Baku Olympiad

Jonathan O'Connor

13-September-2016 round 11

An early start as the last round started at 11:00, instead of 4 hours later. Unfortunately, Mark lost very quickly - such is life.

Alex looked in good shape, a pawn up in his beloved Alekhine. However, he spent too long trying to find how he could win, that he ended up short of time when the tactical complications occurred. Soon he was an exchange down, and his opponent finished off neatly taking the b-pawn, and if the knight recaptures, the a-pawn runs through to queen.

Conor won a nice game. He has played 3 games with fianchetto going into either a King's Indian or a Grunfeld. His opponent played poorly, and Conor finished off the game with a little combination.

Stephen, as so often before, got into raging time trouble, about a minute for 20 moves, plus the 30 seconds per move. Although he had the optically better bishop, his opponent had control of the c-file. After an adventure, where his opponent tried to mate him on h1, Stephen had to give up the exchange for 2 pawns. A pair of rooks were exchanged, and then using threats and zugzwang, his opponent eventually won. Once again, Stephen's time pressure prevented him from finding a draw late in the game.

So, a 1-3 loss to Venezuela to sour the mood. Before the game, I had wished their team captain "The best of luck, but not too much!".

We're all flying home after an interesting event. The USA won the open event. Wesley So, who won Bunratty in February won a gold medal for the best board 3 performance.

All my players played 8 games, due to the walkover in round 1. All of them got 4 whites and 4 blacks. Colm came close to an IM norm, and if he had won in round 10, he would have played in round 11.

Pippa did a great job as women's captain. Whereas, I would flit about the playing hall looking at other games and chatting with all and sundry, she sat near her team, reading her book, and willing positive energy to her players. Margit Brokko, an arbiter from Estonia, was very pleased to see the Irish women had a woman for captain.

Anyway, it's late, and I have to get up in 2 hours time for a flight, so that's all folks, until Batumi in Georgia.

12-September-2016 round 10

We had a tough pairing against Austria. They are captained by Zoltan Ribli who was in the top 10 in 1970's and 1980's. He didn't seem interested in chatting to me before the round began, so I had a chat with our much friendlier arbiter from Nigeria. He is a bug soccer fan and was disgusted that Ireland missed out in qualifying because of the hand of whoever that French bloke was (please don't bother talking to me about soccer, I know nothing about it, and I'd like to keep it that way). I suggested to him that he would any decisions that had to be made would be in our favour, but he said that as an arbiter he was impartial. Ah well, I did try.

Alex got an equal opening, but his opponent slowly outplayed him, but thankfully it was not enough, and Alex earned a draw in the longest game of the day.

Stephen tried tricking his opponent with an early ...Nc6, blocking his c-pawn. Unfortunately, he had played this once before, and his opponent seemed ready for it. He got a rotten position, and he ended up loosing a pawn in his perennial time trouble. Not giving up, he resisted in the double bishop ending. These can be very difficult to win, but his opponent was cunning, and gave back a pawn to activate his pieces. This paid off, when Stephen lost first, one pawn and then another.

Conor got a nice position in his fianchetto king's Indian. However, he played a couple of inaccuracies, and eventually he had to hoover off all the pawns on the queenside, and agreed a draw.

Finally, Colm was playing a position masterpiece, having sacced a pawn on the queenside for a bind. His young opponent considered it a completely won position, given that he was a pawn up and he could attack and possibly mate on the king-side. The machine truth was somewhere in between, but the result was a loss for Ireland when Colm missed a couple of nice moves by white, 28.Kh1 and 29.Bd2, and had to resign due to impending mate.

Last round we play Venezuela, who for some inexplicable reason, have rested their best player.

11-September-2016 round 9

What should have been an easier match for us turned much harder after Mark had his own 9/11 - He was lost by move 11 of the 9th round game! He had a mix-up in his preparation when his opponent didn't play the standard move d4-d5, Mark decided to play d6-d5 himself. When white took on d5, he had to recapture first with a knight, when he would have been ok. Taking directly with the pawn meant he allowed Bg5, and he was forced to protect his bishop on e6 with his king. His opponent continued making excellent moves, and the game was soon over.

Colm had a nice position, but it wasn't clear how he could break through. As usual, he sacrificed the exchange for a pawn, and converted the position quite easily.

Alex's game was difficult for a captain to follow. One moment he seemed to be fine, the next in difficulty, the next winning, the next pushing to win. In the end, a draw seemed a fair result, although the machine says there was a win for black.

Stephen had the final game to finish. He got a nice position after the opening, although we all wondered why black didn't win a pawn on b3. Even with his pleasant position, there was no clear plan, and the game headed into mutual time trouble. Stephen is well used to the time pressure, and played a clever move 38.Kg2, which looks like a typical time trouble safe move, but it had a cunning trap to it. Sure enough, black allowed Stephen to play 39.Bxd5 and he recaptured ...cxd5 as that was positionally desirable, but forgetting that 40.Nb5 forked the rooks, and Rc1 is not check! Stephen's opponent played creatively, looking for counterplay against the white King, but Stephen played very safely, 43.Kh3 answering Rh1+ with 44.Rh2. His opponent resigned a few moves later, down a whole rook.

Interestingly, during the game, Kirsan Ilyumshinov, president of FIDE, guided an oriental looking woman to look at our match. As usual, Mark, who is often in Elista, where is wife is from, nodded to Kirsan, who nodded back.

10-September-2016 round 8

An excellent result against Iraq. Alex used some old lines in a slav, and scored a quick win, when his opponent blundered, trying to equalize too quickly.

Mark played a fascinating game leaving most of his pieces on the back rank. Children, don't do this at home! After navigating tactical minefields, his opponent with maybe 2 minutes on the clock sacrificed a knight on h6. Mark took, and then found a way to avoid being mated. Both players played very creatively, but in the end Mark was able to get the rooks off, and the draw was immediately agreed due to opposite colour bishops.

Conor over extended with b2-b4 and h2-h4-h5 against his opponent's provocative opening. Black missed a chance to win the game, when Conor got himself in trouble with 22.Qe3 Bg5 23.Qe2. Here black should play 23...Bxf3 24.Nxf3 Rxf3 25.gxf3 Bf4! (25...Rxf3 is also quite scary) 26.Qc2 (to stay protecting f2) Qh2+ 27.Kf1 Qh3+ (a nice little maneouvre to improve black's queen position) 28.Kg1 and now after 28...Bh2+ 29.Kh1 Be5+! wins not because black can take the rook on e6, but because the rook now supports the attack on the f-file 30.Kg1 Qh2+ 31.Kf1 Qh1+ 32.Ke2 Qxf3+ 33.Kd2 Qxf2+ followed by Qxd4 and black is up loads of pawns for the exchange and Conor's king is still lost in the wilderness of the center. When Conor's opponent didn't find this, Conor was able to snatch a pawn on c7, and then swapped off Q+R to go into a very good ending a pawn up. His opponent playing quickly tried 39...b5 in Conor's time trouble, but our lad was up for the challenge and played the best move 40.cxb5. Black then blundered a piece, and resigned immediately. If was Irish he would have eventually drawn R+N vs R!

Colm started off with his slow Kan Sicilian, and then could not resist the chance to sacrifice the exchange. It looked like his attempt to win might not quite be justified, especially with white's queen-side pawns marching towards the eight rank. Colm, however, had correctly evaluated the position, and won quickly when his opponent blundered allowing him to queen a pawn.

Thanks to these quick finishes, we were able to go and dine in the old city in Restaurant Manqal. A "Manqal" is a barbeque fire that is used to cook meet and vegetables, and the table was soon groaning undr the weight of all the food that was brought to the table. Some of us suspect that, as Alex ordered, the waiter presumed we would all eat the same quantities!

Next round we play Thailand. We hope for another good win.

Here's a photo of Stephen and Conor with the French team. Sebastian Maze, regular visitor to Kilkenny, and sporadic player for Gonzaga, is wearing the kiss me I'm Irish hat!

Stephen Jessel and Conor O'Donnell with the French team

9-September-2016 round 7

Good result. Alex won a pawn with a bit of trickery (Rxh6), that even the captain saw coming. He kept full control of the position, won another pawn, swapped queens rather than grabbing more material, and easily won the opposite colour bishops ending, partly due to the extra material, and partly because of the rooks still on the board.

Mark attacked strongly, and his opponent correctly gave up the exchange for a pawn. That kept black in the game. Mark activated his rooks, and then tried opening up the c-file, which let him crash down on the 8th and 7th ranks. Another win!

Conor had yet another black, but got a good opening. A moment of relaxation allowed his opponent to attack with all his pieces. Conor defended, and when his opponent missed some chances, Conor took control of the position, and ground out the win.

And then there was Stephen's marathon 150 move game. After a bad opening, he got a worse middle game, losing a knight for no compensation shortly before the time control. His opponent missed win after win, so Stephen correctly played on, making it difficult where he could. Slowly but surely, he reduced his opponent's advantage until finally he managed to get to a R vs R+N ending. After 50 moves, Stephen claimed the draw. His opponent was gutted.

I've told Alex, Mark and Conor that I expect all of them to defend this ending before the end of the olympiad!

Tomorrow we play Iraq who sneakily play there strongest players on boards 4 and 3!

PS For those of you who want to see the game that I thought deserved a bottle of whiskey, have a look here

8-September-2016 Round 6

Ireland vs Wales

Oh what a disaster. I feel totally depressed.

This captain's job is not for somebody who suffers from a weak heart. The Irish team were playing Wales today. Their board 1, Richard Jones, is a well known attacker. Unfortunately for Stephen, Jones played a brilliant game. It started with a greek gift sacrifice on h7 in Stephen's beloved French defense. Jones slowly brought his queen and rook over to the h-file, and Stephen defending tenatiously, survived the first wave of the attach, but he overlooked how strong 28.Qh8+ was. After that, his opponent finished the game very nicely.

I thought that Conor would win today, especially after he went up a rook on move 16. But, igt seems although white still has a rook on a1 and a knight on b1, white can develop his pieces and cause grave harm to black. After mutual errors in a very complicated position, white eventually ended up a pawn up in opposite coloured bishop and rook ending. Conor played actively, and scored a quick draw.

Colm seemed to be very comfortably outplaying his opponent in a French. After overlooking a win of the queen, the position simplified down to Q+N vs Q+B, with Colm having an outside passed pawn. Optically this looked good for him, but as the b-pawn advanced, white's king became exposed, and a draw was agreed soon after.

Mark's game looked fairly dull, until he realised he had castled on the wrong side. Not being a man to stick to his guns, he played 18.Kc1-d2, and by move 24, he was back on g1. The game was still very level, but just before move 40, Mark blundered a pawn. After that he played very creatively, but missed his one chance of a draw with 51.Nxb7 followed by 52.Kg5. Instead Mark's 51.Kg5 allowed 51...Ba8 keeping the bishop. After amazing play, Mark won a piece, but his opponent had too many pawns for it, and Mark had to throw in the towel after a final attempt to get stalemate.

Tomorrow, we play Namibia.

7-September-2016 Rest Day

Some of us were feeling a bit tender this morning after the Bermuda party. I had a great time chatting with, amongst others, Nigel Short, Hikaru Nakamura, Hans Pees (head of DGT, the electronic board company), Yasser Seirawan, Yvette Nagel, Sebastian Maze, Maurice Ashley, Veselin Topalov and my good friend Silvio Danailov. Today I visited the flame buildings where the FIDE congress is taking place, and I presented Silvio with a bottle of whiskey for the most beautiful game of the year, Danailov-Granda Zuniga.

Presenting beauty prize for Danailov-Granda Zuniga

6-September-2016 round 5

We were paired against Madagascar. They have an excellent board 1, who beat Maurice Ashley in an exhibition match last year.

Arriving at the Crystal Hall, I found that FIDE have banned books. So far, they have banned phones, cameras and watches, and now they banned books! This is probably punishment for the petition against the toilet rule.

Conor's game was the first to finish with a loss. His opponent offered Conor a draw on move 30, but as Conor had the black pieces he could not accept. Most unfortunately, he chose that moment to swap queens into a lost ending, as the a-pawn just marched up to a7, and Conor could not long prevent it from queening.

Alex was doing fine until he made a Fingerfehler in time trouble and took the rook on d5, instead of moving his king to e6. His opponent's passed d-pawn was too dangerous and won the game shortly thereafter.

Mark's opponent played fairly well up to a point and the gave up a pawn, followed by anothr and another. So that was a point back.

Colm totally outplayed his opponent in the opening and middlegame, and just when he should have been converting his advantage into a point, he took on c4 with the queen instead of the rook. Apparently the position was level at that point, but black had no time, so he ended up in a very bad R+P ending, which Colm easily won.

The Bermuda party is on tonight, and about half of us are going.

5-September-2016 round 4

We were back in the top section, but this time on the outskirts, and not on the podium itself. Hungary, captained by Judith Polgar, were on the next table. Judith has been one of the main people behind the toilet protest. Most arbiters will accept a nod from a player, when they want to go to the bathroom. In the women's section, where many arbiters are male, most are far too embarrassed to want to know.

On to the games: Although it was a tough draw, I rested Alex to avoid having to give him 2 rest days in a row. Stephen had a tough game against a 2700 GM. He was fighting back, but with little time, he couldn't find any counterplay and went down. Mark played a semi-slav, and got a slightly passive position which he is quite happy to play. He also took a lot of time, and couldn't hold the position.

Conor played one of the zillion Nguyen's who live in Vietnam. Nguyen is the commonest surname in the country, so it's no wonder that there are five of them between open and women's teams! He got a good fianchetto KID, which he played very quickly. His opponent eventually tried opening up the position and after a flurry of exchanges, Conor reached a slightly better position, where he had pressure on his opponent's c-pawn. Despite black's efforts to attack the exposed king, Conor was able to swap queens, and then win the c-pawn. His opponent started making it tough by trying to set up various mating threats, and eventually Conor missed a very difficult variation: 48.Bb6 allowing Rxa6 49.Rc7+ Kh6 and now 50.Rh2 with a quick mate or huge material loss.

In the final game, Colm played a queen's gambit accepted for the first time in his life. By move 4, both players were out of book! He got a slightly passive position, but had managed to equalise, when he blundered just before the time control. Disgusted with himself, he pulled out all the stops to defend R+N+2P vs R+3P ending. This was much harder to win than any of us spectators originally thought, and eventually he hauled in the draw.

We arrived back at our hotel around 9pm. A long, tough day, so no energy for a report last night.

Tomorrow or today we face Madagascar.

4-September-2016 Round 3

We were back in the middle section today playing Bolivia on Table 48. Alex had black against a sharp well prepared opponent, but he got a good version of QGD exchange variation, swapping off white squared bishops and parking a knight on d6 which is an ideal square for it in these lines. His opponent never got to play any form of minority attack, and Alex missed a chance to win with 27...f5 or 28...f5. After that it was to difficult to find any chances in time trouble and a draw was agreed just after the time control. Apart from the slip-up on moves 27-28, this is a model game of what to do as black in the Carlsbad pawn structure.

On board 2, Stephen played confidently and quickly, going way ahead on the clock, which given is normal inclination, was a huge relief for his captain. Having got a stable, risk free advantage, and being up lots of time, he spent almost an hour on 3 moves, 17.Bh6, 18.Nd5 and the spectacular but tricky to calculate 19.Bxh5. It turns out that the variation is sound. However, his opponent didn't play the best defense, and he soon lost on time.

On board 3, Conor had his first real game of the Olympiad. It was a slightly unusual variation of the Panov-Botvinnik attack against the Caro-Kann, and he comfortably equalised, tried pushing for a winning K+P ending, and ended up having to be a bit careful himself to draw the game.

Finally, on board 4, Colm got a reversed hedgehog, and played for the better pawn structure. Eventually his opponent made the strategic error of swapping off queens, which left Colm fully in control. After that it was just a matter of time before Colm reeled in the full point.

Next round we have a tough match against Vietnam.

3-September-2016 Round 2

Alex Baburin held an easy draw today against the world number 2, Maxime Vachier Lagrave. Although outrated by 300 ELO, Alex is very solid with white and so it was today. The players went into a well known line of the Grunfeld fianchetto variation, and after some manoevering, the game exploded into a tactics festival, with multiple exchanges, eventually resulting in a very drawn opposite colour bishop and knight ending. Although Alex offered a draw shortly after move 30, the players continued until move 41, when MVL offered the draw. He explained afterwards, that he thought draws could not be offered before move 40, but in reality they can be offered on black's move 30 and after.

The other games did not go as well. Stephen, after a lot of thought, got a passive position, and had to play on increment from move 20. His opponent, Sebastian Maze, well known in Kilkenny, played against Stephen's poor white-squared bishop and huge time shortage, and won with the help of a nice tactic.

Mark played one of his favourite anti-Sicilian variations with 3.Qxd4, but didn't seem to get anything. In the middlegame he started dropping all his queen-side pawns, but managed to block the a-pawn with his minor pieces. Then some weird, difficult tactics started with 23...Ng4 24.Qe2 Nxf2 25.Kf1 Nh1! 26.Qf3 f5! 27.Ke2 Rf6!! After that the game was soon over.

Finally Colm's game ended badly. Although the machine says there was nothing wrong with his opening moves, most French defence players against the king's indian attack would not play 5...d4 as this gives away the e4 square. Colm's real mistake was to play ...f5 and the machine dislike's taking back with the bishop instead of the knight. Bauer migrated his pieces to the king-side, and when he played 21. Ng5!, it became obvious that Colm was in big trouble. At that stage Colm had been up on time, but he proceeded to use most of it looking for a defence that wasn't there.

Such is life, but the team were very pleased for Alex, who now has a 50% record against 2800 players!

Tomorrow (or actually today) we play Bolivia.

2-September-2016 Round 1

The open team are paired against Mali, who despite being one of the weaker teams are under-rated, both because their 4th board is unrated, and also because their players are in the twilight of their careers. However, given their experience, we will not be taking them lightly.

Why did we bother? After arriving 30 minutes early for our match against Mali, there was no sign of our opponents. As I was trying to get back from visiting the women, before the start, I was nearly mowed down by the president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, and the president of FIDE, Kirsan Ilyumshinov. Aliyev had made the ceremonial first move to begin the olympiad. 15 minutes after the round started, we were declared the winners on all boards, as our opponents had not turned up. This often happens, especially to the African teams who often have limited financial resources, and long and expensive journeys.

An interesting rule change this year is that players who want to go to the bathroom during play must ask permission of the arbiter. "An bhfuil cead agam ag dul amach go dti an leithreas?" Judith Polgar and Malcolm Pein have got a petition to rescind this rule. Even the arbiters find it embarrassing.

Tomorrow we play France on table 8, which is on the podium where we will be surrounded by the power houses of chess: Russia, USA, China and Azerbaijan. It's going to be fun.

1-September-2016 World Exclusive

Having arrived early this morning, 7 of us were able to checkin and get some sleep for a few hours. As head of delegation I had to sort out accreditation, i.e. getting our badges. How I did that is boring. Much more interesting is my chat with GM Jonathan Tisdall. He's Norway's head of delegation, and he also has an Irish passport! He told me that most of his team have been sorted out, but neither he, nor world champion Magnus Carlsen are accredited to take part in the Baku olympiad!!

The eight of us who were already here went to the opening ceremony at the gymnastics arena. Wow!!! It wasn't to everyone's taste, but the 90 minute event had a mixture of ballet, break dancing, gymnastics, and an assembly of 177 drumers, each with their own flag. As each country was called out, mostly there was silence. Coutries who caused a stir were Azerbaijan, Jamaica, Ireland (of course, we cheered when the tricolour appeared), and loudest of all, Mozambique.

We're still awaiting to hear who we will be playing. Got to sleep.

31-August-2016 Long day's journey into night

Seven of us met in Dublin airport and waited, and waited, and ... waited. Our flight was delayed an hour, and we eventually arrived in Istanbul around midnight local time. The airport was buzzing. It was busier than Dublin airport is at 6am on a Monday morning. The shops were all open, and we had to walk miles to get to the gate for the Baku flight.

There we met teams from across the world; Colombia, Paraguay, and Bulgaria were some of the teams we recognized. I bumped into my friend Vesko Topalov, as we queued to board. Veselin, as ever, was chatting to everybody. He talks so much, that it is a surprise that he can actually stay silent during the games. He told me that he would only be staying the first week. Just like former women's team captain, Gary O'Grady did last olympiad, he would be leaving early to be with his wife for the birth of their second child.

Once we arrived in Baku (3 hours time difference, not 4 as my phone was telling me), we were whisked through border control. Everywhere we turned, there were people from the organising committee to help.

No long journey is ever without problems, and unfortunately, Conor's luggage has gone missing. On the upside, we were able to checkin this morning at 7am, and most of us slept for a few hours.

This evening we are going to the opening ceremony. Then there is a captain's meeting, and finally, we will have our team meetings to discuss match strategy over the next 12 days.

30-August-2016 Final Preparations

Ireland has two teams in the Baku Olympiad. The Open team consists of GM Alex Baburin, IM Mark Heidenfeld, FM Stephen Jessel, FM Conor O'Donnell, FM Colm Daly and captained by Jonathan O'Connor. The Women's team has WCM Diana Mirza, WFM Poornima Menon, WCM Gearoidin Ui Laighleis, WFM Karina Kruk, Alice O'Gorman, captained by Pippa O'Gorman.

The Open team is seeded 66th out of an enormous 182 teams. The Women's team are seeded 82 from 141. I asked Mystic Meg to predict who the teams would play in the first round, and having looked at the stars, burnt dead chickens in incense, and had a careful look at the paring rules, she has definitively stated, the women will play the host nation, Azerbaijan in the first round. Coughing through the stench of burning chicken entrails, she proclaimed the Open team would play Guam.

In the next 48 hours the players will arrive in Baku. Colm is already on his way, to make use of an extra day of sunshine before the games begin. Seven of us are traveling from Dublin airport tomorrow (Wednesday). Come on out to terminal 1 at 15:00 to fly the flag and support your teams! Mark is flying from Germany, Stephen from Paris, and Diana from Bucharest. An international departure for an international event.

When we get through passport control, we will be whisked away to the 5* Hilton Hotel. It has a revolving bar on the top floor!

For those of you who want to fin the organisers website, google is wrong. You need this link:

Enough for now. Some of us still have to pack.

Created 2016-08-30 ◦ Last updated 2016-09-13 ◦ Editor JOC

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