World Chess Olympiad begins

All eyes on the main chess event of the year.

THE World Chess Olympiad 2010 is underway in Khanty-Mansiysk, a Russian town that’s buried deep in Siberia. Today is the fourth day of the event which will continue until Oct 3.

Altogether there are 260 teams participating in the competition, of which 146 are in the open Olympiad and 114 in the women’s Olympiad.

We are represented by two teams. Our men’s team – comprising Mas Hafizulhelmi, Mok Tze Meng, Tan Khai Boon, Peter Long and Gregory Lau – and our women’s team – consisting of Alia Anin Azwa Bakri, Nur Nabila Azman Hisham, Nurul Huda Wahiduddin, Fong Mi Yen and Roslina Marmono – all left for Khanty-Mansiysk last Saturday via a long roundabout route that took them through Dubai and Moscow.

Controversially, Russia is represented by five very strong men’s teams in the open Olympiad and three in the women’s Olympiad. The two “Russia A” teams are the top seeds and they are looking to wrest the title from Armenia and Georgia, the open and women’s team winners of the last Chess Olympiad in Dresden, Germany, two years ago.

There were questions asked about why the organising country had been allowed to field so many teams. Apparently, Russia was first promised three teams in the open Olympiad.

The regulations allowed them an additional team should there be an odd number of teams, which there was. Then when Romania pulled out of the Chess Olympiad at the last minute, a vacancy was created and the World Chess Federation (Fide) granted the organisers a replacement.

The first round of any open chess event is normally uneventful. Although it is unlikely that any of the stronger teams would lose their matches against the weaker ones, casualties do happen on the individual boards.

In the open Olympiad, one of the earliest surprises was the second-board loss by Indian grandmaster Pentala Harikrishna to an unheralded Tim Kett of Wales. A few minutes later, there was an even greater shock when Vietnam’s top board, 19-year-old grandmaster Le Quang Liem, fell to Botswana’s Phemelo Khetho.

White: GM Le Quang Liem (Vietnam)

Black: Phemelo Khetho (Botswana)

1. Nf3 d5 2. d4 Nf6 3. b3 c5 4. e3 Nc6 5. Bb2 Bf5 6. c3 e6 7. Be2 cxd4 8. exd4 Bd6 9. O-O Ne4 10. Nbd2 Qf6 11. c4 Qh6 12. cxd5 Nxd2 13. Qxd2 Bxh2+ 14. Nxh2 Qxd2 15. dxc6 Qxe2 16. cxb7 Rb8 17. Ba3 Qa6 18. Bc5 f6 19. Rfe1 Kf7 20. a4 Qxb7 21. b4 h5 22. a5 a6 23. Re3 h4 24. Nf3 h3 25. g3 h2+ 26. Nxh2 Rxh2 27. Kxh2 Rh8+ 0-1

The first round also saw the Malaysian men’s team losing to a very strong England team. It was an expected result but the blushes were saved by Mas Hafizul’s quick draw with the England grandmaster, Michael Adams, in a position that still promised lots of play for both sides.

White: IM Mas Hafizulhelmi (Malaysia)

Black: GM Michael Adams (England)

1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nf6 3. d3 Nc6 4. Nc3 Na5 5. Bg5 h6 6. Bh4 c6 7. a3 Nxc4 8. dxc4 d6 9. Qd3 Be6 10. Nge2 Be7 11. b3 g5 12. Bg3 Qa5 13. f3 O-O-O 14. O-O Kb8 15. Rfb1 h5 16. Bf2 Nd7 17. a4 Rc8 18. b4 Qd8 19. a5 g4 ½-½

The Malaysia women’s team lost all their games to Slovakia.

The battles on the chessboard are a prelude to a much more important contest: the Fide elections on Sept 29 between the incumbent president, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, and former world chess champion Anatoly Karpov.

The presidential elections should go as planned unless there is already a decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) in Lausanne in Karpov’s favour. The former world champion had filed a suit at the court to disqualify Ilyumzhinov and his team. At the time of writing, no decision has been announced yet.

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