The 43rd Chess Olympiad (September 23 – October 6) is less than a week from starting, and with it comes all the hype that this biennial event always seems to bring. The largest team chess event in the world will surely attract many spectators and online viewers for its two-week duration. This year, the event is being held in Batumi, Georgia, which is very close to the venue for last year’s World Cup held in Tbilisi, Georgia.
One of the most intriguing storylines about the Olympiad has to do with a bit of history. For the first time ever, the team from Russia will not hold the top seed in average rating. In a way, however, it is almost fitting, as the new top-seeded team, the U.S., will try to defend their championship from two years ago in Baku. The U.S. team will bring the same lineup as they did two years prior: GM Fabiano Caruana, GM Hikaru Nakamura, GM Wesley So, GM Sam Shankland, and GM Ray Robson.
There are some changes to overall team makeup and standings as well, including regulars who are not playing and some newer faces.
Perhaps the least surprising of the absences is GM Magnus Carlsen, who has the World Championship match to prepare for. Russian regulars GM Alexander Grischuk and GM Peter Svidler will both not be playing, too. However, the Russian team is still very much in good hands with GM Vladimir Kramnik, GM Sergey Karjakin, and GM Ian Nepommniatchtchi on the top three boards. Lastly, GM Veselin Topalov will be missing from the scene due to the banning of Bulgaria from international events by FIDE.
On the other hand, a number of players that have committed to playing might surprise us. Firstly, despite being the challenger for the upcoming World Championship match, GM Fabiano Caruana is still playing in the Olympiad amid his already-busy summer schedule. Secondly, GM Vishy Anand is playing for the India team for the first time in over ten years, and his presence should greatly improve India’s chance at the gold.
The top five seeds, in order, are:
- The United States
The Chinese team has greatly increased in strength as well, mostly due to the significant rating jumps of both Ding Liren and Yu Yangyi compared to where they were last time. Azerbaijan, who is led by GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, has also increased in strength. India now has GM Vishy Anand and GM Pentala Harikrishna as a 1-2 punch, and with three players over 2700, they also expected to be competitive.
In general, the return of most of the strongest players and some shifting among the top teams should make for an extremely interesting Olympiad, especially since team events are always fun to follow.
My next article is scheduled right in the middle of the event, so I should hopefully be able to pull together a few notable games to share at that time. Until then!