GM Rogers on Hits and Misses at the Olympiad
By GM Ian Rogers   
November 16, 2008
Dresdenslide.jpgDresden is a great place for a Chess Olympiad.

Dresden is large enough to offer a wide variety of nightlife and small enough to make it seem as if the town has been overrun by chessplayers, with their large Olympiad identity cards swinging proudly from their necks.

Reminders of Dresden’s recent communist past as part of East Germany are everywhere – from the massive grey apartment blocks to the old man in Pragerstrasse waving a Soviet flag, hoping to chat with passers-by about the class struggle.

However these Dresden landmarks are as much relics as the glorious old buildings, which somehow survived the fire-bombing of the Second World War.

Nowadays Dresden is a very modern town, with a bustling city centre. The Dresden Convention Centre, where the Olympiad is being held, is just outside the centre – walking distance, though most teams staying in town arrive by tram.

Over the weekend the Convention Centre has been almost overrun by visitors, especially German and Czech fans – Prague is just a couple of hours from Dresden.

Luckily for the fans, after a slow start, the 2008 Dresden Chess Olympiad is starting to come to life. Some American fans would disagree – after a 1-3 loss to Azerbaijan in round four, with their two stars Kamsky and Nakamura going down, Team USA is struggling.



Despite the setback for the men, the American women shot up the crosstable with a 3-1 win over Moldova.

The organisers have done their best to make this a friendly Olympiad, starting with a joyful and widely praised opening ceremony – whoever thought up a Queen cover band as a method of transcending global musical tastes deserves a medal.

However Dresden 2008 has also been hamstrung by logistical and other difficulties that have sometimes overshadowed the good work.

The biggest problem – impossible to overcome – is that the playing hall is simply too small. As in Bled 2002 and Calvia 2004, it is the spectators who suffer the most; players can put up with cramped quarters but only being able to view a quarter of the games is a downer. Nonetheless, there are plenty of extra attractions for visitors, including daily blitz tournaments, talks on chess-related subjects, a giant book stall, promotional stall for cities hoping to be granted a future Olympiad, and food and drink aplenty.

The city of Dresden and the locals have done their best to make the players comfortable. Accommodation for all teams is of a high level and the players have the run of the city, with free entry to museums and free public transport.

Daily press conferences, hosted by Susan Polgar have been a highlight. Polgar’s unfailing good humour when questioning a player makes a press conference seem more like a talk show, but the journalists’ questions have occasionally challenged the mellow mood.

One could almost say that the organisation’s major fault has been their laid-back nature; an almost Australian ‘She’ll be right, mate’ attitude.

Wrong results going around the world on the Internet?
Not to worry, they’ll be corrected in time for the pairings.
Teams given the wrong lists for their opponents in round 3?
 Not to worry, they should have checked in the lobby of their hotel every hour to see if we had changed the pairings.
Only basic Western food provided after the games for the 140+ nations taking part?
 Not to worry, there are plenty of good ethnic restaurants in Dresden.

However it is the new regulations imposed on the Dresden Olympiad by FIDE that are causing the most grief.

Chief arbiter Ignatius Leong proudly billed Dresden 2008 as the Reform Olympiad but sadly almost all of the reforms have been duds, with special hatred reserved for one particular new rule.

Certainly the accelerated pairings – revived after memories of Novi Sad 1990 had faded - were not appreciated by the lower teams who missed their traditional chance at first round Olympiad glory against a top team.

Having no draws in under 30 moves has been generally well accepted, even if two players had to repeat moves 9 times to reach the magic 30 move mark before they could agree a draw. (Other repetitions have been allowed well before move 30.)

The new scoring system based on match points was always doomed to be a failure with so many teams and so few score groups but the bizarre pairing system – effectively random – was unexpected and is likely to continue to provide a large number of mismatches throughout the event.

However the cause of the most angst among players has been the ruthless implementation of the forfeiture rule for late arrival at games. Roger Federer can turn up 14 minutes late for a centre court final at Wimbledon and still be permitted to play but if you turn up at the board 10 seconds after the clocks have been started in Dresden 2008 you might find the arbiter filling out 1-0 on the scoresheets.

With some players’ hotels being considerable distances from the playing hall, there has been mounting stress as late trams, slow restaurants or insufficient knowledge of Dresden’s geography has resulted a number of times in a player losing a game for being a minute or two late.

At the latest press conference Leong claimed that there had been only four forfeits for lateness in the first four rounds – my count indicated twice that number (as well as the ‘regular’ forfeits caused by teams unable to field 4 players).

What is becoming clear after four rounds, is that the top seeds are working their way to the top, although the pairings have been far kinder to some teams than others.

In the Open Olympiad, Russia has not looked especially impressive but they are still well-placed, with their board four Alexander Morozevich scoring very heavily. Morozevich apparently decided on the night before the Olympiad that he was not playing terribly well and he wanted to drop down a couple of boards. The next day at the captains’ meeting, the organisers announced that published teams could, after all, be changed – they had previously been insistent that teams must be fixed a month out from the event – and the world number two could become the highest rated board four in history.

Russia currently leads with hosts Germany on a perfect 8/8 match points, though under the old system defending titleholders Armenia would be in front of Russia and Vietnam!

In the Women’s Olympiad, it is already clear that Russia and China are the teams to beat, although India, even without their top woman player Humpy Koneru, is looking a good medal chance.

Poland are surprising co-leaders with China on 8/8 but have yet to play a top team and will be severely tested by China in round 5. (Under the old points system Hungary, Russia and Cuba would currently be on top.)

With hundreds of high quality games being played every day, Olympiads are a chess feast and any attempt to cover the ups and downs of the event is liable to miss many incidents of interest. I have selected a few stand-out positions.

Two come from the games of the Ukrainian genius Vassily Ivanchuk

In round 3, an opening error led to Ivanchuk, playing Black against the Georgian Jobava, surrendering his queen for just a pair of pieces.

Just before the time control, with Black’s position apparently on the verge of collapse, Ivanchuk found
40...e5!! 41.fxe5 Bd7! 42.Qd5 Bg4 43.Ke3 b6 44.Kf4 Be6 45.Qd8+ Kh7 46.Qxb6 Bd2+ 47.Kf3 Bd5+ 48.Kf2 Be6
The point behind Ivanchuk’s double pawn sacrifice – how can White break through?
Unluckily for Ivanchuk, there is a way and Jobava found it.
49.Qd8 Bb4 50.Kf3 Be1 51.Qd3+ Kg8 52.Kf4 Bb4 53.Qd8+ Kh7 54.g4 Be1 55.Qd3+ Kg8 56.g5 hxg5+ 57.Kxg5 Bb4 58.Qd8+ Kh7 59.h6! g6! 60.Kf4 Bb3 61.Qf6 Bf8 62.Ke4 Be6 63.Kd3 Bb3 64.Kd4 Be6
Position after 64...Be6

Black might still appear to be holding, until Jobava played…
65.b4!! axb4 66.a5 b3 67.Kc3 Bxh6 68.a6
when Jobava won one of the bishops and eventually the game on move 91.


The next day Ivanchuk fronted up with White against Levon Aronian and soon found himself a pawn down for minimal compensation. However just when it seemed that Black was about to consolidate, Ivanchuk, in severe time trouble, found an incredible combination…


31.h4!! Bxh4 32.Ra2! Nc6 33.Nc4 Rf6 34.Rxa6 Na7! 35.Ra2! g6 36.Nxe5
Now the threat of 37.Nf3, threatening both the h4 bishop and the a7 knight, forces Black to surrender material.
36... Rf4 37.Nf3 Rxg4+ 38.Kh2 Nb5 39.Kh3 Rxe4 40.dxe4 Be7

The time control has been reached and Ivanchuk was unlucky to discover that his advantage was probably not enough to win and the game was drawn 28 moves later.  1/2-1/2

For some light relief, here is an endgame from Sachdev-Berzina, played in the second round of the Women’s Olympiad.
The stipulation is White to move and win. No, it’s not a misprint – watch and wonder.
Position after 44...Nd4

45.Bd3 Kd6 46.Bc4 Kc5 47.Bg8 h6 48.Bh7 Kc4 49.Ke3 Kc3 50.Bg6 Kc2 51.Bh5 Kc3 52.Bd1 Nc2+ 53.Ke2 Na3 54.Kf3 Kd4 55.Kg4 Nb5 56.Kf5 Nd6+ 57.Kg6 Kxe4 58.Kxg7 Nf5+ 59.Kxf6 Nxg3 60.h5 Kf4 61.Kg6 Nf5 62.Be2 e4 63.Ba6 e3 64.Bd3 Ke5 65.Ba6 Ke4 66.Bb7+ Kd4 67.Ba6 Nd6 68.Be2 Nf5??
Position after 68..Nf5

69.Kxf5 1-0

Almost unbelievably unlucky – Black does not even have time to run to h8 and draw against the bishop and wrong rook pawn.