The Chess Olympiad of 2016 took place in Baku. Although most of the comments about the organisation were positive, from a playing point of view it turned into a disaster for the Azeris. Most of their players performed at best par with their rating, at worst they had a nightmare. You only need two players to be out of form and you are going to struggle. Despite the best efforts of the captain Etienne Bacrot, who is a very good friend of one of the Azeri players Arkadi Naiditsch, the Azeri’s crashed and burned. It happens.
As everyone knows, the only time I ever played in an Olympiad it turned into a disaster for me. You can read about this in my upcoming book, provisionally titled “The Chessplayer”, which should be out in the next year. However my personal woes aside, I do believe that attending an olympiad is something every decent player (or even not so decent) should strive to do once. There is just nothing quite like it. At no other event will you get so many different cultures and nations coming together in a chess setting. You’ll make friends that you’ll keep for life.
Ultimately it turned out that USA won the open section, and China won the women’s section. But to merely look at the results would not tell the whole tale of the myriad stories that I’m sure emerged from the Olympiad this year. It’s just a shame I’m not on site to report on it, so I will do my best to provide the reader with some interesting snippets from games played during the event.
Two of the most unique and interesting players around are Alexey Shirov, playing for Latvia, and Richard Rapport, playing for Hungary. They met in round five.
Some of the people I spoke to weren’t happy with England’s performance in the competition, but in general we did well. Adams, Short and Gawain Jones were generally in excellent form and we beat China and the Azeris, two of the pre-tournament favourites. Problem was David Howell and Luke McShane didn’t play quite so well. I think to have a really good compeitition and challenge for the medals, we need to have all of our players in good form. Or maybe four out of five.
You could make an argument for putting Jonathan Hawkings in the team in future. I mention to Jon that in a way he was unlucky to come along in the wrong era, because 10 years ago when I was in the team he would have been a shoe in, but now you need to be 2630 to get in the team. It’s strange that he’s won the British twice, and never played for England. I think it’s about time he got a shot.
I think if Hawk or Nick Pert were over 2600 you could make an strong case for their selection, but at around 40 or 50 points lower then the board five, the rating difference is perhaps the reason they aren’t selected. But maybe it’s time for the England selectors to think outside of the box, and that would also shake up some of the players who are there already, who are perhaps stuck in some sort of comfort zone where they know they are going to be picked regardless of their performance.
I’m kind of surprised Luke plays so little, and I think this affected his performance. Clearly at the start of the event he was too rusty to really compete. He improved by the end, but at that point you are under pressure everytime you play, because you’ve already dropped points at the start, and he lost an important game against Iran.
Gawain can look back on the event with better feelings. He produced a brilliant queen sacrifice against Vietnam.
Short’s key moment came in the match against China.
There was a curious incident during this game. Apparently Short was requested to undergo an “anti-cheating examination” during the game, which he quite sensibly resisted (he had already undergone a test before the game, and was extensively tested afterwards). It was within the rights of the arbiters to default him at that point, but thankfully they saw sense.
I am presumably not the only person who thinks some of these anti-cheating measures to be over the top and positively draconian now. Apparently you even had to inform the arbiter if you had to go to the toliet. I think eventually they scrapped that rule as even the organizers realized it was too ridiculous. It’s time to go back to some normality and accept you are going to have some cheats, but don’t introduce these daft measures which harm the enjoyment of the players, most of whom wouldn’t even contemplate cheating.
The American team you could argue “bought” their way to the title, as in the last few years you had both Caruana and Wesley So changing federation to the USA, moves which were doubtless instigated by the Billionare Rex Sinquefield who has been a long supporter of US chess and wants both a successful Olympiad team and a US world champion. Well now he has achieved the first part, and like most Billionares he tends to get what he wants so it’s entirely possible he will live to see the second part come true as well.
Stars of the USA team were undoubtably Wesley So, who has been working hard lately, and Sam Shankland. Shankland is surely one of the best prepared players around. I recall watching him play in the B group in Wijk Aan Zee a couple of years ago and was impressed by how often he was ahead after the opening; it was clear he could have done even better than he did, as he was unable to convert some very promising positions.
Players like Carlsen and Jobava are more “sexy” to the general chess public as they don’t put as much store in opening preparation as some players do, but isn’t being good in the opening as much part of chess as say being good in the ending? If you have the ability to prepare well, why not use it. Wesley racked up a lot of points and in the next game he quickly took over the initiative.
There’s always a surprise package in the Olympiad. This year I thought it was going to be the Dutch, but they faded, and in fact it was Canada that came through. While they have home grown players like Hansen perhaps there most impressive player was a recent recruit, Anton Kovalyov, who actually studies in a University in Texas I believe, but represents Canada. If Kovalyov had stayed in Russia he would have been a strong player, but a strong player that noone would have heard of. I think it’s a smart move for both him and Bareev playing for Canada. That way they get to play some of the best players because they can play on a high board for a national team.
I doubt this is the last we have heard of Kovalyov. I get the impression that he is a talented but lazy player, and if he starts to work hard on the game, watch out.
Certainly one of the most impressive performances from the event came from the ever inventive and unique player Baadur Jobava. Jobava hasn’t been in the greatest form of late but clearly the honour of representing his country inspired him to a really impressive performance. In an interview after the last round Jobava stressed the importance of having a leader for the team, explaining how Russia did much better when they had Garry on board one racking up a lot of points; since he retired their results have generally been much worse.
When Jobava was asked for his best game he gave the one against Topalov, but surely his most entertaining win was the minature in the match against eventual silver medallists Ukraine.
Danny Gormally is a talented English Grandmaster. He lives in the bustling market town of Alnwick, somewhere near Scotland.
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