Category : My Tournaments

Baku Olympiad 2016 – Rounds 10&11

I couldn’t write last night as I was supposed to play in the last round, played in the morning, so I had to rest and prepare.

Our best match was yesterday when we beat the heavy favourites Egypt. It started all too well in the openings, on board 1 Pancevski with white chose a drawish line against GM Amin (2661) in the Spanish and this proved an excellent choice. Black was tempted to try for more and overlooked something in the process, leaving him in a probably lost endgame a pawn down with a rook and opposite-coloured bishops. The final combination of our player is very nice, even the computer doesn’t understand at first that white’s pawn is unstoppable.

I had already finished by that time, an easy draw on board 2 with black against GM Adly, the World Champion Under 20 from 2007. I was surprised by his choice of a drawish line, his idea was to obtain a risk-free slight initiative, but I outcalculated him and it was me instead who got the advantage. But then I didn’t play too well and eventually it was drawn (even though I should have continued in the final position!).

On board 3 Lazov with white got a good position in the Rossolimo Sicilian but in time trouble messed things up.

On board 4 Nikolovski with black was simply the better player than Hesham (2419) and won a good game in a Benoni.

All in all an excellent match and a good run of two wins in a row.

Due to reasons unknown to me, the organisers and FIDE decided to eliminate the second rest day, which was always before the last round. A very unfortunate decision because the last round started at 11am today while the board pairings were made available last night at midnight. So when do you get to rest and prepare?

In the last round we were paired against Bosnia. A stronger team than us, but one that was beatable, or so we felt.

On board 1 Nedev was suffering as black against GM Predojevic but suffered successfully and drew.

On board 2 disaster struck. Pancevski was lost on move 15 with white against GM Kadric. He must have missed something relatively simple, otherwise it’s difficult to explain such a rapid loss.

On board 3 I was black against GM Dizdarevic and I made another easy draw, just like yesterday.

We should have equalised the match on board 4. The game was equal for a long time and then suddenly Nikolovski got a winning position. And it was a technically winning position, a rook and two pawns versus a knight with two pawns, on the same wing. But technique failed him and he could only draw, and so we lost the match by the minimal margin. It’s a pity, as a drawn match would have equalled our score from Tromso 2014 when we played with a much stronger team.

Generally speaking our team did better than expected. We ended up sharing 58th-75th place (67th on tie-break, while our starting rank was 65th), but the fact that we were in a chance to achieve excellent result with a positive outcome in the last round (and we were so close!) is worth a lot and shows our potential.

Nedev on board 1 had 4/9 with a slight rating minus. Board 1 is always the most difficult board and this time he was better than in Tromso. A surprising fact is that all his 3 losses were with white!

On board 2 Pancevski was doing great until the last round. His final score of 5.5/10 doesn’t reflect his importance for the team. His most valuable win was against Egypt when he beat a much stronger opponent.

I had the best score in the whole team, 7/10, on board 3. I lost only 1 game (against Mamedov (2666)) and won 5. My game was mostly stable and my head was working well. I felt good to play for my national team and the surrounding and conditions were motivating for me to do my best. I enjoy playing Olympiads, playing side by side with the world’s best players is stimulating and it tends to bring the best in me.

Our youngsters, Lazov on board 4 (5/8) and Nikolovski as reserve (3/7) did better than I expected. Their main problem was the inexperience (like in the last round when Nikolovski couldn’t win a won position) and also lack of professional attitude and preparation. I hope they learn from this and improve significantly because they got this chance only because they’re young. Now they need to prove that they also deserve a place on the team because they are strong.

After I finished my last game I spent some time watching the games on the top boards. I positioned myself between the boards where Carlsen and Kramnik were playing, some 3-4 meters from both. And I observed them. I found it very difficult to look at Carlsen for a longer period of time. The amount of energy that emanates from him is incredible. Or perhaps the word aura is more precise. Something very strong and powerful irradiates from him and mind you, I was standing 3-4 meters from him. I tried to imagine how it would be to sit against him for hours on and play when he would make all these precise and strong moves. It would have felt as if he wanted to push me away. In that moment I understood Taimanov and Larsen when they were playing Fischer. “A wall coming at you” was how Taimanov put it.

Looking at Kramnik was different. There was also a lot of energy coming from him, but of a different kind. Less aggressive, yet imposing in its own way. I played diagonally from Kramnik in Tromso 2014 (when I was on board 2 playing Svidler and he was on board 1 playing Nedev) and it didn’t feel threatening. Strong, confident, imposing, but not threatening like Carlsen.

The Olympiad was won by USA. A very deserved victory won in the tightest of races with Ukraine, who came second, both teams with 20 match points our of possible 22. USA had two drawn matches while Ukraine lost one (to USA) and won 10 (!). USA had the better tie-break and won the gold. Bronze went to the Russians, who again failed to win an Olympiad, but frankly speaking, they didn’t stand a chance against the amazing teams that finished ahead of them.

USA had the superstar trio of Caruana, Nakamura and So and they did the job marvellously. When Fischer was playing for the USA at the Olympiads they won silver twice, in Leipzig 1960 and Havana 1966, but they couldn’t dream of challenging the Soviet Union. Fischer was more or less the only elite player on the team back then; now they have 3 elite players and it also happened that all of them played an excellent tournament. On board 4 they had Shankland who apart from the last round loss (which didn’t affect the score) also had a great tournament.

The Ukranians were also impressive. To win 10 matches and not win an Olympiad is probably a first-ever, but they can take pride in their run. Their engine was the reserve, GM Volokitin, who scored 8.5/9, an incredible result (he beat Grischuk with black in Round 4). The other players performed well too, Eljanov for example, won in rounds 10 and 11!

Russia won bronze, probably slightly disappointed (and even more frustrated to prolong their run of 14 years without an Olympiad gold – now their next chance is in 2018, when it will be 16 years! Their last gold was in Bled 2002, Kasparov’s last Olympiad.) Kramnik was incredible on board 2 with 6.5/8 and Nepomniachtchi was their powerhorse with his initial 7/7; alas, after losing to So he only managed 2 draws. Questions can be raised why Svidler didn’t play, but there’s no guarantee that things would have been better.

Of the others, Carlsen managed to lift his Norwegians and they shared 4th (5th on tie-break, a great result for them). With 7.5/10 he lost some rating points but he was a true leader and surely motivated his compatriots. Just imagine if Hammer on board 2 had a better tournament, instead of a dismal 4.5/11 with no wins.

To conclude, a few personal observations. This was the best Olympiad I’ve been to (compared to Dresden 2008 and Tromso 2014) – the organisation, the playing venue, the accomodation. Yet the tendency I notice with FIDE to give more power to the officials is worrying. Take for example the idiotic rule that every player must inform the arbiter when he/she wants to go to use the toilet. First, it’s impossible to implement (what if I’m walking around and then I want to go to the toilet, shall I run to my match arbiter on the other side of the hall and only then go to the toilet?) and second, and more important, it’s humiliating. I never reported anything (I often go to the toilet during games as I drink a lot of water) and nobody noticed. Another annoying moment I had was with the accreditation passes. I personally hate to have anything dangling around my neck, so I kept my pass in the pocket of my jacket. Yet every time a security official would see me without it they would pester me (one even got physical and pulled me by the arm!) to put it around my neck. It wasn’t enough for them that I showed it, I had to have it around my neck, just like everybody else! Well, I didn’t comply, and by the end of the tournament they knew me and didn’t bother me anymore. Individuality is never welcome with narrow-minded officials! I already described our scandal with the arbiters and the impression of most players was that the vast majority of the arbiters were incompetent. They hide when they should enforce the rules, yet are first to molest you with hand-held scanning devices during the game (never happened to me, thank goodness, but I saw people scanned in the corridors of the hall) or demand toilet-visits reporting. FIDE should really educate its arbiters, but for some reason I think that’s not going to happen.

Our flight home is at 2.30am, the bus for the aiport leaves the hotel at midnight and this probably means that I’ll have to skip the closing ceremony tonight. This is unfortunate, as I also missed the opening ceremony, but what to do. It was great to be in Baku for two weeks and to play my best Olympiad so far. Congratulations to all the winners and see you all in Batumi 2018!


Baku Olympiad 2016 – Round 9

A very good match for us today, a comfortable win of 3.5-0.5 against Kosovo. We controlled the match from start to finish and never risked anything.

We were quickly winning on board 4, Nikolovski was winning after the opening, more or less, although the realisation took time and in fact he was the last to finish!

On board 1 Nedev had things under control with black in a KID against FM Saraci and they simplified to a draw.

I obtained an advantage after the opening against FM Ermeni and generally played a good game. I made a few imprecisions, but he didn’t capitalise on them and I won after displaying some elementary technique in the endgame. It was a sweet revenge for the missed win against the same opponent at the ECC in Skopje last year!

Board 3 was a messy game, but Lazov kept it cool and won in mutual time-trouble. If only we had the majority of the matches like this!

On the top boards USA beat Norway (Caruana-Carlsen draw, another Scandinavian from the World Champion, like in Tromso, but Caruana was more careful this time) and Russia beat the hosts winning both their games with white (Kramnik played 1 e4 against Radjabov and Grischuk played my favourite move in the French Winawer, 7 a4, against Naiditsch). Ukraina beat India and are shared first with USA. Tomorrow it’s Georgia-USA (Jobava has the best performance on board 1!), Czech Republic-Ukraine and India-Russia. We play Egypt, who have two over-2600 GMs on boards 1 and 2.

I’ll keep it short again, I need time to get some preparation done and rest.


Baku Olympiad 2016 – Round 8

What a day and match. It was almost a reprise of our match with Tajikistan, but this time we managed not to lose.

It started “as expected” when on board 1 Nedev blundered in a normal position and lost in less than 2 hours against GM Salem.

On board 2 the game was strategically complex (as they usually are when Pancevski is playing) so we had no worries there.

On board 3 I had an overwhelming advantage both on the board and on the clock thanks to my preparation, but then I forgot how to continue and things turned around before I could blink.

A miracle how I managed to save this game. But by the time I was thinking whether to continue or take the draw there was a commotion on the board next to me, on board 4. I got up and I quickly realised that our player, Lazov, had won on time, since white hadn’t made move 40, but since the clock had already added the additional 30 minutes (which it does when move 40 has been played) the arbiter decided to let them continue the game, even though our player demanded a win on time! It was such an obvious case, only 39 moves were made and there was no doubt about it. I was shocked and outraged at the complete ignorance of the match arbiter. I was too disturbed to continue and took the draw. Then I decided to take matters in my hands and even though the match arbiter said they should continue I (together with our captain IM Mitkov) went to the sector arbiter, the famous Russian arbiter Alexander Bakh, and demanded an explanation. Initially he was in favour of the decision taken by the match arbiter, but that was just nonsense and I would take none of it. After my persistant and logical demand to award a win to our player he decided to take the matter to the tournament director, also an International Arbiter, Takis Nikolopoulos. He quickly decided the obvious, which was to award the win to Lazov. Bakh agreed and they also summoned the Chief Arbiter of the Olympiad, Faik Gasanov. He approved of the decision and we were finally awarded a win on board 4. The remaning game on board 2 was eventually drawn and we saved the match. So I can perhaps get 1.5 points out of 2 for this match!

The top board saw two wins by the black players and a 2-2 tie in the derby Russia-USA. A score that still keeps both teams in contention, yet a slightly more favourable for the Americans as they remain one point ahead of the Russians. After his 7/7 Nepomniachtchi lost with white to So and Robson managed to lose in the most drawish line of the anti-Berlin to Grischuk. Nerves, what else.

It’s been a very demanding day, both physically and mentally (running around the playing hall to various arbiters and arguing took its toll) so I’ll rest now. The fatigue accumulates, I’m playing every day and my insomnia is getting worse with each passing day. We play Kosovo tomorrow, another tough match ahead. On the top boards things are really heating up, for example Azerbaijan play Russia and whoever loses is out of contention. Speaking of contention, the Chinese can no longer defend their title, they lost to Hungary and have only 10 match points. Carlsen’s Norway managed to climb up to board 2 and they face USA, Caruana-Carlsen should be a great match-up!


Baku Olympiad 2016 – Round 7

You cannot argue with a 4-0 win. A second of that kind for us in Baku, the guys from Mozambique were much lower rated than us and didn’t put up much resistance.

Since our match was easy, I’ll focus more on the top boards. USA beat India 3.5-0.5 and lead the tournament, a surprisingly big win on a top board in the later stages of the Olympiad. This victory will be a huge boost for the USA, who still have to play their main opposition – Russia, China, Azerbaijan, to name but a few.

Russia also keeps stomping, they beat the Czech Republic 3.5-0.5. A surprising quick loss for Navara on board 1 against Karjakin, things started to go down rapidly for him from move 14.

Karjakin is having a very good tournament actually, +4 on board 1 and without risking losses. Quite in contrast with Carlsen, who is having a topsy-turvy tournament, being lost on a few occasions and only his win today against GM Solak brought him on +3.

The star in the Russian team is Nepomniachtchi. With an amazing 7/7 score he’s the driving force in the team. The teams who have won Olympiads have always had a lower board that brought many points and it was clear from the start that this role in the Russian team was reserved for Nepomniachtchi (that’s why they took him, and not Svidler, for example). His style is well suited for killing lesser opponents and that’s what he’s been doing so far. He’s been fantastic and I’m curious how long he keeps it up!

The Dutch were at the top of the world when they destroyed the English 3.5-0.5 in Round 4, but today they were busted by the Latvians 3-1. Amazingly, the Latvians won both their games with black, the other two being drawn (Shirov-Giri on board 1 was an exact repetition of Ganguly-Vachier from 2013. A friend of mine finely put it when he said that there is no draw that Giri doesn’t know!)

The home team were lucky today, they were on the brink of losing to Croatia but they turned it all around and won 3.5-0.5. Take a look at this turnaround:

The English finally played a great match against world-class opposition. They beat the current Olympic champions, the Chinese, by 3-1. Two wins by Adams and Short (against Wang Yue and Li Chao respectively) and two draws by Howell and McShane (against Ding Liren and Yu Yangyi respectively). Have a look what Adams managed to win:

Tomorrow’s day brings the clash of the titans – Russia plays USA. You cannot ask for more, even if there are 3 more rounds to play after tomorrow, I cannot escape the feeling that the winner of this one will emerge as the huge favourite to win it. And in case of Russia, if they lose they can say goodbye to their title aspirations. Should be great!

The Macedonian team plays United Arab Emirates, who have GM Salem (rated 2628) on board 1 and then they have players rated around 2300 from boards 2 to 4, one of them IM and two FMs. It looks like a stronger team than Tajikistan, so it will be tough.


Baku Olympiad 2016 – Round 6

Not a great day today for us. I played more than 5 and a half hours and 85 moves, the only good point was that I won. So I am very tired and this will be short.

Tajikistan beat us soundly and without many problems. Nedev with white blundered in an equal position and lost to GM Amonatov and this only put pressure on us. It was the first game to finish. On board 4 our youngster was lost before move 20 against an opponent rated more than 100 points below him. Pancevski tried his best to win with black but it was enough only for a draw. I stayed last and with the match already lost I could only score a consolation win.

Tomorrow we are paired against Mozambique, hopefully we win.

On the top boards USA beat Ukraine thanks to Caruana’s win over Eljanov on board 1. Russia got back to its winning ways by beating Germany. Note Kramnik’s 1 e4 against Meier, expecting the French (which duly followed) and his nice combination:

Every round is full of derby matches on the top boards so I am sure the spectators are enjoying it immensely. I know I am, but only when going through the games after the round, there is no time to walk around when I play myself. It’s impossible to be a player and spectator at the same time!

Time to rest now. 


Baku Impressions

Most of the photos below are taken at night as that was the only time I had a chance to walk around Baku. During the day I’d prepare and play so after the game, when it would already be night, I would take a walk to relax and look around. You can click on the image to enlarge.

One of the streets in the centre

Imposing buildings

The old city by night:

The flame towers:

I found two peculiarities in Baku. One is that you cannot buy postcards. Today I was told that the only place that sells them is the main post office, but when I got there they told me they ran out of them. Go figure.

The second peculiarity is that it’s difficult to cross the streets, or, rather, boulevards, which are very wide with constant stream of cars. They have underground passages, that usually look like this,

but they are scarce and, for example, if I want to cross the street in front of my hotel and go to the mall which is right across, I have to walk 300-400m left or right to go to the nearest underground passage and then the same 300-400m back to the mall. Good for physical excercise though.

Last night was the Bermuda Party. I am no expert in Bermuda parties, this being only my third one (and I don’t remember the first one in Dresden in 2008) but I had good time and it was better than Tromso. Here’re a few photos to give you an idea of the atmosphere (that’s Hou Yifan on the left in the second photo):

And three photos from this morning, showing the vast spaces and the constant construction work going on.


Baku Olympiad 2016 – Round 5

We played the very strong team from Peru and we lost heavily.

It was an uneven match. This time however our youngsters didn’t play well. Lazov forgot his theory on the black side of a Najdorf on move 20 (yes, that’s early theory in the Najdorf, especially the English Attack, which they played) and Nikolovski opened with 1 f4 and by move 15 was worse.

Nedev on board 1 played a good game, he even had better chances at one point with black against GM Cordova. In the end it was a repetition of moves and a draw. The match couldn’t be saved even if Pancevski won, still he played a good game, but what happened was characteristic – when the position was a draw his opponent, GM Cori, pressed on and it paid off – our player erred and lost.

Tonight is the Bermuda Party so it’s good time to shake off this defeat and feel better.

Here’re a couple of games that caught my eye from today’s round.

Even though I ceased to play the King’s Indian with black I still like seeing great KID games. The following one is fantastic:

The second game is between Shirov and Rapport. This should already give you an idea of what follows. It’s better to let the moves speak for themselves.

Time to eat dinner now. Tomorrow is the only rest day (I have no idea why they got rid of the second one, which was always before the last round) and time to relax.


Baku Olympiad 2016 – Round 4

A very narrow escape for the Macedonian team in Round 4 against Colombia!

It started slowly. On boards 1 and 3 we had the traditional small plus with white while on boards 2 and 4 we had the traditional small minus with black. While we kept things control on our white boards (I kept a small plus which I let dissipate after a miscalculation against their highest rated player, GM Escobar Forero) things started to go berserk on our black boards.

On board 2 Pancevski had a great chance to take over the initiative early on after a fine pawn sacrifice:

And on board 4 we even got more lucky. Take a look at this:

And so we can feel lucky tonight in Baku! But I’m not sure there are casinos here.

The favourites have started playing each other and Ukraine beat Russia in the heavyweight showdown. Volokitin played a great combination to beat Grischuk with black:

But things were still looking good for the Russians, as Nepomniachtchi beat Korobov to level the score and Tomashevsky was totally dominating against Ponomariov. Kramnik on board 1 was keeping it steady against Eljanov, so it looked like the Russians would win. And then this happened:

The World Champion made a second draw in a row, today against the Australian GM and a very cool guy David Smerdon. David played his usual Alapin Sicilian and Carlsen was even in some trouble at one point.

Worth noting is also the collapse of the mighty-looking English team. They lost 3.5-0.5 against the Netherlands – they were wobbly from the start and this only underlines their troubles. It seems that almost everybody (except Short) is out of form!

Tomorrow is Round 5. I don’t know what to expect from the pairings for us, but I will find out anyway in a couple of hours (or less).


Baku Olympiad 2016 – Important Questions (+ Round 3)

My reader Peter Munro, to whom I am thankful, raised some very important and insightful question in the comments to my report from Round 2 so here I will go through them and try to answer them as best as I can.

Does the 0-4 result reflect the difference between strong amateurs and professionals? – While I wouldn’t call ourselves amateurs, our opponents are definitely hard-core professionals. If we take into account the amount of work they have put into preparations for this Olympiad and resources they had at their disposal, perhaps they deserved to beat us 0-4. The fact that the positions offered us good chances means little, missed chances are rued only by the losing team. It’s always difficult to assess these things as anything can happen in one game, but generally speaking it is expected of them to beat us heavily.

Or do your opponent simply play more regular competitions? – This is definitely true, not only they play regular competitions, they also play opposition of the highest level, thus getting accustomed to high-tension games and making moves of high quality. This is only one of the many advantages the elite has.

Or are they more motivated, being the home team? – They must be very motivated playing in front of their crowd, although I think motivation has little to do in the match against us – they would have done similarly even if they weren’t that motivated, simply the difference in class is too big.

Or do they get better sleep because they are staying at home or with relatives, in the case where they come from another city in Azerbaijan? – Actually they stay in a hotel, staying at home or with relatives is something to be avoided during a tournament. As much as you get support, the closest family is also a big distraction and this is detrimental during a tournament. This was a mistake Radjabov made in 2013 when he had a lot of friends and relatives with him in London during the Candidates tournament, he was distracted, played badly and finished last.

Or do they have a team of coaches on hand to assess the likely openings and preferred styles of their opponents? – Yes, this is definitely the case. With full governmental support and many training camps before the Olympiad they (and not only they, the other favourites like Russia, USA, China etc. also have teams of coaches and training sessions) get the best conditions one can imagine. Azerbaijan’s main coach and captain is GM Dreev and their other official helper is GM Bacrot.

Any thoughts as to why they were able to win when your team had good chances? – I touched upon the various topics that contributed to their big win above. Generally speaking they had everything better than us – quality, preparation, support, coaches, conditions. They were the better team and the question is more why we didn’t take our chances. Of all of the above explanations, I feel that the most important is that we simply have no experience playing such strong opposition. If we play strong players on a regular basis then this match would have been one of the many and it would have been a normal occurrence. And with normal occurrences it is likely to expect a normal result. As it is, we play these people perhaps once per year, so you cannot really expect to perform and take your chances in one single match.

Moving on from our loss, in Round 3 we came back with a vengeance and beat Pakistan 1-3. I think it should have been 0-4, but a win is a win, and without a loss too. It is due to inexperience that our young players drew from winning positions, but they will learn.

On board 1 Pancevski chose the Leningrad Dutch against IM Lodhi and it led to a heavy strategic battle. Pancevski likes this type of play and he’s very good at it. It takes a lot of energy and concentration to play well these difficult positions, but he was the better player and outplayed his opponent around the time-control. A fully deserved victory.

I won a good game too, after my opponent committed a known inaccuracy in the Alekhine Defence I got a better position, played solidly throughout and finished it off with a nice combination that resembled some of Alekhine’s combinations (quite fitting for the opening!) – the great champion also liked to play on the whole board, often combining attacks on various wings. Here I combined the attack on his king with a penetration along the c-file and double attacks on his rook and f8.

On board 3 Lazov quickly took over the initiative with black in an Exchange KID and obtained a winning position, but then allowed his opponent to save himself.

Similarly, Nikolovski won a pawn after nicely outplaying his FM opponent, but in time trouble wasn’t very precise.

Still, a victory without a loss is always pleasing and it is important that we were never in danger in the match. Of course, tomorrow we will get much tougher opponents, but for now we can enjoy our good day.


Baku Olympiad 2016 – Round 2

The police cars were again in front of the busses, so perhaps chess will remain top priority in Baku in the following 2 weeks.

As expected, we played a strong team, although I didn’t expect us to play that up high and play the hosts! The result of the match, 0-4 defeat, didn’t really show the tension of the match.

On board 1 we had a good position but then Mamedyarov started to outplay Nedev when all of a sudden he allowed a great chance:

Black’s last move was 28…h5? and now white could have gained an advantage by 29 f5!, the idea being that 29…Ng5 is met by 30 Qf1! and if 30…Ne4 then 31 fg fg and 32 Qd3, winning. Alas, Nedev missed this chance and lost in time trouble.

On board 2 Radjabov pressed Pancevski in a Philidor and unfortunately didn’t allow any chances.

On board 3 I was better for most part of the game against Mamedov, but as I was getting low on time the quality of my moves began to suffer.

On board 4 our youngster Nikolovski had a good position after the opening against Naiditsch, but in time trouble he allowed white to active his queen and this turned out to be decisive.

Judging from the positions we had after the openings we had a rather balanced match, but when the tension rose our opponents were much superior in handling it – the quality of their moves remained more or less the same, while the quality of ours dropped drastically.

On the other boards the favourites were generally doing their job, perhaps a bit surprising was England’s win of only 2.5-1.5 against Indonesia, Adams drawing with Muhammad Ali and Sadikin The beating McShane.

Tomorrow we play Pakistan, not the strongest of teams, but we still need to win.

I had a walk around the centre of Baku tonight and here’re a few photos. The city feels rich and the vast distances and spaces remind me of the other former Soviet cities I have been to, Moscow and Saratov. Wide boulevards and walking areas, big parks, imposing buildings and architecture. It’s still early and I expect to start to feel its essence as I explore it every day a bit more.

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