Baku Chess Olympiad: First Impressions

by Manuel Weeks
9/5/2016 – Three of eleven rounds are played at the 42nd Chess Olympiad in Baku. Still too early for decisive encounters but time to settle in and to get a feeling for the hotel, the venue and the surroundings. Hours before the fourth round Manuel Weeks, captain of the Australian team, gathered first impressions and speaks about the simple things that make an Olympiad successful, the worries of the strong players and the ambitions of his Australian team.

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2016 Baku Olympiad

All games start at 3 p.m. local time = 15 p.m. in Europe (CEST), one hour earlier in Britain, and 2 p.m. in Moscow. You can find the starting time at your location here.

Watch it live on Playchess!

Baku Chess Olympiad: First Impressions

People always ask what makes a good Chess Olympiad for a chess player and the answer is perhaps a little too simple. There are three basic essentials that have to be positive: the hotel, the hotel food and the playing venue. You have to stay in a hotel for two weeks often sharing a room with a team mate. A decent clean, modern hotel room with good wireless internet makes everything a lot easier. The food is important as there are three buffet meals a day and if the food is average or repetitive then the two weeks seem to go on forever. At the Baku chess Olympiad I have heard no complaints from any teams about their hotel, there is usually a class distinction where either might be one or two very good hotels and then some very average hotels and the arbiters might find themselves 50+ kilometres away (Tromso). Here in Baku the worst hotel is a four star hotel, most are in the city center and the food has so far been well above average with good choices for people who are vegetarians, etc.

The playing venue, the Crystal Hall, is spacious and air conditioned, there are plenty of places to get free tea, coffee and bottled water so there is never a queue where valuable minutes are lost. Everyone is playing on DGT boards so any country can be followed online, not just the few elite and all the teams are playing in the same room so the giants of chess like Russia and China are playing near the small Caribbean Islands of Jamaica, Aruba and Barbados. It is one of the great sights of chess is to see so many people playing chess in one room from so many countries. At the captains meeting they announced 182 teams but I always assume that number will end up being smaller as some countries end up not being able to make the journey.

View into the spacious playing hall

For the teams the routine has not changed in any years, the day before the start of play there is an opening ceremony with some speeches and some singing and dancing as the entertainment factor. Then straight afterwards is the captains meeting where the rules are discussed and the teams and exact board order are confirmed. Usually it is relatively easy except for one new rule which brought about a rather heated topic of discussion. The need for players to inform the arbiter every time they wished to go to the toilet.

For chessplayers who are professionals to inform an arbiter they wished to visit the facilities can be seen as a rather demeaning experience but there are simply other factors like while one is thinking about a complicated position that forgetting to tell the arbiter after one has had too many cups of coffee is easy to do. Not to mention that it tends to give information to the opposing player who may simply play a move every time you start your walk away from your table.

At this Olympiad the list of captains could make an incredibly strong tournament of players when in their prime. There are simply too many names to mention but these are not only strong players but strong minded individuals who voiced their negative opinion about this new rule. Captains like Ivan Sokolov, Judit Polgar, Ian Rogers, Yasser Seirawan and many others were very vocal and a rather heated discussion ensued. I write this after the third round and I can say that the arbiters have shown a relaxed attitude towards this rule so it has not affected play in any tangible way. There are also 20 special “anti-cheating” arbiters with some form of metal detectors who have the right to stop players to check for electronic devices. I have not seem any of them try to stop an elite player yet and I am willing to wager that a Carlsen or Grischuk would walk right straight through them such is their intensity of thought. I can also understand the fear of electronic assistance by the organisers with so many people and varied levels of chess strength under the one roof but respect must always be shown as well.

The first round of the Olympiad is often a reunion of old friends, much hugging and shaking of hands and plans and promises of drinks later on to catch up on the last two years since the last Olympiad.

Eugenio Torre will probably meet many old friends: Baku is the
23rd Olympiad for the Grandmaster from the Philippines

There are huge differences in rankings in the first round match ups so it is almost guaranteed a clean sweep by the favourites and many times the “big guns” are rested. The upsets are always the most interesting and newsworthy with Sudan drawing with Bulgaria even with former world Champion Veselin Topalov winning his game on board one. For most onlookers this was the most notable image in round one.

Br. 22
  Bulgaria (BUL)
Elo - 110
  Sudan (SUD)
Elo 2 : 2
21.1 GM
Topalov, Veselin
2768 - CM
Nadir, Samir
2199 1 - 0
21.2 GM
Nikolov, Momchil
2585 - FM
Tagelsir, Abubaker
2216 0 - 1
21.3 GM
Rusev, Krasimir
2548 - CM
Elobeid, Asim Ali
2109 1 - 0
21.4 IM
Petrov, Martin
2458 -  
Abdelazeez , Mohamed Abdalla
2183 0 - 1

The Chinese Women's team

Another reason why Olympiads are considered a highlight of the chess calendar is that they are the only event where the number of female players is similar to that of the male ones. There is an open team event and a women’s event. Usually the ratio always feels like 10-1 in a normal chess tournament but at Olympiads it is normal to see teams analysing together as groups followed by socialising which makes a large difference from the normal male dominated events.

The US-Women's Team

Olympiads are considered to be tough time for many elite players who often find themselves black against a lower rated opponent who is happy to draw with them and plays the most solid system he knows to achieve his goal. It really shows a difference in the type of event when in a super GM tournament a draw is always acceptable with either colour but here in Baku a draw is often seen as a loss of their valuable Elo points, Many elite players struggle in Olympiads and only a few manage to walk away with an enhancement in their rating. Board one is almost a super GM tournament as many countries have one “upper class” player whose job is to hold the fort and let the “engine room” room of the team on a lower board bring the full point and team victory. Other teams try to master the draw with black, win with white scenario over the four boards but many times after an hour with one player having a precarious position those plans are quickly changed!

The Chinese team in the Open Section

Round four sees the first top classes in the open section with Russia versus Ukraine being the top board match. Russia are the rating favourites but the Ukrainian team are an experienced professional team that know how to keep the balance. There is one noticeable name missing though, can you spot it?

Br. 5
  Ukraine (UKR)
Elo - 1
  Russia (RUS)
1.1 GM
Eljanov, Pavel
2739 - GM
Kramnik, Vladimir
1.2 GM
Ponomariov, Ruslan
2709 - GM
Tomashevsky, Evgeny
1.3 GM
Korobov, Anton
2675 - GM
Nepomniachtchi, Ian
1.4 GM
Volokitin, Andrei
2647 - GM
Grischuk, Alexander

Board one for Russia Sergey Karjakin is not playing against the country he represented three times in Olympiads. Sergey Karjakin created a ripple of news as he switched federations from Ukraine to Russia in 2009. It was stated at the time that he considered himself to be Russian, he also attained sponsorship and better coaching so this player who still holds the record for becoming the worlds youngest grandmaster at 12 years and seven months is now the world championship challenger. His decision so far seems to be happy one and he seems to be on good relations with all players, ok, his major test is yet to come in the form of his upcoming  match with Magnus Carlsen!

Sergey Karjakin

The Olympiad is always full of interesting stories and I hope to find and be able to write many of them on these pages in future days but I still want people from the many different varied and exotic countries to also feel they can write in and talk about their own country and how they feel about the Baku Olympiad, to tell about their best chess moments, the people they have met and seen who will live long in their memories long after they have left Azerbaijan.

I have tried to give a first impressions article but in my own mind I am also excited that my team today is playing Norway and my board one David Smerdon has the chance to play world champion Magnus Carlsen in less than three hours. That my board two Moulthun Ly has the chance to test his opening knowledge against noted theoretician Jon Ludwig Hammer. My board three, our “wonderkid” Anton Smirnov, is chasing his first GM norm and is on 3/3 playing white against Aryan Tari who probably does not want to see another “little kid” across the board from him after losing to a 15 year old yesterday. Our board four, Max Illingworth has already a song themed for the match with his own words but, maybe thankfully, that will for another time! The main thing to understand is that the team, like many others who have come to the Olympiad, playing teams like Norway with Magnus Carlsen is their real highlight of Baku 2016.


The US team with Wesley So, Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana on top boards

Shakriyar Mamedyarov, board one for Azerbaijan

Evgeny Bareev no longer plays for Russia...

...but for Canada.

Baadur Jobava

The Finnish team

The German team - in round three they had good chances
to draw against Ukraine but in the end lost 1.5-2.5.

Olympiad schedule

Date Time Event, function
1 September 18:30/20:30 Arrival, Opening, Captains meeting
2 September 10:00/15:00 Arbiters meeting/Round 1
3 September 15:00 Round 2
4 September 15:00 Round 3
5 September 15:00 Round 4
6 September 15:00/22:00 Round 5/Bermuda Party
7 September   Day Off
8 September 15:00 Round 6
9 September 15:00 Round 7
10 September 15:00 Round 8
11 September 15:00 Round 9
12 September 15:00 Round 10
13 September 11:00/19:30 Round 11/Closing Ceremony
14 September All day Departure day


The games are being broadcast live on the official web site and on the server If you are not a member you can download a free Playchess client there and get immediate access. You can also use ChessBase or any of our Fritz compatible chess programs.

Manuel has been an international arbiter, a national coach at various world Juniors, a press officer, the Director of various tournaments and has been to eleven Olympiads as captain of the Australian Open team. Straight after the last Olympiad a small group went immediately from Tromso to Mainz to see Manuel get married to his lovely wife Brigitta. They live in London.


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