EPG Member at Chess Olympiad
EPG students have lots of fun extracurricular activities that we combine with our DPhil work. It’s all part of having a balanced life. We have rowers, football players, skiers, hockey player, runners, book authors, taekwondo competitors, book society founders and my own little time-off hobby is Chess.
I´ve now played for 20 years and since year #1 the dream was always to get into the Olympic team for my country (Chile). Finally this May, I got a phone call from the Chilean Chess Federation saying I´d qualified as the final 5th member of the team! (YAY!) This meant I would be going to Tromso (in the Norwegian Artic Circle) for two weeks in August to play 8-11 matches. Lots of preparation to be done, especially because I would be playing professional chess players and I have only played as an amateur. 1800 competitors from 174 countries were already preparing in their own nations, so I needed to try and catch up.
Time was up (cause it can go so fast in the life of a DPhil student), preparation was partly done and a day before leaving Oxford someone asked me: “so what will you aim to achieve at the Olympiad?” I should have asked this to myself back in May! Trying to pretend that I had a plan (cause in chess a plan is always better than no plan at all!) the first thing that hit my mind was “I could aim to get the tittle of Woman Fide Master!” A bit far-fetched considering I would need to score 65% of at least 9 games!
Got to Tromso on August 1st. I met the rest of the Chilean team, settled-in and we all started studying our opponents for the first match. We had an amazing kick-off winning 4-0 against Malawi. But the day after Malaysia defeated us 3-1. That second night during the preparation meeting our captain was telling the story of Capablanca (Cuban Grandmaster) who spent 8 years not loosing a single game. I joked (or at least I thought I was joking) that my 8 years would start the day after. Little did I know I wouldn’t loose a single game in the rest of the Olympiad!
Fig. 1. First match of Chile against Malawi.
My third game was a draw against Ireland, 4th a win against Costa Rica followed by a very stressful win against Peru (piece under in the mid-game). Number six was a draw against a Fide Master from Botswana. There I was after 6 played games with 4 points. Mentally exhausted as each game had been at least 4 hours long (and preparation took over the rest of the days in Tromso). So could I keep going and get that “Woman Fide Master” tittle? I needed to play the final 3 games of the Olympiad and win 2 of them (or win one and draw two). I was definitely in for the challenge and my team was too! Some of my teammates volunteered to take rest days to let me (the reserve) sit in for the matches. For the 7th game we sat in front of our neighbors, Bolivia. We had prepared the game using Chess software and with Grandmasters' help the night before, a real team effort to help me get the tittle. I must admit it was a bit of pressure over my shoulders, but after a doubtful Knight capture of my opponent in move #8 I started to feel comfortable. “Was she falling for a theoretical trap here?”… yes she did! Game was over when I played move #9! My teammates couldn't believe how fast the game had been. Even EPG people (who followed the games every day, thank you!) missed that match thinking they had plenty of time to go online.
Just the two final rounds and I only needed a win (or two draws) to get the tittle. We were up against Iran in the next. They were a strong team. We were out-rated in every single board by at least 150 ELO points (which might not mean too much if your not into chess, but believe me it’s a LOT!). I was playing a Woman Fide Master with black pieces. We went into the line I had prepared for her, but with some modifications. I got myself into a very bad position in which all her pieces were pointing to my side of the board. One little imprecision on her side put me back on track with a better evaluation. I could have won at some point, but we agreed a draw and that seemed to fairly represent what had happened during the game. Unfortunately for the team, that half point was the only one we scored against Iran, loosing 3½ to ½. Not very happy with that result we only aimed to end our participation in the Olympiad with a victory! For my tittle I needed a draw or win and the next match was against Portugal. My game went into my repertoire opening so I was feeling comfortable. When we got to the move #30 we were allowed to offer draw according to the rules. I thought the position was equal and she would gladly accept my draw, but my opponent said no! It might be hard to believe that chess can be full of adrenaline, but at that point it was definitely nerve wrecking! How to win a position that is a draw? Gladly, at move #35 she realized this and accepted my draw offer. After shaking her hand to finalize the game I became the 11th person of Chile to ever achieve a “Woman Fide Master” tittle! Mission accomplished!
Fig 2. Before playing against Ireland (left) and against Bolivia (right).
The experience of participating in the Olympiad was amazing! It was a fantastic way to meet and learn from talented people in a different context than academic life. I really learnt the lesson of setting goals before any event of this kind and no matter how far-fetched they are, its worth trying to achieve them. Now its time to get back to Oxford and keep with the DPhil life… but who know, maybe I could make it into the team for the Baku 2016 Chess Olympiad!