ALEXANDER KENTLER. CROSSROADS - THE WEAKEST LINK
Statistics that were published before the 37th Chess Olympiad tuned us to optimistic mood: Soviet and later Russian national teams had taken part in 26 Olympiads, and had won 24 of them, finishing second just twice. Three is a magic number – one could limit oneself to this saying, regret that some of our players were out of form, mention other teams’ extreme luck and praise the Soviet chess school in the end. But look at the Russian team’s lineup – it is represented by the cream of the world elite: classical champion Kramnik; Svidler and Morozevich, who finished 3rd and 4th respectively in the World championship in San Luis; two more “seven hundreders” – Grischuk and Bareev, plus Russian champion Rublevsky. An average rating of the team equals to 2718. Armenia are 64 points short, China are 113 short, and, in order to understand a true value of these averages, try multiplying them by the number of players – 6. The difference in strength is enormous! Not even getting into the top 5 with such a team is simply shameful.
For the last couple of year the men’s national team is supervised by well-known grandmaster Sergey Dolmatov, who had won the Olympiad in his playing career in 1992. As a trainer, he produced only one victory – a miracle win in Beer Sheva at the World team championship-2005. Other results: 2nd in the Olympiad-2004, and 14th (?!?) in the European championship-2005. The Olympiad in Turin is his fourth major competition and a disappointment again.
To Dolmatov’s credit one has to say that he openly expresses his opinion about the events occurring in the team and analyzes his own work. However, it often results in surprising things. First he writes that one should not place a higher-rated player below a lower-rated one (“in order to preserve a good team spirit”), and then does the condemned thing; he creates a strategic goal to win the 4th board with a help of supergrandmaster M., and then tells the world that M. has concerns about his mind, etc. Paradoxically, four strongest players of the team played together only in two matches – in the 5th round, and in the penultimate round! Finally, it is sad truth that when Dolmatov’s teams lose their chances to win the gold, they become uncontrollable and seem to forget about chess reputation of the country they represent.
I am sure that the normal course of events was spoilt in the rounds 8-9. First Kramnik and then Svidler got a badly-timed rest day. Of course, Svidler was tired after Sofia, but he has never liked free days during tournaments, especially after a defeat.
Managing a team is a special talent. It has many different facets. One can be very intelligent like Dolmatov, but this does not guarantee success.
Discussing the misfortune at the Olympiad-2004 on the pages of the 64 magazine, Sergey Dolmatov already promised that the coming Olympiad is Turin is not going to bring fruit. “Of course, we may win in Turin, but only if we mobilize all the recourses. I think Ukraine will become even stronger”, – he said in the interview. The recourses were mobilized, Ukraine played badly, and you know the rest of the story.
Perhaps we should address this problem before finding scapegoats among players, or proclaiming the system crisis which can be fixed no earlier than in a decade or so.
Published in Russian on June, 5th