As I write this from Khanty-Mansiysk airport while the Australian team waits for our departing flight, let me apologise for the delayed coverage. The past few days have been as hectic as you could expect from the finale of the biggest chess event on the globe. To compensate, I’ll put up a couple of retrospective posts to give you a rundown of the highlights.
In the first place, I managed to avoid the dreaded queenside-castling. My opponent from Singapore was the very talented junior Daniel Fernandez, familiar to many Australians from his chess visits back home. Unfortunately, he was having an even worse run than me, and so I prevailed in the battle of the slumps. Unfortunately, overall we only tied against the Singaporeans, meaning that, despite scoring five out of twelve actual games, Australia only scored one match draw in the three rounds 8-10.
Round 10 was followed by the Irish Party, a fairly recent addition to Olympiads but fast becoming a tradition to rival the Bermuda Party. It had quite a different feel to the Bermuda party: less 2700s on the dance floor as the top teams enter the medal rounds, but those who feel their tournaments are practically over make up for these absences in volumes. A rest day follows in preparation for the final round, and, as opposed to the team excursions of the first rest day, this is traditionally left for people to do their own thing. Some went on Siberian forest walks, others on river boat rides; I chose to spend a lazy day catching up with old friends.
Round 11 was rather anticlimactic at the top. While the spectators were looking forward to Israel going all-out against Ukraine on board one, the match fizzed out to a prearranged draw. Australia had the relatively soft pairing against Nigeria, and indeed Yuan, George and myself quickly landed in winning positions. Darryl’s opponent, however, put up the fight of his life, with the game being the last to finish in the entire Olympiad after six and a half hours and 130 moves. Quite an amazing contest, but Darryl’s opponent was very sporting after the game and in fact the entire Nigerian contingent insisted on group photos with Darryl, Manuel and myself afterwards.
In other chess results, the Australian girls couldn’t maintain their fairytale finish, going down against England. The New Zealand men came oh so close to winning their category and Mike Steadman courageously turned down a draw to give the team a fighting chance. Unfortunately the position was a little too unstable and big Mike went down in flames, but not before giving the spectators something to cheer about.
My good Irish mate Sam Collins needed a draw against the in-form Singaporean Grandmaster Zhang Zhong to earn his third and final Grandmaster norm, and also played for victory like a man possessed. Unfortunately, the similarities with Mike didn’t finish there, and he eventually went down against the conqueror of our own Zong Yuan.
The closing ceremony was held again at the Khanty-Mansiysk Olympic ice-skating rink, but wasn’t quite as impressive as the opening. Perhaps making it seem worse was the flu that has entirely infiltrated the Olympiad. Unfortunately I was not immune; over the past three days I have developed this Siberian flu in all its horrifying glory. Coupled with a fortnight of perhaps the worst insomnia I have ever experienced, I was slumped over the railing for most of the closing ceremony – some consolation being that I could see many other attendees around the rink in the same position.
Following the closing was quite a respectable town hall reception, thus answering for every player the perennial last-round question, “What are we doing tonight?” But the report from this and the after-part is probably worth a separate post in itself, so I’ll leave that for the time being. However, in anticipation of future posts summing up the chess and non-chess experiences from this Olympiad, and despite all our expectations beforehand, let me confirm that this has certainly been the best Olympiad I have ever attended.
POSTSCRIPT: We haven’t yet boarded the plane, but at least I have my boarding pass – an hour ago, my departure was no certainty. It turns out a remote control is missing from Yuan’s and my room, despite the fact that we haven’t watched television since the first day. Reception, hotel security and the local police all assured me (why not also Yuan, I’m not sure!) that I would not be allowed to leave the country until it was found and/or returned. Despite my various protestations (including desperately listing all the items in the room I would steal, if so inclined, before looking to the remote), it was looking like I may perhaps get a proper Siberian experience after all. Somehow, though, Anastasia negotiated my way out of it. What an interpreter – going above and beyond the call of duty!
POSTSCRIPT DEUCE: Actually posted in Dubai Airport. After getting used to the luxury of free airport WiFi throughout Southeast Asia and Dubai, I forgot that Khanty-Mansiysk may not offer the same services. At least now Australian airports no longer have to fear that they are the only ones in the world not offering free internet – there’s also Siberia.