Team Play at the Olympiad
One of the key ingredients in a team’s successful performance is choosing the strategy and tactics of team play: the correct team composition, chess preparation for the round, and team tactics during the round. Let’s take a look at these components and analyze some examples from the recent Chess Olympiad (you may want to check out my article 1 on the Olympiad in case you haven’t seen it before).
- Team Composition
During the Olympiad in Khanty-Mansyisk the captain had to notify the organizers of the team composition for each round from 9 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. After that time no changes were allowed. We usually decided who was going to play the evening before the next round.
Main criteria of choosing players:
1) Physical shape, motivation
When choosing who is going to play, the captain should pay attention to the wellbeing of a player, not only his/her chess level. For example, in our team WGM Nastya Bodnaruk was on a roll and kept winning one game after another. Generally such players are getting “exploited” round after round so as to gain more points. However, after a long tiresome game vs Aginyan (Armenia) we decided to give her a rest during the match vs Romania. This strategy has proven to be correct.
Friendly chat with Alexandra Kosteniuk before the round
2) Chess shape
After a few rounds it becomes obvious who is in a good chess form, and who is at his/her down. Those who are not doing well are substituted by the reserve player. For example, in Russia-1 Karjakin was scoring really well and had to play 10 rounds out of 11, while Malakhov, who wasn’t at his best, appeared otb only during 6 rounds.
3) Choice based on opening/customer-nemesis theory
It’s often easy to predict the team composition of the opponent and, correspondingly, the openings that may occur. Sometimes coaches or players have breath-taking novelties up their sleeves, or know that player X is a nemesis of player Y. Then it makes sense to adjust the team composition accordingly. Such things did happen at this Olympiad too.
What are they doing in my absenсe?!
- Plan for the round
Depending on the strength of the opponent and your own team, a plan for the round is developed. A wide-spread strategy is trying to draw with Black and play for a win with White. This is especially true for men’s chess where the color of the pieces matters more. For example, in the critical match-up of Ukraine vs Russia-1 the Russian team decided to offer Karjakin board 3 and White (so as to give him more winning chances as compared to playing on board 4 with Black), while the extra-solid Malakhov was asked to try to hold Efimenko. The drawback of this approach was that Grischuk had to be left out. This strategy could have paid off: Karjakin won his game…but Malakhov couldn’t handle his nerves and eventually lost! The match ended in a draw, and Ukraine could take a deep breath and keep marching towards overall victory.
Chess pieces love to be hugged before the game!
- Team tactics during the round
During the round lots of surprises happen, and it is not always possible to stay loyal to the pre-game plans. One has to be flexible and pay attention to the other boards. For example, if your team is losing the match, and you have Black, you may have to forget about playing it solid, and try to gamble. Or, if a draw in your game implies a win in the match, one often has to take it even if she/he has some advantage. The last round has its own tricks. At this Olympiad Russia-1 was facing Spain in the ultimate round, while Ukraine was playing against Israel. After a tough struggle, the first match ended in a draw. Ukraine’s captain instantly offered a draw to Israel’s captain (since they had calculated the tie-break scores and found out that it gives both teams medals). The Israel captain agreed. Had Ukraine not done it, they might have lost and let the gold medal pass to Russia-1. Therefore, the captains had to monitor not only the situation on the boards of their protégés, but other teams’ standings too. As you can see, not everything is decided over the boards. Team play has its own intricate nuances which inexperienced players and captains do not feel.
This time I will show you a game from our match vs Cuba. Other players on my team drew their games, so, being a leader and the only one left, I had to do my best to win the game and seal the victory in the match.
After playing somewhat carelessly in the middlegame, I ended up in an equal position with a queen, bishop + rooks. Still, my opponent was in time trouble and had an exposed king, so I had some practical chances left. She didn’t feel the danger, misplayed the position and lost the game. Even if the position is equal, one still has to stay concentrated and try to put pressure on the opponent.