid +3 performance from 2004. Sandipan Chanda is making his debut.

5. Ukraine - After winning gold in 2004, the Ukraine will be hard pressed to repeat that performance. Sergey Karjakin is improving steadily, but there is some concern that Vassily Ivanchuk is playing in too many tournaments. This may be telling in latter rounds. He played in all but one round in 2004 and with Karjakin led the Ukraine with +6 scores. This year Ponomariov has ascended to the #1 spot, but is not on the roster. In the 2004 Olympiad, he appeared unfocused and did not perform well.

6. France - The Frenchmen will be at full strength with Joel Lautier and Etienne Bacrot on boards #1 and #2. Teenage sensation Maxime Lagrave-Vachier will make his debut. Lautier does not compete very often and Bacrot will be missing the first half of the tournament while competing in Bulgaria at the M-Tel Masters. Bacrot has struggled as of late.

7. Israel - Practically the same team from 2004… same team, same result. This team is not striking and appears rather conservative. The team was vying for the lead before being crushed by Russia and Armenia and then held by a much weaker Moldova. They tend to play too conservatively against strong teams. They still finished 5th and remain a dangerous side.

8. Cuba - Lenier Dominguez and Lázaro Bruzón have cooled off since the last Olympiad, but remain a viable threat to unsuspecting teams. Cuba beat India in 2004 to knock India off course for a medal. The team's strength is their chemistry and all team members have played for previous Olympiad teams.

9. China - This team could be surprising. The "Young Dragons" have an abundance of raw talent. "Veteran" Bu Xianghzi will probably share board #1 duties with Zhang Zhong, but the real surprise may be Wang Yue. Ni Hua is probably still hurting from his collapse in the World Team Championship in Israel last year and will try to have a change of fortune. The team will not have the mentorship of Ye Jiangchuan. China appears to be amidst a "youth movement" on both the men and women's teams.

10. Spain - Spain may be celebrating Barcelona's victory over Arsenal in the League of Champions match, but they will need a Ronaldhino-type performance from Alexei Shirov to break the top 10. Shirov has become famous for his shockingly horrible tournament last year where he lost almost every game. However, he bounced back and won the strong category 18 Poikovsky tournament. Consistency from Shirov will certainly be needed at the top.

Regional Predictions

Top African Teams - (1) Egypt (2) Tunisia (3) Nigeria, Angola (tie)
Top Asian Teams -  (1) India  (2) China (3) Vietnam
Top Caribbean Teams -  (1) Cuba (2) Dominican Republic (3) Barbados
Top European Teams -  (1) Armenia (2) Russia (3) Ukraine
Top North American Teams - (1) U.S.A. (2) Canada (3) Mexico
Top Latin American Teams  - (1) Brazil (2) Argentina (3) Peru
Top Middle Eastern Teams - (1) Israel  (2) Turkey (3)  Iran

Posted by The Chess Drum: 19 May 2006

See "Analysis of Predictions"

www Drum