By Dusan Stojic.
The first round of the Olympiad was perfect for the Aussies, with all four players in both the Open and the Women’s sections winning their games without any problems. The opposition, Oman and Chinese Taipei respectively, being ranked in the lower half of the draw, were crushed convincingly.
The first round of the whole Olympiad went according to tradition: the top half of the draw mostly disposed of the bottom half with the 4-0 score line, although some of the bottom half teams managed to score upsets. One team, Sudan, even held the mighty Bulgaria to 2-2 (the Bulgarian line-up features the former World Champion Veselin Topalov, who won his own game).
We were driven to the venue, the marvelous Crystal Hall, in the manner that we have become somewhat accustomed to: by a police-escorted motorcade. The drive wasn’t long, about 10 minutes, and the scenery between the Old Town and the Caspian Sea was nice, even possibly inspiring to the players.
And finally, we arrived at the Crystal Hall, venue of the 2012 Eurovision, the 2015 European Games and of course the 42nd Chess Olympiad!
As the players made their way inside, they were thoroughly searched as they passed through metal detectors. Of course, no electronic devices were allowed inside, irrespective of whether they are switched off. The players even couldn’t bring their own lucky pens but had to use the organiser-provided ones.
FIDE has done well to introduce some strict anti-cheating measures, but some rules were a bit ridiculous. The official tournament regulations require every player to first inform the Arbiter every time they are to visit the restroom, and the Arbiter is required to record the times. Thankfully, in the Arbiters’ meeting before Round 1, FIDE caved and struck out the silly rule when the Arbiters objected.
After having some issues with obtaining a Press Pass (the organisers were understandably swamped immediately before Round 1), I made my way to the general Spectators’ Entrance. The spectators were also stripped of any electronic devices (apologies, but today I couldn’t take any snaps from inside the playing hall, dear reader) and even water bottles.
We were seated right in front of the top boards! Representatives of chess giants Russia, USA, China, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, France, Georgia – all within “smelling” distance of perhaps 5 metres! But unfortunately, the view was quite restrictive. We couldn’t see any teams past about board 5, and it was impossible to catch a glimpse of where the Aussies or the Kiwis were seated – let alone actually see the games.
So after the official procession of the Presidents of FIDE and Azerbaijan (closely followed by about 30 officials and politicians), and the customary making of the first move, the 42nd Chess Olympiad had finally begun!
The Spectator Experience
After hanging around and making light conversation with other non-playing team members, I decided to hunt around for better areas for the spectators. I was given a temporary press pass (and fingers crossed, from tomorrow on I should have unrestricted access to the playing hall for the first 15 or so minutes), so I poked around different areas outside the playing hall.
Away from the restricted “Spectators’ Entrance” (a misnomer), I was actually quite impressed with the things to do! You couldn’t get bored here, with all of these in the same building: from the Commentators Area to the Chess Cafe (featuring chess-themed deserts), various (chess and non-chess) shop stalls, area for Parallel Events (I’ll play some of these over the next two weeks if I get a chance) and the Press Room.
I caught up with GM-elect Moulthun Ly, who for his rest day was working on some things for his 50 Moves online chess magazine. I joined Moulthun to follow the action online (15 minute delay), with Sabrina and David Koetsier.
Australian Open team(L-R): GM-elect Moulthun Ly, GM Zhong-Yuan Zhao, IM Anton Smirnov, Team Captain Manuel Weeks, GM Max Illingworth and GM David Smerdon.
Our Aussies were all doing great right from the Opening. (For the games, click the link on the right (Live Open/ Live Women), and navigate through to whichever game you want.) David Smerdon trapped his opponent’s queen after the optimistic attempt Nxe5? with Qh5+, which left the White Queen stuck on h8/h7. Giang Nguyen had a clean win with the Scandinavian, and Olympic debutant Alex Jule first won a pawn and then trapped the queen, ensuring an easy win.
Although winning the match is priority nowadays at the Olympiad (match points, not board points, decide the final standings), the 4-0 start gave both our teams much-needed confidence for the next few rounds.
Shenanigans, and Where is Magnus?
After the first couple of Aussies emerged – Max and David – it was time to muck around a little bit and see what the organisers have in store for us. We tried out a virtual reality stall – a small group of tech-savvy locals were trying to get some big companies to back their cool technology. An Olympiad is perfect exposure: filled with quirky, gadget-loving players.
Below: Moulthun (closest to us) is mesmerised by a cool dinosaur-filled virtual world, while David tries to play Virtual Chess (Max kibitzing)
Rest assured, dear reader, that our GMs will be focused for the Olympiad. A bit of a wind-down is necessary in such a stressful environment!
But where is Magnus? Most top teams tend to “rest” their top players in Round 1, which was rather unfortunate for the Sydney-based Welsh representative IM Richard Jones, who instead played Norway’s GM Jon Ludvig Hammer. Richard did superbly, holding Hammer to a draw.
I’m getting a bit fed-up with this elusive Magnus. First not showing up to the Opening Ceremony and now not turning up to Round 1. Who does he think he is? The World Champion? Oh wait…
Sigh, I was left with a cardboard cut-out…
Nope, doesn’t look like the real thing at all. The hunt continues.
Round Two will be a tough challenge for both the Aussie Open team – Croatia – and the Women’s team – Lithuania. I predict that there will be some close games, although we are the underdogs this time.
Live coverage starts 9:15 pm AEST – 15 minute delay.