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GM Rogers: The Mouse that Roared, Part 2

GM Rogers: The Mouse that Roared, Part 2


by Ian Rogers


Australia did not compete in the second Telechess Olympiad but returned for the third in 1989, a time when transmitting moves via a central computer was becoming a possibility.


Telechess matches remained exercises in endurance, with the requirement to hand your move to a teller to be transmitted to the other side still offering plenty of chances for delay. (The most common problem was a move not being passed on, leading to both players in a game sitting at their board waiting for a move from their opponent. This could go on for an hour before one player would query whether their opponent really was thinking for so long and the mistake would be uncovered.)


A record ten teams entered the third Telechess Olympiad, with Australia one of the four teams not granted a bye in the first round.


A comfortable 6.5-1.5 win for Australia over Singapore was followed by a remarkable 7.5-0.5 quarter-final win over Ireland.


My game, against Mark Orr, was conducted at the home of Ray Keene (below) –  one of the few people at the time with a home computer which could connect to the required network – and was one of the most challenging games I have ever played, off the board at least.


The day started at 7am, when Cathy and I arrived at Keene’s house to be greeted by Keene in dressing gown with the welcome words “Would you like a cup of coffee?”. Upon the answer “Yes, please!” he waved to the kitchen and said “The coffee’s in the cupboard, the kettle’s over there. I think you know how to use it – I’d like one too.”


After two hours of mucking around, a computer connection with the US network, Ireland and Australia was made. However this barely lasted until move 10 before the connection fell out permanently and a phone line directly to Ireland had to be established.


Even then, when the Irish move came through, Keene would glance at the position and call out “You should play X,” whereupon I had to spend time finding an alternative to X so as not to be accused of receiving help. Luckily not all of Keene’s suggestions were my top choice.


Luckily after a few hours Keene received a call and asked to borrow 10 pounds for “breakfast with Garry”. 10 pounds was a wonderful investment in silence which enabled the game to be almost completed before Keene returned home.

After the game, Keene suggested a case of Para Port wine as compensation for his hospitality; it is possible that this was intended as a joke.


Australia’s big win against Ireland landed Australia in the semi-finals where Austria, East Germany or the Soviet Union awaited.

Early in 1990 we learned that Australia was to be given a chance to avenge their 1977 defeat with another match-up against the USSR.


East Germany won their Semi-final 6-2 in May but negotiations between Australia and the USSR were protracted, a date agreed in June coming and going, and only settled months after the other semi-final had been held.


The Soviets tried to repeat their successful tactics of 1977 by scheduling the match against a major Australian football game on a Saturday late in September but were foiled by a drawn Qualifying Final a fortnight earlier which, due to the need to schedule a replay, delayed the AFL season by a week.


Two days before the contest, which was again to be conducted using the new-fangled internet, the two sides exchanged teams. The Soviet team was as awesome as expected, with, amongst other big names, Vaganian on board 1 and Khalifman on board three.


The Australian team was spread around the country and around the world; Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane with my game conducted alongside the super-tournament in Tilburg.


The NSW and Brisbane players competed from their respective OTC Houses, while the three Melbourne-based Australian representatives enjoyed the luxurious Hyatt on Collins Hotel as a venue.


Playing in Tilburg was a stroke of luck for me; the International Correspondence Federation was holding a meeting in Tilburg on that day and were happy to organise a game from the Telechess Olympiad Semi-final there.


Fortunately I was playing in a separate room to Gelfand, Ivanchuk et al but I was visited by the director of the Tilburg tournament, Barbara Schol. Her greeting included the question “What is your rating?”. When I replied 2535 she looked at me with a mix of sadness and pity, saying “I’m terribly sorry – I am sure it will go up soon.”


The match was supposed to begin in the late afternoon Australian time, late morning in Moscow, but as usual the first moves were not played for almost an hour after the scheduled start, once the various computer operators had worked out how to communicate with the US super-computer and each other. (A complex diagram published in the magazine ‘Chess in the USSR’ helpfully showed how this worked.)

_1991_г._№05 Шв СССР 1991_1

When the match finally did start, the shocks, for me, began immediately. I had prepared for Vaganian’s French Defence, trying to improve on our draw at the Manila Interzonal a few months earlier but my opponent had played the Sicilian Defence.


After the game became a Rauzer Sicilian I became suspicious and had the computer operator send a message asking who was playing on board 1. The reply eventually came back – Alexander Khalifman!


My first thought was – if I am playing Khalifman, who is Solomon playing?


It turned out that the USSR had changed players from their team list on 7 of the 8 boards, but this information was only discovered at the end of the match.


Did I mention that these matches were painfully slow? The transmission speed in 1990 was significantly faster than the 1977 contest but even so the match took more than 8 hours and board 4 managed only 15 moves in that time due to operator errors.


The match was made even slower when, at around midnight in Australia, the USSR announced that they would be going offline for some time. It turned out to be a dinner break which lasted almost an hour.


Across the board, Australia was struggling. Only board 5 Dmitry Gedevanishvili held an advantage, though for a few brief moments it looked as if Biljana Dekic on the women’s board could also pick up a point for Australia. Meanwhile our junior Greg Canfell was in terrible trouble and Darryl Johansen, Stephen Solomon and Robert Jamieson were also suffering and all three eventually resigned.


Then the match abruptly came to a halt.


The time limit for the match was supposed to be 50 moves in 2 hours and then 25 moves per hour, with times regularly exchanged between teams. Australia had frequently sent their clock times but  this was never reciprocated.


Khalifman later related that the Soviet captain had made a very generous offer to his players; anyone with the White pieces could choose their own time control! Most apparently chose 40 moves in 2 hours or 40 moves in 2.5 hours, a fact that became evident when Canfell finally succeeded in receiving a time check on move 42 which indicated that his opponent had used more than two hours. Australia claimed a win on time and the match was soon terminated in confusion.


In Tilburg, the ICCF representatives were watching the match with growing amazement, especially the dinner break. When the match was terminated, it was suggested that Australia appeal to the ICCF, listing all the irregularities, which was quickly done by the Australian captain Peter Parr.


Meanwhile, the day after the semi-final match concluded the USSR – 100% confident of beating Australia – had scheduled the final against East Germany. That match ended in a 4-4 tie, with East Germany winning on a tiebreaker.


It took two months for the appeal to be resolved. The USSR claimed a 6-2 win on the positions but it was clear that after the loss to East Germany their heart was not in the argument.


Shortly before the Novi Sad Olympiad the ICCF announced that Australia had been declared an 8-0 victor due to multiple rule infringements by the USSR.


The new Grand Final against East Germany was never scheduled or conducted. Although East Germany officially merged with West Germany in October 1990, they continued as a separate sporting entity for a short time afterwards.


East Germany’s chess swan song was the Novi Sad Olympiad after which there was no East German Chess Federation with which Australia could negotiate.


Suddenly Australia discovered that they were World Champions, and the process began to bring the huge Champion’s trophy to Australia.


In early 1991 a remarkable ceremony was held at Overseas Telecommunication Commission House. OTC provided the caviar and vodka while the Soviet Ambassador Vyacheslav Dolgov (below, soon to be Russian Ambassador to Australia) brought the trophy.

Vyacheslav Dolgov

I was invited to give a speech explaining how Australian won the trophy and after providing the condensed version to begin – Russia cheated, East germany ceased to exist so we won – I laid out the story of the Telechess Olympiad.


The Soviet Ambassador took my remarks in good humour, starting his repsonse by saying “I congratulate Australia on their chess prowess!” with a broad grin on his face before handing over the trophy to Australia’s Foreign Minister Gareth Evans (below).


Evans later spoke and commented, “I am familiar with Ian’s penchant for controversy.” (He was referring to my withdrawal from the 1987 Zonal which threatened to cause a diplomatic incident between China and Indonesia – another story.)


The World Telechess Championship trophy later went touring the OTC offices around Australia. Unfortunately the tour coincided with OTC’s merging and subsequent disappearance within Telecom (later rebranded Telstra) and the trophy also disappeared, and has never been found.


At least the eight games from the match have been rescued from obscurity thanks to the research efforts of Robert Jamieson.

1990 Telechess Olympiad Semifinal

White: I.Rogers

Black: A.Khalifman

Opening: Sicilian Defence

rogers khalifman,alexander6

I. Rogers (left) v A. Khalifman (right)

1990 Telechess Olympiad Semifinal

White: S.Dvoirys

Black: D.Johansen

Opening: French Defence

Dvoiris_Semen johansen1


S. Dvoirys (left) v D. Johansen (right)

1990 Telechess Olympiad Semifinal

White: S.Solomon

Black: I.Glek

Opening: French Defence

1990 Telechess Olympiad Semifinal

White: Y.Yakovich

Black: G.West

Opening: Budapest Gambit

1990 Telechess Olympiad Semifinal

White: D.Gedevanishvili

Black: Y.Piskov

Opening: English Opening

1990 Telechess Olympiad Semifinal

White: Mi. Tseitlin

Black: R.Jamieson

Opening: Sicilian Defence

1990 Telechess Olympiad Semifinal

White: B.Dekic

Black: I.Chelushkina

Opening: Sicilian Defence

1990 Telechess Olympiad Semifinal

White: V.Belikov

Black: G,Canfell

Opening: Sicilian Defence

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