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Dec 17

1996 New Zealand at the 32nd Chess Olympiad

“Unbelievable!”, “You dirty filthy animal”, “Scotty..Scotty..”, “I’m going to deck you..”, and “Si!” – phrases that amply sum up the New Zealand experience at the 32nd Olympiad held in Yerevan, Armenia.

The Olympiad and associated 67th F.I.D.E. Congress was held from the 15th September to 2nd October 1996. The Olympiad was contested by 114 teams in the Open Section, and 74 teams in the Women’s Section. New Zealand was represented in both events. The teams were:

Open Women
Ben Martin Rosaleen Sheehan
Martin Dreyer Edith Otene
Mark Noble Lyn Parlane
Scott Wastney Teresa Sheehan

 

Michael Freeman acted as Captain for both teams, and played as part of the Open Team when required. John Sheehan assisted as Women’s Captain during the playing rounds.

 

Open Section

The New Zealand team was seeded 68th out of the 114 teams, representing 111 nations. The host nation, Armenia, fielded three teams, while the International Blind Chess Association fielded a composite team.

Overall, the result of the Open team in scoring 25½ points for a share of 82nd to 87th equal (82nd on tiebreaks) can be considered disappointing. On paper, this result does not compare well with the 30 points of 1986 and 1988, the 27½ of 1994, and is ½ point less then the low of 26 in 1980. However, compared with the 1994 team, against the three countries played in both events (Bermuda, Morocco, and Tajikistan) the 1996 team scored significantly better results. After 10 rounds the team had 20 points and 50% (1994 had 17½), but struck a significantly tougher draw to the finish with Italy, Austria and Syria in rounds 11 to 13. The teams opposition averaged 27 points (1994 26½) each, with ten finishing above New Zealand, and four below.

Individually, Ben Martin can be pleased with his score on Board One of 8/14. His gritty determination served him well in several endings. Martin Dreyer scored well with the black pieces for 4½/7, but 0/7 with white was disappointing. Mark Noble played solidly throughout for 5/12while Scott Wastney had a successful debut with 7½/14. Michael Freeman was required to play two games for ½/2 in his usual time trouble.

All of the team must be commended for having to play a larger than usual number of games each, and perhaps this might have contributed somewhat to the sluggish finish.

 

Women’s Section

The New Zealand team was seeded 69th out of 74 teams, representing 72 nations. The host nation fielded two teams, and the Blind one team. Seeds 62 to 74 were all unrated.

The team scored 18 points for a share of 63rd to 66th (66th on tiebreaks). This equals the 18 points scored in 1994, and is a commendable performance from a very inexperienced team. They played four teams that finished above, two that were equal, and all eight that finished below. Scoring 7/9 in the last three rounds greatly boosted the final score and placing.

Individually, Rosaleen Sheehan struggled early on, but finished well as her confidence grew. Her 4½/11 was a good effort on Board One. Edith Otene also struggled early and improved towards the end. Lyn Parlane had an unhappy event, both at and away from the chessboard. Teresa Sheehan had an excellent result on debut. Her 7/11 has earned her a guaranteed 2050 rating, and was the 10th best performance on Board Four in the Women’s Section.

The time controls for both events was 40 moves in 2 hours each, 20 moves in one hour, and a 30 minute each sudden death. Rounds commenced at 3pm each day, with two rest days, after round six and round ten.

The individual and team results for each round for both teams are presented later in this report.

 

Olympiad in General

Armenia is located in the ancient lands, bordering Turkey, Georgia, and Iran. The capital, Yerevan, is located in a fertile river valley, overlooked by Mt. Ararat, the biblical site of Noah’s Ark. They claim to be the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as the official religion, back in 301 AD. A large world celebration is planned for the year 2001 to commemorate the 1700th anniversary of this event.

It is a nation that has re-emerged from the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991. It has been troubled by the effects of a disastrous earthquake in 1988 and by regional conflicts with neighbouring states. Only recently has electricity been restored, and many buildings are still in the process of being repaired. Over 1.5 million people live in the capital out of a population of 3.5 million.

The city was not particularly clean, with the air quite polluted from ill-running Lada cars. Shops were not obvious, with large outdoor markets the common method of shopping. The small food outlets near the hotel were well stocked with bread, meats, and imported foodstuffs at very reasonable prices for visitors. With the locals only earning US$15 per month, they were out of the reach of all but those with relatives overseas sending money home. Casinos, bars and restaurants were plentiful.

The Olympiad was very much an attempt to show that Armenia was re-building after its past difficulties. The Olympiad has been said by many to be one of the better organized in recent memory. Certainly the nightmare conditions of Moscow two years ago were not repeated in Yerevan. Inlaid chess tables, distinguishable pieces, digital clocks, a well lit venue with plenty of space, and high quality printed bulletins were some of the luxuries available in Yerevan but not in Moscow. The full weight of the Government was behind the event to make it a success.

The Armenian people were among the most friendly I have come upon, and were always very polite and helpful. The 600 student volunteer helpers greatly assisted to make the event run smoothly for all teams.

The majority of the New Zealand team departed on Friday 13th September from Auckland to Athens via Singapore. There we met up with Ben Martin and Martin Dreyer, and spent 18 hours in Athens airport, before joining an Armenian Airways charter flight to Yerevan. Having to load our own bags into the aircraft’s luggage containers nearly lost us one members bags when they boarded, leaving their luggage on the tarmac. The charter aircraft, an ex-Aeroflot Tupolov TU-154, certainly set a new standard for maintenance and comfort. We were met upon arrival, passports collected for visa processing, and transported to the ANI Hotel, our home for the next two weeks.

Upon arrival, the allocation of rooms only took just over an hour this time, mostly trying to prove to the organizers that we had paid for the charter flight and had no intention of paying again. In fact, we had overpaid, with two tickets from Amsterdam being purchased but only one used due to the late withdrawal of Bob and Vivian Smith.

Before the Olympiad much had been made of the poor conditions in Armenia. Certainly in Yerevan reports of extreme food, hot water and power shortages were exaggerated. However this did not mean that there weren’t problems. A large number of players went down with various stomach complaints and hot water in some of the hotels was in short supply. At the end of the Olympiad it is understood that the hot water was ended as soon as the players left, and electricity supply cut back. However, we had no complaints with our hotel, apart from a certain blandness with the food, and a propensity for wash basins to become detached from the walls. With the water undrinkable, most of us do not wish to see another fizzy drink can for a few months.

The first day in Yerevan saw the team transported to the playing complex for accreditation, and the first and last major organizational disaster of the event. Two multimedia computers complete with video cameras and photo-id printing lasers were busy trying to process over 1000 chessplayers all at once. Naturally, the usual pushing, shoving and queue jumping common from some of the East European nations resulted in the usual raised tempers. The average waiting time seemed to be about six hours for most teams, New Zealand managed only five, by skipping the opening ceremony and jumping in during this quiet time.

The 32nd Chess Olympiad was officially opened in Yerevan on Sunday 15th September. The opening ceremony took place in the Tsitsernakaberd (Yerevan’s Sports and Concert Complex) and was attended by the leading political figures in Armenia, President Levon Ter-Petrosian and Prime-Minister Hrant Bagratian. The building is an enormous sports complex with over 600 rooms and halls, located twenty minutes travel by bus from the hotel. The site had a great view overlooking Yerevan, and was surrounded by one million trees planted to remember Armenians killed in 1917 during conflicts with the Turks.

At the time of the opening ceremony Lynn Parlane and I had already been processed for badges under emergency rules, and transported to the Yerevan hospital, as Lynn’s foot had blown up to the size of a football. She had to spend this one night in hospital, was unavailable for the first round, and had to play the next few rounds with a second chair beside her board to keep the foot elevated upon.

The chess began with the Open team located upon the stage, where the top twelve matches were played. Unfortunately, this was the only occasion they managed these giddy heights.

 

Elections…

We soon learned that the Olympiad coincided with elections for the Armenian Government. This was not a coincidence. The dates were planned to coincide with the elections so that the ruling team could make maximum political capital out of the event. The local people did comment that President Levon Ter-Petrosian was wasting IMF loans on an Olympiad when he could not provide basics such as electricity. The election battle was between Petrosian and former Prime Minister Vazgem Manukyan. Petrosian had been in power for the five years since independence, a particularly difficult time for the population.

When the election results were reported they returned Petrosian for another term. However there was evidence of widespread electoral fraud, monitors of the polling stations had expected Mr. Manukyan to win with 55% to Petrosian’s 37%. One report even had the President winning by 57% to 55%!. The declaration of the result brought crowds of up to 100,000 onto the streets and we observed and heard shooting at the Parliament Buildings, some 200 metres from our hotel. These events coincided with round 9. The next morning we found the streets occupied with tanks and troops, but it soon became obvious that while restrictions were in place for the local population, we were free to move around as we wished. I have read various reports on the Internet from other Olympiad attendees, and believe most have over sensationalized the incidents. After a few days the troops and tanks started to vanish and things returned to normal.

Of course the “real” elections in Yerevan were those for the Governing body of chess, FIDE.

The incumbent president was Kirsan Iljumzhinov, President of the Russian Republic of Kalmykia and a skilled self publicist. He made a point of meeting every team at the Olympiad, and presenting each member with several gifts – Kirsan Vodka, Kirsan caviar, Kirsun sunglasses, his comic book autobiography, a Kirsan book on the Karpov-Kamsky match, and a Kirsan watch.

As reported last issue, Iljumzhinov was re-elected after three days of political maneuvers that made playing chess seem simplistic.

On the penultimate day of the General Assembly the Russian delegate announced he had a letter (which somehow didn’t see the light of day until after Karpov left Yerevan) signed by Kasparov and Karpov agreeing to a World Championship match.

The main points in the letter were

“1. The match to be for the title of World Champion;

2. The match to be played outside of FIDE and PCA;

3. A special Organizing Committee to be set up to oversee the match;

4. The contestants: the “World Champion” and the “FIDE World Champion”;

5. Not fewer than 16 games, not more than 20.

6. Procedure for tie-break games.

7. Other technical details.

8. Agreement to be signed by 15 November 1996.”

There has been various reports published overseas containing allegations of bribes, corruption, vote buying etc. during the elections. I certainly saw none of these, and missed out on any allocations of Mercedes or Ladas, though I did receive a second bottle of Kirsan vodka!.

The next Olympiad was confirmed for Elista, and Istanbul in Turkey awarded the 2000 event.

 

And back to the chess …

On the two rest days the organizers provided various tours around Armenia and Yerevan, which some of the New Zealanders took advantage of. The traditional Bermuda Party was held the night before the second rest day and was a great success.

The final results saw Russia run away with the Open event with 38½ points, ahead of the Ukraine 35, USA and England 34. The Americans took the bronze on tie-break by ½ a Bucholz point. Any suggestions from the English team that the NZ’ers practising the haka in the adjacent room was the cause of this are strongly denied.

The Woman’s event was won by Georgia with 30 points, ahead of China and Russia 28½. China took the silver comfortably on tie-break.

The closing ceremony was held the day after the last round, and was followed by immediate departure on the same charter flights as before. I managed to miss the closing ceremony as well, this time because Edith Otene had fallen and broken her ankle and I and John Sheehan were kept busy trying to arrange transport, crutches, and pack her bags.

The return charter flight to Athens was considerably overloaded with all the extra Kirsan gift luggage, and upon landing in Athens, we witnessed the interesting sight of the cabin crew clapping the pilot, usually a custom observed on internal American flights by the passengers. The sight of the crew sitting on top of Coca-Cola crates without seatbelts, or even seats, was new to me.

The team spent two enjoyable days in Athens, apart from Edith, who was immobile and saw only the inside of her hotel room. We then flew overnight to Singapore, spent twelve hours during the day wandering around, and flew back to Auckland via Christchurch. Unfortunately, approaching Christchurch, the aircraft hit an air pocket, dropped 1000 feet very suddenly, injured a few crew who were tossed around the cabin, and lost a flap from one wing. This flight therefore terminated in Christchurch, leaving the team to travel on various different routes to their homes.

 

Some Thanks

The team would like to take the opportunity to publicly thank all those individuals and clubs who contributed to the Olympiad Appeal Fund, your donations are greatly appreciated. We would also like to thank all our individual sponsors for their assistance. Others due thanks are the Venezuelan and Irish teams for their contributions to our morale, Computerland Taranaki for the loan of a computer laptop, and Geraldine from Auckland travel agents Travel By Design. I would also thank Ted Frost, Arthur Pomeroy and John Sheehan for their assistance.

And lastly, I would thank all of the team for the level of team spirit displayed that made this a most enjoyable trip.

 

Finally…

The next Olympiad is to be held in Elista, Kalmykia in late 1998. It is highly desirable that New Zealand is represented by the strongest possible team. To achieve this, appropriate fund raising and sponsorship is required, but the top players must also accept some responsibility to assist this. Too often, it appears that some just sit back and accept the money with little personal effort, and are unwilling to be available unless this funding is available.