Baku Olympiad Kicks Off in Spectacular Opening Ceremony

humanchessboard The opening ceremony in Baku, Photo David Llada
The spectacular 2016 Olympiad has officially kicked off in Baku. There is no doubt that a humongous amount of planning and resources have been spent in this festival, as so far it has been the smoothest Olympiad I have attended. The players are all treated with great respect, the volunteer staff is as friendly as they are useful, and pretty much everything has so far transpired without a glitch. That might not be saying much when round one has not even begun yet, but judging from previous experiences and the difficulties of managing a 3000+ person event, so far so good, and that is much easier said than done! A rather elaborate opening ceremony that lasted around two hours welcomed the players to Baku and to the tournament. It was headlined with speeches by FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and by the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev. The dancing routines exemplified the message that Baku has been trying to sell for the past few years: a perfect mixture of the old and the new.
1472754655 Photo David Llada
Classical ballet performances meshed with street dancing in a surprisingly fluid way. A roar of applause came from different sections at the National Gymnastics Arena with the presentation of the flags. As every nation's name was called, a small eruption of national pride could be heard through the arena. It is quite possible that Jamaica and Russia tied for first place in the shouting contest.
yifanKramnikDrawingofLots The drawing of the lots, with GMs Hou Yifan of China and Vladimir Kramnik of Russia, Photo David Llada 
Even though not all the delegations have arrived in Baku, some of them cutting it surprisingly short, the American team arrived with plentiful time to rest and get acclimated to the time zone difference. Even though they were originally scheduled to stay at the J.W. Marriott, arguably the best hotel in Azerbaijan's Caspian coastline, head delegation manager John Donaldson took a brave decision to move the teams to the slightly less fancy but more convenient Intourist Hotel Baku, Autograph Collection. This hotel is walking distance from the playing site: the Crystal Hall. This decision was clearly the correct one, as other top teams also made the switch! Delegations from Russia, France, Cuba and China are all staying there as well, sacrificing a bit of luxury for proximity to the playing hall. The final captains meeting was scheduled for as soon as the opening ceremony ended. It lasted many hours as the final details and regulations were explained and gone over. Unfortunately such ironing of details took quite a long while, and  at the time of the writing of this article (well past 1 a.m. Baku time) the pairings are still not up. Using the rudimentary technique known as “counting”, and assuming that all the teams listed on the official website actually showed up, USA will play a team more or less of the strength of Zimbabwe or Iraq on the first round: in other words we will be heavily favored.
spectacularDresses From the opening ceremony, Photo David Llada
Meanwhile the ladies will very likely face the IPCA (International Physically Disabled Chess Association) or Dominican Republic if the teams stay as they are, which should also be a wipe out. We will be bringing  regular updates from Baku to, including game analysis and round by round statistics and predictions, so stay tuned. So far Baku has promised to make this Olympiad the best one ever, and things seem to be heading in that direction. Follow the games live and find more photos and details on the tournament site. 

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