Round #13

Armenia wins GOLD!

Resurgent China gets silver while USA powers into 3rd for the bronze…
top-ranked Russia a disappointing 6th… #2 India places a dismal 30th

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Armenia 2-2 Hungary
China 2˝-1˝ Netherlands
Israel 3-1 Russia
Bulgaria 2˝-1˝ France
USA 3˝-˝ Norway

In the tradition of Tigran Petrosian, Armenia is one of the world's foremost chess powers and was able to cement a place in history with 1st place in the 37th Chess Olympiad in Turin, Italy. Led by 23-year old sensation Levon Aronian, the Armenians were the only undefeated team in the tournament and mixed a blend of youth and experience to coast to a win.

The team captain decided to use the same youthful lineup for nine consecutive rounds and the formula worked wonders. Gabriel Sargissian, who works with Aronian has been on fire lately and in this tournament had the highest win percentage in the tournament with scorching 10/12! Consensus has been that Sargissian's study with Aronian has helped him tremendously and the confidence they show in each other is infectious.

Armenia posing with Olympiad trophy with FIDE President Kirsan Ilymzhinov (far left). Photo by Allan Herbert.

Despite the overwhelming support for Russia in pre-tournament predictions, the team which touted six players with an average rating of over 2700 did not win the tournament. As mentioned, Russia lost four matches and suffered in the latter half (including a last round drubbing from Israel). While Kramnik played stellar chess, all others were inconsistent  and unconvincing. There have been speculation that the "Russian School of Chess" is on its last leg and that it is time for a rebuilding.

When India lost their first match against
Morocco, the tournament hall was in total shock as the daily Olympiad bulletin pasted it on the front page. Whether that demoralized India is debatable, but certainly Viswanathan Anand's inability to beat inferior opponents including a loss to newly-minted GM Pascal Charbonneau of Canada was quite a blow for the upstart Indians. Indians seem to lack the killer instinct in their team matches. Is there too much of the Michael Jordan syndrome of Indian players relying too heavily on Anand for leadership?

Several questions will be asked by Indian officials, but one is a certainty… was this the best team to send to Turin? No one questions the strength of the top five, but after his first-round loss to Morocco, DP Singh rode the pine the rest of the way. India later dropped matches to Israel, Ukraine and Canada. Sekhar Ganguly faltered after a blistering start 4˝-˝, but one could argue that he has been battling health issues and his stamina was not on par. Pentala Harikrishna carried the Indian side with +4 while Krishan Sasikiran was on +3.

What happened to India?

Although China won the silver medal with four losses (as did Russia in 2004), they won several matches by large scores. Chess fans are not pleased with the format and state that China should have been penalized and that match scores provide a better scoring system. Of course, Russia won the silver medal at the 2004 Olympiad with four match losses. One thing is a certainty… India will be back. What is unclear is Viswanathan Anand's role in future Olympiad teams.

In Africa, the balance of power clearly rests with the nations north of the Sahara. Egypt, Morocco and Algeria led the way for Africa as many teams struggled either from chemistry issues or mere underperformance. Both Egypt and Morocco scored upsets over India and Sweden, respectively while Nigeria and Angola struggled from inconsistencies.

The Caribbean had some bitter-sweet moments in Turin. The bitter moments were that none of the teams did significantly better than the previous Olympiads, but Caribbean players did score a few upsets.
Trinidad and Tobago's Christo Cave defeated Swedish Grandmaster Tiger Hillarp-Person while Jamaica's Russel Porter upset Heikki Westerinen of Finland.

Island nations still have a long way to go in competing with the strongest of chess nations, but this Olympiad did reveal good signs and overall the playing field is becoming more level.

Daaim Shabazz with Nigeria's Bunmi Olape. Photos by Daaim Shabazz.

Daaim Shabazz with
Nigeria's Bunmi Olape
(Photo by Daaim Shabazz)

African-Caribbean scores

Algeria 2˝-1˝ Luxembourg; Angola 2˝-1˝ Pakistan; Aruba 1-3 Ethiopia; Bermuda 0-4 Netherlands Antilles; Barbados 2-2 Syria; Botswana 2˝-1˝ Afghanistan; British Virgin Islands 1˝-2˝ Fiji; Cuba 2-2 Georgia; Dominican Republic 2˝-1˝ Portugal; Egypt 2-2 Bangladesh; Ethiopia 3-1 Aruba; Haiti 2-2 Palestine; Jamaica 2-2 Malta; Kenya 2-2 Hong Kong; Libya 2-2 Uganda; Malawi ˝-3˝ Brunei Darussalam; Mauritius ˝-3˝ Sudan; Afghanistan; Bulgaria 4-0 Morocco; Mozambique 2˝-1˝ Brunei Darussalam; Namibia ˝-3˝ Cyprus; Netherlands Antilles 4-0 Bermuda; Nigeria 1˝-2˝ Andorra; Puerto Rico 2-2 Ecuador; Rwanda 1-3 San Marino; Seychelles 1˝-2˝ Bahrain; South Africa 2-2 Turkmenistan; Sudan 3˝-˝ Mauritius; Trinidad & Tobago 3-1 Liechtenstein; Tunisia ˝-3˝ Mexico; Uganda 2-2 Libya; US Virgin Islands ˝-3˝ Suriname; Zambia 1˝-2˝ El Salvador

Reporting from Cape Town, South Africa - Dr. Daaim Shabazz, The Chess Drum

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Posted by The Chess Drum: 1 June 2006