|World Team Championship Begins|
|By Tony Rich|
|July 18, 2011|
The 2011 World Team Championship has begun with all the fanfare and pomp you would expect from an international competition in any sport. FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and various political officials attended the opening ceremony, which included speeches from said dignitaries, as well as performances by local arts & culture organizations. As the highlight to the evening, China, India and America each had cultural performances of their own. For China, GM Wang Yue performed a modern musical number, which entertained even the non Chinese speakers in the crowd. India's Gopal Narayanan sang to the crowd and even received a flower from a little girl in the audience for his performance. Rounding out the spectacle, GM Ben Finegold and Tony Rich took a contemporary version of Free Fallin' by John Mayer, and showed why neither should become professional singers. When asked what he thought of the performance, GM Finegold said, "I'm just happy I remembered the lyrics!"
At the end of the program came the moment of truth: the drawing of lots, which would determine in what order each country would play one another. The highest-rated player from each team took turns summiting the stage and determining the fate for their country. GM Gata Kamsky appears to be in good form already, as he selected the first seed for America. Not only does this impart the advantage of an extra white on board 1, it also gives the psychological boost to see one's team at the top of the crosstable each round.
Following the formal program, the organizers provided a lavish dinner for all the teams and dignitaries; for what seemed like hours, participants enjoyed the local flavor and mingled with their hosts. As the evening wound down players dispersed for their rooms to begin preparing for battle.
In round 1, the U.S. was slated to play Russia. Players waited with bated breath the morning of round 1 to see who they would play. Since each team comes with one alternate player, it isn't clear until the day of each round what lineup a county will put forth. Russia, fielding the strongest team in the event, decided to play GM Sergey Karjakin (2788), GM Ian Nepomniachtchi (2711), GM Peter Svidler (2739) and GM Nikita Vitiugov (2733) - resting GM Alexander Grischuk (2746). The Americans in turn posted GM Gata Kamsky (2741), GM Alex Onischuk (2675), GM Yury Shulman (2617) and GM Robert Hess (2609) for their roster, while GM Yasser Seirawan rested. When asked what he thought of the Russian lineup, GM Hess said, "This is a really tough event, especially since we have to play Russia and Armenia (two of the strongest teams in the event) in the first two rounds. However, we came to play, so let's bring the battle to them."
Hess went on to describe the differences in training amongst the countries represented. "I do wish we had more time to prepare as a group. I mean, everyone has spent a lot of time preparing individually before we came, but preparing as a group is different. Armenia had a two week training camp before arriving, and the Russians had at least a week. In team events it's really important that everyone comes together and performs as a single unit. We (the Americans) really get along well, so let's see how that pays off."
Chief Arbiter Panagiotis Nikolopoulos, who was the Chief Arbiter in 2009, began round one with the confidence and formality you would expect from one in his position. Following the "zero tolerance" doctrine set forth by FIDE, players who are not present at their board are forfeited the second the round begins. Luckily, all players were present and no such forfeitures were required.
As the battle heated up, things were looking good for the Americans. Shulman later acknowledged that he "completely expected the opening" and had prepared a sharp continuation against Svidler. Unfortunately, as more pieces were traded and the game simplified, a draw was the only logical outcome. Likewise on board one, Gata Kamsky "got very little out of the opening", according to team coach GM Finegold. "Despite having white, it really seemed that Gata had an equal position very quickly. In fact, if anyone was considering playing on at the end it was Karjakin."
Drawing both games with white, the U.S. team needed a big result from either Onischuk or Hess to win the match, but unfortunately disaster struck. Hess ended up in a worse position out of the opening and was deftly demolished by GM Vitiugov. "I was surprised out of the opening and obviously made some bad decisions at critical moments. It's a really tough loss.", said Hess after the game.
Onischuk seemed on pace for a certain draw, with all the computers showing equality for a number of moves. However, a few uncharacteristic inaccuracies slipped into his play, which is all someone of Nepomniachtchi's strength needs to bring home the point.
A dazed Onischuk was seen later wondering what exactly went wrong. "I didn't blunder. I just made a few small mistakes and they added up."
In a somber mood, the American team went off to lick their wounds over dinner. Slowly the pain faded and the players began regrouping for the next hurdle - Armenia. After dinner, everyone congregated in IM Donaldson's room to create their battle plan. The mark of a true professional is the ability to take a loss in stride and not let its effects propagate into future rounds. This seemed true for the Americans as they could be seen in captain Donaldson's room laughing and joking after dinner. At one point the players were analyzing a game when Onischuk mentioned that Karpov disliked the position. In a jovially dismissive tone, Seirawan said, "Bah. Karpov can kiss my sweet patuta."
Everyone takes on an unique identity in the team meeting: Donaldson sits contemplatively while Akobian runs the computer. As Gata Kamsky paces back and forth, suggesting moves and other ideas, Hess, Onischuk and Finegold sit across a chess board playing through the variations. Yury Shulman sits back pensively white absent-mindedly bobbling an orange, and Seirawan entertains with his stories from another time and another place. As the meeting winds down, and homework has been assigned, there is a sense of determinism as the huddle breaks.
Some of the players are off to bed, still attempting to adjust to the 12 hour time difference, and others head to the hotel pool. The hotel, which Shulman calls "one of the nicest I've ever been in", offers a variety of activities including swimming, billiards, ping pong, a fitness center, spa, and salon. Shulman further said "This is a really well organized event. The hotel staff is great and the amenities are also very good. I enjoy the park just outside the hotel; it's a great way to clear my mind in the mornings and evenings. I guess the only thing I miss is that there isn't any foosball."
Despite a round-one speed bump, the U.S. team seems optimistic and focused on the task at hand. While a tough team, Armenia is beatable, and the Americans will try to prove that soon. Donaldson said, "We are seeded seventh in this event out of ten teams. As usual, we are the underdog, but somehow we usually seem to medal. Some may think of this as normal, but in order to do it we must really overachieve. I have confidence in our warriors, and I am hopeful that our chances will come, and we will be ready."