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Olympiad Round 1: Giving the Goose Egg Print E-mail
By FM Mike Klein   
August 28, 2012
Gata Kamsky and Irina Krush, Photo Tony Rich for STL Chess Club

For those eagerly anticipating the start to the 40th Chess Olympiad, you had to wait 20 minutes longer. Those not in Istanbul had to do some Internet sleuthing. For the two American contingents, it was worth it, with a dominant 8-0 combined result. Though match points decide standings, game points are an important tiebreaker.

The open team scored a predictable 4-0 sweep of Jordan.It was the first time that the two countries
had ever met at an Olympiad. They finished in board order, with GM Gata Kamsky winning first by punishing IM Sami Khader’s overzealousness. The initial offering 16. Nd5 was too scary to accept because of the opening of the e-file. But after the knight retreated and came back a few moves later with 23. Nd5+, Kamsky would not be fooled again. His counterattack on the h-file was right out of a tactics book.


Alex Onischuk, Photo Tony Rich for STL Chess Club

GM Alex Onischuk, an eight-time veteran of the event, played board two, a relative rarity since this only happens when GM Hikaru Nakamura sits. In the past two Olympiads, Nakamura has played all but two games. In Dresden, 2008, he sat in round one and then played ten consecutive rounds. Today, Onischuk’s king hopscotched through his opponent’s dark squares to win what looked like a holdable, if difficult endgame.


Like Nakamura, Onischuk always outperforms his rating at the Olympiad. The four previous times he represented the U.S., his combined performance rating is over 2700, losing only three times in 43 total games. He similarly has only sat out twice in the last two Olympiads.

GMs Varuzhan Akobian and Ray Robson also won without issue, the latter now undefeated in his very brief Olympiad career. Captain John Donaldson will likely get Nakamura’s feet wet tomorrow. In his three-Olympiad career, Nakamura has had performance ratings about 100 points higher than his current rating each time. Naturally, that pace becomes increasingly harder to maintain when you approach 2800. He is now 2783.4 on the live list, a smidge higher than after his U.S. Championship success and within a whisker of Bobby Fischer’s 2785 American high water mark.

Women's squad, Photo Tony Rich for STL Chess Club

The women’s team also had little trouble with New Zealand. They outrated their Kiwi counterparts by about 500 points on most boards, even more than the American men.  
Sabina Foisor, Photo Tony Rich for STL Chess Club
WGM Sabina Foisor, playing in her second Olympiad for the U.S., picked apart her opponent’s defenses.  

IM Irina Krush then won for the decisive point, and WGM Rusudan Goletiani completed the sweep by avoiding the arduousness of any rook-and-bishop versus rook tricks. Left off the team in 2010, she returned seamlessly and the American squad will look for her to reproduced some of the magic of 2008, when she scored +7 =4 -0 for a 2542 performance rating and an individual silver medal on board four.

WGM Tatev Abrahamyan sat in the initial round, mostly due to travel complications. Coming from California, she had the longest journey, and had her flight delayed as well.

Despite the “zero tolerance” punctuality rule in use again and reminded by the chief arbiter at yesterday’s captains’ meeting, the crush of players all trying to go through metal detectors and handheld wands caused the round to begin late. A “Players Only” entrance was not in use today, creating only one opening to the playing hall. Curiously, while announcing the round would be pushed back, the organizers again reminded of the strict regulation, seemingly unaware of the incongruity of the two statements.

For fans attempting to watch the games live, the official web site allowed a slow connection to see the games, but did not automatically refresh. Users here at the event had to refresh every few minutes and wait for a 1990s-era download pace. The live broadcast team was left guessing at moves like the rest of viewers. The results page also incorrectly showed results of games still in progress – the local Jamaican reporter was calming his excited country for hours as the screen showed that they beat Slovenia 3-1 (at the time of press they were tied 1-1 with two games in progress, still worthy of excitement following their post-Summer Olympic high). Organizers are aware of this and promised to overhaul the system for tomorrow. Creative searching could lead you to other sites that carried games live.

The Turkish Chess Federation is putting a big emphasis on security. The 2010 scandal of recently sentenced GM Sebastien Feller was mentioned by name at the captains’ meeting. There is one arbiter seated at each match, creating a huge need. The arbiter for the U.S. men’s team today flew all the way from Ottawa, Canada and of course many others flew similar distances.

Other aspects of the tournament are a mixed bag. Plentiful transportation buses and an expansive buffet have left most satisfied. The tournament hall is spacious and by all accounts comfortable. Besides the extremely low player to arbiter ratio, the Olympiad is excellently staffed. Though only a fraction speak English, there are volunteers and staff everywhere to at least point in the right direction.

However, there are some grumblings. At present there is no water for the players in the tournament hall. There are restrictions on places that many members of the media can access, including the playing hall. Press members are also forced to pay 100 Euro just to cover the event. Despite this, at a press conference today, a Turkish official, through the use of a translator, said, “We think all the conditions for playing and for the journalists are on a very high condition.”

Also at the press conference FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov announced his desire to grow the game. “One billion clever people is our target,” he said. The stated plan seems to hinge on scholastic chess, which will swell national federation rosters and put money in the pockets of individual countries, which will then organize more events and promote the game even further.

In other chess news, all of the top seeds won, but the biggest individual upset was turned in by GM Oswaldo Zambrana, who took out Armenia’s top board and nearly super-GM Sergei Movsesian (resting was GM Levon Aronian, the top-rated player at the Olympiad since GM Magnus Carlsen is not playing).

Captain John Donaldson, GMs Varuzhan Akobian and Yury Shulman, Photo Tony Rich for STL Chess Club

Tomorrow’s round will start at 3:00 p.m. local time, 8:00 Eastern. The US overall squad plays white against Lithuania, while the women will be Black against Estonia. The official site for live games and standings is www.chessolympiadistanbul.com and check back to www.uschess.org for daily reports.