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Friday, June 23, 2006

Favorites upset at Chess Olympiad - by vgandalf

The 37th Chess Olympiad, which took place in Turin, Italy from May 20th to June 4th, has produced some surprising results. Four winners had to be determined, with all favorites from Russia: the best men's team, best women's team, the new president of FIDE, and the host for the 2010 Chess Olympiad. Unfortunate for Russia, they only managed to secure the president's chair and the 2010 Olympiad. The first-seeded women's team showed a strong tournament, but had to give in to Ukraine in the end. The men's team, also seeded first, only managed to finish 6th, their worst result by far for more than 50 years.

The Chess Olympiad, organized since 1927 and with a separate women's category in 1957, was dominated by the Russian teams since the first victory of the men in 1952 (under the name of USSR at that time). Apart from 1976, where Russia did not compete for political reasons, the women won all Olympiads until 1986. With two exceptions, the Russian men also managed to win whenever they competed. 1978 saw a close victory of Hungary with USSR second, followed by an even closer finish in 1980 with USSR being successful again. After the end of the USSR, Russia continued the winning streak, which was ended in 2004 by a strong Ukrainian team with Russia second.

But now in 2006, the Russian men were not even close to the title, and consequently also missed the Top 3. Even more surprising, there seems to be no clear explanation for the disaster of the men's team. World Champion Vladimir Kramnik played on the first Russian board and showed a strong performance, scoring 6.5 out of 9 and an ELO performance (EP)of 2847, the best of the field. He also gained 14 ELO points overall, therewith increasing his ELO rating (ER) to 2743, entering the Top 5 of the FIDE world ranking. This should also give him some comfort for the upcoming World Champion match against Bulgaria's Veselin Topalov, who did not play in this year's Olympiad.

All other Russians also played a good, but not outstanding tournament. Overall, their team performance lacked the overwhelming power they still had at the 2005 team world championships, where they managed to upset the leading Chinese team with a devastating 3.5:0.5 in the last round to win the title.

The Russian trouble started after their 2:2 draw against Armenia in Round 5. After that, they lost to the Netherlands, France, and Israel. The last-round 1:3 loss against Israel even cost third place. A clear victory might have saved the day. Armenia did not suffer a single defeat, but only three draws, with two of these taking place in the last two rounds. They agreed to draw all four games after just a few moves with France and Hungary to secure the title.

Other favorites also struggled. The world no. 2, Indian's Anand, only scored 4.5 out of 9, with only 1 victory, 7 draws and a loss against Pascal Charbonneau of Canada, rated some 300 ELO points below Anand. India, seeded 2nd, dropped down to 30th, since also the rest of the team performed below expectations.

The world's no. 3 Aronian from Armenia gladly accepted the opportunity to reduce the ELO gap to Anand to some 20 points, scoring 7 out of 11 on the first board and only defeated by Kramnik. Together with the strong Vladimir Akopian on board 2 (9 out of 12, EP 2778) and Gabriel Sargissian on board 4 (10/13, EP 2736), Aronian led Armenia to their first Olympiad win ever, with China in 2nd and USA 3rd. Armenia scored 36 out of 52, two full points ahead of China and three ahead of the USA. China had their best player in Wang Yue on board 4, who scored 10 out of 12 and achieved a strong ELO rating gain of 34.5 with an EP of 2837.

On the first board, Bu Xiangzhi also showed his great skills (8/12, EP 2790) and gained 24.1 RP. Both did not loose a single game. Other strong players included 15 year old Magnus Carlsen from Norway, who became the second youngest Grandmaster ever at the age of 13.He played 6 out of 8 on board 1 with an EP of 2820, once again proving his talent and nourishing the hopes that he might be one of the coming stars of chess.

In the women's tournament, it was a head to head race until round 5 of 13, where Russia was defeated by Ukraine 1:2. Russia also had to draw the games with USA, China, and France. The Ukraine only drew their last-round match against Armenia to secure the title, 1.5 points ahead of Russia, with China just 0.5 points behind in third place. After the top three, there was a huge gap of 3 points with four teams at 24.5 points.

Russia had the strongest player in Tatiana Kosintseva on the second board with 9.5 out of 12, and the second-best EP of 2598. She also achieved an ELO gain of 17 and did not suffer a single defeat. The Ukraine had four players in great shape, with each of them scoring at least 70% and gaining more than 10 rating points. On the first board, Natalia Zhukova managed to score 7.5 out of 10 with an EP of 2537 and not a single defeat. She gained 25.4 rating points, also due to her victory against Russia's Alexandra Kosteniuk, which eventually decided that match. Kosteniuk scored 6 out of 10 with an EP of 2486, but only lost 6 rating points.

China had the player with the best EP of the field of 2617 in Xue Zhao, who scored 10/13 on board 1. The third-best EP also came from China, where Yifan Hou achieved 2596 by playing 11 out of 13 on board 4. She also had the highest ELO rating gain of 68.1. The female player with the second-highest ELO gain came from the Philippines. Sherily Cua collected 61.5 points and secured a rating above 2000.

In the men's field, the highest rating gain of 76.7 was claimed by Venezuela's Eduardo Hurrizaga, who now rates above 2300. This shows the colorful side of the Chess Olympiad, which takes place since 1927. A total of 1307 players from 147 countries competed against each other. Among the 250 Grandmasters and 196 International Masters have been a lot of Amateur players from "exotic" countries. The ELO ratings of participants range from 1800 to 2800, with some players not rated at all. 4828 games were played, whereof 2241 or 46% were won by white, with 36% draws and 37% black victories. The next Chess Olympiad will take place in Dresden, Germany in 2008, with Russia hosting in 2010 - maybe a time for them to
strike back.

vgandalf
Visit the Chess Olympiad Web Site

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