1998 New Zealand at the 33rd Chess Olympiad


“Elista, Kalmkyia; where’s that?”. I well remember that question at the Moscow Olympiad when the venue for this years event was announced. Well for Trivial Pursuit fans, its located in the south-east portion of Russia between the Volga and Don rivers. Kalmykia has a territory of 76,100 square km , a population of 300,000 and is 1836 km from Moscow.

Descended from the Oyrat, the Kalmyk people have had a turbulent past. Having settled in European Russia in the 16th century, they suffered under the early communist rule in the 1920’s and 30’s, and were finally exiled to Siberia in 1943 by Stalin. Permitted to return in 1957, they have boomed since becoming a republic within the new Russian Federation in 1992. With oil revenues now available to Kalmkyia rather than the old Kremlin, funds are available to develop the Republic. We noticed that food was readily available, clothing was smart, and many Western goods were available in the shops. The population was housed, fed, and paid. However, some of the political and personal freedom that has encompassed Moscow and St. Petersburg has not filtered down to this region.

For this Olympiad, a very ambitious President decided to construct a “Chess City”, better described as a new housing estate on the outskirts of Elista. Fenced off from the locals, the plan called for 87 new houses in Western style, two administrative buildings, and in the centre, the Chess Palace. This large five storied building was designed to host the chess games and associated FIDE congress.

After the usual traumas with team selection, passports and visas, the bulk of the NZ team finally departed to Elista via Frankfurt and Moscow. Nearly abandoning Bob Smith at Moscow immigration when it was discovered by the bureaucracy that a photo had become unglued from his visa, we were joined by Alexei Kulaskho and bussed across Moscow to an internal airport. There we boarded a YAK-42 operated by Karat Airways for the charter flight to Elista. Surprisingly, this flight was uneventful, despite having to land at dusk with no ground landing lights on a very recently extended runway. We were met in the airport that still smelled from the coat of paint applied that afternoon, by Olga, our team translator for the next 2 weeks.

Arriving in Chess City, we discovered that only one half of the houses were complete and the team would be divided. The men ended up being allocated a house earmarked for the Malaysian team, whilst the Women were taken out of the Chess City to a large apartment block seven minutes walk away. It was a nice apartment, but certainly on the cosy side. For all meals we were driven across town to a fancy restaurant. This resulted in us leaving behind a considerable amount of food brought from NZ just in case.

The next shock appeared in the light of day when we saw that the playing venue was not complete, with no roof and many walls missing. A captain’s meeting later that day confirmed the obvious, and alternative venues and plans were mooted. In the end it was agreed that the event would drop one rest day and one round thereby giving another two days to the construction crew. Even then, plans of playing matches in the lounges of the various houses were put in place.

The opening ceremony was held in the local football stadium complete with cultural displays, a few speeches and parading of all the nations flags as one would normally expect at a Commonwealth or Olympic Games. It finished with a firework display.

Each team at the Olympiad was given a “Mother and Father”, personally selected by the President from his population. New Zealand was adopted by the head of the local Inland Revenue and his staff. These people went out of their way to make our stay as comfortable as possible, driving us everywhere around Elista, providing us with drinks in various forms, and entertaining us on the first two days whilst the playing venue was worked upon. A very enjoyable trip into the countryside on one of those days for hunting and fishing (of sorts) had a tragic end when our host tripped and badly broke his ankle. Naturally, we had to endure the jibes from other teams over maiming tax inspectors. The friendship from our interpreter Olga, and “parents” Alexei and Byra would be hard to equal anywhere in the world.

Remarkably, enough of the building was completed after the two days rest to allow the first round to be played in the venue despite a few holes. In fact, work continued each day on the building throughout the event. It was soon discovered that the architect had never been to a chess tournament, with the matches played on landings surrounding a central well with a wooden spiral staircase. The noise level proved a major distraction to all. Bob Smith, a strong anti-smoker, even resorted to using Edith Otene’s cigarette filters as ear plugs to try dim the racket. The top ten matches were eventually moved to another side room, so small and hot that no-one except the players in those matches was permitted to enter.

Games were played on electronic boards that automatically recorded the moves and with a Fischer time control on the electronic clock wired to the board. This was great, except that knocking over or even adjusting a piece required calling an arbiter to reset things. The technology appeared to be rather confusing to some of the older arbiters, leading to quite a bit of frustration at times for players and other officials alike.

To me, one sad part was that the whole event was not witnessed by the local population, who were only allowed past the armed guards at the City gates in groups on organised tours each morning. Our hosts seemed bent on keeping us away from the locals (or vice-versa).

The team spirit was maintained throughout with the captain providing most of the silly acts to amuse the others. Included were boarding the wrong bus at the Moscow airport and nearly departing to Chechnya, getting locked in the bathroom in the house for two hours, and gallantly protecting the rest of the team from the vodka toasts on the first night. One bout of food poisoning did strike during the middle rounds and laid almost all of the team low for a few days whilst “Dr. John’s” magic pills stemmed the flow.

I would thank all of the team members for their contribution to a very enjoyable trip, and on behalf of the team, thank very much all those clubs and individuals who contributed to the Appeal Fund to help defray our costs.

The Open Team

In the Open competition, the team consisted of Alexei Kulaskho, Bob Smith, Peter Green, Scott Wastney, Antonio Krstev, and Michael Freeman as Team Captain. This team was seeded 69th in a field of 110.

After the thirteen rounds a final placing of 56th, with a score of 26½/52, or +1 can be considered an excellent result. The top four boards all had satisfactory to pleasing results, with Alexei Kulashko achieving the 10th highest Board One percentage. Peter Green also scored well.

A very decisive last round win over South Africa rocketed the team up the standings to finish ahead of neighbours Australia and tied with Vietnam, Bangladesh and Belgium. An equally as decisive win by Russia over Holland, whilst China was holding the USA to a draw saw the Russians again take the gold medals on 35½. One point back were USA, followed another two points back by Ukraine and Israel. The very narrow points range can be seen with the fifth place team China scoring 31½, New Zealand was exactly half way down on 26½ and the second to last team Seychelles scored 18.

NZ Results achieved:

Round/ Match Number/Colour Team/ Seed/ Final Place Kulashko Smith Green Wastney Krstev Score
1/14/w Hungary (14) (9) 26500 25950 2540½ 25300 ½/½
2/38/b Malta(89) (102) 22201 21151 2200½ unr1 3½/4
3/28/b Bangladesh (57) (53) 25000 23500 23350 23500 0/4
4/41/w Jamaica (104) (78) unr1 unr½ unr1 unr0 2½/6½
5/41/b Iraq(68) (73) 23500 23251 22900 21250 1/7½
6/43/w Uganda(98) (93) unr½ unr1 unr½ unr0 2/9½
7/44/w Libya(106) (86) unr1 unr½ unr½ unr1 3/12½
8/38/b Bolivia(79) (85) unr1 23501 22051 20351 4/16½
9/26/b Poland(18) (15) 26550 25250 25300 24850 0/16½
10/39/w Angola (101) (62) unr1 unr0 unr1 unr½ 2½/19
11/36/w UAE(78) (75) 23351 22550 unr½ 22200 1½/20½
12/38/b Malaysia (97) (74) unr1 2040½ unr0 24101 2½/23
13/35/b South Africa (66) (80) 22901 2215½ 23501 21251 3½/26½
Results +7=1-3 +4=2-5 +4=5-2 +4=3-4 +2=0-6 +21=11-20
Score 7½/11 5/11 6½/11 5½/11 2/8
White 3½/5 4/6 3/5 5/6 1/4 16½/26
Black 4/6 1/5 3½/6 ½/5 1/4 10/26


The Women’s Team

The Women’s team was Vivian Smith, Teresa Sheehan, and Edith Otene with John Sheehan acting as Team Captain. This team was seeded 55th in a field of 72.

The final placing of 66th was affected by a tough last round pairing, and the non pairing against the two easy-beat nations, met by all the other nations in their part of the draw. Teresa Sheehan had another excellent result and was 18th on Board Two. Having to play every round also proved tough on the team members.

The winners China with 29 points made no race of it, to finish ahead of Russia and Georgia with 27. A shock 0-3 loss to Vietnam ruined the hopes of the favoured Georgians.


Round/ Match Number/Colour Team/ Seed/ Final Place Smith Sheehan Otene Score
1/19/w Armenia(19) (21) 23950 22300 22400 0/0
2/34/b Botswana(69) (67) unr0 unr1 unr½ 2/2
3/29/b South Africa(71) (62) unr0 unr½ unr0 ½/2½
4/30/w Ireland(62) (51) unr0 unr1 unr1 2/4½
5/29/b El Salvador(68) (59) unr½ unr½ unr½ 1½/6
6/28/w Brazil(48) (52) unr0 20451 unr0 1/7
7/30/w Wales(52) (64) 21100 unr0 unr0 0/7
8/33/w Angola(65) (68) unr1 unr1 unr½ 2½/9½
9/30/b Nigeria(70) (63) unr½ unr½ unr½ 1½/11
10/30/w Italy(51) (61) unr0 2095½ 20400 ½/11½
11/34/b Lebanon(66) (71) unr1 unr1 unr0 2/13½
12/32/b Japan(56) (69) 20500 unr1 unr1 2/15½
13/30/w Mexico(45) (46) 22200 20750 unr0 0/15½
Results +2=3-8 +6=4-3 +2=4-7 +10=11-18
Score 3½/13 8/13 4/13
White 1/7 4½/6 1½/7 7/20
Black 2½/6 3½/7 2½/6 8½/19


The FIDE Congress

The 69th FIDE Congress was remarkably non-political, with the restructuring of FIDE the main item for discussion. The FIDE structure and statues have been replaced. A new Executive Committee has been formed consisting of a President, two Vice President’s, Secretary, and Treasurer elected by the delegates, Zonal Presidents, four Continental Presidents, and four delegates from each Continent. This still totals some sixty people.

The Executive Council will meet once each year, with a full General Assembly of all nations every two years as part of the Olympiad.

For Asia, the Continental meeting re-elected Kalhifa Al-Hitmi of Qatar as President and Michael Freeman, along with delegates from Lebanon, UAE, and Japan as the representatives to the Executive Council. Very surprisingly, I received the Vice President nod.

The other major item was the formation of new zone consisting of Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea. This zone will receive one place in the World Championship knockout event and one place in the new Woman’s knockout event. The Zonal President is Graeme Gardiner of Australia. As Zonal President, he also joins the FIDE Executive Committee. This zone must therefore organise a zonal event each year, and New Zealand must address it’s responsibilities in regard to this.

The Year 2000 Olympiad is to be held in Istanbul, and the Year 2002 event in Slovenia. The other major news was the possibility of chess being a demonstration sport at the Sydney Olympics.