David Smerdon | May 09, 2012 12:53

Let’s Talk Turkey* – Olympiad 2012


(* If you think that’s a bad pun, just keep reading – you’re in for a real treat.)

It’s time for that great biennial chess event again: the 2012 World Chess Olympiad will be held in Istanbul, Turkey in August.  Preparations for the greatest teams chess festival on the planet have begun in nations around the world, with Australia recently finalising its Open and Women selections.

This year, the teams are:


  1. David Smerdon*
  2. Darryl Johansen
  3. Moulthun Ly
  4. Aleksandar Wohl
  5. Stephen Solomon


  1. Arianne Caoili
  2. Irina Berezina
  3. Emma Guo
  4. Sally Yu
  5. Giang Nguyen

* GM Zong-Yuan Zhao was of course selected as board 1, but withdrew due to university commitments.

In Australia (as in every country), these selections are usually quite controversial.  There have been tears and fights, friendships broken, arguments, appeals, and even the odd court case in the wake of the decisions.  This year is no exception, particularly with regard to the omission of Olympiad veteran WIM Bilijana Dekic from the women’s team, and the highly rated IM Gary Lane being ranked last of the ten candidates for the open.  If you are interested in such things, have an hour to spare and aren’t conflict-avoidant, you might want to check out the exhaustive thread on this topic on the Australian chess bulletin board: http://www.chesschat.org/showthread.php?t=13949&page=6 .  For a more succinct opinion, check out Aleks Wohl’s about his selection: http://doubleroo.blogspot.com/2012/05/australian-olympiad-team.html .

After the relocation to Amsterdam, I’m a little isolated from the Aussie chess community these days, so I won’t weigh in on the debate.  But one thing that’s clear that being an Olympiad selector is an extremely difficult job.  There are five selectors for each team (with four of them common across both panels), and they have to weigh up ratings (both national and international), recent performances, past history, current performance trends and general activity – with no standard criteria – in making their decisions.  And they’re almost guaranteed, no matter what the final decision or even how they individually voted, to be publically abused and insulted in the aftermath.  A thankless job, if ever there was one.  I tip my hat to you.

Overall, here are a couple of trivial observations:

  • Some of the criticism levelled at the selectors has been based around accusations of ageism, or deliberately favouring juniors.  I don’t know whether this is true or not, but six months ago, I thought there was a very good chance I’d be the oldest member of a team that looked something like: Zhao, me, Xie, Ly, and one of Junta Ikeda, Max Illingsworth or Bobby Cheng.  (Interestingly, it was also feasible that I’d be the only Caucasian in the team, and potentially also the one one born in Australia.)  As it turns out, I’m the second-youngest.
  • There have also been calls for more and/or different selectors.  But we don’t have it as rough as some nations, where both teams can be entirely selected by just one person.  I know of one of the top ten countries in the world where the selector recently had the unenviable job of deciding whether or not to choose one of the nation’s top grandmasters, knowing full well there was a better than even chance he’d be intoxicated at the board.  We might be lucky after all.
  • Losing Yuan from our team is a big blow.  He’s not only Australia’s best player, but also phenomenally good at taking on the ‘big guns’ at Olympiads.  No other Australian playing these days can match his ability to go toe to toe with super grandmasters and seasoned professionals, as his impressive scalps such as Kortchnoi and Bologan reflect.  Yuan is also great for team morale, always willing to shell out opening tips and general match advice during the tournament to us minnows.  On a personal note, his absence also means I have to find a new roommate for the first time in almost a decade.
  • The perplexing (at least for me) lack of an application from GM-elect George Xie, combined with Yuan’s withdrawal, leaves Australia with one of its weakest teams (on paper) in recent years.  Last Olympiad we had an average rating of over 2480; this year, we’ll be below 2430.

These last couple of dots explain why, personally, I’m a little apprehensive about this Olympiad.  Board one is a big responsibility, not only in a match sense, but also because it means there’s noone to defer to for advice.  Yuan and I had a good system going at World Youth Championships and Olympiads of playing the odd game of tennis/ping pong/soccer together in the mornings, going through our pre-game rituals silently in our shared room (him in healthy meditation, me listening to Linkin Park on the iPod) and then him fixing up all of my opening preparation blindfold on the bus ride to the venue.  Think I’m joking?  Check out this little minature from the last Olympiad, the opening trap of which was devised by Yuan on the bus:

PGN string

Yep, it’s going to be tough without him.  But, with a bit of new blood in the team, we’re going to have to learn to rely on each other and work as a team, even without our top player.  In short (…wait for it…), we’re going to have to go cold Turkey.

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David Smerdon's picture
Author: David Smerdon

David Smerdon is a chess grandmaster from Brisbane, Australia. David attended Anglican Church Grammar School and Melbourne University. To qualify for the title of Grandmaster, a player must achieve three Grandmaster norm performances, and a FIDE Elo rating over 2500. Late in 2007, Smerdon achieved his third and final Grandmaster norm. In the July 2009 FIDE rating list his rating passed 2500, so he qualified for the title of Grandmaster. He is the fourth Australian to become a Grandmaster, after Ian Rogers, Darryl Johansen and Zhao Zong-Yuan. In 2009, Smerdon won the Queenstown Chess Classic tournament.

Source: Wikipedia




Lee's picture

Forget about the Olympiad 2012 Mr Smerdon. Your application is required for Punfest 2012 just down the road.

Anonymous's picture

Nice pun at the end there! Have to admit I did not see that coming!

Anonymous2's picture

In more recent news, Darryl Johansen has withdrawn and been replaced by Max Illingworth.

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