GM Joel Benjamin sporting his two gold medals and the ICC t-shirt
GM Joel Benjamin analyzes some of the games from Dresden
GM Alex Yermolinsky's report from Dresden
The U.S. team made a successful journey to Dresden, Germany and scooped up the gold medals in the 50+ division.
For a lot of the players, it was about getting the old gang back together. In my long chess career, nothing has provided me with more pride and pleasure than representing my country in Olympic events, hunkering down in the proverbial trenches with my grandmaster colleagues, who, if they weren’t already, became my close friends.
Some of the main elements of those old US teams could not be there. Yasser Seirawan and Boris Gulko, having gone too long without playing a rated game, were deemed “no longer alive” by the USCF and not invited. Larry Christiansen and Nick deFirmian, two of my dearest friends, declined for family reasons, and Gregory Kaidanov could not play due to a scheduling conflict. But we had Alexander Shabalov, Alex Yermolinsky and myself to represent the old team core. We were joined by Sergey Kurdin, and first time US representative Jann Ehlvest, who came to the US from Estonia. The first four mentioned all played on the 1994 team in Moscow that narrowly missed a bronze medal.
The match with Austria
Shaba and Yermo drove a rental car to Dresden, so we were able to go out for nice meals and do an appropriate amount of sightseeing. This all contributed to excellent team chemistry. With the late withdrawal of a powerhouse Russian team and a strong one from Armenia, we emerged as the top seeds, with only three real main contenders. But the first few rounds are often perilous for the USA, for logistical reasons. While Yermo, Shaba, and Jaan were in Europe at least a few days before, Sergey and I were well jet-lagged and stumbled early. England caught us at the right time, and knocked us off in round four, 2.5-1.5. The winning margin was provided by John Emms, who beat me in the only decisive game of the match
England drew in the next round with the Lasker Club from Germany, led by high-powered GMs Alexander Graf and Artur Jussupow. That left us trailing both teams in the standing. I got back on my feet in round five with a nice win inspired by my debacle the day before, as we beat Potsdam 3.5-.5.
GM Alexander Graf
We got a big test in round six against the second seeded Germany I, who fielded three grandmasters and an IM. We rose to the occasion and triumphed 3.5-.5! I won a reunion game from thirty years ago.
After beating a tough but outmanned Thuringen team 3-1, we got our last big test against the Lasker squad. Amazingly, we matched our big win against the other German powerhouse, 3.5-.5. Shaba completely confused Graf in the opening, using his time advantage to power to another big win. Yermo won a nice game against Jacob Meister, who had almost a perfect score to that point. Jaan blocked against Felix Levin, and I won another reunion game against one of the nicest chessplayers on the planet, Artur Jussupow.
GM Artur Jussupow
For the first time, a path to the gold medals was in sight. We had taken over second place, and even though the scrappy English team held on to first place, Germany I had finally rose up high enough (after losing to Lasker and our team) to play them. We took on Canada, unsponsored by their federation and thus not sending some of their best players. We played without Yermo, who had to leave the event early. He had already made his mark, with 6/7, good for the top prize on board four.
Jaan and I drew on boards two and three, he against Ian Findlay, and I against Victor Plotkin. Sergey, who was disappointed with draws in his first four games, put up his first win against Michael Barron. It was not only a big point for us, but a great way to end his tournament on a highnote. Meanwhile, what can I say about Shaba? The man was a total machine in Dresden. Of course, at age fifty he is barely legal, and in good physical condition, but he was off the charts here. 7.5/8, only blemished by a draw with Jon Speelman. His performance rating was 2819, more than 200 points above anyone else in the event. Here’s how he finished strong against the former Welshman David Cummings.
GM Alexander Shabalov
Meanwhile, the plucky English team, who had not lost a single game in the event, had their hands full with Germany I. Speelman and Schlosser drew early, but England stood worse on the other three boards. Eventually Volke broke through against Plaskett, providing a narrow victory for Germany, moving them into fourth place. Strangely, the lost match put England in the same spot they would have had with a tie. Then they would have tied with us but been edged out on game points. They ended up tied with Lasker but ahead of them on game points. The cream rose to the top, with th four best teams occupying the top spots.
Shaba of course won gold on board one, and Jaan took silver on board three. I won double gold as well, edging out John Emms by three points in performance rating. It was a great team effort for the USA, and an entirely satisfying result. The team wants to thank Anjelina Belakovskaia for being our tireless advocate on the USCF Executive Board, securing us enough funding to pay our expenses. Hopefully, we have proved our worth to everyone! Another big thank you to the ICC, who really didn’t have to give us anything, but generously extended some extra sponsorship to the team, in recognition of the long mutual relationship several of us have had. There will always be a place in my heart for the ICC.