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Turin Olympiad 2006
The 2006 Chess Olympiad is taking place in Turin, Italy, 20th May (opening ceremony) to Sunday 4th June (13th and last round). The Irish team members are:
At the start of the Olympiad, the organisational standards set by the Italians will not be setting any records, at least not any to be proud of [things got better later]. Information is hard to come by. For example, I got three different answers from three different orange-jacketed officials as to the location of the pre-tournament team captains' meeting: this way, that way and we don't know.
Then there are the scrums: imagine a couple of hundred team captains trying to reach the same desk at the same time to get a form to fill in and you have a idea of what I mean. There are record numbers of teams participating in this Olympiad but it seems that the organisers' only concept of a work-flow is a free for all.
At the team captains' meeting, a last minute rule change to introduce accelerated pairings was voted down. Instead, the usual top half versus bottom half rule will be used in the first round, thus preserving the traditional right of all the weaker teams to have at least one opportunity to play against much stronger opposition.
All the Irish players have arrived safely in Turin except Colm who, due to last minute complications with work, will not be here for a few days.
Round 1, Sun 21 May
With the top half versus bottom half policy in round 1, the men, in the top half of the draw, got a relatively easy team while the women, in their bottom half, got a hard one and that was reflected in the results. Suzanne was unfortunate to lose, her opponent had a lucky shot just when everyone thought Suzanne was winning. Debbie dithered somewhat in the middle game, losing a pawn but scrambled a draw, getting off to a great start. Elizabeth more or less self destructed. Overall an encouraging start.
Mark Heidenfeld's was entertaining.
Heidenfeld, Mark - Cecchetti, R
Round 2, Mon 22 May
Good result for the men given they were outrated on every board. Suzanne and Debbie both had off days against a strong Phillipines side and lost relatively quickly, but Poornima, in her first senior game for Ireland battled to the end and was unlucky not to be rewarded with more. The level of tactical awareness and positional understanding she showed for such a young player was quite amazing.
Round 3, Tue 23 May
Not a bad result for the men, Alex beating the reigning European champion. Against a weak Trinidadian team, the women's ploy of playing solidly and waiting for opportunities to present themselves paid off handsomely, Elizabeth even eschewing the capture of an exchange in order to preserve a minor piece that was defending her king. Poornima's win was very one sided and I'm going to have to warn her that such easy games are the exception rather than the rule.
Baburin,A (2519) - Kozul,Z (2606)
Round 4, Wed 24 May
You can always expect controversy where Colm Daly is concerned. Last night he eventually arrived three days late and set himself up in one of the Irish contingent's apartments, number 503. From midnight he played loud music and kept myself (in 504) and Sam (in 502) awake. For some reason he locked the inner door of his apartment so even though I had a spare key to get access through the outside door, I couldn't get inside the apartment and the music was too loud for him to hear my knocking. Eventually the music stopped at 2:30am, but that was when the snoring started and I could hear it right through the wall. So I didn't get to sleep until 4:00am, and then, as team captain, I had to be up at 8:30am to hand in the team sheet for today's round. To top off his arrival at the Olympiad Colm proceeded to get a completely lost position against a 1900 Welshman in today's round only for his opponent to get nerves and throw his pieces away for nothing, helping Ireland to a 3-1 win.
The women had a good performance against stronger rated opposition. Suzanne extricated herself from a cramped opening and sensibly offered a draw. Debbie's opponent was pressing in an ending for a long while so she was glad when, with 5 minutes left each, a draw offer was accepted. Unfortunately she neglected to notice that her opponent had stumbled into a mating net. Poornima got into difficulties in the opening but didn't panic, played sensibly and managed to win back the pawn she had lost and agreed a draw. Once again I was left somewhat in awe of this bright young talent.
Round 5, Thu 25 May
Excellent result for the men. Everyone was on form, including Colm who had a better position at one stage. Suzanne missed a tactic or two in her game, but Debbie and Poornima pulled the match round for us.
A curious piece in today's bulletin referred to a "serious" incident during yesterday's Ireland-Brazil match. What had actually happened was that the Brazil board 3 decided, half way through the match, that Suzanne was an imposter and complained to the arbiter. The arbiter took a good look at Suzanne's security badge and eventually found another arbiter who knew Suzanne from previous Olympiads and could vouch for her. The whole thing was over in about 5 minutes. Why the Brazilian took that notion, we'll never know.
Tomorrow, Friday, is the first of two rest days.
Round 6, Sat 27 May
The Poles took us seriously this time. There wasn't much joy from the match except Brian's tough defence against Macieja which earned a draw. After Alex's win against Kozul earlier, we seem to be doing well against current or former European champions (Macieja won it in 2002).
The woman's fate was even worse. Debbie hung a knight in a drawn ending having earlier missed an opportunity for a forced mate or win of a rook. Poornima built up a huge position on the White side of a QGD but finding a breakthrough proved difficult. In the end she dropped a pawn playing too quickly (being a bit behind on the clock) but her pawn structure was so superior it hardly mattered and a draw was soon agreed (see picture left of the players discussing the game). Elizabeth battled hard after losing a pawn in an ending but it proved decisive.
Round 7, Sun 28 May
Sadly, another painful day, both teams losing to weaker opposition. Alex had a slightly worse position (as Black) but managed to solve his problems and then his opponent allowed a key pawn to be taken and it was effectively game over. Not sure what happened to Sam - when I asked for a pithy summary I got the obvious expletives. Colm apparently tried to win a drawn R+P endgame at all costs, including giving himself a lost position which his opponent duly converted. Mark Heidenfeld thought at first he he was better, then after a long think decided he was in fact worse, had his draw offer refused where upon his opponent threw away his advantage but still tried to win, so hard he almost lost, but a draw was the final outcome.
The women's games were of mixed fortune. Suzanne's game plan (play solidly, wait for weaker opponent to slip up) worked once again and we can forgive her for missing that she could have shortened the games somewhat by just taking the offered rook for knight exchange. Debbie got in to time trouble and could not defend a worsening position. Elizabeth played well in the opening, won some material and got a good position but when the time came for the coup de grāce (24...Rd1) she missed it, then hung the exchange and finally lost the ending. Tragic.
The game Sokolov-Aronian from the top match Netherlands-Armenia featured a quick win for Black.
Sokolov,Iv (2676) - Aronian,L (2756)
Round 8, Mon 29 May
The population of Fiji is about 200,000 and there are only a few dozen active chess players so it's no surprise Ireland was able to beat their women's team. Poornima was safe enough, as white, in her game but didn't really have enough experience to know how to create problems for her opponent. For example, after an early Bf5 in a QGD Slav, exchanging pawns on d5 and playing a quick Qb3 is often hard to meet but Poornima didn't know that. However, she will after the post match analysis tonight.
Brian had to grovel a bit for his draw and Mark Quinn didn't have quite enough for the full point even though he won a pawn. Mark Heidenfeld got in a little bit trouble as Black in an exchange French, but his opponent badly mishandled the position and ended up losing.
On top board for Czech Republic, young David Navara beat Peter Svidler, just like Gerry Graham did in Istanbul (though that was pool, not chess).
Navara,D (2658) - Svidler,P (2743)
Round 9, Tue 30 May
The women had a good result, drawing with a higher rated team. Suzanne and the delightful Ms Eneida Perez (right) played a fairly uneventful draw after an offbeat opening. Debbie got into time trouble and dropped a pawn but finally got to a Q+P versus Q ending which she should have been able to draw. However, once again she allowed her time to get low, blundered and lost. Poornima just took the piece and pawns her opponent offered and said thank you very much.
Alex is ill - you just have to look at him to know it - some kind of hay fever. So a draw against a dangerous opponent (Al-Modiahki) was quite OK. Brian was unlucky. He played the Najdorf for the second time in his career (see round 3 for the first one) and this time equalised comfortably but later got just a little too optimistic in the ending. He could see to the win of a pawn but hadn't noticed his pieces were badly coordinated in the resulting position and that his opponent could cleverly swap off into a winning K+P ending, despite being a temporarily a pawn down.
Sam got into his favourate Advanced Variation against the French Defence (he's written a book on it) against Zhu Chen, former Women's World Champion and former Chinese women's top board but now wife of Al-Modiahki and playing for the Qatar "men" (strictly speaking the so-called men's competition is open, but because of the disparity in relative strength between the sexes, is 99% men in practice). He got a position where he knew he was better but given his current form and the strength of his opponent decided that it was a good team decision to allow a three-fold repetition. Anyway, how many Irishmen can say they have drawn against a world champion? Mark Quinn is on good form this tournament. He took the somewhat eccentrically gambited pawn in the opening and proved his opponent had nothing for it.
Round 10, Wed 31 May
Ireland beat Iraq today in the women's section but it required a bit of luck. Poornima, after some resourceful defence, reached an approximately equal R and P endgame but both players were down to about a minute for the rest of the game (plus the 30 second increment per move). Unfortunately for the Iraqi player, she forgot about the clock and let it tick over, handing the match (which was 1-1 by that stage) to Ireland. Not surprisingly, she burst into tears - chess can be a cruel game.
Earlier, Suzanne got ahead on the clock when her opponent went down a line we had prepared before hand, but went wrong somewhere (we're still not quite sure where) and couldn't find a way to stop two connected passed pawns in the resulting ending, although she tried every trick in the book, including an illegal move! Debbie at last got a win although not without incident, triumphing in the end by virtue of her more active king in a R+P end game.
The men narrowly beat New Zealand, Alex and Sam winning and Mark Heidenfeld drawing. After his disaster in round 7, this was meant to be Colm's last chance to redeem himself, but although he obtained a clear pawn up for little compensation, he found a way to lose, confirming his bad form.
Round 11, Fri 2 June
0-3 for the women against a strong Albanian side isn't as bad as it sounds because the master plan is to engineer a swing upwards in the last round. If we can get a good win tomorrow and avoid meeting a stronger team in the last round, we still have a chance of a good placing relative to previous Irish ladies teams. In addition, if Poornima wins her game tomorrow, she will obtain the Fide Woman's Master title as she will reach the qualifying score of 66.66% (and it doesn't matter what happens in the last round). A weak team tomorrow can only help Poornima.
In the men's match, at some point Alex overlooked that his opponent could just capture a pawn for nothing. When asked why it happened he said he thought his whole life had prepared him to overlook the threat! Still, his position had been better and he was able to steer the game to a draw. Brian and Sam had comfortable wins but Mark Quinn allowed his somewhat rude opponent (who moved his pieces with an arrogant flourish) to whip up a flashy attack.
I didn't actually witness the following story, so I can't vouch for it's veracity but what I heard was that a star Armenian player was punched by an English grandmaster at the "Bermudan" party (the traditional main party at Olympiads) while dancing with a very pretty girl who plays for Austraila. The Armenians did not take kindly to this and the English grandmaster has been sent home for his own safety.
Another person who has gone home early is Colm Daly. Before he departed he mentioned he had no complaints other than his own bad form.
The "English Attack" did not stop the Armenians who consolidated their lead with a 3-1 victory over the Czech Republic, including another quick win from Aronian (see also his game from R7).
Aronian,L (2756) - Navara,D (2658)
Round 12, Sat 3 June
It all went to plan for the ladies but sadly not for the men. Poornima won in style (trapping her opponent's queen) to achieve her WFM title, only the second Irish player to do so. Suzanne and Debbie also outclassed their opponents to bring the team back to a score of -2 going into the the last round. In the last two Olympiads the women finished on a score of -6 and -7, so this team is guarenteed to at least surpass those performances. A win tomorrow would produce one of the best Irish Ladies Olympiad results ever.
Kholoud,Essa - Menon,Poornima
The men, now on +1, cannot match the performance in Bled 2002 (the most successful Irish men's team Olympiad so far), even with a 4-0 win tomorrow, but a good win would leave them not far off that level. Here are some quotes from the players after today's defeat. Brian: "It was a bad idea to turn up". Sam: "The problem was we all got inferior positions and then we misplayed them".
Round 13, Sun 4 June
The women drew the short straw in the last round and had to play against a much stronger team, Australia, instead of the likes of Luxembourg or Guatemala who were also on the same score as us. Just to rub salt in the wound, we also had black in 2 out of the 3 games. So much depends on the last round: a 3-0 win would have resulted in an overall performance very close to the previous best (Dubai 86) but in practice it was more a case of avoiding a whitewash which we just managed, thanks to Suzanne, who prepared her opening well.
The men had more luck playing against a relatively weak team (Italy C) with Brian recovering from a lost position. The final result was a 3-1 win for Ireland, a final score of +3 and a performance somewhat short of recent good Olympiads (+4 in Calvia 04 and +6 in Bled 02) but maintaing our position in roughly the top third of chess nations.
Armenia won gold in the men's, with China and USA in second and third positions. Russia came as low as 6th after a 1-3 loss to Israel in the last round. Ukraine triumphed in the women's after winning all their matches other than a draw in the last round. Russia and China followed.