Guyanese chess players impress against the odds in Baku
The 42nd Chess Olympiad was held in the enthralling city of Baku, Azerbaijan, from the 1st -14th September 2016. The Guyana Chess Federation (GCF), in keeping with the aspirations of bringing chess back to life in the country, sent a delegation of 12 persons to this event.
For the Guyanese teams (male and female), it was quite an uphill battle to make it to the ‘City of Fire’. As is always the case with sports in Guyana, funding was the greatest challenge. Luckily, at the eleventh hour, the National Sports Commission and corporate Guyana showed tremendous support and gave the team the final push in making the trip.
“Chess is a mental game; the depth and concentration demanded is colossal. Even before entering the arena our players faced tremendous challenges ranging from the uncertainty of gaining the requisite visas for an affordable route to Baku, to the insecurity of affording tickets, to the jet lag and exhaustion of two days traveling with transit times of up to 20 hours,” the federation said in a release.
Despite the above, the GCF is proud to boast some success of this venture. Woman FIDE Master (WFM) Maria- Verona Thomas is the cynosure of the players. Thomas was the Board One player of Guyana’s female team. She gained an impressive eight points from 11 matches, which earned her Guyana’s first-ever FIDE Master Title.
Young Sheriffa Ali also managed to snatch a Woman Candidate Master (WCM) Title, gaining 5.5 points from 10 games. Taffin Khan has been the most impressive Absolute player, just missing the (FIDE Master) FM title by half of a point.
THE PLAYERS’ PERSPECTIVE
The newly crowned WFM Maria Varona-Thomas considered this Olympiad a phenomenal one. Although this was her second Olympiad, it was her first time playing in the Women’s division. Thomas ‘felt at home’ playing in this section, and is still thrilled about her achievements.
For Sheriffa Ali, the Olympiad was definitely an unforgettable experience. She raved about the kindness and warmth of the people, meeting chess players from all around the world. “I was honoured to play in the tournament representing my country. The best part of it was returning home with my new title Woman Candidate Master.”
The Clementson sisters spoke extensively about their amazing experience– one that was filled with the awe of Baku’s breathtaking aesthetic, the camaraderie shared between teammates, or even the competence of team management.
Although there were some experienced disappointments, the efforts put in place by the Baku officials and the warmth offered by other teams were consoling. To Jessica and Julia Clementson, this Olympiad was the first of many things, which included their first large international tournament and being a part of the first female team to represent Guyana in chess on such a platform.
Yolander Persaud said: “The 42nd Chess Olympiad was the most challenging tournament I’ve ever participated in. Upon self-evaluation, it made me realise that I needed more training and tournament experience. The female team was given the privilege and opportunity to be guided by a Grand Master during the Olympiad, and for that I would like to thank FIDE and GM Georg Mohr for the patience, understanding and support extended to us during his tutelage.”
Roberto Neto said: “My journey to the Chess Olympiad was filled with thrills, and was definitely considered a life learning experience. I was able to tour and transit a lot of countries I never thought of going to. The people in Baku were very friendly. Concerning my performance, I was a bit disappointed since I was hoping to at least earn a Candidate Master’s title. Despite this letdown, I was happy that I met the U.S.A champion and the World Champion Magnus Carlsen. Thank you to the Guyana Chess Federation for the experience of a lifetime.”
CM Ronuel Greenidge was happy to be on the national team again. “Things didn’t work out for me in the tournament as planned and I will be making the necessary adjustments to come back stronger. I thank God and the sponsors that made it possible for our team to play in this prestigious tournament.”
Haifeng Su said: “ My experience at the Chess Olympiad was rather comforting, rather than seeing as another tournament. The comfort lies in the way everyone puts their differences aside just to play the simple sport -Chess. I’m privileged to be a part of this event, an event I can call a milestone. If I were to do it again, I wouldn’t hesitate to represent my home Guyana.”
Taffin Khan said: ‘My experience at the 2016 Chess Olympiad was very enjoyable. It was one of the hardest tournaments I played I ever participated in. I meet a lot of new and interesting people from different parts of the world. Baku is one of the most beautiful cities I ever saw and I would love to go back there someday to play chess.”
The GCF and the players of the national teams would like to extend their heartfelt gratitude to every sponsor, well-wisher and media house who supported their cause. The sponsors included the National Sports Commission, Courts Guyana, E-Networks Inc., Kings’ Jewelry World, ECI Construction, Dr Sen Gupta & Associates, Fix-It Hardware Depot, Eastern Airlines, Jumbo Jet Auto Sales and Attorney-at-Law James Bond.
“Without the financial help and media coverage we would not have been given the opportunity to make a mark on the international forum, and for this we are grateful. The GCF would like to thank GM Georg Mohr from Slovenia for his short coaching stint of the female team during the Olympiad. The 43rd Chess Olympiad will be held in Batumi, Georgia in 2018. Let the preparations begin,” the federation stated.
Cover photo caption: The Guyanese players pose for a photo