Welcome to the banquet. This was a real “chess classic” of the 21st century – Russia against Armenia. What could be more interesting? Just as once the USSR competed against the USA, now it’s these two teams, and particularly when the leaders are as charismatic as Aronian and Kramnik. What about Ukraine and Ivanchuk, you ask? Well, we’ll get to him as well – after all, there can’t be only one dish at a banquet!
There’s no doubt this day will go down in the history of Chinese chess. There’d never been something like it, as on the same day at the Olympiad the men’s team beat Armenia, and the women’s Georgia. It might seem that’s nothing special: the Chinese were second in Turin, and what needs to be said about the 4-time women’s Olympiad champions… But still, it’s a long time since I’ve seen such unaccustomed joy and euphoria on their faces.
For seven days, a whole week, the Olympiad had lived without a sole leader… But finally one’s emerged. Ladies and gentlemen, we bring you… the Russian team! Today Kramnik and co., or rather Grischuk and co., overcame Azerbaijan. The other joint leaders Armenia lost for the first time in their history to China – and fell back into the chasing pack.
The day before the rest day is a time for great manoeuvres – to make sure it’s a well-earned rest! However, it was a mixed affair. While some teams rushed at each other in a frenzy, others seemed as though they could no longer wait to indulge in blissful idleness or prepare for the Bermuda Party. It’s always the same: some go to the Olympiad to compete, others to party…
In the first round he unexpectedly lost on the 1st board against Bolivia, in the second he didn’t even play in the match against Bangladesh, but in the sixth… he become a “national hero”, managing to save his team from what seemed like inevitable defeat in the match against Russia! Everyone writes their own history. Sergei Movsesian, who in Istanbul is playing for the Armenian team at the Olympiad for the first time, is doing it boldly and on a grand scale, sparing no paint on the canvas.
So then, Russia against Armenia, Armenia against Russia… Who had any doubts that it would come to this confrontation for the leadership of the Istanbul Olympiad at the midway point of the tournament? Of course, it could have been Ukraine or Azerbaijan, or the Americans or Hungarians, but this particular confrontation has kept everyone enthralled for almost twenty years now. It’s partly because the public sees it as the latest instalment in the encounter between David and Goliath. Even in the rare cases when they’re not fighting for first place the encounter is always the highlight of the day!
They say there’s no money in chess and the majority of players who aren’t in the Top 100 live almost below the poverty line – from tournament success to success. But if you look at how they, or rather their federations, spend money left, right and centre once every two years when they attend the Chess Olympiad, you can’t help but stop to think about the validity of that thesis. Is it all so bad?!
Before the start of the Istanbul Olympiad a question unexpectedly arose about the order of the first boards on the Russian team. The first to talk about it was Kramnik, who a few hours before the final line-up was submitted was unsure whether he’d be leading the team. Was Karjakin headed for the 1st board? And then at the team meeting everything was turned upside down: Kramnik remained on 1st, and Grischuk was put on 2nd. Whether that was a good or a bad decision was something the Olympiad itself should answer.