With the World Chess Olympiad set to start on Tuesday in Khanty Mansiysk, Grandmaster Sergey Shipov previewed the event at Crestbook, giving his verdict on the favourites, medal contenders and dark horses for both the men’s and women’s events.
My full translation of Sergey’s preview can be found on Crestbook, where you can also read the Russian original. Below I’ve given all of his chess predictions, but left out comments on the elections and how team strategy can affect the coverage of the event.
Sergey, unsurprisingly, agrees with the consensus that the Russian first team are favourites for the event, but regrets that the second team will find it difficult without Alexander Morozevich (originally intended to play on board one). Some light was shone on his absence by Ilya Levitov, the Acting Head of the Russian Chess Federation Board, in an interview with Yury Vasiliev for Sport Express:
We really wanted to see Morozevich in the 2nd team. But, unfortunately, Sasha refused. I can even remember the day – 3 August, when he phoned and said that he didn’t feel the strength to play for the team. Morozevich was firm in his intention. Well, it’s a real shame for all of us, but what can you do, it’s his decision.
Levitov also explains that Jakovenko wanted to play for his local Yugra team, while the decision to choose Malakhov instead of Nepomniachtchi for the first team is explained by factors including the young player being more comfortable in a young team and getting the chance to play on board one.
Ilya Levitov has also been reporting on the training camp where the Russian teams are preparing, including this tweet tonight:
They played some football and basketball at the training camp. The ex-World Champion damaged his hand. Nothing serious :)
It included a link to the photo of Kramnik above (perhaps it’s for the best that the Olympiad doesn’t include blitz!).
Without further ado, here’s Sergey Shipov’s preview of the Olympiad:
Olympiad 2010. Expectation
When you wait a long time for something it always comes unexpectedly. As the deadline approaches time dramatically accelerates and the event almost explodes into life – so that you don’t manage to be prepared. While earlier it had seemed that there was still a long time to go…
That’s what’s happened with the World Chess Olympiad which will be starting in a few days in Khanty-Mansiysk. They prepared for a long time – even beginning a few years ago – but they weren’t in time. However, the organisers really did face great objective difficulties. Having almost three thousand people arrive at the same time is no joke! The town’s quite small, there are no large hotels, or rather, there weren’t any. There’s also no experience of running events on such a large scale. The World Cups, which seem almost to have taken up residence in Khanty-Mansiysk, are still an order of magnitude smaller.
It’s good that the “new broom” in the region didn’t try to get out of the obligations of the old one. After all, they could have washed their hands and disowned it, saying that there were more important matters, referring to the crisis, social problems, and so on. But the Governor of Yugra, Natalia Komarova, maintained her predecessor’s line and managed to finish what they’d started. The hotels have, eventually, been built, and a lot of other complex problems have been resolved… All that remains now is the minor matter of running the Olympiad up to standard. Let’s just hope they manage.
I’ll say something briefly about the tournament. Both the men and women are playing in teams on four boards, with one player in reserve. Team points (2,1,0) are given for each match, while the overall number of game points collected serves as a tiebreaker. There are a great number of teams, so they’re playing according to the Swiss System over 11 rounds. That length is, of course, too short – there’s no way all the heavyweight medal contenders will manage to play each other. I remember, for example, that in Bled 2002 there were 14 rounds – that’s a much more objective format for determining the winners. But times have changed. The trend nowadays is to economise – both on days and expenses. The chess calendar is exceptionally packed, while sponsors can’t be found “for love or money”… Therefore they’ve reduced it to 11. The thin edge of the wedge!
Russia, as the host nation, is represented by a countless number of teams in both tournaments. The two, let’s say, federal teams, and also the Yugra teams. Will that quantity be transformed into quality? We’ll see. In any case, it’s useful to give promising young players a chance to test their mettle in this cauldron of international chess. The atmosphere at the Olympiad is unique. And no team cups can compare.
Now let’s take a look at the most pressing questions: Who’s the favourite for the Olympiad? Who’s in the running for the top places?
It’s worth starting by carefully studying the declared team line-ups. If you pick any team you’ll see a full list, including the trainers and representatives.
The medal candidates, in my opinion, are Russia, Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan, China, USA, Israel and… I think we can end the list there. I’d really like to include the second, younger Russian team (it’s good to remember 1994, the “Cosmos” hotel and so on), but it’s going to be really difficult for them without Uncle Morozevich to lead them. And such an idea had been considered. But it didn’t work out.
France would be on the list, but without Bacrot they’re clearly lacking in depth. And weight. And what can you say about the Indian Team when they could have had the World Champion Anand himself playing for them! But he also won’t be in the team, which is a shame. It’s high time for the Indians to get together and make themselves known as the Home of Chess.
Now let’s go through the list.
The main favourite is:
As usual, the leader in terms of overall ratings. As usual, immensely respected by everyone. But not feared, as used to be the case. After so many defeats our aura of champions has faded. But where, if not at home, will we be able to restore it?
Our neighbours have, at last, brought together their optimal line-up. Ponomariov has returned to the team colours. Eljanov has matured and gained in strength. Which gives a very strong team! And if Vasily Mikhailovich is in form, then… the Ukrainians should be in the top three. At least.
The successes of this team time and again provoke amazement and delight. The Armenians are clearly lacking a strong “substitutes’ bench”, but they’ve achieved success with their initial line-up alone. The secret is in the fantastic dedication and concentration of all the players on this particular tournament. The clearest example is Sargissian. At the Olympiads he plays at a level 100 points above what he’s capable of :) In any case, in individual tournaments Gabriel doesn’t shine. While in his country’s team he turns into a mastermind. Akopian, judging by his play, sometimes becomes around 15 years younger. While Aronian simply plays at his level, which is more than enough, as it’s phenomenal. In general, I’m ready once more to be amazed and delighted by the Armenians.
I’m not prepared to comment on the internal destruction of this powerful team, which has spilled over onto the internet. Either way, the result is deplorable. The ousting of Gashimov has dramatically weakened the line-up. No young talent can replace such a chess player. However, in spite of that Azerbaijan will still be strong and dangerous for all their opponents. But to achieve great things they’ll now also need the help of fortune. However, all the others could do with some too.
Sooner or later it’ll happen. And although formally China’s line-up is inferior to its competitors their monolithic approach and 100% serious preparation makes them good prospects. After all, the Olympiad is a team sport. And teamwork sometimes overcomes the arithmetical shortcomings of the line-up…
The stars and stripes have put together a good brigade: three top-class Soviet grandmasters, the frenetic Nakamura (it’s a shame for him, no doubt, that they won’t play one minute a game) and a new local talent. They’ve got great potential. I don’t believe they’ll get gold, but they’re capable of another medal if things go their way.
When there’s the roar of a powerful engine up front the speed of your team is guaranteed. For Israel, in terms of tournament predictions, everything is extremely simple. If Boris Gelfand plays well the team will play well. And if he doesn’t, it’s unlikely. After all, the remaining players aren’t of the same class. And they’re unlikely to manage to shine enough to catch their opponents over the full distance.
Dark horses: England, Poland, France and many, many others. In general, the men’s tournament is very strong. And there are many in the second echelon capable of breaking through. It’s also worth bearing in mind the tricks of the Swiss System. Keeping under the radar some teams may shoot up at the end and beat those teams that were on top…
As usual, the list of real contenders for the women’s prizes is shorter. There’s a big four: China, Russia, Ukraine and Georgia, and by an act of will I’d add Poland to that. The other teams are weaker.
Now about each team in turn…
The main favourite is:
I won’t listen to any objections. China is so superior to all the other countries in terms of results in the last two decades that no details, no comparison of line-ups can change their pre-tournament status. The multiple champions will again be at the centre of attention. Fortunately, they’ve already brought in a new generation. The ex-World Champions have been dispatched into retirement. The young are entering the fray, but they’ve already managed to put up a good account of themselves…
Our team is objectively the strongest. The appearance of Alisa Galliamova should strengthen the team and give it the solidity of champions. It’s impossible to talk of team unity, but at the end of the day in the given situation you can get by without it. Such strong players are capable of simply picking up a lot of points – each on their own board. Then we can sum them up and, god-willing, we’ll get those precious medals… Preferably gold. There won’t be a better chance in the near future! They need to win here and now.
A very solid and balanced team. You could put these players in any order and they wouldn’t let you down. And in any combination their tail’s capable of landing a blow against their direct competitors.
In the past the showing of the Georgians largely depended on Chiburdanidze. Remember their triumphal march in Dresden 2008. But the famed champion isn’t travelling to Khanty-Mansiysk. That’s a hard loss to take, but it would be wrong to be too quick to rule out this excellent team. Of late Dzagnidze has really improved – she’s capable of becoming the new team leader. Nana is ready for great victories. Therefore Georgia now has new possibilities. And they always have an abundance of strength in reserve. Traditions…
A team that’s always underestimated – which at some point people end up regretting. Besides, the Polish women are very strong. Not in the individual mastery of the players, but in the excellent preparation of the whole team. I know Polish trainers – believe me, they’re terrifying people. Their work is excellent, the envy of many. Virtuosos of home preparation, they’re able to make team stars out of simply good chess players.
Dark horses: India (if Koneru was in the team then they’d be among the favourites, while without her, not at all), USA, Serbia, Russia 2, France, Armenia and a few others. Unfortunately, in terms of depth and competition the women’s tournament is greatly inferior to the men’s. If you dig a bit deeper then you’ll find teams that are an order of magnitude weaker than the favourites. That’s why I expect we’ll see many matches with a crushing scoreline in the women’s competition.
There are only likely to be three teams contending for the Nona Gaprindashvili Trophy (for the composite performance of the men’s and women’s teams) – Russia, Ukraine and China. I’d put the chances of any of the others breaking into the top three at… 10%. No higher.
For Sergey’s comments on the FIDE Election (including the line: “We’ll pretend that we still have democracy in chess”), please see my full translation here:
Despite a busy schedule I hope to be able to translate more material from Crestbook during the Olympiad!