An enjoyable Olympiad
By Quah Seng Sun
ONE aspect of Istanbul hosting the world's biggest chess event is that, unlike the previous hosts Elista or Erevan which are underdeveloped by comparison, the good infrastructure in the Turkish city makes communication with the rest of the world seem so effortless. Accessing the Chess Olympiad's homepage through the Internet was so easy and fast.
There I was, early Sunday evening, in front of my computer and already logged onto the Internet. With a few clicks of the mouse, I was ready to follow the fortunes of our Malaysian team which were playing a rather weak Zambia in the final round. This was to be an important match because the team needed a really good result to boost their position in the tournament's final standings.
Actually, our team's progress through the first 13 rounds of the olympiad was very typical of most teams in the competition: a good win against a weaker team would be immediately followed by a thrashing at the hands of a stronger team.
This would push down the standing of the team whereby it would then be paired with another weak team which it would beat. This cycle normally repeats itself unless there is some extraordinary change to break the pattern.
For example, in the first 10 rounds, the Malaysian team alternated between losing and winning. They lost 0.5-3.5 to Poland, beat Jersey 4-0, lost 1-3 to Argentina, beat Palestine 3.5-0.5, lost 1-3 to Singapore, beat Qatar 2.5-1.5, lost 0-4 to Italy, beat Uganda 3.5-0.5, lost 1-3 to Turkey 'A' and beat Paraguay 3.5-0.5.
In the 11th round, Malaysia drew 2-2 with Colombia, then lost 0.5-3.5 to Lithuania in the 12th round, and drew 2-2 with Syria in the 13th round. These fluctuating fortunes set the Malaysians up against Zambia in the final round of the competition. I was quite hopeful that the Malaysian players could walk through the Zambians.
Mas Hafizulhilmi, our first board player, had been a pillar of strength for Malaysia. Except for a loss to the Italian grandmaster Igor Efimov, Mas Hafizul had either won or drew his other games. His results included draws against Lithuanian grandmaster Aloyzas Kveinys, Singapore's imported Chinese grandmaster Wu Shaobin, Polish grandmaster Bartlomiej Macieja and Argentine international master Alfredo Giaccio.
The Zambian first board proved no match for Mas Hafizul whose patient handling of a slightly defensive position from the opening gradually turned the tables on his opponent. By the end of the game, the Zambian player was staring at an impending checkmate.
But on the second board, Mok Tze Meng was very lucky to have gotten away with a draw. Unless the game score was wrong, I could have sworn that his opponent, having sacrificed a rook and gotten a pawn to the seventh rank, had a won game. There was no way that Mok could defend himself against checkmate or huge material loss. Anyway, it was still a precious half-a-point.
Wong Zi Jing, our third board player, grounded out a win in a tedious rook endgame. Earlier, the position with the rooks and minor pieces on the board had looked rather level but Wong's dogged probing of the weaknesses in his opponent's position led him to gain an important passed pawn in the centre of the board.
By the end of the game, Wong's advantage had increased to two passed pawns, and his opponent gave up soon afterwards.
This Chess Olympiad could almost have been a dream tournament for Jonathan Chuah. Until the 12th round, Chuah had played six games and obtained five points, putting him as the top contender for the gold medal as the second reserve player. Unfortunately, the Syrian player in the 13th round spoilt Chuah's plans and suddenly, he found himself out of contention.
When I watched Chuah's play at the start of the final game last Sunday, I had a feeling that he had perhaps not fully recovered from his disappointment as the opening play was erratic, leading to the loss of the exchange material. But Chuah woke up after that and he not only won back his material but later on, managed to go a piece up. The full point from this game was never in doubt after that.
Chuah finished the Chess Olympiad with a 75% score from eight games, the best achieved among the six Malaysian players in the team.
However, it was not enough even for the bronze medal which was awarded to the Russian grandmaster Alexander Grischuk who had also obtained a 75% score from 10 games.
The other two Malaysian players were Ismail Ahmad and Azahari Mohd Nor. Fourth-board Ismail played six games but scored only one point, while first reserve player Azahari lost the only game that he played.
Many readers reading this report on the Chess Olympiad may be wondering what was exactly Azahari's role in the team. Assuming that the team had gone to Istanbul on sponsored funds, the Malaysian Chess Federation will have to justify their selection of Azahari instead of some other player who could have contributed more.
The 28.5 points scored by the Malaysian players enabled the team to finish in joint 59th-65th position among the 126 teams in the open event. Malaysia had also fielded another team for the women's event and this team, comprising Lim Jean Nie, Samantha Lee, Eliza Hanum Ibrahim and Siti Zulaika Foudzi, finished in joint 56th-61st position among 84 teams.
The winners of the open and women's events were Russia and China respectively.
Russia won the Russell Hamilton trophy with 38 points, narrowly edging out Germany which had collected 37 points. For the Germans, it was their best-ever performance in the history of the Chess Olympiad which goes as far back as 1927.
In the women's event, the Vera Menchik trophy was won by China after the team had brushed aside a challenge from Georgia and 83 other teams. China accumulated 32 points which was also one point ahead of their closest rivals.
Although the Russian men carried the day in Istanbul, things did not go exactly the way they would have preferred. In the third round, the Russians fell to the Hungarian team after their world champion Alexander Khalifman lost to Peter Leko and the other three games were drawn.
Then there were two drawn matches with Germany and Israel in the sixth and seventh rounds, and this was followed in the ninth round with a Russian loss to Bulgaria. This time, Khalifman lost to Veselin Topalov and Peter Svidler to Kiril Georgiev.
But just as spectacular as Hungary beating Russia in the third round, the Hungarians themselves fell to the German side one round later. So, from the fourth round onwards, Germany assumed the leadership of the pack. It was a lead that the Germans would hold for the next five rounds.
By the ninth round, however, the Germans were forced to give up their sole lead in the competition when they allowed Armenia to catch up with them. Armenia had defeated Spain by 3.5-0.5 which was a big margin considering that the Spanish number one player, Alexei Shirov, was playing on the top board. By the end of this round too, Ukraine had crept up to third place in the standings while Russia and Bulgaria were placed just next in line.
The 10th round saw the final turning point in the Chess Olympiad. Russia stepped up a groove by beating Romania and suddenly, the other teams were lined up behind them. Russia built on this lead by beating Ukraine and Armenia, and then with the trophy already theirs, they eased up by drawing with England and Georgia in the final two rounds.
The women's event turned out to be a two-horse race between China and Georgia after the Russian women's challenge fizzled out. The early rounds saw an interesting tussle between the two teams but by the seventh round, China had claimed a firm lead in the competition.
The past two months have been quite filled with high-level chess activities worldwide which began with the 16-game match between Gary Kasparov and Vladimir Kramnik.
It took Kramnik just 15 games to eke out an historic 8.5-6.5 victory. At the tail-end of this match, the Chess Olympiad began in Istanbul and even as the world's biggest chess event has ended, the chess world is gearing up towards the next big event which is the World Chess Federation's annual world chess championship.
This event starts on Nov 25 in New Delhi and it will end in Tehran, Iran, on Dec 27. This is a whole month of chess-playing activities for the world's top chess players as they seek to be crowned as the next world chess champion. The URL for this event is http://wcc2000.fide.com/ and I am sure the timezone in India will make this website quite popular among local chess enthusiasts.
Seremban Parade chess challenge
THE two-day Seremban Parade Chess Challenge, organised by the Seremban Parade with help from the Malaysian Chess Federation, starts next weekend in Seremban.
On Nov 25, the Seremban Parade age-group tournament will be played beginning at 10am while the Seremban Parade open tournament will be held a day later. The total prize fund for both events is RM1,500.
As only the first 100 entries will be accepted for each event, anyone interested in playing should call either Amy Yap ( 06-761 8282) or Norhana ( 03-4108 2590) as soon as possible.
The Chess Association of Selangor will organise their closed Rapid-60 tournament for the under-12, under-16 and under-20 age groups tomorrow and Sunday at the Sunway College in Petaling Jaya. This is a six-round event. Although it is open to CAS members only, non-members who wish to play can call Lim Tse Pin ( 012-298 4922) for consideration.
The CAS will also hold their fourth quarter open allegro tournament on Dec 10 at the Sunway College. Originally meant for Nov 26, the change of date is to prevent a clash with the Seremban Parade tournament. For more information, Jackie Wong ( 03-703 8237) or Lim.
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