Tromsø hosts Chess Olympiad
Over 170 countries battle for medals in a competition marred by deaths
Norwegian American Weekly
The world’s fourth-largest sporting event, the 41st Chess Olympiad, wrapped up this August in the former Mack Brewery warehouse in Tromsø. 1,500 players from over 170 nations met in the northern Norwegian city to battle it out for medals and the Hamilton-Russell Cup, which was offered as a prize at the first official Olympiad in London in 1927 and has been used since.
The Chinese men and the Russian women made short work of securing their predicted golds. Hungary took silver in the men’s section, leaving the bronze medal a tiebreaker cliffhanger. India sensationally edged out Russia and Azerbaijan after beating Uzbekistan 3.5:0.5. In the women’s event China took silver and Ukraine bronze, after drawing their final match.
In the end the Norwegian Open team’s performance was a disappointment. With Magnus Carlsen, pumped up crowds, and immense TV coverage, expectations were exospheric, with top ten and possible medals being discussed by national media. The pressure seemed to be too much; thanks to a last round blanking of Malaysia, Norway soared up the table to a still-disappointing 29th place, and the best that can be said about that is that it was at least the top Nordic result.
Norway’s top women could make the same claim, and with more pride. Ranked 38th, they were also the top Nordic team in their event, finishing 25th after beating Montenegro 3:1 in the final round. Maud Rodsmoen scored an FM norm and picked up a whopping 96.4 rating points.
Some Norwegians did perform markedly above their ratings, first board Frode Urkedal beat Ivanchuk and narrowly missed taking his final GM norm, and Torbjørn Ringdal Hansen had a Norwegian rating performance only bettered by Magnus Carlsen. They drew against second seeds Ukraine and lost to favorites Russia by the smallest margin.
Carlsen also failed to meet expectations. After his second loss, in the tenth round of competition, he left the Olympiad.
The focus of the Olympiad is the team competition, but individual medals are also awarded. Men’s golds went to Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria, Ngoc Truong Son Nguyen of Vietnam, Yu Yangyi of China, Nikola Sedlak of Serbia, and Sam Shankland of the U.S. Gold-medal-earning women were Nana Dzagnidze of Georgia, Valentina Guina of Russia, Alexandra Kosteniuk of Russia, Natalia Zhukova of Ukraine, and Padmini Rout of India.
Biennial Chess Olympiads are organized by the Fédération Internationale des Échecs or World Chess Federation, which also selects the host nation. Both the International Sports Federation and the International Olympic Committee recognize chess as a sport, but the Olympiad is not part of the Olympics, and the prospect for chess to become an Olympic sport is unclear. The first unofficial Chess Olympiad was held in Paris, parallel to the 1924 Summer Olympics.
This year’s Olympiad was unfortunately marred by the deaths of two players on the final day of competition. A Seychelles player, 67-year-old Kurt Meier, originally of Switzerland, collapsed during the final round of play and could not be revived. Later the same evening, 46-year-old Alisher Anarkulov of Uzbekistan was found dead in his hotel room. Preliminary reports indicate that he died of natural causes.
Chess itself might be the big winner of the 41st Olympiad. Unofficial surveys in Tromsø and Norway indicate that chess has become trendier as a result of the Olympiad and the media coverage thereof. The Olympiad also included a children’s track in which some 70 potential chess masters of the future met across the boards. The youngest player was a pre-schooler, while the oldest attends lower secondary school.
The 42nd Chess Olympiad will meet in 2016 in Baku, Azerbaijan.
This article originally appeared in the Aug. 29, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.