Reflections 3 from Georgia with love by Dr Lyndon Bouah – Batumi Chess Olympiad

The Chess Olympiad Opening book that the Georgian organisers presented us with states that the first mention of chess in Georgian letters is in the tenth century in a translated text, where the translator changed the word “dice” with the word chess. It indicates that the game was known to Georgians already. Some say that this amazing game of chess was brought to Georgia through Turkey, while others maintain that it was spread by Indian merchants. This way or that, the fact is, that chess became a constant concomitant of everyday life in Georgia.

Throughout the middle Ages chess is actively observed in the history of Georgia- the data about it are confirmed by literature and chronicles, both in verse and in prose. It was played in special game clubs, gaming houses and its essence is deposited even in proverbs and folk poems which speak about the advantage of chess other games. King Teimaruz II even describes the qualities and names of the figures of this game. Chess can be found in dowry records of the 18th century as well, where anything can be substituted but the box of chess and the epic poem the Knight in the Panthers Skin, which remains indispensable.

The opening book states that along with the rest, women and chess in Georgia had a centuries old unity. Moreover, it is said that in the Middle Ages, chess was more popular with women than men. Such an attitude to chess in women possibly resounds with the active role of women in the Georgian Medieval everyday life and their strong involvement in politics; not to mention the great female King Tamar, who is one of the most revered and popular figures of Georgian history even now.

High demands for chess is obvious and manifest. There are special craftsmen carving chess pieces. For centuries chess sets have been an excellent present, they are ordered as gifts to be passed from generation to generation. From the standpoint of those times, chess was never considered as just a past time unlike other games, but rather as a necessary experience for thinking and judging.

For this and many reasons the Georgians inform us that it is said that chess is native to the Georgians. Although it remained as a so called “amateur game” for a long time, as soon as it became a sporting business, the authorities in the Soviet Union regarded it as an absolutely unique mass sporting event and since the mid twentieth century, when the Soviet chess players established their position on the chess throne, chess turned into a truly national game in Georgia. Even in small towns the interest and fascination with chess overcame all expectations, not to mention Tbilisi, where the legendary teacher Vaktang Karseladze headed the department of chess at the National Youth and Children’s Palace of Georgia for over twenty years.

National Palace of Youth of Georgia

At this Olympiad I was pleased to see the number of African countries participating growing. It seems to me that this may be the best Olympiad with African representation. Let’s have a look who is represented here with either one or two teams;

1. South Africa
2. Namibia
3. Angola
4. Botswana
5. Zimbabwe
6. Zambia
7. Mozambique
8. Tanzania
9. Egypt
10. Algeria
11. Kenya
12. Zambia
13. Uganda
14. Madagascar
15. Nigeria
16. Senegal
17. Central African Republic
16. South Sudan
17. Sudan
18. São Tomé and Príncipe
19. Ivory Coast
20. Morocco
21. Tunisia
22. Libya
23. Seychelles
24. Mauritius
25. Ethiopia
26. Lesotho
27. Swaziland
28. Ghana
29. Togo
30. Gambia
31. Sierra Leone
32. Cape Verde
33. Malawi
34. Gabon
35. Liberia
36. Mauritania
37. Mali
38. Eritrea
38. Rwanda
39. Burundi
40. Djibouti
41. Congo

Map of Africa

After the fifth round I shall do an update. The Olympiad itself has many sub competitions and one of these is the World Team Championship. Each continent is allowed to send a team that is the continental champions. Since Africa last held a continental championship in Mozambique in 2011, the event to choose this country now rests with the Olympiad. The highest placed African country (Open and Women) is invited to participate in the World Team Championship that will take place next year. So there is a sub text to all the matches that must be borne in mind. Egypt has been representing Africa at most of these events. In 2012 South Africa women played in Turkey. So let’s monitor the different competitions as well.

Africa at Batumi Chess Olympiad

For me personally it is fantastic to see so many African nations playing and participating. I shall later on do the round up on the number of women teams as well. Africa itself has 54 countries. With 41 possibly playing, the continent also becomes a big political bloc that can assert itself at some point. At this stage Africa only has three spots in the upcoming Women’s World Cup in November and in the Open section we only have six spots. So hopefully one day there will be a rethink of the number of spots to allow more African representation as our continental participation increases and the quality of our chess also increases.

Today South Africa played Kazakhstan. It is a Central Asian country and former Soviet Republic. It extends from the Caspian Sea in the west to the Altai Mountains at its Easter border with China and
Russia. Its largest metropolis is Almaty which is a long standing trading hub and whose landmarks include ascension Cathedral. A tsarist era Russian Orthodox church, and the Central State museum of Kazakhstan, displaying thousands of artefacts. It is the ninth largest country in the world. South Africa doesn’t have many links but Mark Shuttleworth became the first Afronaut when he left Baikonur in Kazakhstan to travel into space.

The ladies team played Suriname. It is a small country on the north-eastern coast of South America. It is defined by vast swaths of tropical rainforest, Dutch colonial architecture and a melting-pot culture. The official language is Dutch. While the Surinamese national side may not be famous several of the famous Dutch footballers such as Ruud Gullit and Nigel De Jongh are of Surinamese descent. The women’s team easily beat their opponents and are feeling confident after winning with a huge margin. Rebecca Selkirk ended first with a blistering attack against the black king. WIM Bouah exchanged a rook for two pieces in a Ruy Lopez. The ladies won four nil.

In the Open section the match went the full distance of 5.5 hours. The men played like warriors. On top board IM Daniel Cawdery had an advantage and could possibly have won. His 2605 opponent was always defending and trying to create chances. Daniel will probably rue this chance. On board four IM Van Den Heever had a better middle game after playing well in the opening. He was possibly winning and then sacrificed the exchange. In the time scramble he missed a move but he can be pleased with his played against probably Kazakhstan’s next grandmaster. On board two IM Kobese created complications that were of course difficult to fathom for the average player. His grandmaster opponent had to dig deep to defend against the complications. At the end however the pressure by the Kazakh grandmaster won. The hero of the hour was FM Calvin Klaasen who beat GM Kostenko in a finely played endgame. The endgame technique of Klaasen was something to behold. The middle game was possibly better for the grandmaster but Klaasen had compensation for the pawn. When the smoke cleared everything was equal but the grandmaster didn’t want a draw.
Klaasen then pushed on and found the win a Bishop ending. This was Klaasen’s second win against a grandmaster. We went down 2.5 to 1.5 but the team can hold their head high.

Regards
Reporting live from Batumi, Georgia

Dr Lyndon Bouah
Captain of the Open team

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