I am currently typing this in seat 36H Qatar Airlines as we travel to the Olympiad in Batumi, Georgia. The SA Olympiad team is having quite a journey to get there as we need to fly to Doha and they stay there from midnight until seven am the next morning. We then board a flight to Tsiblisi, the capital of Georgia. In Tsiblisi will then be joined by Grandmaster Strikovic who is the captain of the Women’s team. We then will travel for six hours by bus to the venue of the Olympiad which is in Batumi.
The Open team in Board order is:
1. International Master (IM) Daniel Cawdery who obtained his first grandmaster norm at the African Championship in 2017. At that event he ended joint first and beat 2 of the three Egyptian grandmasters he faced. Daniel is from Gauteng.
IM Daniel Cawdery
2. IM Watu Kobese is the second board. He is a formidable force at Olympiad level and he played in the 94, 96, 98, 2000, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016 Olympiads. He is a centurion at Olympiad chess having more than 100 Olympiad caps. Kobese is originally from Diepkloof, Soweto but now plays under Western Province.
IM Watu Kobese
3. Board three is FM Calvin Klaasen who is playing his second Olympiad. He is the current SA CO- Champion with board four. He hails from Somerset East. He is registered under WP.
FM Calvin Klaasen
4. Board four is IM Johannes Mabusela who is becoming a fixture in the team since 2008 when he made his debut. He often tells me he is the first modern Olympiad player from Pretoria. He hails from Atteridgeville and is registered under KZN.
IM Johannes Mabusela
5. Board five is IM Donovan Van Den Heever who hails from Springbok in the Northern Cape. He is attending his fifth Olympiad having made his debut in 2006. He is registered under WP.
IM Donovan Van Den Heever
The captain is myself, Dr Lyndon Bouah, who hails from Nelson Mandela Bay but has lived since 1991 in Cape Town and is registered under WP.
The Women’s team is:
1. WIM Jesse February who is playing her second Olympiad. She is the current SA women’s Champion. She is from Nelson Mandela Bay. She is registered under WP.
WIM Jesse February
2. Board two is WIM Denise Bouah who made her Olympiad debut in 2000. She played in 2000, 2004, 2006, 2012, 2014 and 2016. She is registered under WP having moved there in 2006 after spending her formative years in Pretoria.
WIM Denise Bouah
3. On board three is WFM Michelle Fisher who is originally from Gauteng but now resides in Somerset West. This is her third consecutive Olympiad. She is registered under WP.
WFM Michelle Fisher
4. Board four is Rebecca Selkirk who is making her Olympiad debut. She is originally from East London and is now resident in Stellenbosch and registered under WP.
5. Board five is WIM Charlize Van Zyl who is making her Olympiad debut and is from Nelson Mandela Bay. She is registered under the Nelson Mandela Bay union.
WIM Charlize Van Zyl
The captain is Grandmaster Aleksa Strikovic who hails from Skopje, Serbia and is now resident in Spain. He was the joint SA Champion in 2015 and sole SA champion in 2016.
The head of delegation is Mr. Erick Takawira from KZN and the Congress Delegate is Mr. Joe Mahomole from Limpopo.
The SA delegation with Grandmaster Aleksa Strikovic, Dr Lyndon Bouah and Mr Erick Takawira
I am writing this at various stages as I will publish on Monday only after the first round. WIM Anzel Laubscher was originally chosen but due to work commitments has not made thus trip. WFM Fisher was her replacement.
The Olympiad is a very special event as it brings together the worlds chess nations for two weeks. It allows players to congregate and play against the worlds best. In 2010 IM Kenny Solomon then and now GM Solomon played against Azerbaijan and drew with GM Mamerydo. In 2012 IM Mohammed Henry Steel beat GM Luke McShane when SA played England. In 2014 Steel again beat super grandmaster Gata Kamsky when we played against the USA. In 2016 IM Daniel Cawdery in a brilliant game beat the Austrian grandmaster on board two to secure a match win against Austria.
After arriving in Doha we arrived in Tbilisi where we took a six hour bus trip through the countryside. This allowed us to see the country. It has many hills and mountains and many small villages. We stopped at two places to purchase some refreshments.
Upon our arrival we were then informed that our hotel had been changed from the previously advertised one. So we were now in the interestingly named Paragraph hotel. At this hotel I informed our players we must speak in full sentences! We had a few funny incidents. Watu had requested an aisle seat and got one but he didn’t bargain on the fact that the middle seat would be occupied by a front rank rugby player! So let’s just say that space was at a premium. Watu later informed us that although he was in the aisle seat, he felt that he was on h8 and he had a rook on g8, pawns on g7 and h7 and now this massive knight on f7!
Donovan then indicated to us that he travels efficiently and to this end he has brought a big bag the size of a lap top to carry all his necessaries!
I attended the opening ceremony with the Women’s team. It was as one would expect top notch featuring the Prime Minister of Georgia as well as various senior people. We had opera singers and volunteers who carried the flags of all 189 countries that have registered. A spectacular fireworks display ended off the evening.
In the morning GM Strikovic and I visited the venue where we received the accreditation and green cards. Each team receives five green cards. One is for the captain and the others are given to the players on the day. We also received bags which contained some gifts from the organisers.
The pairings were then announced. The Open team will be playing Haiti. They had a 1900 on board one and two unrated players in the middle. Our Open team duly won 4-0 but not without the necessary drama of course. IM van den Heever easily disposed of his opponent who forgot the basics of development. Second to complete was IM Kobese who created active chances for himself and with a rook on the seventh and an active queen and bishop soon had his opponent begging for mercy. FM Klaasen had a firm grip on the position and was also an exchange ahead. On board three IM Mabusela went on to a second page against his opponent. He sat throughout and was always creating threats which his opponent had to guard against. He then managed to corner his opponent who played Nb1 whereupon IM Mabusela played Bb4 to stop the knight from moving permanently. After five hours of play the four nil victory against Haiti was secured. We will probably play up in the draw tomorrow so do wish us luck.
In the women’s section the ladies were paired against Georgia two. As host country Georgia is allowed more than one team. They fielding as far as I can see two or three teams. They are allowed a third team in the event that there is an uneven number. The ladies played hard and held their own and their heads high. Despite losing four nil they played well and showed that they do not have to stand back for anyone. Most of the games were strategic in nature and I am sure that given more practice we will do better. We wish our ladies team well in their round two matches.
Reporting live from Batumi, Georgia
Dr Lyndon Bouah
Captain of the South African Open team