42nd Chess Olympiad Starts In 2 Days

42nd Chess Olympiad Starts In 2 Days

| 14 | Chess Event Coverage

We're only two days away from the 42nd Chess Olympiad in Baku, Azerbaijan. The opening ceremony is scheduled for Thursday,  September 1; the first round will be played on Friday. 

About 3,000 players and officials will be traveling to Baku for the upcoming Olympiad. Our first preview focused on who is (and who isn't) playing in Baku, and now it's time to get more specific on the event itself.

Here's the what, where and when of the Baku Olympiad.


The Chess Olympiad is the biannual highlight of our sport. Like the Olympic games, players from all over the world will come together to compete against each other. In chess this is done with teams of four players (and one reserve), although players can score individual medals for achieving the best performances per board.

There's an open tournament and a women's-only tournament, and each federation affiliated to FIDE is allowed to send a team for both sections. Some small federations send one team. As the organizing federation, Azerbaijan has three teams in both sections. In the open section a total of 181(!) teams are registered; the women's section totals 142 teams.

The teams have to play with a fixed board order, which needs to be communicated at least 20 hours before the start of the first round. This means that the board-one player of the first round will always play on board one when he's on the team. If he skips a round, everyone moves up one board. (The highest-rated player is not obliged to play board one though.)

This is what the playing hall looks like (more below). | Photo official site.

Some 11 rounds will be played. Pairings will be based on the Swiss system, where teams with an equal number of match points are paired against each other where possible. The order of classification will be based on match points; a win yields two points whereas a 2-2 score results in one point for each team. 

The winning team in the open section wins the "International Hamilton-Russell Cup," whereas the winning team in the women's section receives the "International Vera Menchik Cup."

The winning teams for the best composite scores get the "Nona Gaprindashvili International Trophy." Players get gold, silver or bronze medals for both team and individual achievements.

The Olympiad is being held for the 42nd time. The first official Olympiad was held in 1927 in London. Team tournaments in Paris (1924) and Budapest (1926) are considered to be unofficial predecessors.

The open section was won 18 times by the Soviet Union and six times by Russia, but its last victory was in 2002. Ukraine won in Calvia (2004), Armenia in Turin (2006) and Dresden (2008), Ukraine in 2010 (Khanty-Mansiysk), again Armenia in Istanbul (2012) and China in Tromsø (2014). 


The location this year is Baku, Azerbaijan's capital on the southern shore of the Absheron Peninsula on the Caspian Sea. It has a bit more than two million inhabitants and is known as the City of Winds. Its name is derived from the Persian name of the city Bād-kube, meaning "wind-pounded city." 

Baku happens to be the lowest-lying national capital in the world, at 28 meters (92 ft) below sea level. Quite a few famous grandmasters have been born in Baku, such as Garry Kasparov, Vladimir Akopian, Emil Sutovsky and Teimour Radjabov.

The playing hall is the stunning Crystal Hall, where the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest was held. Later in the same year, Jennifer Lopez, Shakira, and Rihanna performed in the arena. During the 2015 European Games, it hosted boxing, karate, taekwondo, fencing and volleyball.

There's no doubt about the name of the venue.


The opening ceremony will be held on Thursday, September 1 in the National Gymnastics Arena, northeast of the city center. The playing days are September 2-13 , with rounds starting 3 p.m. local time (GMT +4), which is 9 p.m. Sydney, 1 p.m. Amsterdam, noon London, 7 a.m. New York, and 4 a.m. Pacific. The last round on Tuesday, September 13 starts four hours earlier. Wednesday, September 7 is a rest day.

The evening after the fifth round and before the rest day the (in)famous Bermuda party will be held. Organized by Nigel Freeman of Bermuda, the party has built up quite a tradition. One of the performers during the last one, in 2014 in Tromsø, was Nigel Short on guitar. (And who doesn't remember the Gormally-Aronian-Caoili incident from a decade ago?)

Date Time Event Venue
September 1 18:30 Opening Ceremony National Gymnastics Arena
20:30 Captains Meeting National Gymnastics Arena
September 2 10:00 Arbiters Meeting Crystall Hall
15:00 Round 1 Crystall Hall
September 3 15:00 Round 2 Crystall Hall
September 4 15:00 Round 3 Crystall Hall
September 5 15:00 Round 4 Crystall Hall
September 6 15:00 Round 5 Crystall Hall
22:00 Bermuda Party Event Hall on Baku Boulevard
September 7 Rest Day
September 8 15:00 Round 6 Crystall Hall
September 9 15:00 Round 7 Crystall Hall
September 10 15:00 Round 8 Crystall Hall
September 11 15:00 Round 9 Crystall Hall
September 12 15:00 Round 10 Crystall Hall
September 13 11:00 Round 11 Crystall Hall
19:30 Closing Ceremony National Gymnastics Arena


Rather strict anti-cheating measures will be in effect at this Olympiad. For example, players and captains all need to go through airport-like X-ray frames each day at the start of the round. Bags will be checked, and it won't be allowed to bring mobile phones, smart watches or even pens inside the playing hall. Players are obliged to use pens provided by the organizers.

The default time is 15 minutes, meaning that a player who arrives later will lose the game. At recent Olympiads there were quite a few players who got a loss by default in the first round, which is traditionally chaotic. With such strict measures, it will be a tough challenge for the organizers to get everyone into the playing hall in time.

During the rounds there will be random checks for approximately 30 to 40 players. These checks will be performed by special "anti-cheating arbiters," who will bring scanners and detectors. After the round there will be a few more random checks for approximately five to 10 players.

There have been a lot of examples of cheating in chess, where players get access to information of strong chess engines in one way or another. One of the most famous examples was a scheme by some players in the French team at the Khanty-Mansiysk Olympiad in 2010. 

FIDE Congress:

Alongside the Olympiad, the 87th FIDE Congress will be held September 5-13 in the Fairmont Hotel in Baku. Part of the Congress is the General Assembly on September 11-13, where delegates of all FIDE federations will discuss and vote on important matters. The agenda for the General Assembly can be found here. More on FIDE's financial situation here.

The Fairmont Hotel at the Flame Towers in Baku.

Side events:

The organizers have announced a wide variety of side events on the official website. Some examples:

  • 3D street art
  • Painted chess pieces
  • Promo buses 
  • Chess photography exhibition by David Llada
  • Parallel tournaments and kids' entertainment

Fantasy Olympiad:

Like in 2012 and 2014, Yorkshire Chess organizes a Fantasy Chess Olympiad. This fun contest gives chess fans around the world the chance to pick their dream team, predict results, score points and win prizes. Players have to select a team of 10 Baku participants and score points based on their performance. Entrants also score points for the accuracy of predictions they make about overall results in Baku.

"Our objective for the competition remains unchanged," said Dave Shapland of Yorkshire Chess. "We want to provide chess fans with a fun and exciting way of getting involved with the real-life action in Baku. We want the FCO to play a part in bringing together the global chess community to celebrate the team format of the game that we love playing and watching." Members have a special invitation to participate, and have even had their own "country of residence" added to the dropdown on the first page of the entry form:

(Select CHESS.COM to easily compare your Fantasy Picks against other members)

The closing date for entries is 10.00 (GMT) on Friday September 2. You can participate here. The previous edition of the competition, in 2014, saw almost 900 teams entered by players representing 76 different countries. You can follow the competition at @Fantasy_Chess. coverage:

Our site is sending two reporters to Baku: both FM Mike Klein and Peter Doggers. Two more ChessCenter regulars will be there as well: WFM Alexandra Botez (as player for the Canadian women's team) and GM Robert Hess (as team coach of the U.S. women's team). We'll be recording the next three episodes of ChessCenter from Baku, and of course we'll be providing on-site daily reports including videos.

On ChessTV, we'll provide a highlight show on the first half of the event on September 7 at 1 p.m. Pacific by GMs Alex Yermolinsky and Ivan Sokolov, and they'll also cover the second half on Tuesday September 13 again at 1 p.m. Pacific, only hours after the tournament finishes.

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