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On chess: 40th World Chess Olympiad begins

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 29, 2012 - Representatives of more than 150 countries began their competition at the 40th World Chess Olympiad in Istanbul, Turkey, on Tuesday, and both U.S. teams got off to a good start by winning their first round matches.

The U.S. team in the open section easily dispatched Jordan, and the U.S. also scored a victory over New Zealand in the women’s section.

This marks the second Olympiad in Turkey (the first took place in 2000), and according to Olympiad officials, this year’s installment is a record-breaking event with more than 158 teams participating in the open section and 124 teams in the women’s section.

The opening ceremony, held Monday evening, was well organized and featured upbeat speeches by chess and local dignitaries and folk dances presented by local performers. The ceremony concluded with the traditional drawing of lots to determine the colors of pieces for the top teams in each section. Thus, the top team in the open section – Russia – started with the black pieces on the first board and the top team in women’s section – China – started with the white pieces on board one. This drawing of lots also determined the starting colors for all other teams that followed.

Both U.S. teams began the event seeded fifth in their respective sections.

John Donaldson, the captain for the U.S. team in the open section, decided to rest Hikaru Nakamura for the first match and let Ray Robson make his debut at the Olympiad. Ray did not disappoint, scoring an easy victory over his opponent.

My task to make a line-up for the U.S. Women’s team for the first round was simplified because of a flight delay, which prohibited Tatev Abrahamyan from arriving according to schedule. Since she arrived in the middle of the night after a long trip from Los Angeles and a missed connection in Amsterdam, Tatev was in desperate need of a good night’s rest.

The U.S. women are led by Irina Krush and Anna Zatonskih, each a four-time U.S. Women’s Champion.

There is a friendly and cheerful atmosphere in the American delegation, which makes all of us look forward to the rest of the tournament with optimism. With a good performance, either U.S. team has a chance at medaling at this prestigious event.

Round two begins Aug. 29 at 7 a.m. Central, and more information including a complete list of results, pairings, recaps and more can be found at www.chessolympiadistanbul.com/.

Michael Khodarkovsky is captain of the U.S. Women’s Team.