Australia Finish In =25th, Half A Point Off =11th Record: Olympiad Captain's Recap
After six hours of literally standing behind the Aussie team each day, posture during post-game blitzers was an afterthought (Tan and Rodgers l to r).

Australia Finish In =25th, Half A Point Off =11th Record: Olympiad Captain's Recap

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This report has come in a little late due to travel home over the last few days but the Olympiad came to a close several days ago and it featured a nail-biting finish where a talented Uzbekistani team (who remarkably had an average age of only 20), took out the top spot.

The cheery Uzbek team after their victory. Photo: Lennart Ootes.

For the Australian Open team, three final-round matchups against Ukraine, Albania, and Chile stood between us and a historic result that could have placed us well inside the top 20. Of course, knocking over Ukraine seemed an unlikely obstacle to overcome however after the heroics of our Norway victory we felt that anything was possible.

On board one, GM Anton Smirnov showed exemplary preparation against the underperforming GM Andrei Volokitin and secured a quick draw. Meanwhile on board three, GM Bobby Cheng had also out-prepared his well-known opponent, GM Kirill Shevchenko, in the Kings Indian Defense and very nearly wiped him off the board. Shevchenko showed his class and defended actively, his marked intuitive senses shining through to split the point with the black pieces.

With the match on the line, it appeared as though Australia was heading for one of two surprising match results, a 2.5-1.5 win, or a 2-2 draw. GM Temur Kuybokarov found himself in trouble against GM Yuriy Kuzubov but the position looked holdable compared to the disaster that Ukrainian GM Volodymyr Onyschuk found himself in against the experienced GM Zong-Yuan Zhao. On both boards, heartbreak reigned supreme and both boards descended into enough chaos to see the Australian Open team pick up only a single half point on the remaining boards. Australia 1.5 - 2.5 Ukraine.

Australia's narrow defeat against one of the world's most prestigious chess nations. Photo: Chess Results.

Round ten saw Australia face a familiar foe in Albania, who we defeated in the 2016 Olympiad in Baku with a 3-1 score. Interestingly, three of the Albanian players from the 2016 encounter also played in this matchup but Zhao was the sole player to square up for the second time against the country in a fresh-looking Australian team.

This time, Australia went half a point better than in 2016 and won with a 3.5-0.5 match score. Cheng again showed why Kings Indian Defense players should be scared to face him and proceeded to attack in much the same fashion as his earlier draw with Shevchenko.

GM Justin Tan and Zhao found their most straightforward full points of the tournament while Smirnov fulfilled his role against the most dangerous Albanian player, securing a draw. Smirnov was frustrated that he could not find a win with the black pieces, further exemplifying the fighting spirit of this Australian unit. Australia 3.5 - 0.5 Albania.

Australia with a much-needed match victory in the penultimate round. Photo: Chess Results.

Finally, Australia faced a menacing Chilean team in round 11 that featured several GMs well known for their online blitz prowess. The match strategy (my perspective which was not shared with the team prior in order to avoid added pressure) was to let Cheng continue hunting for wins with the white pieces while the remaining players attempted to secure draws (or better). 

The first part of the plan came to fruition quickly when Cheng won in just 24 moves against the 2528-rated GM Pablo Salinas Herrera. Soon after, Tan and Kuybokarov traded into drawn endings with black pieces which brought all the attention to board one. Smirnov, who had played ambitiously out of the opening, had entered into an imbalanced middlegame where all three results were possible.

It was not to be though and GM Cristobal Henriquez Villagra navigated his way through the middlegame well to secure a board win for Chile and a match draw. Australia 2 - 2 Chile.

A tough result to swallow in the final round against a lower-seeded Chilean team. Photo: Chess Results.

It is easy to look at the final rounds and see where the Australian team could have landed with a last-round victory (as high as 11th place), although being an optimistic Captain, I would much rather reflect on the hugely positive results in this Olympiad and the future prospects of Australia's competitive future.

The top 30. Photo: Chess Results.

With an enormous win over number three seeds, Norway, as well as against Finland, Ecuador, Albania, Morocco, and Libya, and draws (that were agonizingly close to becoming match wins) against Belgium and Chile, losses by the narrowest of margins against Ukraine and Poland, began to re-affirm something in my mind.

Australia can compete with the world's best in chess!

Coming into this Olympiad I was oft accused of being overly optimistic/motivated by a potentially strong Australian performance but I can say in hindsight now that my optimism was not misplaced. Australia currently has five players who play at a world-class level (and many rising players waiting in the wings for their chance) and I believe that come 2024 in Budapest we will again scare, and hopefully win, against many of the world's top teams.

The re-elected FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich will be one of the key players in the organization of the next Olympiad. Photo: Jack Rodgers.

I was not planning on including this snippet however in conversation with the world champion GM Magnus Carlsen himself, the opinion was given that several of our Olympiad players are actually heavily underrated. He was of the belief that 2600-2650 and beyond is in the realm of possibility. Only time will tell with this prediction...

As this is my last recap on a great Olympiad I thought I would share my sincerest thanks to the players for believing in me as a leader. To the organizers, officials, and the wonderful people of Chennai I say thank you for making this an experience one that I will treasure forever.

Just one of the people in Chennai making things happen. Fun Master Mike Klein from led the ChessKid team throughout the event. Photo: Jack Rodgers.

Chennai certainly has the resume to be considered as one of the great chess capitals of the world.

Captain Jack signing out!