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Included in the Mechanics Chess Club's newsletter, given complete with minor grammar and spelling changes only. My own long Olympiad item will be up at ChessBase in a bit (up now) and I wanted to link back to this nice inside view.

Turin Recap by John Donaldson, American Team Captain

The 2006 Olympiad in Turin will be remembered for many things. First, and rightly so, will be the incredible performance of the small nation of Armenia. A strong contender at all team tournaments since achieving independence in the early 1990s, Armenia was a convincing winner with GM Levon Aronian defending the top board and Gabriel Sargissian taking home a point seemingly every match. It became apparent near round 10 that there would be no stopping the juggernaut from the Caucasus but what other teams were to medal was not determined until the final round. A very dangerous and erratic team Chinese that had lost four matches but beaten a team of 2600 players from Georgia 4-0(!) turned back the Netherlands to take home the silver medals while the US timed its break from the peloton at just the right moment to beat a Magnus Carlsen lead Norwegian team 3.5-.5 and snatch the bronze medals.

A record breaking 150 teams in the Olympiad makes it impossible to cover the event in any comprehensive fashion so I will restrict myself to the impressions I gathered while serving as the US Team Captain for the seventh time, the first since 1996.

The US team of Gata Kamsky, Alex Onischuk, Hikaru Nakamura, Ildar Ibragimov, Gregory Kaidanov and Varuzhan Akobian did not enter the event in an optimal state. A combination of waiting to select the team until after the US Championship, delays in the USCF office, a last minute appeal for eligibility by GM Jaan Ehlvest (who recently changed his federation to the US), visa problems, funding issues and having to make travel arrangements less than a month before the event were not ideal preparations. While several other contending teams were holding formal training camps the US team improvised with some members getting together privately.

Ideally the US team would have arrived in Turin a few days early to adjust to their new surroundings and jet lag but this luxury has never been built into an US Olympiad budget and 2006 was not an exception. As is typical for US teams in this situation we started slowly with a 2.5-1.5 win over New Zealand. Our alertness was not helped by the fact that the accommodations in Turin could best be described as a cross between college dorm and youth hostel. Some readers might remember that some of the athletes in the Winter Olympics, who were housed in the same Village, complained about their accommodations. Well, it's all relative. We had the same Village, but minus the refrigerators, phones, televisions, DVD lounges, Calling Centers, laundry facilities and gyms that were taken out of the complex sometime in the past few months.

Me, I would have just been happy with a table lamp and desk in the room plus a regular supply of hot water. FIDE officials (the Verification Committee!?) said that the organizers had duped them by showing them the facility in February during the Winter Olympics and then changing the agreement. It sounds plausible but FIDE said the same thing about Mr. Touze the organizer of last years World Youth fiasco in Belfort. My impression, having seen the rooms and experienced the food arrangements where portion size was tightly controlled (think Jenny Craig on steroids), was that the city of Turin was probably way over budget after the Winter Olympics and just didn't have the money to do things the way they might have liked. Certainly the many volunteers at the Olympiad did their best to make things run well as possible and one hates to write anything negative after their hard efforts. One question that was not resolved was whether the Turin organizers had to pay FIDE $300,000 for the right to organize the Olympiad. I consulted two influential FIDE insiders, Morton Sand of Norway and Ignatius Leong of Singapore, but received different answers. Sand said the Italians did pay the money and Leong that the fee requirement would first take effect in 2008 in Dresden.

The US followed up it's round one victory over New Zealand with a 3.5 -.5 win over Morocco, which, led by GM Hamdouchi, had defeated second seeded India 3-1 in an opening round stunner. Gata, who had finished second in Sofia, joined us after round two. We had all thought he would want a rest for a few more rounds after battling 2750 opposition in Bulgaria for ten rounds, but this was not the case. The result was some strange color sequences as Alex started with five Whites and Gregory four Whites from five games as Gata, Hikaru, Ildar and Varuzhan did the heavy lifting with Black. This turned out to be a pretty successful strategy for two reasons. One being that Alex and Gregory were winning a lot and two that no one complained. On many teams captains pretty much have to alternate colors to keep players happy but for the US team in Turin the bottom line was what would bring us the most points.

The first free day was after round five and we used the remaining days before it to good effect knocking off the Philippines (2.5-1.5), Poland (3-1) and Georgia (2.5-1.5). The latter two victories looked to be against potential top ten finishing team as both countries players were all under 25 and around 2600. A word about the time control - it was the brutal FIDE special of Game in 90 minutes with a 30 second increment. This is not a time control for those with heart conditions and yes there were a lot of botched endgames in Turin. The organizers had initially listed the time control as 40/90 followed by G/30 with 30 seconds increment from move one, but Chief Arbiter Geurt Gijssen made it emphatically clear at the Captains Meeting that there would be no discussion of changing the time control. Interestingly he was much more flexible when it came to the question of whether to use accelerated pairings. For reasons never made completely clear this Olympiad was only 13 rounds instead of the usual 14 for only the second time in history. Missing the extra round the pairing committee decided to use accelerated pairings and raised the issue two months before the Olympiad with the FIDE Executive Board which rubber stamped the idea. Unfortunately no one bothered to notify the federations of FIDE and the announcement to modify the pairings was a bombshell at the Captains Meeting. Gijssen wisely took note of the strong sentiment against the modification that would have eliminated many of the David versus Goliath pairings that make the Olympiad that much more memorable for some of the smaller members of FIDE.

The first free day was the first opportunity to really see Turin. The Olympic Village was set in the blue-collar Lingotto district of Turin where Fiat once had a giant factory. While the area was not bad there wasn't that much to do in the neighborhood of high rise apartments. Accordingly many of the US team members took advantage of the opportunity to walk along the Po river for a few miles and check out the nice downtown. One couldn't help but wish the Village had been a little closer to civilization.

The second third of the event saw the US continuing a steady move toward the top tables. A victory over China by 2.5-1.5 was typical of the US team at this point in the event in that we were leaving a lot of half points in every match. Fortunately this situation was rectified the last few rounds when we became extremely opportunistic grabbing every draw and win in sight. Going 2-2 in round seven with Sweden was a bit of a disappointment but they turned out to be an over-achieving team in the end, finishing in the top 20. The next day we bounced back with a good 3-1 victory over Denmark and seemed poised to advance to board one with one more match victory but the next two days, playing the Czechs and French, we went 2-2. Knowledgeable chess fans already are familiar with the name of David Navara but also take note of Viktor Laznicka. These two youngsters carried the Czech team which played at the top almost the entire event. The 2-2 score with France was cause for celebration on the US team as we trailed .5-1.5 and seemingly were losing the two remaining games. Miracle number one came from Ildar, who completely outplayed French 2600 Christian Bauer. Miracle number two came when Hikaru drew a two pawn down ending. That evening at a reception arranged by one of the team sponsors, the Internet Chess Club, the US was in good spirits.

Before the final three rounds there was one other free day but the US team couldn't relax entirely because we knew the Russian team would be our next opponent. Kramnik, Svidler, Grischuk, Morozevich, Bareev and Rublevsky were everyone's pick to win going in but by the time we faced them they had lost several matches. Unfortunately for us, the chief cause of the troubles, Rublevsky, had been benched for the event after going 0-0-0. We would not get him in the lineup and the last US victory over Russia was twenty years before. Things were tense throughout with both teams probably able to say at some point in the match they were winning. In the end the US team did the job 2.5 - 1.5 with Hikaru beating Grischuk. Much of the tournament Hikaru had been around 50 percent, getting promising positions but never being able to put away his opponents. This match marked the end of the drought.

Going into the 12th round the US was just outside of the medals. One might have expected more as the team was one of only a handful (France and Armenia the others) that had not lost a single match. Unfortunately there were so many strong teams we had not been able to separate ourselves. Facing the 6th seeded Israeli team (we were seeded 7th) our plan was to try to win the final two matches and hope for the best. Such was not to be as we lost 2.5-1.5. The one bright spot was Hikaru's tough win over the Israeli third board GM Sutovsky. That evening we anxiously awaited our last round pairing. Having lost in round 12 we had our backs to the wall but a big score in the final round could still make things right. Finally it was announced we would play Norway. One hesitates to call a team that can field four GMs, including a 15-year-old kid playing 2800 chess in the Olympiad, a good pairing but relatively speaking it was.

We knew we needed 3.5 from 4 but how to get the points? Clearly the Russian last round defeat of China in the last World Team Championship was cause for study and inspiration. There was no way to "order up" 3.5 points but the team felt that if we could get four complicated games from the opening there was cause for hope. That was actually what happened the next morning (all games were played at 3pm except the last round, which started at 10am). Several hours in Gata, playing White but with nothing in the position and being substantially down on the clock had to make a draw. Now we had to go three for three and that is exactly what happened with first Alex, then Hikaru and finally Varuzhan winning. Just scoring 3.5 was not enough. We also needed Israel to beat Russia or the Netherlands to beat China. Going in the latter seemed a better hope but in the end it was the Israelis who stunned Russia 3-1 winning both bottom boards. This left us in a tie with Israel for third but the comfortable winner on tiebreaks. The Israeli team was seemingly two teams in Turin. Ten rounds into the event they seemed destined for an uneventful placing having lost to the Czech Republic 3-1 and having drawn with Peru 2-2 despite Gelfand beating Granda, but the last three rounds they beat India, USA and Russia by 3-1, 2.5-1.5, and 3-1 - quite impressive but also indication they the first two thirds of the event they had not faced super strong opposition as their final tiebreak was not so good.

The US effort was a total team success. Unlike many of the other top teams we didn't have one massive star like the Chinese with Wang Yue scoring over 1/3 of his teams points. By rating performance our big three of Alex (our only undefeated player), Gata and Hikaru had performances from 2740 to around 2700. Gata was "only" plus one but faced brutally strong opposition on top board - enough so that he actually gained rating points. I am sure after playing ten rounds in Sofia and another ten in Turin in not much more than three weeks that he is sleeping well now! Having Gata not only gave us a first board like no other in recent US Olympiad history but also allowed all the other team members to drop down one notch.

Last Olympiad and in the World Team Championship Alex showed he is a fine first board but in Turin on board two was a steady point scorer and a threat to any board two in the event. Ditto for Hikaru on three. This was Hikaru's first Olympiad and it took him awhile to get used to things but once he did the results speak for themselves. He went 3-0 down he stretch numbering Grischuk and Sutovsky among his victims.

As mentioned before Ildar started with four Black's in his first five games but he never complained. His win over 2600 GM Kempinski in round 4 was one of the smoothest in the Olympiad but it was his defeat of Bauer in round 10 that might have been our most crucial victory in the event.

Gregory has been a standard bearer for US team for over a decade and is the only US player in his 40s still on the team. Two years before in Calvia Gregory was the top scorer for the team and here his "plus three" score and veteran leadership made him again a valuable contributor.

Last but certainly not least Varuzhan was another total team player. Each day we had only 4 spots to fill and six players to fill them with but Varuzhan would prepare for and show up for the matches as if he were playing every day. Varuzhan had not been in the lineup for three rounds before he played the final match but his teammates had total faith he would get the job done and he did!

I have written of my experiences as Captain of the US team but I would be remiss if I did not mention the excellent performance of our women's team of Anna Zatonskih, Irina Krush, Rusa Goletiani and the MI's Camille Baginskaite with Yury Shulman as Captain. Their fourth place finish was the second highest ever by a US team. They were always among the top countries and lost only one match to Ukraine. Good job!

Last and not least I would like to thank the sponsors of he US Olympiad teams that made our participation possible. The Kasparov Chess Foundation was the title sponsor with assistance from the United States Chess Federation, the Internet Chess Club and many individual donors. Thank you.


Thanks John for the report. Good stuff. Gata was amazing to score +1 against that comp. right after Sofia. Anand's poor showing in the Olympiad seems to confirm this. Both need a break!
Posted by: Todd C. Reynolds at June 9, 2006 13:17

Thanks Mig for posting this! I just saw JD yesterday upon his return... He handed me a bunch of memorabilia from the Turin Olympiad. As soon as I saw the "Kirsen for President" tee-shirt I told him, "I'll be shoot if wear this!" He laughed and said I'd be fine (as I mumbled under my breath -- "Sure if I wear it backwards and as a Tee-shirt!"). ~lol~ J/K... of course. :-) I'll stick to the colorful FIDE shirt with my offical Olympiad pen! All the Best, - Mal (Berkeley, CA / USA)
Posted by: Malthrope at June 9, 2006 16:55

I am very proud of both the men's and women's teams. they were both great. I really enjoyed the games of both for the entire tournament.

Being able to watch the games live on the internet is wonderful. it really makes the entire tournament come right into the home.
Posted by: tommy at June 9, 2006 17:02

My sp sucks... ~lol~ "Kirsan for Pres..." Great report on ChessBase too Mig. Thanks also for the links for the Armenia victory upon their glorius return in "Mig on Chess #210: Precious Mettle." Hadn't seen that one yet! :-) - Mal
Posted by: Malthrope at June 9, 2006 17:06

I enjoyed reading a new MI newsletter after all this time. I also enjoyed Mig's article on ChessBase. I was just thinking earlier today how I hadn't heard anyone use the word "risable" in quite some time. And Mig used it so well...
Posted by: voss at June 9, 2006 20:12

Um, isn't the correct spelling "risible"?
Posted by: geeker at June 9, 2006 20:41

A very interesting "insider's" perspective. It seems strange that the organozers would strip out all of the amenities from the rooms, and even scrimp on food. Of course, they had probably heard stories where some of the teams had believed that anything in the rooms which was not bolted down--and even many items that were--could be considered to be "Gifts", and taken with them at Olympiad's end.
Still, how much money can they save by serving "haute cuisine" portions of food? Maybe a few hundreds of Euros? That was probably done on general principles, as the Northern Italians lack the same attitudes of "Abundanza", when it comes to portions of food, that one might encounter in Napoli.

Bacrot also played on Sofia, yet managed to score an impressive 6.0/8 Given Bacrot's result in Sofia, he might truly have been saving his strength! He did take the first few rounds off, but thereafter played every round for the French team.

The US put together an impressive squad. In the next Olympiad, if Kamsky is rested, and Hikaru can play his solid, maximalist style of chess...who knows? They can have good hopes of taking the Silver from the Chinese.
Posted by: DOug at June 10, 2006 03:16

This is an interesting item from the Kirsan interview! Of course, I have never heard of this USACF, of which Kirsan speaks.

Seriously, given President of the USCF, Bill Goichberg's, rather vehement reaction to the actions of Beatrice Marinello in obliquely supporting Kirsan's re-election, this does seem like quite a turn around.

Although, I have to admit that it would be exciting to have a few candidates' matches held in the US

During the super tournament in Sofia one of its winners, Gata Kamsky, expressed concern towards the candidates matches. Apparently no one knows whether they will take place or not.

The problem was that everybody waited for the outcome of the elections, and only after that concrete proposals came. For example the President of the USA Chess Federation expressed readiness to host candidates matches in the USA. In the near future the executive director of the FIDE will sign agreements with the USA and other countries.
Posted by: DOug at June 10, 2006 03:46

I am looking for a statement from USCF that they are joining with hundreds of other countries in forming a new World Chess Federation with hundreds of billions of dollars in prize money. so hosting the candidates matches does not fit into dropping out of Fide.

And what about the Beatrice Marinello scandal. what happened with Marinello at the Olympiad. we need answers to this.
Posted by: tommy at June 10, 2006 12:58

If anyone cares about what Kramnik thinks,here is an interiew (in English) about him right after the Olympiad:


He talks about where the Russian chess team faltered.
Posted by: superfreaky at June 10, 2006 19:43

GM Donaldson writes:

" a last minute appeal for eligibility by GM Jaan Ehlvest (who recently changed his federation to the US),"

First I've heard of this!

Nice performance by the US team, and it sounds like there was some real team spirit there.

tommy, " hundreds of other countries in forming a new World Chess Federation with hundreds of billions of dollars in prize money". You don't ask for much, do you?
Posted by: H L M at June 11, 2006 18:19

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on June 9, 2006 7:57 AM.

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