Now that I am finally home, I want to reflect a little bit about the 43rd Chess Olympiad in Batumi.
First of all, congratulations to everyone who was involved in putting together this Olympiad. Was it good? Yes! Was it perfect? No! But it is impossible for everything to be perfect when you deal with a large scale event like this. The most important thing is the organizers and all the volunteers gave their all to make everyone feel at home. And for that, they deserve our gratitude, so THANK YOU!
As for the competition, it was exciting! There were many surprising teams which made valiant attempts to be very relevant. There were so many upsets and surprising results in just about every single round. Chess Olympiad, just like the Summer of Winter Olympics, are always full of surprises. It would not be exciting if every favorite team wins every match.
When my sisters and I competed in our first ever Chess Olympiad in 1988 in Thessaloniki, I was 19, Sofia was 14, Judit was 12, and Ildiko was also 19. No one gave us a chance. At that time, there were only 3 boards and not 4 like now. They said how could any team take down the mighty Soviet women who won Gold in every single Chess Olympiad they participated in? But we did. Then many of the same doubters said that we were just lucky and it can never be duplicated again. We won again 2 years later.
This is what the Chess Olympiad spirit is all about. Who wants it more? Who will rise to the occasion? Some nations may or may not have the strongest teams. However, the most determined teams with the strongest nerves, the biggest heart, and the absolute “refuse to lose” attitude usually have the best chances to come out on top.
This year, it was China, especially the women. They did not have the strongest team and they were so out at the late stage of the final round against Russia. China was down 1-0 against Russia early as Goryachkina defeated Shen Yang in a brilliant game with black on board 2. This won the most brilliant game prize for round 11 as well as the entire Women’s Olympiad. It was decided by the Committee (which I chaired, with former Women’s World Champion GM Maia Chiburdanidze and IM Sagar Shah of CB India). Then Huang Qian drew Gunina on board 3. That gave the Russian a 1.5-0.5 lead.
Lei Tingjie was completely lost against Olga Girya on board 4. At one point, the computer evaluation was nearly +8 for Girya. If Russia had won this game, they would be in contention for a medal. But in spite of the missed opportunity, Russia was still in control of their own destiny as the score was 2-1 in favor of Russia. But now it was entirely up to board 1.
Kosteniuk with white got into a Q, N and 4 Ps endgame against Ju Wenjun. This was a hold-able endgame. But Ju in a must win game to tie up the match to give China a chance for Gold, kept on pushing. In spite of a very exposed King, Ju tried everything to win. Eventually, white collapsed and lost in 95 moves. The Gold medal, at one point was almost in the hands of the Ukrainian women, went to China because of the heroic efforts by Lei (board 4) and Ju (board 1).
After the game finished, everyone can see the complete physical and mental exhaustion from Ju Wenjun. She was almost like a Zombie while giving interview and posed for photos. Her tank was completely empty. But China won because she gave every ounce of her energy, and with great determination, to pull out a miraculous win. On this particular game, she wanted more, and her nerves were stronger. Sometimes in a situation like this, it is no longer about chess but more of a mental toughness thing.
As for the Open section, two years ago at the Baku Chess Olympiad, the Ukrainians thought they won Gold after Eljanov defeated veteran GM Beliavsky in a similar fashion as the Kosteniuk vs Ju game. But the US pulled off an incredibly narrow win on tiebreaks and got the Gold medal. This time, most people expected the US to win on tiebreaks as they lead China by 4 tiebreak points (324.5 vs 320.5) going into the final round. But after a 2-2 tie against China, the US had to settle for Silver as China won on tiebreaks by a comfortable margin (372.5 vs 360.5).
Now onto the FIDE election. Before going into any further details, I would like to start by thanking Mr. Makropoulos for his decades of service to chess, especially FIDE. He gave his heart and soul to chess and we should never forget this. I am sure he will continue to help and be involved In various capacities.
This was the one election in recent times I could not predict the outcome. It was very close all the way, much closer than the final vote count. But at the end, the FIDE delegates chose to elect a new President for the first time in over 2 decades by the margin of 103-78.
Just as with Mr. Makropoulos, whether people agree or disagree with the many decisions regarding FIDE in the past 23 years, Mr. Kirsan Ilyumzhinov gave a lot to chess, and for that, I would like to thank Mr. Kirsan Ilyumzhinov for his love and devotion to chess.
I have never officially interacted with the new FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich before Batumi. Of course I knew who he was and of his late father Vladimir who was a very famous and well respected International Chess Arbiter. However, I know most members of his ticket very well, including GMs Bachar Kouatly, Zhu Chen and Julio Granda. I am hopeful for a bright future for FIDE, and I would like to wish Mr. Dvorkovich and his team the best for bringing FIDE to a whole new level.
As for me, this is my 10th overall Olympiad. I worked with the organization on multiple capacities. I was also there for the Commission for Women’s Chess. There were 2 specific items which were very dear to my heart: A strong push to further legitimize Fischer Random Chess and Equal Prizes for Female Players.
I fully supported Icelandic Chess Federation President Gunnar Björnsson’s proposal of having a separate FIDE rating for Fischer Random. I attended the first European Fischer Random Cup in Reykjavik in March to support this initiative. This time I spoke at the FIDE meeting to support this idea and it is now officially approved by FIDE. Big congratulations to Mr. Björnsson and all Fischer Random Chess lovers out there.
As for women prizes, I realize that we cannot have equal prizes for top level women’s tournament immediately as it will take time to raise the visibility with the potential sponsors. However, in events where girls and boys (such as the World Junior Championship and World Girl’s Championship) pay the same entry fees and the overall costs are the same (actually many girls have to pay more than boys for extra expenses), it is ridiculous for the girls to receive only 66% of the prizes compare to the boys.
If FIDE cannot make it equal, I can personally sponsor or my foundation can sponsor the difference to make it equal. I encourage other federations to raise the support of girl’s chess. I believe that this will change starting at the next World Girl’s Championship. But the eventual goal is to have equal prizes for women just as in tennis. This is also the vision of former Women’s World Champion Zhu Chen who was just elected on the ticket of Mr. Arkady Dvorkovich. I fully support her on this initiative. This day will come soon and I will do everything I can to help make it happen.
I used to be told that girls are not as smart as boys and girls should not play chess. In spite of breaking the gender barrier and became the first woman to qualify for the “Men’s” World Championship cycle, I was forbidden to play because of my gender.
After receiving a strong backlash from the global chess community, FIDE eventually removed the word “Men’s” and opened it up to both genders. I lost some of my prime years because of this gender discrimination. But I am very glad that because of my fight for gender equality in chess which I personally suffered a great deal for a few decades, the ceiling has been lifted for all women chess players today.
I then became the first woman to earn the Grandmaster title with 3 norms and 2500+ rating in January 1991. My sister Judit was the 2nd to do the same 11 months later in December 1991, followed by Pia Cramling in 1992. Chess legends Nona Gaprindashvili and Maia Chiburdanidze were the first two awarded the title.
Today, more than 3 dozen women have this title. I had to fight so hard to break down one barrier at a time, with big resistance from chess politicians, both on national and international level. It is an endless and costly fight for me but for sure it is definitely worth it. I begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I hope one day to see a woman winning the overall World Championship.
Chess is a number's game. We need more girls participating in chess to make this goal become a reality. That is why in 2002-2003, I approached the USCF about an all-girls national championship on behalf of my foundation (the Susan Polgar Foundation). Many laughed at me and ridiculed me for this “stupid” idea. Some really believed that girls do not belong in chess.
But eventually, with the help of many, including the former USCF Executive Director Mr. Frank Niro, the USCF approved. The Annual Susan Polgar Girl’s Invitation became the first ever all-girls national championship approved by the USCF. In the past 15 years since this happened, there are now many new all-girls chess events all across the United States, and the level of girls participation in chess went up dramatically, as well as the playing level.
In the July 2018, the 15th annual Susan Polgar Foundation Girl’s Invitational, through our sponsors and supporters, over $320,000 in scholarship, cash, and prizes were awarded. This was by far the largest ever for an all-girls event.
I feel that the same thing can be done globally, especially in countries with small number of girls' participation in chess. I am very hopeful that Mr. Arkady Dvorkovich will play a very big role in supporting the many ideas of the FIDE Commission for Women’s Chess, and many changes will happen in the near future. I will do whatever I can to help.
As for the biggest personal satisfaction for me, one of my students at the SPICE Chess Program at Webster University, GM Jorge Cori, won 2 individual Gold Medals. One is for Best 3rd Board performance, but the most impressive one is Best Overall Chess Performance of the entire Batumi Chess Olympiad, 2925! He finished ahead of Caruana, Giri, Ding Liren, Kramnik, So, Anand, Mamedyarov, MVL, Nepomniachtchi, Radjabov, Aronian, and Karjakin, etc. These are the first 2 Gold Medals for his country Peru! It was truly a team effort between the Peruvian Team Members, Captain, and fans! So big congratulations to all of them!
It was also memorable for me to hang out with the Georgian women's legends, once my fierce rivals, now good friends, as well as with my sisters reuniting to celebrate the 30th anniversary of us winning historic Gold in 1988 over the Soviet team.
Well, that is about it. I will upload more photos from the Batumi Chess Olympiad within the next 24 hours. I hope that after a full day of traveling, and it is now after 4 am in St. Louis, you can make some sense in what I just wrote. Thank you for following the Batumi Chess Olympiad. We tried to bring you as much info and photos as possible. Khanty-Mansiysk will host the next Chess Olympiad, and I have no doubt that it will be a spectacular event!