20 November 2015

Gaining Support of the Icelandic Trolls

The RCF Executive Director Mark Glukhovsky shares his impressions on the European Team Chess Championship.

As is the case with all subpolar regions, Iceland is extremely picturesque. Its beauty starts unraveling below you once your plane is on the approach: every now and then the sun breaks through the clouds, and the ocean is intermitted with icy stone islands settled by the descendants of the Vikings. There is only a bunch of them as Iceland is inhabited by a slightly more than 300 thousand people, while all of them, in principle, enjoy a rather decent living. As you know, the Icelanders are very fond of chess, one of the aspects of their national pride being the number of grandmasters per capita; this number is the highest in the world. In the men's championship besides the Iceland’s main lineup the country is represented by yet another team named the Iceland Legends: one of its members became grandmaster as far back as 1958! I am talking about the former FIDE President Frederick Olafsson.

People here are rather simple-minded and disfavor unnecessary ceremonies. This is why the championship opening ceremony went off with complete lack of any pathos, being as simple as a guy with a guitar stepping out on the scene and singing a song. I was something in the nature of "The skis are there by the stove..." only in English; so such for an Icelandic bard. That was it in terms of the opening ceremony. Short speeches were offered by the ECU President Zurab Azmaiparashvili, the mayor of Reykjavik and one or two other people. Every speech pointed out to the importance of chess in Iceland and the extent of happiness of being able to host such a representative forum.

The European Team Championship is held at the same arena, which used to witness Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer playing each other in 1972. There is a table on the stage, which the champions used to sit at when fighting each other. During the day off everyone willing will be able to make a pilgrimage to the Fisher Center and to the grave of Robert James. I am unaware if our players are willing to hit the road, because it’s quite a long way off, but I am surely determined to go there anyway.

Reykjavik is situated along the ocean; the place we stay at is about 10 minutes away from the coast. It features beautiful paths for pedestrians and cyclists. The capital of Iceland is a small city, numbering some 200 thousand inhabitants. A rather odd-shaped, out of this world-looking Lutheran Church doesn’t fail to arrest your attention. I have no idea how strong the Icelanders’ faith in God is, but, judging by the polls, more than half of them believe in the existence of trolls. While taking a walk around the place our players took pictures with a couple of such beings.

The ambient temperature in Reykjavik is close to zero now, oscillating back and forth from minor negative to minor positive every so often. When the sun shines, walking is a big pleasure. I like to walk along the ocean and observe the eider ducks. The place is known to be rich in all kinds of interesting living creatures, which I'm going to spend time studying over the weekend. A funny monument to the whale’s spine is put up on the shore. Whale hunting is an ancient craft and one of the Iceland’s points of interest nowadays: boat tours arranged for the purpose of following up on whales have become very popular (provided you're lucky enough to encounter these animals).

On our way from the hotel to the tournament hall we pass by some beautiful football fields, which are never free of players. The folks constantly cast envious glances at them and it is obvious that they are eager to play football even more than chess!

The first matches came off very well for our teams, but let's postpone talking about the sports component until the end of the championship. I think that one of the main rivals of our men will be the team of England, whom we are highly likely to play against one day. Michael Adams performs perfectly on board one, having defeated Aronian, among his other achievements. Levon loses very rarely when performing for the national team, whereas by now he has lost two games already, another loss being from Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. However, he was certainly pleased by his brilliant performance against Magnus Carlsen, about which the Englishman Nigel Short came out with a good joke in Twitter, "Aronian has defeated the substitute Norwegian player." Indeed, the World Champion hadn’t played in the first two rounds, stepped in for the third one and ended up being severely beaten. Magnus, as you know, is not particularly successful in the team competitions: it seems as if he is not in good terms with the environment of such forums.

Going back to the team of England it needs to add that the team features Luke McShane, Gawain Jones and a very menacing in appearance David Howell, who was known for his short temper as a junior for it was not just his opponent who he could afford himself to punch but a referee as well...

Our girls succeeded in defeating the Georgian national team more than convincingly with a 3.5-0.5 score. The rivals have been undefeated for what seems to be as many as 21 matches in a row: they displayed brilliant performance at the World Team Chess Championship, and then also at the European Club Championship (the "Nona" team is the national women's team of Georgia). The match saw a very stubborn play, while the overall outcome kept being undecided until the very end. When the men’s match Ukraine – Russia was already over, the women still kept fighting on every board. Sergei Rublevsky told me, "You are finished, and we are just in the beginning!" However, he was in a good mood already as he realized that the team was winning.