Author: Sanan SAFIZADA Baku
Azerbaijani chess fans will remember the Chess Olympiad in the Norwegian town of Tromso for several special moments. Firstly, at the tournament Baku received the FIDE banner as the organiser of the 2016 Olympiad. The second thing to remember was the performance of the Azerbaijani men's team, who had come to the Olympiad in the rank of European champions. Azerbaijan's team, headed by Alexander Khalifman, demonstrated self-less play in the direct sense of the word in Tromso. For the first time Azerbaijan's national team, which started off successfully, was top of the tournament table for a long time. Unfortunately, subsequent blunders meant that the team remained behind those in fourth place.
As result, the team took fifth place. But it should be noted that for the team which occupies 8th place in the world ratings, this is the best result that Azerbaijan has achieved while participating in Chess Olympiads. Although the Azerbaijani chess players scored as many points as the silver and bronze medal winners in the Olympiad, owing to additional indices, they only ended up in fifth place. Surprisingly, the Chinese chess players quite justly became the champions, with the Hungarian team occupying second place and the Indian chess players winning the bronze medals.
On the whole, the Azerbaijani chess players will be remembered in Norway for their consistent performance. In just one year of working with them, Khalifman has managed to shape a real team. Playing on the first board, Sahriyar Mammadyarov acted as the leader of the Azerbaijani team. Playing confidently both with the white and black chessmen, Sahriyar showed that he could recover after the fiasco at the tournament in Shakira three months ago. Battling with the leaders right to the end, Mammadyarov contributed a hefty mite to the success of his own team.
The seven points he scored in 10 games confirmed that this chess player is an extremely worthy candidate to play on the first board. Although Teymur Racabov fought hard in all the games to contribute to the combined score, it was evident that he was not on his best form. Gaining 5.5 points each, Rauf Mammadov and Eltac Safarli applied every effort to gain a high place for the national team. Qadir Huseynov, who was playing on the last boards made a good impression.
The tournament showed that the Azerbaijani team is on the up. Taking fifth place out of 175 teams, the country's grand masters have demonstrated their preparedness to battle to become champions at the next Olympiad, which is to take place in Baku in two years' time. The role played by the captain of the team, Alexander Khalifman, in its consistent performance also needs mentioning. The assistance he had rendered could be seen in the choice of openings. It would evidently be the right decision for the Chess Federation of Azerbaijan to conclude a new contract with Alexander Khalifman.
Unfortunately, we cannot be so upbeat about the women's team. Occupying the 22nd place in the world ratings, at the Olympiad in Tromso they only managed to gain 23rd place. Gulnar Mammadova, who was playing on the second board, got the best result, scoring 7.5 points. The Turkan sisters and Zeynab Mammadyarova scored 7 and 5.5 points respectively. We did not see anything to console us in the performance of the women's team which is getting worse with every passing year. The result achieved by the team needs to be analysed and some changes need to be introduced in the team as soon as possible. Before the Olympiad in Baku, the national women's team needs to be ready to take on leading teams. Experts believe the team's main problem is precisely its inability to play against stronger teams. Mistakes are being made in choosing the openings. The Russian team won the tournament, with Chinese female players taking the silver medals and the Ukrainian chess players winning the bronze medals.
In the opinion of the former captain of Azerbaijan's women's team, Anar Allahverdiyev, the performance of the male chess players in Tromso was simply splendid. "They made a successful start. Our team did not get any medals owing to some small mistakes and simply due to bad luck. The fact that we shared the 2nd to 5th places in our points was a positive outcome. This is the first time up until now that we have achieved such a good result. The best result we achieved before this was sixth place at the Olympiad in Dresden in 2008. We did not manage to be among the three prize winners due to a number of additional factors.
Our chess players represented Azerbaijan in a worthy manner. Their play was consistent. The final result gives us great hopes for the next Olympiad which is to take place in Baku in 2016. It is extremely important for us to win some medals at that one," A. Allahverdiyev told Regionplus.
But with regard to his former charges, he spoke in quite a different tone. "Occupying 22nd placein the world ratings, the Azerbaijani female chess players finally occupied 23rd place in Norway. In Khanty-Mansiysk [Russia] in 2010 our girls shared fourth to eighth places. Over the last four years the team's scores have continually gone down and it can be said that they are not satisfactory. We lost in the most important games against the teams from China, Poland, Romania and the USA. In tournaments like this they need to beat at least one stronger team. The next Chess Olympiad is to take place in Baku. The experts should have a think about the failures and establish the reasons for them. The performance of our female chess players cannot be called normal," A. Alahverdiyev said.
The Olympiad in Norway has gone down in chess history as one of the poorest from an organisational point of view. It is sufficient to note that the tournament was held on the territory of one of the factories in Tromso. Many participants scathingly criticised the unsatisfactory conditions and the high prices. Just imagine it, owing to the shortage of hotel rooms, 25 teams had to live in floating hotels for 14 days.
During the Olympiad attention was also focused on the elections of the presidents of FIDE and the European Chess Union. There were no surprises there. Kirsan Ilyumzhinov will head FIDE for another four years, but the former captain of the Azerbaijani national team, Zurab Azmaiparashvili, was elected the president of the European Chess Union.
On the last day of the Olympiad in Norway the FIDE banner was presented to the delegation of Azerbaijan where the next Olympiad is to take place in 2016. The first deputy prime minister of Azerbaijan, the chairman of the organising committee for the 2015 World Cup and the 2016 Chess Olympiad, Yaqub Eyyubov, accepted the banner. Having thanked the FIDE leadership for their trust in Azerbaijan, he expressed the conviction that Baku will hold a top-level World Cup competition and Chess Olympiad.
So, the Olympiad in Tromso has been consigned to history. In two years' time all the countries on the planet will gather in splendid Baku, where another Chess Olympiad is to take place in the magnificent Cristal Hall.