Top 10 Questions About the Tromsø Chess Olympiad

Top 10 Questions About the Tromsø Chess Olympiad

| 27 | Chess Event Coverage

This Friday, the 41st Chess Olympiad will take off with its opening ceremony, and a day later the first round begins. In what is called “the fourth largest sporting event in the world” by the organizers, 174 countries will meet at the chess board.

Here's a preview with all the necessary info, spread out over ten questions!

Let's start this preview by answering the five classical questions in journalism -- the 5 Ws.

1. What?

The Chess Olympiad is the biggest chess event that exists, and is held every two years. It is open to all member federations of the World Chess Federation (FIDE), who can enter teams with four players, one reserve player, and a team captain.

The regulations state that the teams are paired against each other according to the Swiss pairing system, where the first tiebreak is match score. The time control will be 90 minutes for 40 moves and 30 minutes until the end of the game, with 30 seconds additional time per move, starting from move 1 -- per player. Draws under 30 moves are not allowed.

Official promo video:

The winning team in the open section of the Chess Olympiad will receive the “International Hamilton-Russell Cup,” while the winning team in the women's section of the Chess Olympiad will receive the “International Vera Menchik Cup.”

The winning teams for the best composite scores in the open and women's Olympiads will receive the “Nona Gaprindashvili International Trophy.” The players will receive individual medals, and individual medals for best performances on particular boards can be won as well.

The Olympiad will be held for the 41st time. Two tournaments between countries, in Paris 1924 and Budapest 1926, are seen as unofficial predecessors, while London 1927 is known as the first-ever Olympiad. The last Olympiad was held in August 2012 in Istanbul.

2. Who?

At the moment, 179 teams are registered in the open section, and 137 teams in the women's section, totaling 1572 players according to the latest info given by Chess-Results.

These numbers might still change until the first round actually starts. As always, there are three special teams which count as federations: the International Braille Chess Association (IBCA), the International Chess Committee of the Deaf (ICCD) and the International Physically Disabled Chess (IPCA).

The strongest teams in the open section are Russia, Ukraine, France, Armenia, United States, Hungary, China, Azerbaijan, England, and Netherlands.

The strongest teams in the women's section are China, Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, India, Romania, United States, Poland, France, and Germany.

Strongest players | Open section (Top 20)

No. Title Name Rtg Fed Team Board
1 GM CARLSEN Magnus 2877 NOR Norway 1
2 GM ARONIAN Levon 2805 ARM Armenia 1
3 GM GRISCHUK Alexander 2795 RUS Russia 2
4 GM CARUANA Fabiano 2789 ITA Italy 1
5 GM NAKAMURA Hikaru 2787 USA United States of America 1
6 GM KARJAKIN Sergey 2786 RUS Russia 3
7 GM KRAMNIK Vladimir 2777 RUS Russia 1
8 GM TOPALOV Veselin 2772 BUL Bulgaria 1
9 GM VACHIER-LAGRAVE Maxime 2766 FRA France 1
10 GM DOMINGUEZ PEREZ Leinier 2760 CUB Cuba 5
11 GM GELFAND Boris 2753 ISR Israel 1
12 GM SVIDLER Peter 2751 RUS Russia 4
13 GM GIRI Anish 2750 NED Netherlands 1
14 GM ADAMS Michael 2743 ENG England 1
15 GM MAMEDYAROV Shakhriyar 2743 AZE Azerbaijan 2
16 GM LEKO Peter 2737 HUN Hungary 3
17 GM IVANCHUK Vassily 2735 UKR Ukraine 3
18 GM WOJTASZEK Radoslaw 2733 POL Poland 1
19 GM NEPOMNIACHTCHI Ian 2730 RUS Russia 5
20 GM DING Liren 2726 CHN China 2

(See full list here)

Strongest players | Women's section (Top 20)

No. Title Name Rtg Fed Team Bo.
1 GM HOU Yifan 2629 CHN China 1
2 GM MUZYCHUK Anna 2561 UKR Ukraine 1
3 GM ZHAO Xue 2542 CHN China 2
4 GM DZAGNIDZE Nana 2541 GEO Georgia 1
5 GM LAGNO Kateryna 2540 RUS Russia 1
6 WGM JU Wenjun 2538 CHN China 3
7 GM KOSTENIUK Alexandra 2533 RUS Russia 3
8 IM MUZYCHUK Mariya 2521 UKR Ukraine 2
9 GM KHOTENASHVILI Bela 2518 GEO Georgia 4
10 GM HARIKA Dronavalli 2513 IND India 1
11 WGM POGONINA Natalija 2508 RUS Russia 5
12 GM GUNINA Valentina 2501 RUS Russia 2
13 WGM GIRYA Olga 2493 RUS Russia 4
14 GM CRAMLING Pia 2491 SWE Sweden 1
15 GM HOANG Thanh Trang 2490 HUN Hungary 3
16 GM STEFANOVA Antoaneta 2488 BUL Bulgaria 1
17 GM USHENINA Anna 2488 UKR Ukraine 3
18 GM KRUSH Irina 2484 USA United States of America 1
19 GM SEBAG Marie 2480 FRA France 1
20 IM JAVAKHISHVILI Lela 2474 GEO Georgia 2

(See full list here)

3. When?

The event runs August 1-14. The venue is in the Central European Summer Time zone

Schedule of events

Day Time Event Venue
Friday, August 1 19:30 Opening Ceremony Skarphallen
21:30 Arbiters Meeting Chess Olympiad Arena
Saturday, August 2 09:00 Captains Meeting Chess Olympiad Arena
15:00 Round 1 Chess Olympiad Arena
Sunday, August 3 14:00 Round 2 Chess Olympiad Arena
Monday, August 4 14:00 Round 3 Chess Olympiad Arena
Tuesday, August 5 14:00 Round 4 Chess Olympiad Arena
Wednesday, August 6 14:00 Round 5 Chess Olympiad Arena
Thursday, August 7 Rest day
Friday, August 8 14:00 Round 6 Chess Olympiad Arena
Saturday, August 9 14:00 Round 7 Chess Olympiad Arena
Sunday, August 10 14:00 Round 8 Chess Olympiad Arena
Monday, August 11 14:00 Round 9 Chess Olympiad Arena
Tuesday, August 12 14:00 Round 10 Chess Olympiad Arena
Wednesday, August 13 Rest day
Thursday, August 14 14:00 Round 11 Chess Olympiad Arena

4. Where?

Like the FIDE World Cup last year, the Olympiad is held in Tromsø, Norway. With just over 71,000 inhabitants, it is the seventh largest city in Norway by size.

Nicknamed “Paris of the north,” Tromsø is indeed located north of the Arctic Circle. 

Zooming in a bit more, the event is held in the central part of the city, located on the small island of Tromsøya. And zooming in even more, it all takes place in the “Chess Olympiad Arena” in the Mackhallen building, which used to be the place for the Mack Brewery.

5. Why?

Recently the World Chess Federation celebrated its 90th anniversary. It was founded in 1924 in Paris, and on the occasion of the inaugural congress, a number of chess events were held as well.

The Olympic Games happened to be held at the same time, in the same city, and so it was tempting to make comparisons. A year later, FIDE was formally consituted in Zurich, and at its next congress (in 1926 in Budapest) a tournament over four boards between four countries was held.

In Budapest, it was announced that the Honorary F.G. Hamilton Russell had donated a cup for an international team tournament that was to be held the following year in London. That tournament, held in 1927 and won by Hungary, is considered to be the first official Olympiad.

A total of 40 Olympiads have been held since. The most gold medals went to the former Soviet Union, who won 18 times out of the 19 times they participated. (Hungary, led by Lajos Portisch, famously won the 1978 event in Buenos Aires.)

After the end of the Cold War, many Eastern European countries emerged as chess federations, and it was Russia who continued winning for six events in a row.

More about the early days of the Olympiad can be found at the excellent OlimpBase website, where you'll also find a huge amount of statistical data.

6. Will Russia Win (Double) Gold?

Yes, the Russian team with Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov on top boards won another six times in a row after the USSR collapsed, but quite amazingly the team has failed to win since 2002!

The first places were divided between only two countries since then: in 2004, in Calvia, Ukraine took gold. Armenia won twice in a row, in 2006 in Turin and in 2008 in Dresden.

In 2010, in Khanty-Mansiysk, it was Ukraine again. In 2012, in Istanbul, Armenia won again.

Russia is definitely the favorite on paper. Its average rating of 2777 is a whopping 55-point difference ahead of second-seeded Ukraine! 

Two spectators in Tromsø will surely be interested in this question: former top two boards Kasparov (as FIDE Presidential Candidate) and Karpov (as official ambassador) -- perhaps adding a bit of pressure there.

In the women's section the Chinese team, with Women's World Chamion Hou Yifan on top board, is the rating favorite. Especially on the first day, second seed Russia will surely be attracting attention as its late entry was the subject of all the turmoil earlier this month, which almost put the whole Olympiad in doubt.

In any case, the Russian ladies will be playing with their newest member of the federation: Kateryna Lagno.

Here's what the team looks like via a tweet from Alexandra Kosteniuk:

From left: WGM Olga Girya, GM Natalia Pogonina, GM Kateryna Lagno, GM Alexandra Kosteniuk, and GM Valentina Gunina.

Fantasy Chess

Besides filling in our poll on the homepage, where Russia is also the clear favorite, you can try your luck in more ways. After doing it for Istanbul 2012, the guys of Yorkshire Chess have again launched a competition where you get a chance to pick your dream team for Olympiad: Fantasy Chess!

Players can select a team of 10 Tromsø participants and score points based on their performance. Entrants also score points for the accuracy of predictions they will make about results in Tromsø. FCO 2014 is free to play, but participants may make a donation to a chess development fund.  

The UK based charity Chess in Schools and Communities partners with FCO, and so does We have provided a number of special prizes, including memberships, obviously! Find more information here, and pick your team before the Olympiad starts!

7. What Can Go Wrong?

After everything was solved last week, and all teams were allowed to participate, it looks like everything is all set for a great event.

So what on earth could go wrong now? Well, in case you missed it: one week ago the Norwegian government announced that it had boosted security because of an imminent threat from people linked to Islamist militants in Syria. According to the BBC, the head of the PST security service, Benedicte Bjoernland, said it had "reliable information" about plans for some kind of attack "within days." Let's hope it's a false alarm!

Another issue has been about visas: a number of federations apparently have had problems obtaining visas for Norway. Earlier this month, FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov sent an open letter to the Prime Minister of Norway about this. A day later, Børge Robertsen, the administrative director of the Olympiad, responded on behalf of the organizers and said that they were working hard to solve the issues. It remains to be seen if teams will have to stay home because of this.

And then, Tromsø is located north of the Arctic Circle, where the sun can remain continuously above or below the horizon for 24 hours. In August, most of the night the sun is up, and so the players will need good curtains in their hotel rooms if they want to sleep in the dark!

8. Who will be the next FIDE President?

Besides the Olympiad itself, there's another big event that could have far bigger implications on the chess world: the General Assembly, and in particular its most important agenda topic, the FIDE Presidential elections. The actual voting will take place on August 11th.

The fight between Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and Garry Kasparov has been a ferocious one so far, which started earlier this year with mutual accusations of secret deals, and recently was about federation info disappearing from the FIDE website and irregularities among the delegates. 

The latest development is a fierce column (here in PDF) by Nigel Short, a strong supporter of Kasparov, in New in Chess Magazine. One quote: “Kirsan alone spent an eye-watering 211,594 euros of FIDE money on travel expenses in the last year of published accounts.”

9. What will happen at the Bermuda Party?

Traditionally, the night before one of the rest days, there is the “Bermuda Party,” a big party organized by FIDE's Nigel Freeman of Bermuda. It became especially (in)famous after an incident in Turin in 2006, where English GM Danny Gormally hit GM Levon Aronian after the Armenian's future girlfriend Arianne Caoili started to dance with him.

This year Caoili won't be attending the Olympiad, but who knows what will happen at this year's Bermuda Party? As co-editor Mike Klein wrote: “I once had to promise all my friends that the entire night was off the record in Dresden, 2008.”

10. When and where will the next Olympiad(s) be held?

The city of Tromsø defeated Albena, Bulgaria during the bidding procedure in 2010 at the Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk. Last year, Baku, Azerbaijan was chosen as the host city for the next event, in 2016. In Tromsø, the FIDE delegates will be voting for the host city in 2018, which will be in either South Africa or Georgia.

Let's end with an official video by the organizers posted on their YouTube channel, in which GM Susan Polgar previews the event:

The official website is here, and the Olympiad is also on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. will be transmitting a number of top games every round in Live Chess, and we'll be hosting a daily show on reporter Peter Doggers will be present in Tromsø for on-the-spot (video) reports, so stay tuned!

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