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Youth and experience at chess Olympiad

Thursday, July 24, 2014
FM Ryan Harper

Nobody in their right mind would expect little T&T to leap into the ranks of the chess-playing nations at the World Olympiad starting in Tromso, Norway, next week. 


But, nonetheless, we can certainly hope that our teams would improve on their somewhat dismal performances in the past. Indeed, if the Olympiad is to serve any purpose for us it must be, principally, as an incentive to excel and as an ongoing measure of our progress in the sport. 


Chess, being the world’s foremost mindgame, imparts a certain prestige to its leading countries, and the biennial Olympiad has become the supreme test and arbiter in this regard. Looking back on T&T’s performance in this world contest, however, provides a rather chastening experience since we have been confined largely to the cellar after our initial foray at Istanbul, Turkey, in 2000.


Since then, the record shows that our men’s team had its best performance at Istanbul in 2012, placing 105th among 150 countries. Here are the other Olympiad results: Istanbul: 118 out of 126; Bled 2002: 97 out of 134; Calvia, Majorca 2004: 115 out of 128; Turin 2006: 100 out of 134; Dresden 2008: 125 out of 154; Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia 2010: 115 out of 149.


Out of these battles, we produced two medallists: John Raphael winning Bronze and Ravishen Singh taking Silver at Bled.


Seven-time national champion FM Ryan Harper, playing on Board One, will generate special individual interest in Tromso as he is likely to get another opportunity to gain his first International Master norm, a goal that has evaded him at several international tournaments over recent years. With a FIDE rating above 2000, the T&T champion is well within striking distance of this objective.


Harper, together with Singh and FM Mario Merritt, bring a world of valuable experience to the team. Harper and Merritt, in fact, are a virtual veterans of the Olympiad, having competed in the world tournament a record total of six times.


It seems unfortunate that young chess star Keron Cabralis chose not to climax his impressive career by battling at Tromso. Cabralis had earned his place on the team by virtue of his outstanding performance rating but he eventually withdrew to concentrate on his academic studies. The choice of Merritt to replace him should arouse no argument. Fifteen-year-old Fatima College student Joshua Johnson, a rising star on the chess horizon, and Adrian Winter Atwell, second to Harper in the 2013 national championships, make up the team and represent its youthful thrust.


Looking through the list of T&T’s “Olympians” since 2000, DR wonders about the disappearance from the chess arena of such stalwarts as Cave, Frank Yee and Marcus Joseph, three former national champions; Dr Edison Chang, Joffrey Marcelle and John Raphael. Their apparent “retirement” from the game they once dominated is somewhat tragic since it has diluted the competitive energy of the sport and diminished the experience needed for instructing the juniors.


Now what can DR say about our women’s team? The temptation, of course, is to repeat the old pessimism; that our female players, mostly youngsters, are far from ready for the rigours of the Olympiad where they have been consistently slaughtered. 


Let the results speak for themselvess: Calvia: 84 out of 87; Turin: 98 out of 103; Dresden: 107 out of 111; Khanty Mansiyisk: 113 out of 115; Istanbul: 119 out of 127. Their trip to Tromso may be quite an enjoyable experience but over the chessboard their journey is likely to be quite heartbreaking.


DR simply repeats his view; that until our female players become strong enough to begin winning open tournaments at home they should be spared the humiliation of the World Chess Olympiad. Still we wish them well.


Finally, after 19 years under Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the administration of world chess badly needs a change. DR hopes that the T&TCA vote will help to give ex-World Champion Garry Kasparov that well deserved opportunity.



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