Reports Sep 1, 2016 | 9:00 PMby Colin McGourty

42nd Chess Olympiad opens in Baku

The 2016 Chess Olympiad is underway in Baku after an opening ceremony involving Vladimir Kramnik, Hou Yifan, the Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev and FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. 1600 players have converged on Baku for the massive biennial chess celebration, with the real action starting on Friday, when more than 300 teams lock horns in Round 1. We have all the details, including on live commentary in five languages.

A spectacular dance show on that essential accompaniment to every chess opening ceremony - a chessboard! | photo: David Llada, Baku Chess Olympiad

The opening ceremony

Thursday’s opening ceremony in the Azerbaijan National Gymnastics Arena was all about putting on a show and wowing the participants already impressed by the welcome they’d received in Baku…

…but there was also some business to perform.

Hou Yifan picked the white pieces, while Vladimir Kramnik got Black, meaning all the women with odd board numbers (1, 3) will be White in Round 1, while for the men they have Black  | photo: David Llada, Baku Chess Olympiad

Magnus Carlsen had done the task in Norway, but this time just featured in larger-than-life form:

Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev and FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov both looked on and made speeches | photo: David Llada, Baku Chess Olympiad


The colours of the pieces shouldn’t matter too much in Round 1, though, since the favourites are likely to get an easy ride on the first day of the 11-round Swiss tournament. Each team in both the Open and Women’s tournaments picks four players each day from a team of five, with a lot of 4:0 results expected at the start.

This was Round 1 in 2014, with only Norway coming close to a debacle

The numbers for this event are staggering, though…

Open section: 891 players, 180 teams, 175 federations, 390 GMs or IMs

Women's section: 706 players, 142 teams, 138 federations, 127 GMs, WGMs or IMs

The Baku Crystal Hall, built for the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest, should prove the perfect venue to house such a mass of humanity | photo:

The missing

From Magnus Carlsen and Hou Yifan downwards almost all of the world’s chess elite will be in Baku, meaning it’s much easier to pick out who isn’t there. Among 2700+ players we have:

Anand - Vishy hasn’t played for the Indian national team for many years (Humpy Koneru is also absent). Neither team is Baku will be a pushover, though:

Aronian – the difficult international situation has seen neighbours and 3-time Olympiad Champions Armenia sit out this event, despite the hope brought by Levon playing in the Baku World Cup

Svidler, Inarkiev, Andreikin, Vitiugov, Jakovenko – it’s tough to be a Russian 2700+ grandmaster, since although Peter Svidler especially could stake a strong claim to be involved, the 5-man Russian team are still the no. 1 seeds

Wang Hao, Bu Xiangzhi – China doesn't have quite that embarrassment of riches, but if you can leave out players like these you've got a very strong squad. This year Li Chao gets his chance to justify his stellar rating

GelfandLeko – the Israeli Chess Federation has gone to war with their top players, with Smirin and Sutovsky also missing out. Peter Doggers mentions that Peter Leko may also have had similar issues, with Richard Rapport now top board for the Hungarian team coached by Judit Polgar.

Ivanchuk – finally Chucky, one of the most loved and effective Olympiad players in past years, has decided to play a draughts (checkers) tournament in the Polish mountain town of Karpacz instead!  

We won’t get to witness amazing spectacles like this one:

The favourites

Most of the teams fighting for medals need absolutely no introduction. We already looked at the US-Russian rivalry, and with the new September FIDE rating list taken into account the teams are even closer:

No. TeamTeamRtgAvgCaptain
1RUSRussia2768Filatov Andrey
2USAUnited States of America2765Donaldson John W
3CHNChina2740Xu Jun
4AZEAzerbaijan 12717Dreev Aleksey
5UKRUkraine2704Sulypa Oleksandr
6ENGEngland2685Pein Malcolm
7POLPoland2685Socko Bartosz
8FRAFrance2684Libiszewski Fabien
9INDIndia2683Ramesh Ramachandran
10HUNHungary2673Polgar Judit
11NEDNetherlands2670Tukmakov Vladimir B
12NORNorway2654Tisdall Jonathan D

On paper Russia, led by Kramnik and Karjakin, are yet again favourites to do what they haven’t done since 2002, but Caruana, Nakamura and So will outrate any other team on the top three boards, while Sam Shankland won a gold medal on 5th board in the 2014 Olympiad. China have Li Chao back on Board 2 and Wei Yi on 5th, while it would be foolish to rule out Azerbaijan on home soil – with Arkadij Naiditsch providing reinforcements (and Dreev and Bacrot on the coaching staff). 

You can go on and on… India snatched medals in 2014, England have a line-up with even more potential than their current ratings (McShane, Short and Howell have all been 2700 or thereabouts), while even 12th seeds Norway have a decent first board...

The women’s competition is clearer, with a stand-out first four:

No. TeamTeamRtgAvgCaptain
1CHNChina2560Yu Shaoteng
2UKRUkraine2505Brodsky Michail
3RUSRussia2504Rublevsky Sergei
4GEOGeorgia2486Jojua Davit
5INDIndia2433Sareen Vishal
6USAUnited States of America2406Seirawan Yasser
7POLPoland2405Matlak Marek
8HUNHungary2393Papp Gabor
9BULBulgaria2387Voiska Margarita
10GERGermany2381Lobzhanidze Davit

The Russian women have edged out China in the last three Olympiads, but this year their task is tougher with Kateryna Lagno missing for family reasons and China possessing the women’s no. 1 and 2. Reigning Russian Champion Aleksandra Goryachkina could be an excellent upgrade on the 2014 squad, though. 

Ukraine are led by the Muzychuk sisters and Georgia have a balanced and experienced team… we’ll also get to see if Yasser Seirawan can inspire the US women the way he does chess fans with his commentary.

The wider chess family

The Olympiad is not all about medals though, of course, and perhaps the most famous participant in the tournament – or soon to be the most famous – is Uganda’s 1622 rated board no. 2, Phiona Mutesi. The story of her escape from a Kampala slum through chess to travel to such exotic locations as Khanty-Mansiysk has been the subject of articles, documentaries, a book and now a Disney film coming at the end of this month. Even the trailer has passed 1 million views:

There’s another reason this year you might want to focus on the “lesser” names in the event. If you’ve been contemplating going Premium then there’s a big incentive to do it before Sunday’s Round 3. As well as having a better experience watching the event (no ads of any kind, unlimited cloud analysis of moves etc.) if you take out a 1, 2 or 3-year membership you can win free months depending on how a team you pick does at the Olympiad. Check out full details here.

Can star coach Maurice Ashley lead Ivory Coast to finish above their seeding in 164th place? | photo: David Llada, Baku Chess Olympiad

Cheaters beware

The Chess Olympiad hasn't avoided cheating scandals in the past, and this year numerous measures are being taken to combat cheating, including checking random players during each round. Watches and pens are among banned items when you approach the point of no return...

Of course sometimes you just need to go...

Where to watch?

We may be a little biased, but this one's a no-brainer. Our broadcast system is the only option to really keep track of all the matches, and will be available both here on chess24 and on the official website, with commentary in five languages. The commentators lined up are (note only the Spanish and German shows are being produced by chess24):

  • English: GM Evgenij Miroshnichenko, GM Miguel Illescas, GM Susan Polgar and Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam
  • Russian: GM Sergey Shipov
  • Azerbaijani: GM Anar Allahverdiyev and GM Farid Abbasov
  • Spanish: GM Julio Granda (another “missing” player, but a great commentary addition!) and GM Pepe Cuenca
  • German: GM Niclas Huschenbeth and GM Ilja Zaragatski

The action starts at 13:00 CEST on Friday 2 September – don’t miss it! Olympiad Open | Women 

You can also follow the games on our free mobile apps:


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