Thursday, July 24

One week until Tromsø Olympiad

Aside from the World Championship, the most important international chess tournament is the Olympiad, organized every other year.  The 2014 Chess Olympiad takes place during the first two weeks of August in Tromsø, a Norwegian city located north of the Arctic Circle.  The statistics are staggering: 310 teams (Open and Women) with more than 1500 players, including roughly 275 Grandmasters.  A half dozen squads field a top-4 average rating above 2700 FIDE.  However, the World Chess Federation (FIDE) actives promotes participation by weaker nations, and no fewer than 40 teams rated under 2000 FIDE will compete in the Open section.
Tromsø lies amid water and mountains.



PREVIEW by IM John Donaldson

The two American teams have serious aspirations to bringing home a medal.  The men are seeded 6th and the women 7th. Team USA last reached the podium in Dresden, Germany in 2008, when both squads earned the bronze medal.  Fortunately, the strongest American masters will all represent the red, white and blue, including current World #5 Hikaru Nakamura plus reigning US Champions Gata Kamsky and Irina Krush.  The team brings plenty of experience to Norway, with the top four men and top three women returning from 2012. Watch the newcomer for the men--the Bay Area's own Sam Shankland!

Team USA - Open (2701 average)
  • Board 1 GM Hikaru Nakamura (2787) -- World #5
  • Board 2 GM Gata Kamsky (2706) -- World #44
  • Board 3 GM Alex Onischuk (2659) -- World #92
  • Board 4 GM Varuzhan Akobian (2653) 
  • Alternate GM Sam Shankland (2624)
  • Captain IM John Donaldson
  • Coach GM Wesley So 

Team USA - Women (2406 average)
  • Board 1 GM Irina Krush (2474) -- World #29
  • Board 2 IM Anna Zatonskih (2468) -- World #36
  • Board 3 WGM Tatev Abrahamyan (2366) -- World #93
  • Board 4 WGM Katerina Nemcova (2315)
  • Alternate WGM Sabina Foisor (2252)
  • Captain GM Melik Khachiyan
  • Coach GM Yuri Shulman

No doubt, the Americans will face stiff competition from around the globe, especially from the countries of the former USSR.  Indeed, USSR, Russia, Ukraine and Armenia won gold in the Open section at every Olympiad since the 1970s!  In recent years, Armenia (2012, 2008, 2006) and Ukraine (2010, 2004) have taken the top honors, while perennial top seed Mother Russia has failed every year since Garry Kasparov retired.  Four countries dominated the Women's category for the past eleven Olympiads: Russia (the last 2), China (4 golds out of 11), Georgia (also 4) and Ukraine (just gold in 2006).  China and Russia once again field the highest rated ladies squads.

Top Teams - Men (New Ratings from August 1)
World Champion Magnus Carlsen
  1. Russia 2773 -- Kramnik + Grischuk + Karjakin + Svidler
  2. Ukraine 2723 -- Ivanchuk + Ponomariov + Eljanov
  3. France 2719 -- Vachier-Lagrave + Bacrot + Fressinet
  4. Armenia 2705 -- Aronian + Sargissian
  5. Hungary 2703 -- Leko + Rapport
  6. USA 2701 -- Nakamura + Kamsky
  7. China 2699 -- Liren Ding + Wang Yue
  8. Azerbaijan 2694 -- Mamedyarov + Radjabov
  9. Israel 2683 -- Gelfand
  10. England 2681 -- Adams 
  11. Netherlands 2677 -- Giri
  12. Germany 2671 -- Naiditsch
  13. Cuba 2669 -- Dominguez
  14. Norway 2666 -- Carlsen
  15. Poland 2662 -- Wojtaszek

Most of the world's top players will participate.   Caruana (Italy) and Topalov (Bulgaria) have signed up, but their countries are not contenders.  The most glaring absence is #7 Anand, who has not represented India since 2010.  (In an interesting parallel, the top rated Indian woman, #2 Humpy Koneru, also will skip Norway.)  The next highest rated GM to sit out is Wesley So, who remains embroiled in a contentious battle to switch federations from the Philippines to USA.  Unable to play for the red, white and blue this year, So will assist the team as coach.

Top Teams - Women (New Ratings from August 1)
Women's Champion Hou Yifan
  1. China 2549 -- Hou Yifan + Zhao Xue
  2. Russia 2520 -- Lagno + Kosteniuk
  3. Ukraine 2510 -- A.Muzychuk + M.Muzychuk
  4. Georgia 2499 -- Dzagnidze
  5. India 2421 -- Harika
  6. Romania 2407 
  7. USA 2406
  8. Poland 2402
  9. France 2390
  10. Armenia 2383

Miscellaneous:  1. World Champion Magnus Carlsen will lead the home team.  How will he continue to handle the glare of the media?  2. Aside from the chess competition, the Olympiad allows chess delegates from around the globe to meet and set the direction for FIDE.  3. The most important pairing features Kirsan Ilyumzhinov against Garry Kasparov in the election for FIDE President.  The USA and Western Europe support the 13th World Champion, but the electoral landscape (one vote per country, no matter how small) favors the incumbent.  Will the chess community be able to resist a smiling leader who grows money on trees, socializes with aliens, and allegedly ordered the murder of a suspicious journalist?  4. Aside from chess and politics, the most exciting event at every Olympiad is the Bermuda party.  Definitely the place to go see a tipsy GM or fifty.  5. Given the northerly latitude of Tromsø, this may be the first Bermuda party held in daylight!  Hopefully the participants will be able to sleep longer than the 3-4 hours of twilight each evening

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