Two powerful American teams will soon be heading to Baku, Azerbaijan, for the 42nd Chess Olympiad which starts September 2. The U.S. will field its highest-rated team ever in the Open competition headed by Fabiano Caruana , Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So (currently rated number 3, 6 and 7 in the world respectively), who are ably supported by Sam Shankland and Ray Robson.
Open Team (in rating order)
1. GM Fabiano Caruana 2808
2. GM Hikary Nakamura 2789
3. GM Wesley So 2782
4. GM Sam Shankland 2679
5. GM Ray Robson 2674
Captain IM John Donaldson
Coach GM Alex Lenderman
This team will be ranked second right behind Russia (Vladimir Kramnik, Sergey Karjakin, Alexander Grischuk, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Evgeny Tomashevsky) and just ahead of defending Olympiad champions China (Ding Liren, Li Chao, Wang Yue, Yu Yangyi and Wei Yi), but there will be no shortage of contenders fighting for the medals. Host Azerbaijan (twice European champions) and averaging over 2700 per board, will be looking to finish on the podium for the first time in an Olympiad.
Other top teams include Ukraine, Hungary, Poland, France, India and England all of whom will have their chances in the 11 round event which has a record 180 countries competing in the Open competition. Match scoring (+2 for a win, +1 for a draw and 0 for a loss) makes it hard to separate teams and often a single mistake can significantly affect the overall result.
One need only look at the performance of Russia in the post Kasparov years to realize how hard it is to win an Olympiad and that there are no guarantees. Top seed every Olympiad from 2004-2014 and with great players, high motivation, excellent support and generous incentives Russia nonetheless won no gold medals.
The Women’s competition sees four teams – China, Russia, Ukraine and Georgia – enter the competition rated significantly higher rated (an average over 100 points per board) than the rest of the field. China, led by Hou Yifan is the top seed, but Russia has won the past three Olympiads with the Chinese runners-up each time. Ukraine and Georgia will also be contenders to finish first, something no other country besides the “Big Four” has done since the breakup of the Soviet Union.
The United States, led by Irina Krush and Anna Zatonskih who are both rated in the top 40 women in the world, will be seeded sixth and seeks to repeat its tremendous performance in 2008 when it took home bronze. U.S. Women’s Champion Nazi Paikadze, who will be making her Olympic debut, strengthens the team which includes Katerina Nemcova and Sabina Foisor who played well two years ago in Tromso.
Nazi will not be the only newcomer to the team as former Open team members Yasser Seirawan and Robert Hess will serve as team captain and coach for the first team.
Womens (in rating order)
1. IM Anna Zatonskih 2449
2. GM Irina Krush 2444
3. WGM Nazi Paikadze 2366
4. WGM Katerina Nemcova 2365
5. WGM Sabina Foisor 2259
Captain GM Yasser Seirawan
Coach GM Robert Hess
The Olympiad is not only about teams winning medals and mega lineups averaging over 2700. Over 1600 players will be competing in the competition which ends September 13th, and many if not most of them will be amateurs of varying strengths hailing from nations all over the globe, from Palau to São Tomé and Príncipe. F.I.D.E.’s motto Gens una sumus “We are one people”, is definitely true during the Olympiads.
Look for daily reports from the Olympiad by GM Alejandro Ramirez.