Olympiad Round 11 – Highs and Lows

Posted by David Smerdon on Sep 10, 2012 in Chess |

It’s tough to write an update right now – my captain even advised me to stay away from the blog for a while – but I should at least give a brief piece about the state of play after the final round.  It’s been a very tough few days for me after the somewhat tragic round 9, and nothing’s gotten better from a personal note, but I shouldn’t detract from what has been an outstanding Australian team performance.

After today’s 2-2 draw with Slovakia, thanks to another amazing win by Stephen, we’ll finish somewhere in the top twenty.  Given our seeding of 61 and that we were missing four of our regular top five players, it’s quite simply a phenomenal performance.  In fact, a win in the last match would have seen us in the top ten, which would have been the best ever Olympiad performance by an Australian team.  And it really could have happened – had I not blundered in my game.  Yes, unfortunately, I’m to blame.

My slide started a few days ago, and simply put, my psychological stamina has been broken ever since.  Round nine saw me blow a chance to secure a team victory against the higher rated Mongolia, in the most heartbreaking fashion imaginable.  Having outplayed my 2600+ opponent with the black pieces in a perfect French defence, I found myself in a completely winning rook endgame two pawns ahead and about to pick up some more, just as my opponent, who had been in hideous time trouble for most of the game, made his 40th move with seconds to spare.  Presented with several different ways to finish things off, I bizarrely sunk into some sort of trace and simply forgot to move.  My captain recounts that he almost screamed at me as he watched my clock run down to zero, while I sat there oblivious.  My opponent was so shocked by the dramatic turn of events that he started laughing incredulously.  I couldn’t leave the board for ten minutes after the game, and stayed sitting with my head in my hands, waiting for the ringing in my ears to stop.  It didn’t.

The next day I played a really horrible game against the ex-Chinese grandmaster Zhang Zhong, but fortunately the team again carried me through, and we recorded a win.  I did my best to forget about chess during the subsequent rest day, got a good night’s sleep, and was confident of holding the fort on board one in the final game against the legendary Slovakian grandmaster Lubomir Ftacnik (who once coached me back when I was 13).  I reached an equal endgame where I had a whole-of-board blockade, but just when the draw was in sight, inexplicably I chose to open things up around my king.  The loss saw us finish the match tied, saw me finish with three straight losses and go from four out of seven to four out of ten, and will see my rating fall below 2500 for the first time since becoming a grandmaster.

No loss is fun, and losing three on the trot is always a horrible experience.  But in a team event and particularly an Olympiad, when there’s teammates and Australians back home counting on you, the disappointment is amplified.  It’s because of this, and it may just be the moment talking, that personally, I cannot recall feeling more crushed from a chess performance than this one.  But at least Australians can be proud of their team as a whole, and especially the performance of the newcomers Moulthun and Max.  The state of Australian chess has probably never been stronger, and – while not right now! – I’m sure it won’t be long before I start looking forward to the Norway 2014 championships.


Postscript:  The final results see the Australian men’s team tied for 19th place.  A win in the final match would have seen us finish tied 9th.  Armenia edges out Russia on tiebreak to take gold, with Ukraine finishing third.  The Australian women finished =40th.



The Australian men’s team. From left: Aleks Wohl, Moulthun Ly, Max Illingworth, Manuel Weeks (c), David Smerdon and Stephen Solomon.



Sep 10, 2012 at 11:21 am

Tough luck with the long castling at the end of the tournament (0-0-0) – these things happen to the best of us. Nevertheless, congratulations on a great effort all round. The Aussie chess community is proud of all of you!

Sep 10, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Hi David,

Chill out. Shit happens. I enjoy your blog so much. Keep writing.


Sep 10, 2012 at 9:23 pm

You used to work in the Public Service – how could you forget to watch the clock!

Thanks for describing so poignantly the pain of losing. Your writing is still rated well above 2500.

Peter (not that Peter, the other one)
Sep 10, 2012 at 10:19 pm

Reading both your triumphs and disasters helps the distant field of battle come alive for us.

We, who will ever have to face grandmasters on board one, preparing nightly for the next day’s likely openings, cannot conceive the level of concentration and focus required. Or conceive the strange places to which this effort must take the mind.

Personally, I can only look at the times when events have overwhelmed me: the 24 frantic hours to meet my honors thesis deadline; being assigned a teaching load that put me in hospital; and, the strangest one of all, that showed me that there are times when the subconscious mind can take control, my wedding day when no conscious effort on my part would stop my knees knocking and my legs feeling like jelly. So while we cannot properly put ourselves in your shoes, we can at least recall our own moments of terror to empathise with you.

Thanks for the top read.

PS It fills a void that the mainstream press seem reluctant to fill.

Peter (not that Peter, the other one)
Sep 11, 2012 at 1:44 am

Back for a final bite at the cherry, because you made me think.

As a schoolteacher, I have to speak every day before groups of students, so I never previously worried about also speaking before adults. But recently, I found that for some subconscious reason I developed a tremor in my voice when presenting at staff meetings. This occurred a few times, indicating that things were happening in my subconscious of which I was not overtly aware. By chance, I found how to arrest it.

On that occasion, I started the seminar by chatting casually one-on-one to a staff member and moved to the front of the room chatting casually to other staff members on the way. Usually I would have stood at the front of the room waiting for the start time. But by maintaining a casual “walk and chat” till I got to the front of the room, I found that, when I started my talk, my voice had no tremor.

This reminds me of a couple of bits of sports commentary I have heard. Robert de Castella (Aussie distance champion) observing the Olympic marathon runners waving to friends in the crowd during the early stages of the London marathon, said that this was important, even necessary. Runners had to relax during the early part of the marathon he said, to save their concentration powers for the final stages when concentration was required for every step.

And I recall Karrie Webb (Aussie, champion golfer) saying that it was important for her to listen to the birds singing when walking down the golf course in order to take her mind to another place. I guess the mind needs careful nurturing: moments where we feed our subconscious with positive experiences of nature, of friendship, thereby, strengthening it, so that it can support the conscious mind in times of sustained stress. Just a thought.

Kevin Casey
Sep 11, 2012 at 10:24 am

You’re an inspiration to all of us who can only dream of having your fighting spirit, chess preparation skills and pure talent. Don’t sweat the little bumps. Resolve is permanent.

Sep 12, 2012 at 12:36 pm


You shouldn’t be so hard on yourself, especially about the match vs the Mongolians! It sucks, yeh, but that the way it goes – as Hairul says above, shit happens.

Love the blog. You inspired me to take up the stonewall dutch as black – though, I’ve been less inclined to play Nd2 and am currently testing re-deploying the light-squared bishop along the e1-h5 diagonal via Bd2 Be1.

Go take a well-deserved holiday. Congratulations to the Australian team!!


Sep 15, 2012 at 10:09 am

Mate, everyone back home appreciates how hard it was for you on board one. Don’t forget your comments about Yuan sheltering the team, being fantastic for team morale and assisting with preparation for the others. You played the toughest players and whilst you feel like your performance wasn’t what it could have been, you can’t underplay the role which you played in the team performance and the dynamic. What a fantastic result for Australia!

David Smerdon
Sep 16, 2012 at 3:47 am

Thanks for the comments, guys. I should add a few important facts about the team that I selfishly left out in my post: Max’s performance was good enough for his third and final International Master norm, giving him the title. Moulthun played better than anyone else in the team and finished just shy of a Grandmaster norm, and I’m sure it won’t be long before he starts collecting those like badges. Interestingly, these two were the most outgoing and selfless in helping the other members of the team with preparation and post-game analysis!

Kevin Goh
Sep 19, 2012 at 8:04 am

Hey David,

It’s always tough being on board 1, and I’m sure the experience did you a lot of good. Not your best performance of course, but certainly a far more decent one than you think. You will bounce back, you always do. Remember Dresden 2008?

On another note, Amonatov is from Tajikistan, not Mongolia. A big pity about that game but these things happen and I’m sure it won’t happen to you again.




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