Begins next Thursday: 42nd Chess Olympiad in Baku

by Manuel Weeks
8/26/2016 – This year's Olympiad will be held in Crystal Hall in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan (seating capacity: 25,000) and promises to be one of the finest in chess history. The budget is 13.3 million Euros and preparations reflect that commitment. ChessBase will be covering the event extensively. Here for starts is a preview of previous Chess Olympiads by someone who has attended them all since 1992. Enjoy a long interesting trip down memory lane.

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2016 Baku Olympiad Baku preview

By Manuel Weeks

The traditional chess Olympiad is beginning on the 1st of September and for chess players it is the true chess festival, an amalgamation of the top elite players battling for the medals alongside amateur teams from some of the smallest countries in the world. It is also the only major event where the number of female participants is close to their male counterparts. For two weeks everyone plays under one roof, making it a truly special tournament that is held every two years.

Looking ahead to the Baku Olympiad it is more newsworthy to note who is missing from the top teams participating. The real news was the choice of the Armenian Federation to not send a contingent to Baku due to the political climate between Azerbaijan and Armenia. It means that a team who in recent times was twice champions of the Olympiad will not participate.

Such stars of the chess world as Vishy Anand, Peter Svidler, Vassily Ivanchuk, Boris Gelfand are not representing their countries and with the absence of Armenia, it means Levon Aronian will not be present. Vishy Anand has often decided to give Olympiads a miss, with the randomness of the Swiss system, the zero tolerance rule often been quoted as factors.

The Russian federation had ten 2700+ players to choose from, so the absence of Svidler may not be felt. Ivanchuk, who has one of the best Olympiad records in history, is not representing Ukraine reportedly due to his new passion for draughts! A draughts tournament in Poland will be graced by the Ukranian but the chess world hopes that one of its modern day geniuses will soon be back pushing knights and bishops instead!

The absence of Boris Gelfand for Israel and for that matter Emil Sutovsky seems to be due to a dispute with their own chess federation. For lovers of chess it brings a touch of sadness to know these two great fighting, creative players will not be there in Baku representing their country.

The Russian team are the traditional favourites by rating but have not been successful in recent years, they could put together various strong teams and have gone for the lineup of Vladimir Kramnik, Sergey Karjakin, Alexander Grischuk, Evgeny Tomashevsky and Ian Nepomniachtchi. It seems incredible that the last time the Russian team was successful was in Bled, 2002. In that event the team comprised of Garry Kasparov, Alexander Grischuk, Alexander Khalifman, Alexander Morozevich, Peter Svidler and Sergey Rublevsky. In recent editions of the Olympiad teams with a great team chemistry have been successful, like Armenia and China, so it will be interesting to see whether the Russian team can live up to top billing.

Someone is missing from this photo of the Russian team that was victorious in Bled…

Ah yes, it was Garry Kasparov (above playing Christopher Lutz) leading the way.

Bled 2002 was the last time the Russian team won the Olympiad [Bled photos by Anna Dergatscheva]

The second seeds are the lads from the USA, the only team with three players in the current top ten. Fabio Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, Wesley So, Sam Shankland and Ray Robson make up a team that have high expectations. A quick glance shows why there is a rise in chess in the US with everyone on the team under the age of thirty and Hikaru Nakamura being the eldest! It must be noted that the “old head” will certainly belong to their captain John Donaldson who was first captain of the US team in 1986!

The defending champions, China, are the third seeds with Wang Yue , Li Chao, Ding Liren , Yu Yangyi and Wei Yi. This is another team dominated by youth with no player over the age of thirty. No one can forget their outburst of emotion after winning the last Olympiad in Tromso, Norway.

To see such supposedly inscrutable players hug each other with tears of joy will always be remembered as an iconic moment in the chess Olympiad history. China has showed in recent years that they are the new superpower in world chess with many of the world’s risings stars as well as the current women’s world champion being Chinese.

The young Chinese team won the 41st Chess Olympiad in Tromsø, Norway

The home nation Azerbaijan are the fourth seeds with a make-up of Shakh Mamedyarov, Teimour Radjabov, Rauf Mamedov, Eltaj Safarli and Arkadij Naiditsch and the familiar name of Alexey Dreev as their captain. Azerbaijan as host nation are entitled to enter more than one team and are in fact fielding three in the open tournament.

Why has the team from Russia not been as successful as in years gone past when they were seemingly invincible? Many factors can be discussed but it should be noted that in 1990 it was still the era of the Soviet Union where players could be chosen from what are now many countries. An interesting fact is that the 1990 Novi Sad Soviet Union Champions comprised of (in board order) Ivanchuk (now Ukraine), Gelfand (Belarus then Israel), Alexander Beliavsky (Ukraine, now Slovenia), Artur Yusupov (now Germany), Leonid Yudasin (now Israel) and Evgeny Bareev (now Canada).

In the 1992 Manila Olympiad the Soviet Union had broken up and various new strong countries appeared on the scene. The Russian team was playing officially for the first time and I allow myself a memory since it was my own first Olympiad where I was a young arbiter. Before the second round I was told to go to the stage to help a senior Spanish speaking official, and before I knew it I was given the Russia vs Switzerland match to look after. The first player to arrive was a young, tall, long haired kid with glasses who had the temerity to sit down where the Russian team would be sitting. I did not have the team compositions, but he was certainly not one of the many Russian players I knew. The young man made himself feel comfortable and a few minutes later GMs Dolmatov and Dreev arrived and gave him a nod of recognition. I had heard rumours that Garry Kasparov had demanded the inclusion of a young kid who was not even an International Master on the fabled Russian team. Little did I know this was 17-year-old FM Vladimir Kramnik! During my recent visit in Hamburg Frederic Friedel told me the following story:

I visited the Dortmund tournament in Summer 1992, arriving during round three. The players were in a kind of boxing ring in the middle of the hall, with the spectators surrounding them. Garry Kasparov was playing against Gata Kamsky. When I entered he spotted me and nodded. A while later, while the game was in full progress, he got up, went to the side and spoke with his wife. After a few minutes she got up, went to the back where I was sitting and took me by the hand, leading me out of the hall. A local newspaper journalist saw it all transpire and wrote about the incident the next day, speculating what Kasparov could have told his wife to do ("Take Fred out of the hall, I have a bad position against Kamsky"?).

Well, this is what actually happened: she led me to the B section of the tournament, down the aisles of chess games under way, scanning the name signs. At last she stopped and pointed to a player. "That's Kramnik," she whispered. "Really?" I replied, "Okay, but why are you showing him to me? Who is he?" "I have no idea," she said. "Garry told me to do so."

Later that evening Garry explained that this lad, who had just turned seventeen a few days earlier, was destined for greatness. He insisted I quickly learn his name by heart, and write about his progress in the top levels of chess. When he got back to Moscow Garry proposed that Vlady Kramnik be included in the Russian Olympiad team – to the horror of the chess authorities, who had a list of at least a dozen players who were stronger and more senior to the boy. But Garry insisted, even threatening to abandon the team if his wish was not horoured. They relented and Kramnik got to play in Manila.

I myself wondered whether bringing such a young boy to play on the team a smart idea. Imagine if he got nervous, was ground down a few times by some more experienced players and became a liability? As the arbiter of the match I paid a little extra attention to the game versus IM Jean Luc Costa. As Black in a Slav Meran the young Kramnik played a nice attacking game where he sacrificed a piece for a devastating kingside attack. I wondered what would happen once he started to meet stronger opposition? Would he draw and allow his more experienced teammates to bring home the full point? Against a field that included the young Loek Van Wely and experienced GMs like Lanka, Nunn and Seirawan he scored 8.5/9! Only GM Helgi Olafsson escaped with a half point! Now Vladimir Kraminik is yet again leading Russia but as the elder statesman of the team, a man in his forties!

Kramnik during the 1992 Manila Olympiad...

... and discussing a game there in his ChessBase DVD My Path to the Top (2007)

Vladimir Kramnik
My Path to the Top

Born in 1975 in Tuapse on the shores of the Black Sea, Vladimir Kramnik studied at the Botvinnik-Kasparov chess school. At 17 he was included in the Russian Olympiad team and scored a sensational 8.5/9, the best result at the Olympiad. After that followed a string of great tournament results, culminating in a World Championship in 2000. Kramnik played the chess legend Garry Kasparov and beat him to take the title, which he successfully defended in 2004 against Peter Leko and 2006 against FIDE champion Veselin Topalov, whom he defeated to take the unified world championship title.

On this DVD Vladimir Kramnik retraces his career from talented schoolboy to World Champion in 2006. With humour and charm he describes his first successes, what it meant to be part of the Russian Gold Medal team at the Olympiad, and how he undertook the Herculean task of beating his former mentor and teacher Garry Kasparov. Kramnik dissects his wins against Leko and Topalov, giving us a vivid impression of the super-dramatic final games of the 2006 match. His commentary is full of useful advice and provides a fascinating insight into the thought processes that govern top level play.

The DVD contains more than six hours of video with narrative and game analysis. There are also five additional segments from an exclusive video interview on the intrigues that surrounded the 2006 world championship, and on the state of the chess world in general.

Price: €39.99; €33.61 without VAT (outside the EU); $36.30 (without VAT)

World Champion Magnus Carlsen will still be in Baku, but his Norwegian team does not seem to have the strength to realistically challenge. With both Peter Leko and Judit Polgar (retired, now captain) missing from the team roaster it will be up to new star Richard Rapport to lead the Hungarian team. Former champions Ukraine with the absence of perennial board one Vasily Ivanchuk will have to rely on Pavel Elajanov to hold board one, with Ruslan Ponomariov, Yuri Kryvoruchko, Anton Korobov and Andre Volokitin in support.

The French team has strength in depth and quality on board one with Maxime Vachier Lagrave enjoying his 2800+ status, but it will be lacking Etienne Bacrot, who reportedly is now the head coach of the Azerbaijani team. It is interesting to ponder that the once wonderkind is now 33 and working as a coach. It does show that with the addition of Alexey Dreev as team captain that Azerbaijani are taking the Olympiad very seriously.

Azerbaijani team in a preparation session earlier this year

The Women’s Olympiad has been won by the Russians in 2010, 2012 and 2014 so they should start favourites in Baku with the team of Alexandra Kosteniuk, Valentina Gunina, Aleksandra Goryachkina, Natalija Pogonina and Olga Girya.

The formal Russian women’s team, with captain Sergei Rublevsky…

… and time for a selfie in nice clothes!

The top seeds are in fact China with the team of Hou Yifan, Zhao Xue, Ju Wenjun, Tan Zhongyi and Guo Qi. If the women’s world champion, who clearly out-rates the rest of her competitors, is on form then it will be hard for anyone to resist. But in the Olympiads it is usually someone on the lower boards who becomes the engine room of the team and continues to bring in the points. Hou Yifan will need plenty of help from her teammates in order to return the gold medal to China.

The new superpower in world chess last year in Tromso picking up the Gaprindashvili Cup given to the best overall result of open and women

The Ukraine team led by the Muzychuk sisters, above in a commemorative stamp, would seem to be the dark horses but would need some luck in their individual matches against China and the Russian team in order to be successful.

Who do you think will win?



The venue of the 42nd Chess Olympiad is Baku's Crystal Hall, an indoor arena
built in 2012 and located on the coast of Baku. The hall can hold 25,000 spectators.

Baku Crystal Hall (Baki Kristal Zali) at night

The budget for the Olympiad is 13.3 million Euros. Some 6.8 million Euros are set aside for the first-class accommodation for the players and delegates. Another one million Euros go to the FIDE Commission for World Championships & Olympiads and intellectual rights.

This is how you advertise you Twitter hashtag these days

Transportation in Baku in special Chess Olympiad cars

A countdown electronic billboard on the highway makes sure you don't miss anything

The Olympiad committe invited the renowned Ukrainian 3D street artist Alex Maxiov to produce an image dedicated to the 42nd World Chess Olympiad in the National Park (near the Puppet Theater)

It took Alex three days to complete the 3D image with the venue of the Olympiad, Crystal Hall, and a chess board descending into the playing area on an American roller coaster.

Baku Chess Olympiad promotional video with professional computer graphics...

... with human images included ...

... and well-known players' faces – very nice indeed. How many can you identify?

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

– Part two will follow soon –


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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