The recently finished Olympiad in Norway will no doubt be one long talked about. It was China's first victory in the open event, and probably not their last. With India coming in third without superstars Anand and Harikrishna, the focus of world chess certainly shifted away from Europe to Asia. There were category prize golds for Krygyzstan, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, making the event a big haul for Asian countires. Australia competes in Asian events, and the continental success came here too. Australia were one of the big achievers gaining 29 places on their initial ranking and moving from a starting rank of 60th through to 31st (equal 24th). While all the Australian team contributed, our stars were undoubtedly current Australian Champion Max Illingworth and 13 year old Anton Smirnov. To be honest, the future looks good for Australian chess with a group of young and ambitious players who should soon be making their breakthroughs for Australia. In the current top 20 by FIDE rating, there are 9 players born 1990 or after, and 4 of these are born after 1994. Australia has every opportunity to be looking at an all GM team representing us at an Olympiad in the not too distant future!
The women's event was equally successful for Asia. China came in second (a slight disappointment for the tournament favourites) and category gold medallists include Mongolia, Tajikistan and Thailand. Australia's women also performed excellently, like the men moving up from an initial ranking of 51st to 32nd (equal 27th). For the girls it was a real team effort with no stand out results, though maybe it should be said that Berezina's performance on board 1 was very good. Australia's women don't have the same promise of youth that the men have, though there are 6 players in the top 20 born 1990 or after. However, of the remaining 23 players, 17 are born 1990 or after, so hopefully some of these will achieve their full potential and push into the top places.
Unfortunately, while the play seemed excellent, the Olympiad will also be remembered for some not so nice things. On the final day 2 players died. The official site of the Olympiad confirms the deaths of Kurt Meier of the Seychelles and Alisher Anarkulov of Uzbekistan. These are both very sad losses.
Hot on the heels of the end of the Olympiad there came more fall out. Another sad loss for chess will be the retirement of Judit Polgar. When announcing her retirement, Polgar in the Times took a dig at sexism in the game. Having coached a number of girls, I've seen this first hand and part of coaching girls in this male dominated game is to constantly help them to cope with the institutionalised sexism that is rife in chess clubs.
The other news from the women's game that interested me was Ukrainian GM Natalia Zhukova's swipe at turncoat Kateryna Lagno. Lagno switched federations from Ukraine to Russia at a politically volatile time. Added to this, the Russian team entered their player list late so that Lagno could represent her new country. When asked about her ex teammate Zhukova said:
"Getting rid of the parasites is always painless. Well, love cannot be forced. If she doesn't want to play for Ukraine, why do we need such people? We didn't communicate at the Olympiad, she avoided it. Cleansing is always for the better"
Tromso was also host to a FIDE election where Garry Kasparov lost to Kirsan Ilyumshinov, who stays as FIDE President for another 4 years. There has been mixed emotions about this, but one of the first big things to come up was Magnus Carlsen's participation in November's scheduled World Championship match. The Carlsen camp have asked for a postponement to the match which has been rejected by FIDE. It is getting like the Olympiad all over again!
Anyway, I intend to get lost in analysing many games from the Olympiad, stick my head in the sand and hope that all the politics and nastiness in chess sorts itself out. Fat chance!