My last Olympiad was in Khanty Mansiysk playing for New Zealand in 2010. I missed the 2012 Istanbul Olympiad due to visa issues. I was denied a spousal visa for the UK but it sorted itself out. Unfortunately, I was without my passport for 9months but I have it back now. Since then, I switched to play for England. I’ve talked about why I’ve done it in my Citizen of the World update.
So I played a tournament in preparation for this event. I played in the Ikaros Open, a beautiful place (as I’ve noted in my previous update), but a bad tournament overall. I tried to start anew for the Olympiad but I couldn’t quite make it gel.
Even though I had played in 5 previous Olympiads, things felt different. I guess now that I’m older (and hopefully wiser) I was taking this tournament more seriously then I ever have. As a team we managed to meet up once before the event at the RAC Club and that was a good start. Overall, I didn’t feel like I did enough prep for the tournament but in between work (55hour week) and life I couldn’t quite manage it. It’s a work in progress.
The Women’s team consisted of IM Jovanka Houska, me, WIM Sabrina Chevannes. Akshaya Kalaiyalahan (only 12) and Ann Marie James. If I’m honest, it was a pretty stressful time. I think in general with team events things are slightly heightened but at an Olympiad everyone is trying to do the best for their countries.
I kind of went wrong from the start, not knowing what weather to expect. I planned for springtime but I was only lucky with sun on a couple of days. Mostly it rained and was grey. It was a pretty beautiful place but cold! And of course the midnight sun. Our room itself was quite dark but the beds were so soft that I occasionally slept on the floor.
For me chess wise, I had 6 blacks, 3 whites. Now, I know colours aren’t so important but when you are off form it helps to have white. Jovi has pointed out several time that at these tournament, people chop and change their openings to get an advantage and that threw me in one game.
In Round 1 we passed Malta 4-0 and though I was down a pawn in an endgame I managed to win. It was early when things went wrong for us. Round 2 against Bosnia was in a way a swing match if you get what I mean – if things went right for us here we could’ve started a roll and things did look good. Sabrina was winning, Jovi too and I was doing well in my (new) King’s Indian but when we hit the time control we all collapsed causing us to lose the match 3.5-0.5. I felt bad, I think we all did – but I guess we all forgot about playing with the clocks.
I bouced back in Round 3 we played the Dominican Republic when my opponent must’ve been preparing for my Grand Prix. I quite liked playing this game, completely my style!
In Round 4, we played Belarus who were the seeds below us but we knew it would be a close match. Unfortunately I failed in the opening, my opponent surprised me in the opening and I didn’t handle it well. I miscalculated something and blundered a pawn and tried to give a piece but there really wasn’t so much compensation. Our team went down in the end 3.5-0.5 again losing heavily was tough. When we analysed our games, our team was told in general to play more “solidly”. A visiting GM said “I want to see solid positions when I get to move 40 – nothing complicated just play solid chess”. My style of play is super aggressive and I’m always looking at interesting lines and I’m very good with the initiative so when I started to play it “safe/solid” (for the team) things went wrong and I lost a bit of my unique style of play. My other recent experience of a team event is with White Rose who I genuinely enjoy playing for. We have quite a good team atmosphere and of course me contributing 7/9 with my IM norm probably helps them like me. When I play for them, I know my teammates trust me and I trust myself. I rarely look up from the board to check what’s happening in other games until move 40 as it distracts me but in Tromso I felt distracted – by what? I don’t know but my chess didn’t work.
In Round 7 we played Australia – initially I didn’t really want to play as I didn’t want to play people I knew but I was asked to play so of course I did. I faced WIM Emma Guo who is quite good and also erratic (like me). She gained 37 points at the Olympiad but lost 32 the previous month in Benasque. I knew it wouldn’t be an easy match especially as she had her GM boyfriend (who wasn’t playing) preparation. I was using my King’s Indian again and I got a position I knew and she erred quite badly and collapsed.
We lost the match to Australia 2.5-1.5.
In the next Round we played Jordan and I drew. After 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 my opponent had previously played 2…b6 and 2…d6 both of which I was happy to face! But now she changed it up again. I thought I had a slight advantage but I simplified too early. In a position I “determined (Jovi’s word) the position when I didn’t need to. I should’ve given her more choices to make instead of giving her a forced move or easy move to find. I was worse in the ending but I defended well and we passed Jordan with 2.5-1.5.
In Round 9, I played Ellinor Frisk who recently had a baby. Things went okay but then I erred with my attempt of a kingside attack (I’m working on it) and here she spotted a very clever idea at which point I’m lost. We drew the match with Sweden thanks to our Board 3&4 winning!
In Round 10 we faced Brazil. My opponent didn’t have many games and I played such stupid moves in this game. At one point I moved my rook away from the kingside only to move it back the next move! I have no idea what happened to my brain in this game but it clearly wasn’t working. With that – I decided to not put myself up for Round 11 unless Stuart really wanted me to play or someone was ill. I felt that Ann Marie and Akshaya had been playing well and deserved to play the last game! I myself was tired and I wanted the event to be over. That’s not a great thing to say but I felt like I couldn’t play anymore!
We had some sad news on the last day. As I was walking back to the playing hall to see Ga, I saw loads of people running (slowly) away from the playing hall. I was really confused as I walked towards the venue. Eventually I saw Sam Collins & Mickey Adams outside who said that someone was shouting bomb. I got worried knowing that Ga was just finishing his game. I was with them for a few minutes then I decided to head in. I saw Kramnik and the other Russians outside so thought it can’t be so bad. I headed into the playing hall to see the security guards sitting down (and at this point I was pretty sure there was no bomb). I saw David Openshaw, our International Director, and he said that someone had a heart attack and in the confusion someone thought the defibrillator was a bomb. Unfortunately Kurt Meier died of his heart attack and hours later Alisher Anarkulov from Uzbekistan but playing for the deaf team was found dead in his hotel room. I didn’t know either of these men, but it did affect me in some way. I felt sad about their loss and for me death is something so heavy. It was a sad end to a stressful event but I learnt a lot during the way – about myself, a team and chess in general. There’s lots to work on!
Rest Day 1: The night before was the Bermuda Party where I danced my night away and my lovely husband sat downstairs drinking. There were some funky moves on the dance floor but the music was pretty crappy :-(. Weird thing was coming out at 3am and it being brighter than when we went in at 11pm! For the rest day we went out with the IM Sam Collins, IM Alex Lopez (from the Irish team) and IA Bob Gibbons from New Zealand. Initially, I had told Alex & Sam about a football match which Magnus was supposed to play in and in which they were both extremely keen to participate in. Unfortunately, they couldn’t find the pitch and subsequently we met them close to their hotel and, though the weather looked awful, we decided to scale (or cable car) Mount Storsteinen on Fløya. As we crossed the bridge, the weather was turning worse and then all of a sudden it started gushing with rain and we found refuge in a pizza place. After sharing a £30 pizza and some beers we decided to brave the rain/clouds and head up to the cable car. When we got to the base, we met the Irish girls running around like crazy. They had gotten lost on the ascent so had to come back to ground. One of their teammates (Karina Kruk) made a smart decision and took the cable car but the other girls decided to run up! We eventually met them as we were returning to the top of the cable car after our mini adventure. When we got to the top there was a beautiful view but points of it was obsecured by cloud. We decided to try and reach the summit but now thinking about what happened, it was a pretty daft idea.
Visibility was exceptionally limited and if it wasn’t for Bob guiding the way, we would’ve ended up way off course! It was a day full of laughter and coldness but it’s not something I would be keen to do again (in the wet). When we got back to the top of the cable car, we all had a well deserved hot chocolate. I was thinking thank goodness there is midnight sun or else things could’ve gone horribly wrong.
Rest Day 2: Spent the night playing blitz with the Irish. It was fun, but my chess was quite bad. I think that summed up my event. I can’t really remember now what we did for the rest day – I think sleep!
I want to thank my team for supporting me especially Jovi! (I know I’m quite headstrong), Ga, for helping me when he could even though his tournament went badly, David Openshaw, for his general helpfulness and Stu, for being an awesome captain. I’m hoping I’ll be able to play next year at the European Team Championship in one of my favourite countries in the world Iceland.