Kiwi’s view of Olympiad
by John Stark
Sunday 24th July Midday
***inbound call coming and I see it’s from a Mr Craig Hall (NZL Head of Delegation). “Hello, you have good news for me?” Craig replies, “I do, do you want to go to India in two days?” (Another member of the team had to withdraw due to sickness) “Let me get back to you soon”. Craig was aware at this point that I was excited and did not misidentify him as the Spanish equivalent of Joshua.
I went ahead and booked my flights, through an airline directly. No time for 3rd party booking sites in case anything went wrong. Next step was a visa, usually an E-Visa through the Indian government webpage is fine , but as I was travelling within 72 hours this wasn’t possible. So, my only plan was to contact the Indian high commission on Monday morning. Monday came and after nonstop calling I got through and let them know I was called into the team as a last minute replacement and needed an urgent visa to India. They said you need to come tomorrow and pick it up. Alright then, I will!. Jeepers! I was already flying on Tuesday night, things were going to be tight.
I booked a return trip to Wellington , 6 hours apart. I dropped, my bag into a locker at the domestic airport and got on my flight. Ubered to the Indian high commission and dropped off my passport, walked around and 3 hours later got my visa and flew back to Auckland. Got my bag from the locker and took the bus to the international airport and checked in for my midnight flight to Singapore.
After a long day and 15 hours passing since leaving my place for the domestic flight to Wellington. I was finally boarding my 10 hour flight to Singapore. I saw I was seated in the last row, I noticed that I was going to sit next to a couple and their 2 year old who was currretly laying flat across his parents thighs. I was horrified and couldn’t believe my bad luck, the flight was full and no chance to swap seats after takeoff, here we go! Turned out to be ok and the kid slept the entire time. Or I think he did, I had earplugs in.
Arrived in Singapore with 14 hours until my next flight. Changi airport is huge and has 4 terminals that are equal in size or bigger than Auckland international. You can easily get between them with their automated shuttle trains that run every four minutes. I opted for the Singapore Burger King as my breakfast. Not my best move and didn’t manage to eat much of the burger. I walked around for a few hours, eventually checking into a lounge and resting for 6 hours. Eventually meeting up with about ten others who were in the Team who were on the same flight to Chennai. Also on the same flight were the Ozzie’s!
Upon arrival in Chennai, we were rushed through the airport like celebrities with seperate immigration lines for chess players, then onto a bus to our hotel. Things in India move slowly, a lot of people just standIng around doing nothing. They want to be helpful but yeah, things move very slowly and if you ask direct questions you don’t get direct answers. It took a long time to get an allocated room. You would think they had the information they needed from the organisers, and they did partly and they did not. Anyway finally got to my room and could lay down flat after over 48 hours.
So far the food is pretty good, and the hotel is catering to more of a western diet. However, there is still a lot of Indian food served or rather just “food” as I’m in India after all.
In our hotel we have about ten other teams. El Salvador, Thailand, Singapore, Ethiopia, Seychelles to name a few. Our hotel is about 45mins from the playing venue which requires a bus there and back. Air conditioned busses make the trip pleasant.
NZ is ranked 92/184 teams. Almost every country is there! The main ones missing are Russia, China and Pakistan. Probably political with Pakistan, obvious with Russia and China still keep citizens in lockdown.
Our first round opponent is the Tiny Carribean nation of St Kitts and Nevis. We are right in the middle of the pack so we drew the very bottom team. We were almost paired with USA who are seed 1 and field some of the best players in the world. Lining up against them would have been amazing. Games start at 3:00pm local time or 9:30PM in NZ. There are 11 rounds, 1 round per day!
This is a dream come true for me to be able to play in a Chess Olympiad and represent my country. I hope to provide updates regularly with photos.
Update – 30 July
Yesterday after breakfast we had a team meeting and decided who would play today. Our top player Daniel Gong opted out and decided to rest. So the other 3 and myself would play todays match which was round 1. It’s quite common for the top player to sit out when playing a low rated team, where usually the lowest rated player of the higher rated team is still far higher rated than the lower rated team’s highest rated player.
At about 10am me and another team member decided to go to the mall to do some light shopping, once again with the Indian way of things, they decided we needed an escort to go with us. I’m like ok ok, let’s go then. “They’re coming”, they said. 5 minutes later, I’m like I want to go now, what is going on. “Sir, they’re coming a car is coming“. 5 minutes later, nothing. It’s beyond ridiculous, but it’s just how they operate. No one knows anything, nothing is urgent enough, the communication between them is unclear, it’s like you need to prompt them step by step, you cannot even expect reasonable initiative. I point to a group of like 8 soldiers, who are sitting at a table, like one of them can come with us? “No, Sir, not possible”. I see, there is also another ten or so “staff” in the hotel lobby also just standing there. Looking like they want to help, but without executive order,nothing happens. They don’t like direct confrontation it seems, so the conversations just go around and around to not cause offence, rather than just saying yes or no, which is intolerable.
Anyway, John and I, just decide to desert the premises despite our own “safety”. John is South African, he was unfazed by the perceived unsafe environment of this middle class area in Chennai. The mall was 800 meters down the road, not a tall order, one would assume right? We begin walking, it’s hot, it’s sticky and an intense environment, with uneven sidewalks and dodgy electrical wiring above. We are walking parallel to a motorway, that has an outter lane which is seperate from the motorway, which has turning lanes for the side streets. The outter lane is busy too, taxis flying, motorbikes hooning and people walking in between everything. No wandering cows just yet.
We get to where we need to go, but need to cross the street. There is no pedestrian crossing that has a light, when it’s safe to walk. You just need to cross among the cars, feel your way through the traffic with a 6th sense. I had one attempt, but then bailed out. John got across, but came back for me when he saw I had given up hope. We then walked back to the hotel, and to be honest, I don’t even know if the hotel and their 10 security guards even realised that we left.
We had lunch, then got on to a bus to the venue. I’ve provided a link at the bottom that gives a tour of the venue. We arrived an hour early, and had to go through metal detectors. I had a few electrical devices. The detector beeps as I go through, the guard then pats me down and the whizzes the handheld detector over me, still beeps. ”You can go sir” …..Ummm…..ok, …..very nice then…..
Anyway, I was in, it was very busy, many other teams making their way in, I saw beautiful uniforms from the bright colours of Africa to lighter colours of Scandinavia. Reporters galore, it was madness. Look at the photo of board 1, the amount of photographers …..etc….. We were very close of being paired with USA and would have experienced what Angola did.
We took our positions on the last board which was board 92 in the secondary playing hall. The top 29 boards play in another hall and you cannot cross visit, so going to shoulder watch Magnus Carlsen is unlikely. We took our seats against St Kitts and Nevis and waited for the game to begin. Games started about 15 mins late, a lot of teething issues, as you can no doubt imagine. Anyway we shook hands and begun. My opponent started to look anxious and then called the arbiter over, I couldn’t hear what the issue was, but then the arbiter explained she didn’t know how to record her moves. Both players in any tournament game, are required to record their moves, so if there is any dispute you have a recording of the game. She was allowed to continue the game but got penalised and had 10 minutes removed from her time bank. I won quickly as did the rest of team, as the difference in strength was extreme. Good on them for coming all this way though!
The following day we were paired to play Indonesia, seed 45, a very strong team. I’m not playing this round, so I decided to go to the local mall this afternoon. It was very impressive, much bigger than anything we have in NZ. I’ll be playing round 3 so looking forward to that! Not sure who we will be playing yet.
Link to video of playing venue – https://youtu.be/PuR797ieBds
Update – 1 August
We lost to Oman yesterday. We were favoured to win on paper, however sometimes this is easier said than done.
We are well into the daily grind of the olympiad now.
The day usually kicks off with breakfast, naturally. Then each team member has 30 minutes with our wonderful coach Bulgarian Grandmaster Dejan Bojkov to talk about one’s choice of opening strategy. We determine this by analysing our opponents previous games and using computer software that can give us insights into our opponents strengths and weaknesses. Our opponents, no doubt will do the same for us. Then we usually return to our room and prepare some more or rest.
We eat lunch around noon – I’m starting to struggle with the food. It’s prepared well and all, however I just cannot eat “certain”, “local” favoured dishes for lunch and dinner everyday. So for lunch, I will eat some plain rice, naan bread and fruit. Breakfast I will go hard! Usually starting with an omelet from the dedicated omelet chef followed by some pineapple, melon and pastries with plenty of water.
Dinner is like lunch, I see no difference. Just the same colours of food I see at lunch but with more desserts. Depending on what time we get back to the hotel and how I’m feeling I might skip dinner or just peck at a bit of rice or fruit.
The head chef, usually wanders around greeting the teams, asking everyone how the food is, he usually asks me when I’ve put a pitiful amount of food on my plate. I just say, I get anxious before a game. But I think he knows, I’m struggling. I’m always polite to him and bow my head towards him when I leave.
After lunch we have our temperature checked with some laser pointer on the skin. If it’s too high we will need to do a covid test. So far our team is fit and healthy. Then it’s on the bus to the venue.
Our match with Oman;
Daniel Gong our top player and NZ champion is in good form and won comfortably. Our boards 2 and 3 both lost, to what appears to be underrated players. Where their ratings don’t accurately reflect their strength. That still doesn’t mean Felix and John were weaker than there opponents. Today just wasn’t their day. But they will bounce back!
I had a wining position by move 10, totally paralysing my opponent and I kept building up pressure. Sadly, I spent so much time looking at fancy ways to try and win and wasted too much time, where I had to find 17 moves in 8 minutes, during this phase I made some poor moves and let my advantage slip then I was out right losing. I made the next time control and fought very hard to salvage a draw. My game was the last to finish in that entire Olympiad round. The game lasted over 5 hours. I’ll be more practical in the next game, less speculative analysing. So we lost the match 1.5-2.5.
We will play Barbados next!
Our second highest rated player will join the Fray after his rest against Oman. Should be another good match, where I hope we will win.