The offer to train the Papua New Guinea (PNG) team came as a surprise some months ago. This would be a completely new experience for me and I naturally did not want to miss the Olympiad. I sent my email to the members of the team and told them to write me whenever they had questions concerning their preparation. They did not, and I understood they would not once I saw them in Istanbul.
All my teammates were colourful characters. A successful businessman, famous journalist, former teacher and member of the secretary of the commission for developing countries were united in the chess squad. They were also very experienced players with number of Olympiads but very busy with their own business.
“Our goal is to play some good games, and if you can help Craig win his first game that would be an enourmous achievement”, told me Shaun Press, our reserve player at the start of the event. Craig Skehan was playing his sixth Olympiad and the statistics showed that he holds the record for the most number of games without a win in the Olympiad. This is a record that stretches back to 1986 and extends over 6 Olympiads. In that time he played 59 games (defaults not counting) for a record of 10 draws and 49 losses. He also started poorly here, as well as the whole team.
“Do not worry, we usually start winning our matches at around eight-ninth round…”fellows tried to cheer me up. Still, the first win came in round four against the team of Burundi. A sad fact is that the African country had only two players as the remaining part of the team had problems with the Visa. Some other countries have suffered similar problems. For instance the Bermuda’s second and third boards were stuck at the airport for more than a day and even missed the first round. The chaos of the opening round combined with (supposedly) language barrier caused a default of the Sierra Leone’s team at the start of the Olympiad. They just could not make it through the entry doors in time and lost due the “Zero Tolerance Rule”. This team was also having a shortage of a player till the end of the tournament.
Other teams tend to appear a bit late for the event. The Angola team is a bright example. People do not know what the reason is for that and they speculate between financial reasons (save of costs) of pure practicism- the Angolans avoided two strong teams in the first two rounds and started immediately with two wins in round three and four. The latter is a tricky tactic as the developing teams have special categories and also compete for special prices. Whatever the reason is though, FIDE should take this into consideration as in no other sport a team has the right to compete once that the tournament is in progress.
My teammate Rupert Jones told me a lot of the developing countries in chess. He used to live, work and compete for Botswana. Together with South Africa this country remains one of the best progressing countries in the continent. A good sign for their progress is that their national teams are now trained by two GMs- I. Glek and T. Abergel respectively.
It appears that more than the halves of the FIDE member countries are still developing. The things that FIDE do in this area are correct. They provided the countries free training during the Olympiad and will pay for the airfares for the next two. More than a million American dollars are offered by the hosts from Norway and Azerbaijan and this money is well spent for support of the countries in need.
Additional things that will help are training seminars for chess instructors, arbiters and organizers in each country which will provide an effective process of overall chess improvement. The sooner these countries become independent of FIDE, the better.
We also won in round five and good a good deal of optimism. Later on I discovered that the night blitz games are helping the team not only from social but from practical view too. Towards the end of the tournament the top board Stuart Fancy felt more confident and produced a streak of winning games. And when a leader is playing well the team is always good, too! We scored eight valuable points, which was a big success. And, in the last round the miracle had happened- Craig won his first game! His sixtieth Olympiad game was the lucky one, the one in which his distant passed pawns managed to stretch the opponent’s bishop and award him with the cherished win!
“The important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle, the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.” Pierre de Coubertin
For some of the player in Istanbul this was right. But still, you need to see the desire and the flame in the eyes of those players heading for the games!