Monday, 1 September 2014

The Olympiad Summary - The Issues

There were a variety of comments online about the recently completed Chess Olympiad in Tromso, from glowing endorsement to scathing criticism ... so I thought I'd give my impressions of some of these issues & whether I thought some of these comments were justified or not.

Tromso in northern Norway was chosen as the venue for the 2014 Chess Olympiad at the 2010 Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk. There were some issues in the lead-up to the event, most notably in terms of funding for the event & an apparent hole in the budget. In the end, these dramas were overcome & the Olympiad went ahead as planned.
Norway is an expensive country ($1 Australian is equivalent to just under 5 Norwegian Krone) & this was something of an issue during the event (and explains why I didn't get a haircut while in Norway!), however for players & officials this was reduced as an issue as meals were supplied at hotels in Norway. However for those visiting, or finding alternative accommodation, it was a very expensive trip. The general cost of things also meant reduced socialising away from the chess from what I heard, as the usual shout of a round of drinks was much more expensive than one would normally expect to pay!
The expensive hairdresser - men's haircuts from just under $60, while women's haircuts will set you back almost $100
The budget barber - just under $40 for men & $50 for women!
Fancy some takeaway? Burgers from 117Kr (just over $20); Kebabs from 89Kr (about $15); Fish & Chips for 99Kr (about $17) ... Norway is not a cheap place!

However on the positive side of things, the city of Tromso was a great place - easy to get around, friendly people (quite a lot spoke English as well as Norwegian) & plenty to see outside the chess. The view from the top of the cable car on the nearby Mount Storsteinen of the city (on an island) was fantastic!
Lovely view of Tromso from Mount Storsteinen
The venue, the Mackhallen, came under criticism from a variety of sources for a variety of reasons. The most common criticisms that I have read have included: the playing hall was cold & lacked air circulation; the hall was noisy; the hall was not big enough & players were cramped; toilets were not suitable; security checks took too long; medical facilities were inadequate; I'm sure there were others that I have not mentioned, but I'll leave my comments to the issues listed.

Although the playing hall did not have air conditioning, I found the it to be fine in terms of temperature. I was in sector 5 & at the end of sector 5 was a corridor to the audience entrance, so this allowed for some fresh air to get into the building, but not too much to be overly cold. I can't really speak for the experiences of others in other parts of the building, but I had no issues.
If you read my first blog from the Olympiad (here), you will notice that I make mention of the lack of noise & how quiet I found the venue & I stand by those comments. Yes, there was usually a loud boat horn that went off about an hour into the round, but this lasted for about 5 or at most 10 seconds, so can hardly be called a significant distraction.
Room & Space
One issue that was identified early in the Olympiad planning (here) was that there were to be no small tables for match arbiters. Although I do not have previous experience at Olympiads to compare, I found the arrangements in Tromso to be perfectly fine. There had also been some discussion that the playing hall was too crowded, but on the contrary, I thought there was plenty of room for players, officials, spectators & anyone else who needed access the playing area.
The toilets at the venue were pretty ordinary to say the least. However given that there was really nothing at the venue in terms of permanent toilet facilities, the organisers really had little choice but to bring in portable toilets as they did. Other who had been to previous Olympiads said that a similar arrangement had been done at some previous events, so it was not like it was completely ridiculous. I found the simple solution was not to use the toilets & simply wait until after I had left the chess & I could use the facilities at the hotel where arbiters had their lunch & dinner - much more civilised! GM Hikaru Nakamura was one to vent his displeasure on Twitter about the toilet facilities.
Portable toilets at the playing hall
Security checks at the entrance to the playing hall, to prevent items such as computers & mobile phones from being brought into the venue, varied from day-to-day. On the first day, it seemed as though the staff were being very thorough & vigilant & this lead to long delays at the entrance (and the first round being delayed by about 20 minutes). The remaining days tended to be slightly less thorough, but still reasonably comprehensive. Having said that, I discovered a 'loop hole' to the security measures - one day I simply walked in the VIP entrance, which had no such security & I was able to bring my mobile phone into the venue (it was turned off in my bag & I didn't use it at all when I was at the venue). There were also changes made during the tournament to prevent cheating - such as banning players from the press area - not necessarily because there was an cheating detected, but more to prevent the possibility of cheating occurring.
Metal detectors & secutiry screening at the entrance to the playing hall
There were some criticisms of the medical facilities, particularly in the light of the unfortunate death of Kurt Meier in the final round. It seemed as though the response to Meier's collapse was reasonably quick, however I didn't have any personal interaction with the medical staff, so cannot really offer a particularly informed view on things.
On thing I did find online was a clip from Norwegian TV of the time when the Meier emergency happened. It starts with analysis of one of the top women's games & you can see that the players are concerned by the commotion that has started. When the camera cuts to the long shot overlooking the playing area, you can see two very different responses from people, depending on where they were - those close to the incident move towards it to see what is happening (you can also see Australian arbiter Gary Bekker in the foreground from this angle), while in the background (sector 5, where I was based), we see people hurrying towards the exit, in apparent panic! At the end of the clip, you can also hear the beeping that filled the playing hall for around half an hour while the medical staff tried to revive Mr Meier.
Final round chaos

FIDE Elections
In theory, the FIDE Elections were going to be a big part of the Olympiad, with former World Champion Garry Kasparov a seemingly tough opponent for the incumbent President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. Kasparov had spared no expense in his campaign, with posters throughout Tromso, on buildings, at bus stops & the like, while one only had to compare the stalls of the two camps to see this difference in more tangible terms
Kasparov posters at bus stops in Tromso
The Kasparov booth in full swing pre-election
 Another shot of the Kasparov booth with plenty of people pre-election
 The FIDE First booth (on the right) of Kirsan Ilyumzhinov's campaign

English GM Nigel Short was a strong supporter of Kasparov & was part of his team. He did a number of interviews while in Tromso, but there is a stark difference between the interviews before & after the election
Nigel Short talks to Danny King in Tromso, a few days before the FIDE Election

Nigel Short talking to Norwegian TV immediately after the FIDE Elections - you can see a significant change between this & the earlier interview with Danny King!
After the election, Kasparov took to the internet to express his disappointment at the election result. Kasparov's response gave three main reasons for his defeat, but perhaps one omission from this response is that Kasparov does not seem to take responsibility for his own defeat, mostly blaming external factors, rather than looking at problems with his own campaign.
Although personally I thought Kasparov's ideas seemed far more promising than another four years under Ilyumzhinov, his history of creating issues in a variety of places, both during (eg: split from FIDE with the PCA) & after (eg: his issues with Putin) his chess career, created some doubt amongst the various delegates who voted in the election.
Danny King, in his round review after the FIDE Election, included an interview with Anna Karlovich, who shared her opinion about why Ilyumzhinov won the Presidential election.
Danny King discussing round 10, as well as the FIDE Election results


Generally I found the organisation of the event to be pretty good. Yes, there were some issues - most notably with security & toilets at the venue as mentioned earlier - but on the whole, these issues were fairly minor in nature. The various staff & volunteers were generally friendly & accommodating in trying to sort out any issues that players or officials had.
From a personal perspective, the only real issue I had was to do with the distance that my accommodation (and that of most other arbiters) was from the venue & the daily commute of more than an hour each way.
Map showing the daily commute for arbiters to the playing hall.

Tournament rules
In this regard, there were two rules that created issues at the event - the 'zero tolerance' rule, where players had to be seated at their boards at the start of the game or else they would be forfeited, and the 'no short draws' rule, where players could not offer (or accept) a draw before both players had completed 30 moves, although players could still draw by other means (eg: triple repetition).
Again, Danny King interviewed Kirsan Ilyumzhinov before the election about various issues, and in particular the issue of zero tolerance.
An alternative option, which seems quite reasonable was proposed by Danish GM Jacob Aagaard on his Blog. It seems to satisfy both the professionalism argument of Ilyumzhinov, as well as accommodating reasonable alternatives if something does happen to mean that the players are not at the board for some reason.
To me the no short draws rule is something that should remain in the domain of invitational events, where players are paid to play & as a result should be expected to play fighting chess. At an Olympiad, although there are sponsors & a large worldwide audience, the incentive of the players to play is what is best for the team - an in some instances it could be that taking a short draw IS in the best interests of the team, so I see no problem with it. The rule also created some issues (and potentially silly situations) for arbiters, as unless there was a repetition, players who offered draws before move 30 was completed (so that the first legal draw offer could be made after white's 31st move) were asked to play more moves until they had passed this requirement - in effect receiving outside information or interference in the game! To me, this rule simply does not fit at an Olympiad.
Although it was not such an issue at the venue, the topic of uniforms created a bit of a stir on ChessChat, an Australian chess forum. Below are a number of photos with some comments. My opinion on the matter is below the photos
The current situation - a 'hodge-podge' of generally smart casual clothing, with everything from suits & ties to t-shirts & jeans, as well as the occasional 'uniform'
The Latvian team had perhaps the best team jacket of all the teams that I noticed during the event - a maroon jacket (the same colour as their national flag), with a number of patches for sponsors (albeit that I think their main sponsor was their national chess federation), with a white polo top underneath, with sponsors on the back of the shirt. Of course it seems that wearing the short (or even the jacket at times) was not compulsory, so it did lose some of its impact.
The Italian teams (both open & here, the women) all wore black jackets (as seen on board 1 & the team captain standing behind). Elegant & smart, although the players could wear anything underneath the jacket.
Mauritania wore green & yellow sports jackets, in their national colours. A number of the smaller countries also wore similar 'sporting' outfits during the event.
Another photo of the Latvian team in their uniforms (even if not all members of the team are wearing the white polo shirt), with the Vietnamese team in their red sports jackets in the foreground.
Volunteers wore green t-shirts, so were easily identifiable.
The Turkish team were the other team that had an impressive looking uniform. In this photo they are all wearing their white polo tops, with national flag & individual name embroided on the front. One thing that the Turkish team did was to always wear their uniforms for all rounds.
The Turkish team also had an alternative red uniform, which also looked smart. Here they are playing Lithuania, who are wearing their green t-shirt tops, although the Lithuanians only wore the green tops every few days, with smart casual being the alternative outfits on other days.  
The Vietnamese team in their team jackets (and yes, I'm in the far left of the photo as this was one of the matches I was an arbiter for).
 The arbiters wore blue polo tops for the final few rounds, which looked smart & again made the arbiters easy to identify.
At the closing ceremony, the Hungarian team wore a sports outfit that they had only worn one or twice during the tournament, while the Chinese team all had matching polo tops (different from the polo tops they wore during the tournament) & the Indian team had what looked like a team jacket on. This looked good for the closing ceremony & gave the final podium a look of that of a sporting event.

Although the idea of players wearing uniforms is potentially a good idea, and would give the Olympiad much more of a team feel to the tournament, the difficulty is that any approach to uniforms needs to be consistent across all countries. With a number of countries lacking financial support or sponsorship, forcing players to wear uniforms would add an extra financial burden that might make players less inclined to participate in the event.
In addition, there is also the issue of what would constitute a uniform. A number of countries had shirts or jackets, but very few had any sort of standard pants, so that even the uniforms were not themselves uniform. This also detracted from the look of some of the teams, even when they did have their jackets or shirts on.
If you compare it to sports uniforms (eg: football of various varieties, basketball, netball, various other Olympic events, etc) it seems as though the general consensus requires both shirts & pants to match, with footwear being the domain of individual choice. Although bringing in a similar dress code to the Olympiad might have some positives, the logistical & financial difficulties seem to be too great at the present time to enforce such a code in the near future, although it may be something that can be an aspiration for Olympiads in the future.
Internet Coverage
This was one area that I think the organisers got exactly right. The coverage provided through with IM Lawrence Trent & GM Jan Gustafsson hosting was very impressive.
Photo from the expo area of the internet coverage of the event
 The internet coverage included updated results
As well as cameras of the top boards in action
Videos were also available online & were uploaded to YouTube after completion
The complete broadcast for round 4 of the Olympiad
Australian GM David Smerdon joining Lawrence & Jan during round 10.
In Summary
Although the Olympiad in Tromso was not without its problems & issues, for the most part I found it to be an excellent tournament ... and am now looking forward to being an arbiter at the 2016 Olympiad in Baku, Azerbaijan! 

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