Chess Olympiad Trivia
After the World Chess Championship, the Chess Olympiad is the most important event in the international chess calendar, which occurs every two years. While the athletes get ready for the Summer Games on August 8, 2008 in Beijing, the chess players are getting ready for the Chess Olympiad in Dresden in November.
The 38th official Chess Olympiad will be played from November 12-25, 2008 in Dresden. Who will win it? The Russian team will have the strongest team ever to play in a chess Olympiad, with an average Elo rating of 2750 for the team (Kramnik, Morozevich, Svidler, Grischuk, and Jakovenko). The USA team will consist of Varuzkan Akobian, Gata Kamsky, Hikaru Nakamura, Alexander Onischuk, and Yuri Shulman. The women's team will be Tatev Abrahamyan, Rusudan Goletiani, Irina Krush, Katerina Rohanyan, and Anna Zatonskih. None of the men’s or women’s USA team was born in the USA.
The Chess Olympiad has also been called the International Team Tournament, Tournament of Nations, and the World Team Championship.
In 1922, during the British Chess Federation Chess Congress held in London, E. Znosko-Borovsky, a Russian master living in Paris, announced that the French Chess Federation wanted to organize a team tournament to coincide with the Olympic Games due to be held in Paris in 1924.
There were 54 players from 18 countries with a team maximum of four players. Czechoslovakia (Hromadka, Skalicka, Schulz, Vanek) won the Gold Medal. The Silver went to Hungary and the Bronze went to Switzerland. The individual Gold went to Herman Mattison of Latvia (5.5 points out of 8). The director of this event was Alexander Alekhine.
Another world team competition took place in Budapest in 1926 during the FIDE congress, but only 4 teams (Hungary, Yugoslavia, Romania, Germany) showed up (6 teams registered, but Austria and Czechoslovakia withdrew before the start). Hungary (Bakonyi, Negyesy, A. Steiner, Sterk, Vajda, and Zinner) won that event. Ernst Gruenfeld and Mario Monticelli won the individual event. Edith Holloway (1868-1956) won the women’s tournament, and Emil Zinner won the open tournament. This event was still considered an unofficial chess Olympiad and is known as the “Little Olympiad.”
The very first official chess Olympiad began in London in 1927 in conjunction with the FIDE Congress. Hungary (Maroczy, Nagy, Vajda, A. Steiner, Havasi) won the gold medal (40 out of 60 points). 16 teams participated. The women did not participate until 1957, but there was a women’s tournament (the first official Women’s World Chess Championship), won by Vera Menchik.
The official title of Chess Olympiad did not happen until 1952. English magnate Frederick G. Hamilton-Russell offered a trophy for the top men's team, which was won by Hungary. It is now known as the Hamilton-Russell Cup. The trophy for the top women's team is the Vera Menchik Cup, named after the first women's world chess champion. George Thomas of England and Holgar Norman-Hansen of Denmark both score 12 out of 15 and both received a gold medal. The bronze medal went to Richard Reti. Argentina was the only non-European team that entered.
An Amateur World Championship for individuals, with 16 players, also took place during the Olympiad. Each country was allowed one representative. The event was won by Max Euwe. This chess Olympiad was held in conjunction with the Summer Olympics in Amsterdam. This is considered the weakest of all chess Olympiads. The Hamilton-Russell Cup was not offered to the winning team of this event because it was a truly open team event. Hungary (Nagy, A. Steiner, Vajda, Havasi) won the event with 44 out of 64 points.
The 1931 Chess Olympiad at Prague was the only Olympiad where every single player lost at least one game. No one was able to win more than 10 games out of a possible 18 games played. The USA (Kashdan, Marshall, Dake, Horowitz, and Steiner) won the gold medal (48 out of 72 points) and the Hamilton-Russell Cup for the first time. This team event of 19 teams did not have a single new county participating for the first time. Every team in this event had played in a previous Olympiad. This event enforced the rule that the playing order submitted with the entry must be adhered to throughout the competition.
An Olympiad for 1932 was to be played in Spain, but that was cancelled due to financial problems.
At the Folkestone Olympiad in 1933, Isaac Kashdan represented the USA. He brought along his wife. Umar Khan offered Isaac Kashdan’s wife 150 English pounds if she would join his harem. Only 15 teams participated (19 teams applied), the least of any Olympiad. Originally, this Olympiad was scheduled to be played in Chicago, but these plans were cancelled due to financial problems. Alekhine won the gold medal on board 1 with 9.5 out of 12. The USA team (Kashdan, Marshall, Fine, Dake, Simonson) won again with 39 out of 56 points. Robert Combe of Scotland lost to Volfgangs Hasenfuss of Latvia in 4 moves, the shortest chess Olympiad game ever.
Combe - Hasenfuss, Folkestone Olympiad 1933
In 1935, the chess Olympiad was held in Warsaw as a reward for Poland’s performance in previous Olympiads. Three new countries, Estonia, Ireland, and Palestine, participated for the first time. A total of 20 teams participated in this event. The USA team (Fine, Marshall, Kupchik, Dake, Horowitz) won again with 54 out of 76 points.
A chess Olympiad was held in Munich in 1936 to coincide with the Summer Olympic Games in Berlin. However, Germany was not a member of FIDE (they had withdrawn from FIDE in 1933), so it was an unofficial Olympiad. Germany had withdrawn their ban on Jews for this event. There were 21 teams and 208 participants in this event. Each team consisted of 8 boards and two reserves instead of the normal 4 boards. 1,680 games were played, a record that stood for 24 years (until Leipzig in 1960). Hungary won every match to win the event with 110.5 out of 160.
The Women’s World Championship was held at the same time and place. With 26 players, it was the first event played using the Swiss System. Vera Menchik won with a score of 14 out of 14, four points ahead of the 2nd place finisher.
In 1939, the 8th official Chess Olympiad, held in Buenos Aires, was the first time held outside Europe. The USA, four-time gold medal winners, did not participate. The players asked for $2,500 compensation but were offered only $1,500 by the U.S. Chess Federation, so they all refused to participate. Abe Yanofsky (1925-2000), age 14 and the youngest player in the event, played second board for Canada. He met a spectator called J. Janowski. It turned out they were brothers and it was the first time they had met. J. Janowsky happened to show Abe Yanofsky a photo of his father when Abe exclaimed, “That’s my father too!” Yanofsky scored the best percentage on board 2.
The finals of the Olympiad began on September 1, 1939, the beginning of World War II. The English team withdrew immediately after taking 3rd place in the preliminaries group and sailed home on the first available ship. Three members of the British Olympiad team were later instrumental in breaking the German “Enigma” code during World War II. 84 games were not played and 24 games were set by default. This was the first Olympiad that had preliminary groups and a finals section to handle the 27 teams. The German team (Eliskases, Michel, Engels, Becker, Reinhardt) won by ½ point over Poland.
In 1950, Madame Chantel Chaude de Silans (1919-2004) played on the French team at the Dubrovnik Olympiad, the first woman to play on a men’s team. She played first reserve board, winning 1 game, drawing 1 game, and losing 4 games. This was the first Olympiad commemorated by a special stamp issue. The USA team went undefeated, yet did not win a medal, taking 4th place with 11 wins, 4 draws, and no losses. 16 teams entered, with Greece being the only new country to play in an Olympiad. The Yugoslav team (Gligoric, Pirc, Trifunovic, Rabar, Vidmar junior, Puc) won the event.
In 1952, the Soviets (Keres, Smyslov, Bronstein, Geller, Boleslavsky, and Kotov) participated for the first time in a Chess Olympiad, at Helsinki. They won the gold medal and repeated winning the gold medal for the twelve Olympiads in a row. USSR won the gold medal a total of 18 times.
In 1954, at the Amsterdam Olympiad, Luxemburg lost all 19 matches and took last place again. One player from Luxemburg, Georges Philippe, scored 0 out of 11 games. His teammate, J. Jerolim, scored one draw and 16 losses in his 17 games that he played. Another Luxemburg player, Pierre Kremer, won 1 and lost 16 (with a record of 1 win and 27 losses in two Olympiads). This chess Olympiad was supposed to have been played in Sao Paulo in celebration of its 400th birthday. However, Argentina cancelled the event 6 weeks before the start of this Olympiad due to financial difficulties. Amsterdam decided to host the event at the last minute. Over 30 teams had registered to play in Sao Paulo, but 26 teams eventually arrived in Amsterdam. The Soviet team (Botvinnik, Smyslov, Bronstein, Keres, Geller, Kotov) won, seven points ahead of the next team, Argentina.
In 1956, the chess Olympiad was held in Moscow. 36 teams participated and it was the first time that over 1,000 chess games were played in one Olympiad. Colonel Hugh O'Donnell Alexander (1909-1974), one of the top British chess players, was not allowed to play in the chess Olympiad in Moscow because of his job with the Government Communications Headquarters where he was head of the cryptanalysis section. The Soviet team (Botvinnik, Smyslov, Keres, Bronstein, Taimanov, Geller) suffered their first defeat when the Hungarian team defeated them. Luxemburg again took last place. One of their players, Wantz, win 2, drew 1, and lost 14 games. Pierre Kremer lost all four of his games, with a record on only one win and 31 losses in three Olympiads.
The first Women’s Chess Olympiad was held in 1957, held in Emmen, the Netherlands. One of the participants was 82 year old Helen Chater who played board 1 for Ireland. She won 2 , lost 2, and drew 11.
In 1958, South Africa and Tunisia participated in the Olympiad held in Munich. These were the first African teams to play in a chess Olympiad. International Master Frank Ross Anderson (1928-1980) was playing board 1 for Canada. He became ill after a reaction to an incorrect prescription and was unable to play the final round. He missed the Grandmaster title because of this. Even if he had played and lost, he would have made the final norm necessary for the Grandmaster title. The Soviet team (Botvinnik, Smyslov, Keres, Bronstein, Tal, Petrosian) won again.
At the 1960 chess Olympiad in Leipzig, Max Euwe won 3 games, drew 7 games, and lost 6 games for the worst score by a Grandmaster in Olympiad history. The event drew 10,000 spectators a day as the Olympiad also hosted a “chess in the Fields of History” exhibition. Bobby Fischer participated and played board 1 for the USA. Reshevsky refused to give up first board and did not play. Again, the Soviet team (Tal, Botvinnik, Keres, Korchnoi, Smyslov, Petrosian) won the event.
After the 1962 Varna chess Olympiad, Milton Ioannidis of Cyprus had the worst score of any player in the chess Olympics, with 20 losses and no wins or draws. In 1964, at Tel Aviv, he played another four games and lost all four. He has a 0-24 score in Olympiad chess, perhaps the worst record for any player. His teammate, Andreas Lantsias, drew one game and lost 19. Another teammate, Fieros, won one game and lost 19. Their board one player won one game, drew one game, and lost 18 games. Cyprus scored the worst record of any chess Olympiad team, losing 20 matches. Their four players won a total of 2 games, drew 2 games, and lost 76 games. The Soviet team (Botvinnik, Petrosian, Spassky, Keres, Geller, Tal) won again, but lost one match to West Germany.
In 1964, the chess Olympiad was held in Tel Aviv, the first time an Olympiad was held in Asia. With Australia playing for the first time, it was the first time that players from all five continents were able to participate in a chess Olympiad. It was another victory for the Soviet team (Petrosian, Botvinnik, Smyslov, Keres, Stein, Spassky).
In 1968, Dris Benabud of Morocco only played one game (which he lost) at the Lugano Olympiad and 2nd reserve board, the fewest games of any participant in a chess Olympiad. The Virgin Islands (combined team of British and U.S. Virgin Islands) made their first appearance, despite not being a member of FIDE. Bobby Fischer showed up in Lugano to play for the USA team, but withdrew because of the poor lighting in the tournament hall. He asked to play his games in a private room, but the organizers refused, so Fischer withdrew. The Soviet team (Petrosian, Spassky, Korchnoi, Geller, Polugaevsky, Smyslov) won without a single game loss.
In 1970 at Siegen, Andrew Sherman played for the Virgin Islands at the age of 11, the youngest player in the chess Olympiads. In round two of the preliminaries, Viktor Korchnoi overslept and lost his game by default against Spain, his only loss. The round started at 3 pm and he was unable to make it to his game by 4 pm. During the event, Jonathan Penrose collapsed from nervous tension. Oscar Panno drew 15 games, the most in an Olympiad. For the first time, teams had to be rejected because the event reached its capacity of 60 teams to fit the playing schedule. 64 teams registered. The teams from France, Ecuador, and Venezuela had to return home without playing any chess. Panama pulled out, which allowed Argentina to play.
In 1972, Grandmaster Nicolas Rossolimo played for France at the Skopje Olympiad. He played on the French team in 1950. He then played on the USA team in 1958, 1960, and 1966. He then played for France again in this Olympiad. International Master Vladimir Savon was the first non-Grandmaster to play for the Soviet team. During the event, Tigran Petrosian lost a game on time to Robert Heubner, his first loss on time in his whole career. This Olympiad was the first time that the men’s and women’s events were held simultaneously.
In 1974 at Nice, W. Reussner of the U.S. Virgin Islands lost 19 games in one Olympiad, a record. He drew three games and did not win a game. South Africa and Rhodesia were expelled from FIDE during the Olympiad. South Africa dropped out but Rhodesia still played in the rest of the Olympiad, winning the Final E group.
In 1976, computers were first used to do the pairings at the Haifa Olympiad and the first Olympiad conducted as a Swiss System. Libya protested and had an Olympiad of their own. The USSR and other communist countries did not play and the USA team (R. Byrne, Kavalek, Evans, Tarjan, Lombardy, Commons) won the event. It was the first time since 1937 that the USA team won the chess Olympiad. This Olympiad was the only one not to have medals for board prizes. The Israel team won the women’s event. That team consisted of four Soviet émigrés.
In 1976 an unofficial chess Olympics was held in Tripoli, Libya in protest to the main chess Olympiad in Haifa. There were 37 countries that played in this event, called the “Against Israel Olympics.” Italy was the only country to send teams to both events. The event was won by El Salvador, a nation which had never competed in a FIDE Olympiad.
At the 1978 chess Olympiad in Buenos Aires, a member of a Middle East team tried to buy one of the girls working at the site for $1 million. The offer was not taken up. Grandmaster Hans Ree broke his leg at the event after someone told him a joke and he laughed so hard he fell out of bed and broke a bone. The Hungarians won the gold medal, ahead of the Soviets, who took the silver medal. This was the first time the Soviet team did not take the gold medal when participating in an Olympiad. USA took the bronze medal. This Olympiad almost didn’t happen. Argentina almost went to war with Chile (a dispute over the Beagle Islands in Antactica) and the chief organizer of the event, Rodolfo Zanlungo, was kidnapped and was being held under the threat of death should the Olympiad be held.
In 1980 at Malta, John Jarecki played for the British Virgin Islands at the age of 11. He played on Board 2. Anatoly Karpov refused to shake hands with Lev Alburt because Alburt had defected to the USA in 1978. The Soviet team (Karpov, Polugaevsky, Tal, Geller, Balashov, Kasparov) won the event (on tiebreak over Hungary). Both the Soviet men’s and women’s team came from behind to take the gold in this Olympiad.
In 1982, the Ugandan team showed up in Lugano, site of the 1968 Olympiad. They finally showed up at Lucerne after the first round. The Italian Chess Federation refused to have its best player, Stefano Tatai, to play on the Italian Olympiad team. Tatai was 44 and seven-time national champion. But the Italian Chess Federation only wanted members who were age 30 or younger to represent Italy. The result was a very poor showing at the Olympiad. On the women’s side, Tatjana Lemachko defected from the Bulgarian team on the eve of the last round and moved to Switzerland. The youngest player in the event was Najeeb Mohammed Saleh of UAE, age 12. The oldest player was Ron Blow of Guernsey, age 74. The $1.25 million budget for the event was raided by a lottery and private sponsors.
At the 1984 chess Olympiad in Thessaloniki, Greece, Ion Gudju (born in 1897) of Romania served on the appeals committee. He was 87 years old and may be the oldest player to participate in the chess Olympics (but not as a player). He played in the first unofficial chess Olympiad in 1924 in Paris. In 1984, the famous Bermuda Party was held, which continued until 1998. It was the biggest social event of the Olympiads. John Nunn of England won three gold medals: best score on board 2, best performance rating, and winner of the problem-solving contest. The USA team defeated the USSR team for the first time in Olympiad history. The youngest player in the event was 12-year old Isabelle Kintzlere, who played 3rd board on the French women’s team.
In 1986, the chess Olympiad was held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. It may have been the most expensive chess Olympiad ever. The organizers offered $1 million for free airline tickets to teams who were reluctant to participate. 108 teams showed up, a record at the time (prior to this, Lucerne had 91 teams in 1982). Israel was not allowed to participate, but the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was. Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Netherlands refused to play in protest to the Israeli ban. 10-year old Heidi Cueller represented Guatemala and may be the youngest player to participate in the chess Olympics. The Guatemalan men’s team was represented by four brothers names Juarez. The USA team defeated the USSR team, becoming the only team to defeat the Soviet team twice in a row in Olympiad competition. Judit Polgar won a gold medal in the Women’s Olympiad at the age of 11.
In 1988 at Thessaloniki, the Seirawan-Xu game lasted 190 moves and was a draw (stalemate). This is the longest game in the chess Olympiads. During the Olympiad, Woman Grandmaster Elena Akhmilovskaya, playing on the Soviet women’s team (she had a score of 8.5 out of 9 on board 2), defected and eloped with International Master John Donaldson, who was captain of the USA men’s team. The two were married at the U.S. Consulate in Greece. The Hungarian women’s team (Susan, Judit, and Sofia Polgar with Ildiko Madl) displaced the Soviet team for the gold. It was the first time that the Soviet women’s team did not win the women’s event.
The 1990 chess Olympiad at Novi Sad was the last appearance of the Soviet Union and East Germany. The Hong Kong men’s team was represented by four players from four different countries. The Novi Sad Olympiad had 123 grandmasters, 177 international masters, and 85 FIDE masters. Teams from Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania arrived in Novi Sad without an invitation and the organizers refused to let them participate. The Soviet team (Ivanchuk, Gelfand, Beliavsky, Yusupov, Yudasin, Bareev) won the event.
In 1994, the chess Olympiad was held in Moscow only after the scheduled site in Thessalonki, Greece cancelled out 55 days before the start of the event. During the event, Grandmasters Alexander Shabalov and Alex Yermolinsky (both representing the USA) were robbed when they went for a walk. The captain of the Macedonia chess team was robbed of $7,000 inside a bank that was across the street from the playing center.
In 1996 at Yerevan, all the men on the Israeli chess Olympiad team were all born in the Soviet Union. Kirshan Ilumzhinov gave every member of the Olympiad a bottle of vodka, a jar of caviar, and a watch. He was later elected FIDE president.
In 1998, the chess Olympiad was held in Elista. Its official website was the first major chess site to be hacked. Anyone logging on to the Elista Chess Olympiad website saw a screen that said “hacked by Kasparov.”
In 1999, chess was recognized as a sport by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The IOC granted FIDE a Recognized International Sports Federations status. It was included as an exhibition event at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. However, in 2002, the U.S. Olympic Committee rejected chess as a sport. In 2007, the IOC no longer recognized chess as an Olympic sport because it lacked the essential feature of physical activity.
The 2002 Bled Olympiad was the first to test for drugs through a urine sample. All 802 players passed. Grandmaster Jan Timman of Holland refused to play in protest to the plans of drug testing. World Champion Garry Kasparov participated with the highest Elo rating in the Olympiads. He was rated 2838 at the time and had a performance rating of 2933.
A chess ballet opened this Chess Olympiad. The Australian men’s and women’s teams were sponsored by a pharmaceutical company called Ansell. Part of the deal was to help the company promote their brand of condoms called “checkmate.” Two members of the same family played on different teams. International Master Levente Vajda played for Romania while his sister, Woman Grandmaster Szidonia Vajda, played for Hungary. Robert Gwaze of Zimbabwe became the second person (after Alekhine in 1930) to score 100% out of 9 games.
In 2004 at Calvia, the USA team was made up of 6 ex-Soviet players: Onischuk, Shabalov, Goldin, Kaidanov, Novikov, and Gulko. In 2004, a player from Papau New Guinea and a player from Bermuda refused to submit to a urine sample to test for drugs. Their teams were punished by points taken away. New Guinea went from 117th place to 126th place. This Olympiad had two teams that did not represent a country. There was a disabled team (finished 66th) and a blind team (finished 75th).
The U.S. Women’s team never won a single medal until 2002, when it took the silver medal, behind China and ahead of Russia. The silver medalist winners were Susan Polgar, Anna Zatonskih, Jennifer Shahade, and Irina Krush.
From 1956 to 2000, Lajos Portisch has played in 20 chess Olympiads, more than anyone else. He has also scored the most points in the chess Olympiads, with 176.5 points in 44 years. He also has played the most games in the chess Olympiads with 260 total games. He also has the most wins, winning 121 games.
Eugenio Torre participated in 19 consecutive chess Olympiads, but did not make the Filipino team for 2008.
Florian Gheorgiu has drawn the most games, with 125 draws.
Tigran Petrosian only lost 1 game out of 129 total games during his Olympic career.
The best individual result in the men's chess Olympiad is Mikhail Tal. He played in 8 chess Olympiads. He played 101 games, winning 65, drawing 34, and only losing 2 games, for an 81.2% record. He won 5 gold medals and 2 silver medals for individuals (not counting team medals).
Garry Kasparov played in 9 chess Olympiads, winning the most individual medals. He won the gold medal 7 times, the silver medal twice, and the bronze medal twice.
Gligoric, playing for Yugoslavia, has the most team medals. He has won 11 team medals, He has won one gold, six silver, and 5 bronze team medals.
Viktor Korchnoi played in his first chess Olympiad in 1960. He played in the 2006 chess Olympiad, making it 46 years of participating in chess Olympiads.
Erich Eliskases (1913-1997) played chess for three different countries in the chess Olympiads. He played for Austria, Germany, and Argentina. He could have played for Brazil as well, but he declined to play.
The USA team was the only country to beat the USSR team twice in the Olympiads.
Saviely Tartakower played for Poland on 6 Olympiads despite never living there or speaking Polish.
Here is the list of chess Olympiads (* means that was an unofficial Olympiad):