The World Chess Olympiad is one of the most exciting and classical tournaments. Its importance is overshadowed only by the individual World Chess Championship. It is both a fantastic festival and a place where serious confrontations take place, while each half-point can affect the final standings of the team. Nearly 160 federations, thousands of players – this is an amazing event! In fact, there are two Olympiads – Open and Women’s. The winners in each of the sections are called Olympic champions and win medals and a cup. There is also a special trophy awarded to the strongest chess nation – Gaprindashvili Cup (based on the sum of points of the country’s teams in the Open and Women’s sections). Also, there are board prizes and category awards for teams within a certain average rating bracket that didn’t win the main trophies. I will describe that in detail later.
For us the Chess Olympiad started in advance. From the 16th to the 27th of August we had a training session in Moscow Oblast at an Olympic base which is usually used by swimmers and gymnasts. Along with us some members of the Paralympics team were training there too. For me the main goal was to relax after the Russian Superfinal and polish some of the opening variations. As a fan of active sports, I had many ideas in mind, but they were unrealized. The reason was that I managed to injure my foot while playing soccer, and I am still suffering from it. I was taught to walk using crutches. Thanks to the doctors of the gymnastic team, I didn’t miss the Olympiad, although I was walking like a lame duck in the playing hall. Anyway, the assistance of the medical workers has helped me more or less avoid unnecessary anxiety and psychological discomfort.
We arrived in Istanbul on August 27th. The hotel where we stayed was located near the airport. At first I was afraid that noise would be a problem, but the opportunity to watch the planes was more than a sufficient compensation
A somewhat minimalistic view from the window. The building with the tournament hall is close to the landing field
Other minuses of the hotel were lack of space for walking and problems with the Internet. It habitually disappeared, or lagged like a turtle.
This time our team, the reigning Olympic Champions, was seeded second, with the Chinese ladies being #1. Other potential competitors were Georgia, Ukraine, USA, etc. Most experts predicted a tough race for gold between Russia and China, but there were a few more teams which could affect the standings and fight for the very top spot. Here is a preview of both sections and an Olympic forecast.
Let me introduce our team: Tatiana Kosintseva, Valentina Gunina, Nadezhda Kosintseva, Alexandra Kosteniuk, Natalia Pogonina. Our captain was Sergey Rublevsky, a super GM who has played many times for Russia. There were two more coaches assisting us – Alexander Ryazantsev and Evgeny Najer. All three of them are respectable grandmasters who could have strengthened just about any team in the Open section.
The first rounds are usually a piece of cake for the rating favorites. Nonetheless, one can’t really relax, because that can lead to unexpected losses of board points. Our first opponent was a team from Bolivia. They came to the boards just seconds before the beginning of the round and lost all their games rather quickly.
Team Russia before a match with Bolivia
Here is a nice tactical shot by India’s leader Harika Dronavalli (Koneru Humpy didn’t take part):
The tournament hall was comfortable and spacious. Each player received a special green card – a pass required to enter the playing hall. Guards wouldn’t let anyone without a pass enter the hall. After the end of the game the pass was handed back, and the player was supposed to leave the building. Losing a card would lead to a 10 euro fine.
In the evening we tried to find a place where we could go out for a walk. We discovered a more or less suitable path. Without daily promenades one gets tired much faster.
In the second round we faced Brazil and lost half a point. Everyone won, except for Valentina Gunina.
I and Sasha Kosteniuk were looking cheerful before round 2
Some teams had relatively tough opponents in the second round. Ukraine was challenged by a solid team from Iran, but the rating favorites won convincingly: 3.5-0.5.
Round 3. Russia vs. Mongolia. The match of the day in the women’s section was Ukraine vs. China.
Ukraine and China just before the start of the round
The epic battle ended in a tie. Maria Muzychuk defeated Zhao Xue, but Hou Yifan struck back by beating Kateryna Lahno.
We won 3.5-0.5. Tatiana Kosintseva was the only one to draw.
Rublevsky, Pogonina, Kosintsevas. I’ve got a sly facial expression and the green card with me
In the 4th round we had a serious opponent – Czech Republic. Each round someone took a rest, so this time it was Alexandra Kosteniuk. I was the only one to play the first 4 games in a row. The match wasn’t easy, but in the end we prevailed: 3-1. Nadezhda Kosintseva and I scored for Russia.
Tania has an unexpected opponent
On board 1 a dramatic clash between India and Serbia was taking place. The score was even, and Natasha Bojkovic was trying to convert an extra pawn against Harika Dronavalli. The endgame should have been drawn, but Harika stumbled. However, her opponent missed a chance to punish her for the oversight, and the match ended in a tie: 2-2.
Natasha Bojkovic vs. Harika Dronavalli
After 4 rounds our team had a 100% result (pros count only the match points at this stage of the tournament). France also had 8/8 match points, and we were to play them in round 5. Now I was offered a chance to take a double-rest. The next day was an official rest day for everyone, and then I'd sit out round 5.
Part II – rest day, first real challenges, clash of the titans: Russia vs. China – don’t miss it next week!