I was a member of the Soviet team in Thessaloniky Olympiad in 1988. At that time there were much fewer teams and most importantly there were only handful of teams competing for the medals. In Batumi I was surprised to see how many good players and teams we have today. Russia and China may have a lot of different line ups and each may win the Olympiad. Other teams still have some top grandmasters at least on the first board. I was captain and coach of Estonian team. We had 55th place according to our ratings among 185 teams. Estonia had great successes in chess Olympiads back in 1939 in Argentina when we finished third. Later when we got back our independence our best result was in Moscow Olympiad in 1994 where I was a player. To beat the Moscow’s 16th place looked too optimistic, but with some luck I still was hoping to finish top 25. However our team did not have enough fully devoted professionals. The Chess Olympiad supposed to be more like a chess festivities and not the competition for hard working professionals. Now it seems that everything is changed. The winning is most important part of the Olympiad. The chess politics also put some shadow on the Olympiad. In my opinion it was putting the chess officials ahead of players. The new FIDE president elections took place in Batumi and this time the outcome was not clear till very end. Which made the officials and representatives of different countries – the delegates most sought persons. This time a lot of chess players were among chess politicians. Notably Granda Zuniga from Peru. I won against him an important game back in 1987 in Zagreb where I qualified to candidates.
Batumi and Georgia
I was in Batumi in 2002 and I could not find anything familiar any more. The city has a lot of new hotels like Hilton, Sheraton and others. Back then there was only one hotel the usual Inturist hotel which was the trademarks of Soviet Union where the Inturist supposed to be the best hotel. The seaside city made very nice expression. Even more shocking was the price standard. I cannot remember when last time I saw this kind of prices. The weather was also excellent allowing us to swim in the Black sea despite the fact that the tourist season was over. It was pity that we supposed to focus on chess instead. The scenery was excellent, but there were some mishaps in local organization. The logistic was horrible in the beginning, but it improved later. The president of European Chess Union is Georgian Zurab Azmaiparashvili, but he seemed to put all his energy to help Georgios Makropoulos to win the FIDE elections against Russian Arkady Dvorkovich. He did not hide his hate against Russia because of the Russian Georgian war in 2008. Somehow local people understand Russian and less the English. In forums which I read before my trip it was recommended to speak Russian instead of English to avoid the usual tourist rip off. Usually the taxi drivers are the best friends and enemies of the lost tourist, but in Batumi they were really friendly and in few occasions when we need to take a taxi we did not have any problems. I felt even sorry for their taxi fare. The Batumi has two faces. Luxurious hotels with casinos and rich guests from Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan and Russia. In other hand there is nothing else, the economy relies heavily on buying selling which is visible in local markets. There is no yet any proper tax system and some goods which are heavily taxed in Europe are over there on sale. Difficult to compare Georgia with some of the European countries. Estonia was in this kind of state some 30 years ago.
The Chinese took both titles. This is not a sensation. Chinese are smart and they outnumber everybody else in the planet. I was a coach of Estonian team and therefore I was only concentrating on the middle of the field. In some moment we had hopes to make it to top 30, but these hopes were vanished because of terrible pairings we had in last rounds. It was my second time being a captain and coach in the chess Olympiad. First time I was coach of Latvian ladies in Istanbul in 2014. I cannot say that this job is killing me, in other hand I like to work with professionals. Seeing happy faces is fine, but fighting for places in the middle of the pack is little bit boring. It was actually much more interesting to help girls not the boys. They follow your instructions blindly and without any doubt. Boys still have their own opinion and are much more difficult to prepare for the game. I do not want to analyze other teams here, because as I mentioned I did not follow and actually did not have time to follow the whole Olympiad. One thing I am still certain. The Russian team failed again and this is nothing to do with chess. They still have the soviet mentality how to run sport and I think this attitude is not good any more. I am for strict discipline and order, but somehow it did not work for Russians. Chinese have the same system more or less, but they were successful. Russian chess leaders need to rethink their attitude. Probably the new FIDE president is doing the job. Next time I try to pick up some interesting chess moments form the Olympiad.