Olympiad 2010. Expectation



Olympiad 2010. Expectation

by Sergey Shipov

When you wait a long time for something it always comes unexpectedly. As the deadline approaches time dramatically accelerates and the event almost explodes into life – so that you don’t manage to be prepared. While earlier it had seemed that there was still a long time to go...

That’s what’s happened with the World Chess Olympiad which will be starting in a few days in Khanty-Mansiysk. They prepared for a long time – even beginning a few years ago – but they weren’t in time. However, the organisers really did face great objective difficulties. Having almost three thousand people arrive at the same time is no joke! The town’s quite small, there are no large hotels, or rather, there weren’t any. There’s also no experience of running events on such a large scale. The World Cups, which seem almost to have taken up residence in Khanty-Mansiysk, are still an order of magnitude smaller.

It’s good that the “new broom” in the region didn’t try to get out of the obligations of the old one. After all, they could have washed their hands and disowned it, saying that there were more important matters, referring to the crisis, social problems, and so on. But the Governor of Yugra, Natalia Komarova, maintained her predecessor’s line and managed to finish what they’d started. The hotels have, eventually, been built, and a lot of other complex problems have been resolved… All that remains now is the minor matter of running the Olympiad up to standard. Let’s just hope they manage.

I’ll say something briefly about the tournament. Both the men and women are playing in teams on four boards, with one player in reserve. Team points (2,1,0) are given for each match, while the overall number of game points collected serves as a tiebreaker. There are a great number of teams, so they’re playing according to the Swiss System over 11 rounds. That length is, of course, too short – there’s no way all the heavyweight medal contenders will manage to play each other. I remember, for example, that in Bled 2002 there were 14 rounds – that’s a much more objective format for determining the winners. But times have changed. The trend nowadays is to economise – both on days and expenses. The chess calendar is exceptionally packed, while sponsors can’t be found “for love or money”… Therefore they’ve reduced it to 11. The thin edge of the wedge!

Russia, as the host nation, is represented by a countless number of teams in both tournaments. The two, let’s say, federal teams, and also the Yugra teams. Will that quantity be transformed into quality? We’ll see. In any case, it’s useful to give promising young players a chance to test their mettle in this cauldron of international chess. The atmosphere at the Olympiad is unique. And no team cups can compare.

Now let’s take a look at the most pressing questions: Who’s the favourite for the Olympiad? Who’s in the running for the top places?

It’s worth starting by carefully studying the declared team line-ups. If you pick any team you’ll see a full list, including the trainers and representatives.

Men’s tournament

The medal candidates, in my opinion, are Russia, Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan, China, USA, Israel and… I think we can end the list there. I’d really like to include the second, younger Russian team (it’s good to remember 1994, the “Cosmos” hotel and so on), but it’s going to be really difficult for them without Uncle Morozevich to lead them. And such an idea had been considered. But it didn’t work out.

France would be on the list, but without Bacrot they’re clearly lacking in depth. And weight. And what can you say about the Indian Team when they could have had the World Champion Anand himself playing for them! But he also won’t be in the team,which is a shame. It’s high time for the Indians to get together and make themselves known as the Home of Chess.

Now let’s go through the list.

The main favourite is


As usual, the leader in terms of overall ratings. As usual, immensely respected by everyone. But not feared, as used to be the case. After so many defeats our aura of champions has faded. But where, if not at home, will we be able to restore it?


Our neighbours have, at last, brought together their optimal line-up. Ponomariov has returned to the team colours. Eljanov has matured and gained in strength. Which gives a very strong team! And if Vasily Mikhailovich is in form, then… the Ukrainians should be in the top three. At least.


The successes of this team time and again provoke amazement and delight. The Armenians are clearly lacking a strong “substitutes’ bench”, but they’ve achieved success with their initial line-up alone. The secret is in the fantastic dedication and concentration of all the players on this particular tournament. The clearest example is Sargissian. At the Olympiads he plays at a level 100 points above what he’s capable of :) In any case, in individual tournaments Gabriel doesn’t shine. While in his country’s team he turns into a mastermind. Akopian, judging by his play, sometimes becomes around 15 years younger. While Aronian simply plays at his level, which is more than enough, as it’s phenomenal.

In general, I’m ready once more to be amazed and delighted by the Armenians.


I’m not prepared to comment on the internal destruction of this powerful team, which has spilled over onto the internet. Either way, the result is deplorable. The ousting of Gashimov has dramatically weakened the line-up. No young talent can replace such a chess player. However, in spite of that Azerbaijan will still be strong and dangerous for all their opponents. But to achieve great things they’ll now also need the help of fortune. However, all the others could do with some too.


Sooner or later it’ll happen. And although formally China’s line-up is inferior to its competitors their monolithic approach and 100% serious preparation makes them good prospects. After all, the Olympiad is a team sport. And teamwork sometimes overcomes the arithmetical shortcomings of the line-up…


The stars and stripes have put together a good brigade: three top-class Soviet grandmasters, the frenetic Nakamura (it’s a shame for him, no doubt, that they won’t play one minute a game) and a new local talent. They’ve got great potential. I don’t believe they’ll get gold, but they’re capable of another medal if things go their way.


When there’s the roar of a powerful engine up front the speed of your team is guaranteed. For Israel, in terms of tournament predictions, everything is extremely simple. If Boris Gelfand plays well the team will play well. And if he doesn’t, it’s unlikely. After all, the remaining players aren’t of the same class. And they’re unlikely to manage to shine enough to catch their opponents over the full distance.

Dark horses: England, Poland, France and many, many others. In general, the men’s tournament is very strong. And there are many in the second echelon capable of breaking through. It’s also worth bearing in mind the tricks of the Swiss System. Keeping under the radar some teams may shoot up at the end and beat those teams that were on top…

Women’s tournament

As usual, the list of real contenders for the women’s prizes is shorter. There’s a big four: China, Russia, Ukraine and Georgia, and by an act of will I’d add Poland to that. The other teams are weaker.

Now about each team in turn…

The main favourite is


I won’t listen to any objections. China is so superior to all the other countries in terms of results in the last two decades that no details, no comparison of line-ups can change their pre-tournament status. The multiple champions will again be at the centre of attention. Fortunately, they’ve already brought in a new generation. The ex-World Champions have been dispatched into retirement. The young are entering the fray, but they’ve already managed to put up a good account of themselves…


Our team is objectively the strongest. The appearance of Alisa Galliamova should strengthen the team and give it the solidity of champions. It’s impossible to talk of team unity, but at the end of the day in the given situation you can get by without it. Such strong players are capable of simply picking up a lot of points – each on their own board. Then we can sum them up and, god-willing, we’ll get those precious medals… Preferably gold. There won’t be a better chance in the near future!They need to win here and now.


A very solid and balanced team. You could put these players in any order and they wouldn’t let you down. And in any combination their tail’s capable of landing a blow against their direct competitors.


In the past the showing of the Georgians largely depended on Chiburdanidze. Remember their triumphal march in Dresden 2008. But the famed champion isn’t travelling to Khanty-Mansiysk. That’s a hard loss to take, but it would be wrong to be too quick to rule out this excellent team. Of late Dzagnidze has really improved – she’s capable of becoming the new team leader. Nana is ready for great victories. Therefore Georgia now has new possibilities. And they always have an abundance of strength in reserve. Traditions…


A team that’s always underestimated – which at some point people end up regretting. Besides, the Polish women are very strong. Not in the individual mastery of the players, but in the excellent preparation of the whole team. I know Polish trainers – believe me, they’re terrifying people. Their work is excellent, the envy of many. Virtuosos of home preparation, they’re able to make team stars out of simply good chess players.

Dark horses: India (if Koneru was in the team then they’d be among the favourites, while without her, not at all), USA, Serbia, Russia 2, France, Armenia and a few others. Unfortunately, in terms of depth and competition the women’s tournament is greatly inferior to the men’s. If you dig a bit deeper then you’ll find teams that are an order of magnitude weaker than the favourites. That’s why I expect we’ll see many matches with a crushing scoreline in the women’s competition.

There are only likely to be three teams contending for the Nona Gaprindashvili Trophy (for the composite performance of the men’s and women’s teams) – Russia, Ukraine and China. I’d put the chances of any of the others breaking into the top three at… 10%. No higher.


FIDE Presidential Elections

Being held in parallel with the Olympiad is the FIDE Congress, at which the President of that organisation will be elected.

Too much has already been said about the pre-election campaign of Ilyumzhinov and Karpov. Frankly, it’s become boring. The noise is out of proportion to the event…

One thing is clear – FIDE has turned into a commercial company which only has an indirect relation to chess. The fight for the presidency is above all a fight for a good business. As a result, large sums of money have been spent, prominent figures have entered the fray, different campaign methods have been thought up… Just think of the competition for compromising material and legal cases. Of course, no-one would enter such a fierce fight just for the bragging rights of developing chess all over the world (receiving in exchange, as a rule, unjustified criticism).

In business, as in chess, the strongest wins. We know his name… but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We’ll pretend that we still have democracy in chess. Free elections, the sovereign right to express your will, serious suspense and so on. We’ll observe the process and be happy for the winners…

The Crestbook.com site and the Olympiad

I had the crazy idea of doing live on-line commentaries. But then I rejected it. After all, it’s not a super-tournament, never mind a World Championship match. The public’s attention is too unfocussed and thinly spread – there will be dozens of interesting matches and hundreds of games, all simultaneous. In such a situation commentating on one game, even one with famous names, is too risky. And ineffective.

Moreover, I know the peculiarities of the Olympiad… For the sake of team success fighters are capable of making sacrifices. I have in mind early draws that are inexplicable from a chess point of view. The team captains will get together in a huddle before a match, or even during it, ponder a little, weigh the risks and the tournament situation – and come to an agreement. While as a commentator you have to sit in front of your computer and explain to the spectators why such a sharp and interesting game was interrupted at the most interesting moment.

In general, commentating on the Olympiad has to be done differently – outside the box… We’ll work all out and as a team. For a team tournament – team commentary!

P.S. Go, Russia!


English translation by Colin McGourty