Capricious Artist, Pillar of Strength


After the Olympiad in Baku, a curious message appeared on the FIDE website. Ostensibly it was congratulating Andrey Filatov, the Russian businessman who is a billionaire, an art collector, vice president of FIDE and president of the Russian Chess Federation. It said:


Dear Mr. Filatov,

I congratulate you on Russia winning the Bronze Medal in the Open Section in the recently completed Baku Olympiad. This is the first time that a FIDE Vice President has acted as the Captain and Head Coach of a medal winning team. I wish you further success in your endeavors to promote our great sport.

Yours sincerely,

Georgios Makropoulos
FIDE Deputy President

There is a Dutch saying that goes: “When one FIDE vice president is washing the other, it smells badly.” That’s what I thought when I first saw this congratulatory note. But then I surmised that Makropoulos might have been poking fun at his colleague.

Note the exaggerated use of capitals (Bronze Medal, Head Coach) that seems to mimic the mock-seriousness of a child. Note also that it must have been painful for Filatov to be congratulated with what can only be described as a failure.

Since 2002, the last time that Garry Kasparov took part, Russia had not been able to win an Olympiad. It had become a real trauma, so much so that this time Filatov, the boss of the Russian Chess Federation, had decided to take the matter into his own hands, acting as captain and head coach.

He had the money and he had the players. Though the difference in rating with the three-star (Caruana, Nakamura, So) U.S. team was much smaller than the differences with top teams had been in the past, the Russian team was still the highest rated. Nevertheless, once again their efforts came to nothing. As for the Russian team, a Bronze Medal, with or without capitals, is actually nothing. 

On the last day it took quite some time before it became clear who had won the Olympiad, the U.S. or Ukraine. Match points and board points were equal and therefore the Sonneborn-Berger system would decide, in which the points are counted of the teams that the U.S. and Ukraine had opposed. In the Netherlands it is sometimes called the Sonnema-Berenburg system, after a Frisian liquor brand.

Using this system is not ridiculous, and a case can also be made for ignoring the weakest opponent, a rule that was applied in Baku. But in an Olympiad these rules can have hilarious consequences.

I had the pleasure of experiencing the spectacle in La Valletta in Malta in 1980. The contenders for gold were the Soviet Union and Hungary, and at a certain moment near the end of the last round, the reckoners had found that the Olympiad would be decided in the match between Greece and Scotland. 

It was a funny sight when suddenly a horde of players and journalists flocked together near the board of a Greek and a Scotsman who at first did not realize what they had done to deserve this attention. The Greek – it was the same Georgios Makropoulos whom I quoted earlier – won his game, which meant that the Soviet Union had won the Olympiad. Geller and Tal hugged each other and it was said that tears of joy were shed.

No wonder they were emotional. Two years earlier, the Olympiad in Buenos Aires had been won by Hungary. That was the first time that the Soviet team had failed to win an Olympiad. Surely a second occasion would meet great incomprehension back home.

This year in Baku the match between Germany and Estonia was the decider. When the German Matthias Blübaum had won his game, it meant that the U.S. was the winner of the Olympiad. With a draw or a loss by Blübaum, it would have been Ukraine. By the way, Ukraine had been playing the Olympiad without Vassily Ivanchuk, who had preferred to take part in a draughts tournament in Poland. 

There are many medals to be won at an Olympiad and one of the most important is always the gold medal for the best result on first board. That was won by Baadur Jobava from Georgia, the capricious artist, often the last one to leave the bar and put off the light, but a pillar of strength in Baku, who made the fine score of 8 out of 10, with a TPR of 2926. In the game viewer you’ll find an elegant miniature from the match against Ukraine.

The other game in the viewer is from the last round. By winning his game against the Italian Daniele Vocaturo, Kramnik secured the consolation bronze medal for Russia. 

Kramnik had the best result on board 2 (6½ out of 9) whereby he regained his second place on the live world ranking list. About his play his good friend Peter Svidler said: “Vladimir Kramnik once again showed that he is playing some of the best chess of his career currently. It’s not just the result he’s shown on a variety of first and second boards (…) but the manner in which he seems to be approaching his chess these days is absolutely fantastic. It’s a joy to watch.”

Click here to view the game Jobava-Ponomariov, Baku 2016. 

Click here to view the game Kramnik-Vocaturo, Baku 2016