Tromsø 2014 - One Year later

by ChessBase
8/24/2015 – About one year ago the Chess Olympiad 2014 took place in Tromsø, Norway. After some troubles the olympiad turned into a real chess festival. With a surprising winner: in the open section the Chinese team won their first olympic gold. Norwegian Thomas Robertsen enjoyed the marvellous days of the olympiad and remembers intense and happy moments.

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Tromsø 2014 One Year later - A Retrospective View on the Chess Olympiad

The Norwegian Curse

Things are slowly returning to normal after Norway Chess in Stavanger a few weeks ago. Magnus Carlsen is struggling to succeed on native soil, and the latest tournament was no exception. Judging by the reactions from some of the media, and not at least from some of the more anonymous “experts” on the net, it was as if the World Champion had tried to steal Edvard Munch´s “The Scream”.

Magnus Carlsen during the Norway Chess Tournament

Spoiling us with an unbelievable string of great results through the last years, Carlsen himself is of course mainly responsible for our constantly growing expectations. We have even ignored an occasional second place from time to time, knowing that the next amazing performance wasn´t too far away. But seventh place with a meagre 3.5 points from nine  games seemed to be hard to swallow for a lot of fans. In my last article I pointed out that Norway is young as a chess nation. I might add: a tad demanding as well.

He will be back

Far more renowned experts than I have explained his “downfall” in every possible way. I confine myself to point out that if Carlsen continues to win major chess events in countries like Russia, India, Germany, England, Azerbaijan and the USA, I for one can live with the occasional disaster on home turf.

And rest assured: the World Champion loves a challenge, and he is probably very determined to show his best in Sinquefield later this month. And also knowing the forgiving nature of the Norwegian people I guess we probably give him a chance to redeem himself. Maybe we at the same time can join in a silent prayer that Mr. Ilyumzhinov lays the next World Chess championship match anywhere but here in Norway.

Thomas Robertsen (left) and Kirsan Ilyumzhinov: "Please, Mr. President.
Don't lay the next World Championship match anywhere near Norway."

One year since the Olympiad

Speaking of chess tournaments in Norway, it is already a year since my hometown arranged the 41st Chess Olympiad and I think it´s an appropriate moment to reminisce.

I remember smiling when I first heard about the idea of Tromsø hosting the Chess Olympiad. Compared to previous hosting giants like Munich, London, Moscow, Dubai, Buenos Aires, Hamburg and Manila, Tromsø with its scarce 70,000 inhabitants is of course a minnow.

Admittedly the island city is a popular destination for tourists from all over the world and all through the year, with the midnight sun in the summer and the northern lights in the winter. We are not strangers to taking on major events such as the annual Film Festival in January and the Midnight Sun Marathon (MSM) in July. Tromsø organizes music festivals, and is a natural host for various arrangements in the Arctic region. Still, hosting one of the world´s largest sporting events seemed ambitious, to say it the least.

The Arctic Chess Challenge

Then I thought about the Arctic Chess Challenge (ACC). With indomitable optimism, Jan S. Berglund and several local chess enthusiasts also managed to establish a great international chess tournament during the years 2006-2010.

Mr. Chess in Tromsø: Jan S. Berglund

To fully comprehend what a feat this was, one must remember that Tromsø until then had very limited international chess organizing experiences. The ever popular Heikki Westerinen played a tournament here in 1972.

Heikki Westerinen: A true honorary citizen of Tromsø if
there ever was one. (Photo: Sven Wisløff Nilssen)

After that he has visited Tromsø so many times that we practically see him as our own. And before him there were only two grandmasters who had ever visited Tromsø for chess: Richard Réti in 1929 and Efim Bogoljubow in 1931.

Richard Réti, the first grandmaster ever to visit Tromsø. He had two simultaneous
displays here in May 1929. Unfortunately, he died just a few weeks later.

Through ACC, famous grandmasters and players from all over the world were introduced to Tromsø. Through a series of articles in ChessBase, Tromsø was introduced to the world and put on the international chess map.

Drama before the Olympiad

A lot is said and written about the difficulties prior to the Olympiad; therefore I will briefly summarize them in key words: late registration, threatened suspension and threatened cancellation, shortage of housing and financial problems. But in the end FIDE and the organizers, and in the spirit of de Coubertin, smoothed everything nicely out. In an extravagant and fantastic Opening Ceremony on the 1th of August, the charismatic mayor of Tromsø, Jens Johan Hjort, could welcome the whole chess playing world to our city. The ceremony was broadcasted on national TV, which again shows the new status of chess in Norway.

The opening ceremony: Mayor Jens Johan Hjort interviews the Norwegian team.

The olympiad started well for Norway. One of the first games of the first round that was finished was the encounter between Hakyung Lim from South Korea and the Norwegian Silje Bjerke. IM Torstein Bae, Silje's husband, commentated the game for NRK, the main national TV channel in Norway and saw the beautiful variation with which his wife could win the game and score the first point for Norway's women team. He had some nervous moments until Silje Bjerke found the win.


Deserved winners

It soon became clear that both the Russian team in the women´s section and the Chinese team in the open section meant business. I felt strongly for both. For the Russian women´s team because of the conflict between FIDE, the Russian Chess Federation and the organizers mentioned above which landed the Russian women's team totally undeserved in the middle of the turmoil. The threat of being banned from the tournament could hardly have been the best preparation.

A few years ago I read Liu Wenzhe´s magnificent book “The Chinese School of Chess”.

Since then I´ve been deeply fascinated by the history of chess in China, their commitment for the game and the seemingly never ending ability to produce new world class players. As with the Russian women´s team there was never any doubt about the outcome, and when China won their first ever gold medal in the open section of a Chess Olympiad, I was really glad it was in Tromsø. I will never forget the celebration and tears of the Chinese players.

The Chinese winners celebrating the first Chinese gold medal in the open section.

The Burundian escape

Except the much discussed FIDE President election, there were also a couple of dramatic days when it was discovered that the Burundian women´s team, and also some others in their delegation, had simply disappeared. It soon, however, became evident that the Burundians had left both Tromsø and Norway and done so by their own free will. I hope that they have emerged in good health by now.

But when reminiscing about the Olympiad it is important to also highlight the great experiences and moments outside the chess venue. For me one of these moments was when I got the chance to see the musical Chess for the first time. Another great moment was seeing the opening ceremony together with my children and parents. After this gala I went downtown together with some friends. It was seeded with famous chess players, politicians, celebrities and chess amateurs. A great night indeed.

A great night in Ersfjorden

There was still one night that surpassed most. On the last weekend of the Olympiad I was invited to Ersfjorden and Kristin Røymo´s ranch. Kristin and Ersfjorden were duly introduced in an article from last May. Then she met with the German chess player Melanie Ohme, who was one of the ambassadors to the Olympiad.

Melanie Ohme from Germany at the Chess Olympiad

Kristin, who is likely to be the leader of the City´s Council after the election this September, is also passionate about chess. Together with well over hundred people she worked as a volunteer during the Olympiad. The efforts of these volunteers were of course crucial for the outcome of the Olympiad. Kristin functioned as a guide and her responsibility was to look after the Zimbabwean national teams.

This special Sunday evening Kristin invited all the Zimbabweans and some friends to food and socializing at the beach. The mountains surrounding the fjord are truly spectacular and with the evening sun bathing in the ocean, one couldn´t have asked for more. We were served delicious food, and especially the fish soup à la Ersfjorden tasted fantastic.

Excursion to the beach

There were laughing, joking, a bit of singing and dancing. And this is what a chess Olympiad also should be about. Friendship and bonding across cultural differences and backgrounds. It seemed like everyone was enjoying themselves and for a few hours we could put chess away. Well, except the essential check-up on next day’s opponents, of course.

The near assassination of Otto

The evening in Ersfjorden also had its dramatic moment. Suddenly the party was approached by Otto, the tame reindeer of Kristin´s neighbour. A couple of the Zimbabweans were clearly uneasy. Others weren´t too bothered and there was even a modest proposal to attack and put an end to poor Otto. Killing a reindeer in Tromsø probably isn´t as serious as killing a lion in, let´s say, Zimbabwe. We did agree, however, that such an act probably would cause unpleasantness with Otto´s owner. As a curiosity and example of the reindeer´s significance in the region, it actually is the motive on Tromsø´s coat of arms. Anyway, eventually Otto strolled home and soon after the great evening regrettably had come to an end.

Norwegian sunset

A few days later the Olympiad was over.

After the Olympiad

After the Olympiad the focus of the media was mostly that the organizers barely avoided bankruptcy. Local businesses claimed that they had lost money because visiting chess players didn´t spend enough on bars and taxis. Knowing the Norwegian price levels, dare I imply a possible connection?  And even though a Chess Olympiad might have enticed us to believe that we are a city of the world, the distances aren´t that big here in Tromsø. Transport by foot is generally sufficient.

By the way, have you ever heard about the Periplaneta australasiae or the Supella longipalpa? Me neither. But a few months after the Olympiad, entomologists in Tromsø could triumphantly declare that the local tribe of cockroaches had been extended. Yes, both the Brown-banded and the Australian cockroach were left behind here when the players went home. Both types had never been seen here before. Imagine that. I guess the pest control made good money and that should count for something.

If you walk through Tromsø today, you will see little or no evidence that this city was the focal point of the chess world a year ago. As far as I have seen, the only visible trace is some buses with the Chess Olympiad logo still on. It is only a question of time until they receive a new coat of paint, and every trace will be wiped out. But the days of last August will still live on in our hearts.

About the author

Thomas Robertsen is a passionate chess enthusiast who follows the great players and tournaments with great interest. He is also very fond of chess history and enjoys reading about the players and tournaments of the past. In the past three years he has been preoccupied mostly with chess administration as a Board member in the Norwegian Chess Federation. Tom also headed the sporting committee which picked players for our national teams in last year's Olympiad. Leaving the adminstration this summer he hopes to get to play more on my own. "I`m not a great chessplayer, but peaked at a decent 2275 a few years ago. Besides playing I hope to get to write more about chess in the near future." ChessBase welcomes this decision.

Thomas lives in Tromsö and is the father of Sander (20) and Hannah (5). He works with children and young people as a psychiatric nurse.

Reports about chess: tournaments, championships, portraits, interviews, World Championships, product launches and more.


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