Olympiad Conclusions and Where Now for FIDE?



Olympiad Conclusions and Where Now for FIDE?

by Sergey Shipov

The main conclusion was that the Olympiad was a success. The organisers did a fine job putting on a large-scale show with both spirit and know-how. Well done!

But there were also points of contention which were more the responsibility of FIDE officials. I’ll fire off, for example, a couple of shots at the format of the Olympiad.

Organisers, as we all know, chase after records. For them it’s important to have as many teams as possible as then you can boast: look, we’re growing, a record number of players have taken part, and so on. While at the same time they reduced the number of rounds! At the start of the century there were 14, now there are 11. And, as a consequence (and this was clear before the opening), the leading teams simply didn’t manage to establish the pecking order among themselves. A persistent sense of incompletion remains. As a result the element of chance in the tournament was many times greater than it needed to be and the justice and objectivity of the sporting results was largely called into question. Something really should be done about it…

And I know precisely what! They should return, if not to the old number of rounds, then at least to the magic number of 13. We also shouldn’t forget the opinion of Morozevich, who says that the short length of the Olympiad doesn’t allow young people to organise their personal lives… Which is very bad, if you take a wider look at the Olympiad. From a universal human point of view.

Despite my enthusiasm as a supporter, I agree with the critics who complained about the enormous number of teams under the name “Russia”. Forgive me, dear organisers, but 5 male teams is overkill. 23 - and bust in blackjack! And no explanations along the lines of, these two are really Russia while the others represent the region and so on, will do any good. There have to be some limits! The regulations allow the hosts three teams? So that’s how many should play. At most. Though two would be better! And they should really correspond to the name of the country.

It all ended up ok as our nth teams didn’t, by and large, interfere with the distribution of medals… though at the same time it wasn’t good that they forced us to treat them condescendingly.

And just imagine for a moment our N+1 team picked from those who weren’t at the board in Khanty-Mansiysk: Morozevich, Bareev, Dreev, Riazantsev, Kobalia. Or our N+2: Zvyagintsev, Najer, Andreikin, Khismatullin, Kurnosov. And that wouldn’t be the end of it. Besides, even the Yugra team (a.k.a. Russia-3) could have been reinforced at the bottom of the line-up (I’d propose Sakaev and Grachev). And those teams could also have caused a real commotion at the Olympiad! While killing the very principle of a forum of nations.

As an analogy imagine that at the Football World Cup in Brazil 2014 the hosts put up 4-5 teams. I don’t think our soccer masters, who barely suffice for a single strong team, will enjoy losing to the Brazilian third team… And who would consider that result unlikely? It’s a good analogy with a Brazil – Russia-3 chess match.

And now (sorry, I got distracted) to the sporting results.

Men’s tournament

Again. Every time at this spot. The carriage overturned! So said a classic a century ago, and he was right a thousand times over. [Translator’s note: Ivan Gorbunov (1831-1895) wrote about a driver who boasts to his passengers how well he knows a road, but during the night the carriage overturns – and puzzled, he says the above.]

What was the Russian team lacking to win the Olympiad? This time everything was ideal. They prepared seriously for the tournament: all the competitors, including Kramnik, were at the training camp, getting ready physically and preparing openings. The prizes for medals were set so high that there couldn’t be a problem with motivation. The atmosphere in the team was great. The young player, Sergey Karjakin, was successfully incorporated and the trainers enjoyed good relations with the team  (which wasn't the case not so long ago). And the line-up was as it should be – the first according to ratings. However, as always.

Yes, the voices of sceptics will no doubt sound now saying that instead of Malakhov we should have included Nepomniachtchi. But that’s criticism after the fact. Incorrect, by definition. Before the Olympiad it was much harder to come to that conclusion. The choice wasn’t simple, and in any case there was a risk. Ian is a bold chess player, but unstable. Yes, he shone, but in the second team. But then Volodya [Malakhov], although he’d previously played stably in team tournaments, couldn’t help his team out at the key moments. But who could have known that beforehand?

Now, analysing the chase for gold between Russia and Ukraine, many will remember the key game, as it seems to them, between Efimenko and Malakhov, saying that if he’d held as black Russia would have been first… But why precisely that game? Why not recall Kramnik-Ivanchuk, where white didn’t convert his advantage? Why do they forget the Leko-Grischuk game, which was decisive in the Hungary-Russia match? And, finally, why not focus on the bitter struggle Svidler-Salgado Lopez, which meant we didn’t beat the Spaniards? Look at the tournament table! We change the result in our favour in one of the important games, and then we add a match point, and with that our team Berger improves and, there it is, gold.

So that all such attempts to find the root of the evil in one particular moment and find a single scapegoat are incorrect. The team was flawed, the whole team! Never mind that when people attempt, after the fact, to change the result of one game in the tournament they’re not taking into account the subsequent changes in the position of the teams and the draw for the next round, the changes in the future play of the opponents etc. The butterfly effect still holds, although in the given situation it’s more of a pterodactyl effect, the wing span is so huge, the impact so large…

The result of the attempt to find the reasons for failure (and, although relative, second place is still a failure) can be stated succinctly: Who the hell knows! They could and should have won. But they couldn’t. Once more.

And there’s no point searching for a leader and instigator in the mould of the Kasparov of the Olympiad in Bled 2002 and before. That’s already the distant past. We’ve got an abundance of strong players, and each of them, if he wants, could lead the team.

By the way, about that abundance. You can’t put everyone in the first team and the second team performed very adequately. They started in the style of champions but then, in the upper reaches of the atmosphere, they stalled and, unfortunately, couldn’t immediately reverse their nosedive. But we won’t berate the young fighters. So they didn’t win medals, but still they gained experience. And there’s also a more specific positive result – we’ve clearly got one player who’ll be in the first team for a few Olympiads to come. Of course he’s not likely to be on the first board again anytime soon, but… who knows. We’ll see. And we’ll support him.

The Ukrainian victory was justified. Their team was solid, cohesive, strong-willed and knew what to do. They had a powerful leader and an aggressive “tail”. It was a good version of the Soviet team. Our team was second. Out of the Caucasus teams at the Olympiad I’d form a third team: Aronian, Mamedyarov, Radjabov, Jobava, Akopian… In general the Soviet school of chess is once more showing its class and top results.

I’m sure you see that I could talk in the same breath about the friendly ties between us and the Israeli team… But perhaps it’s not worth it. As then you’d also have to mention the States…

In the upper part of the tournament table there were no surprises. All the teams were notable, respected. All performed well, plus or minus some minor details.

But India’s 18th place was a disappointment. Ah, how they could have shone with Anand! Although… Maybe they wouldn’t have shone. Judging by how poorly Carlsen and Topalov performed in Khanty-Mansiysk (both got a very modest “+1” and lost about 15 rating points), it was extremely uncomfortable for stars of the first order to play in such an enormous chess cauldron. They’ve become used to the chamber situation of super-tournaments and matches. They’re used to being at the centre of attention, to their special position… But here, in a crowd, among the people, they’re simply not noticed. And they get beaten up, regardless of their rating and status! They’re punished for trying too hard to win, for violating chess principles. And rightly so.

Women’s tournament

We’ll remember the phenomenal performance of the Russian women’s first team for a long time. They simply crushed the competition. Before the start I had doubts about their success for two reasons:

1. I was worried about the atmosphere in the team. Could our primadonnas get on with each other? Could they form a cohesive team with a common goal? As it turned out – they could. Which is in no small part down to our trainers. Well done!

2. What would Galliamova’s form be like after she hadn’t played for so long? But that question was also successfully resolved. After the blunders at the start, that didn’t affect the team’s results, Alisa Mikhailovna warmed up and looked very convincing in the key matches.

In general the majority of teams, including some of our competitors, could only dream of having such a chess player on their first board, while for us, based on entirely objective factors, she played on the fourth. And the contrast in the quality of the line-ups turned out to be great…

It was nice that our team had no weak points. They all held up to the pressure, and they all achieved a serious percentage. In general, it was a dream team!

China and Georgia didn’t surprise us. They played well and rightfully won medals. Ukraine, on the other hand, could clearly have done better. I won’t try to go into details as it’s hard for an outsider to judge anything for certain, but the Ukrainian women clearly didn’t live up to their potential. A pity…

Our second national team clearly didn’t have enough experience of similar competitions. But they do now. The first step is the hardest… All five girls are good reserves for the first team.

The performance of the Cuban team was a pleasant surprise. Yes, they “surfaced” at the perfect time, yes, they didn’t manage to play the prize-winning teams, but all the same their result was impressive – 4th place at the Olympiad! A fantastic achievement. The Azerbaijan family team is growing up. It seems as though they’ll already be a threat to the favourites by the next Olympiad.

I’ll note one more important point: for the majority of countries four boards in a women’s team is too much. They simply turned out not to be in a position to find so many top-class chess players. But, on the other hand, it’s an excellent stimulus for the development of women’s chess around the world. To train one or two female chess players is a realistic task for any country. Sometimes you just get lucky. A talented girl’s born, who knows how – and you can invest money, select trainers and take her to tournaments. But to find 5 female chess players at the same time for a team – luck won’t be enough for that. You need competition and to work on a large scale. And that’s great!

The sporting results of the Olympiad are also reflected in the standings of the Gaprindashvili Cup: the overall performance of the men and women combined. The top-3 was easy to predict. Russia was first by a large margin with 40 points, then the Ukraine and China shared second and third with 34 points. A fair reflection of play! Commentary is unnecessary …

FIDE Presidential Election

The election campaign was so violent and nervous that it turned out to be very hard to detach yourself from it and look at the situation calmly, from a distance.

I’ll try to find some positives:

1. The Karpov team highlighted many of the negative points in the work of the current FIDE management. All the flaws were known before, of course, but now they’re being talked about loudly enough. Which is very important and useful. Let’s hope that the re-elected President will take account of the criticism and improve many things in the work of his team.

2. Media coverage. It turned out to be unexpectedly vivid and total. Everybody was writing about the struggle between Ilyumzhinov and Karpov! Even the tabloids were involved, finding things to latch on to, scandalous moments and so on. Of course, if you think in terms of integrity then we’d have been better off without a lot of what we saw in the election struggle. But from a business point of view, from the point of view of competing with other types of sport, the well-known formula still operates: “There’s no such thing as bad publicity”. Such is life.

3. Garry Kasparov again found himself in the media spotlight as a great chess player and a legendary champion and not as a Russian politician. I’d really like to see him if not at the chess board (that’s the ideal version for a commentator), then at least as an active participant in chess life. Garry could travel the world and promote chess, and his everlasting brand would attract the attention of sponsors.

Well, at least for a while, it happened.

4. It’s become clear who’s who. I won’t decrypt that thesis, but it’s in just such extreme struggles that many people reveal their personal qualities, both good, and bad. That’s valuable information. Also a result.

Perhaps the list of positives could be continued… But I’ll leave that to my readers.

Now, in brief, for the negatives. Or rather, I’ll present the conclusions I draw from them.

My friends, colleagues, brothers and sisters in arms! We need to radically alter the situation in the chess world. Why should obscure delegates from distant and clearly not chess countries, who, moreover, don’t even attend the FIDE Congress, decide the outcome of the most important votes and decide the fate of the chess world? This at the same time as all the grandmasters combined, including World Champions, Ex-World Champions and chess elders, have no right to vote! It’s just absurd…

I believe it’s necessary to fundamentally reform the FIDE legislation and the whole election process. The principle of “one country – one vote” has been completely discredited. If we’re all really one family, then we need to think up a system that takes into account the chess weight of different countries. Either in terms of the number of grandmasters, or the results in recent Olympiads, or the rating of the ten best players in the country – in general, there are a lot of options. Probably the electoral weight of the country should also depend on its influence in organising international tournaments – then there’ll be an additional new, albeit small, stimulus for organisers. And all those factors will determine, for example, the number of electors from each country. Of course, it shouldn’t be directly proportional. The votes of the small (in a chess sense) states should still remain in demand… In general, we need some sort of balance of interests.

As an analogy you can recall the electoral system in the USA – different states have a different number of electors taking part in the decisive vote, depending on the “weight” of the state.

The second, more cardinal approach is to divide FIDE into two organisations. One should run professional chess, the World Championship cycle and major events - some sort of analogy of the ATP in tennis. While the second part, the second organisation will run mass chess and raise the level of our game around the world, organising children’s championships and so on. Moreover, the first and second organisations should remain, at worst, on friendly terms, as after all professionals don’t come from nowhere. They grow among the masses and, as a rule, from children :)

In general, it’s a very radical direction to follow, though if you remember the chess history of the last few decades then some steps have already been taken. I believe it's once more high time that we at the very least discuss it. We need to dispense with the snobbery surrounding the most distinctive and unique game in the world, and come to terms with real life.

English translation by Colin McGourty