We have just departed from Istanbul airport en route to Baku, Azerbaijan. Many people I spoke to did not know where Azerbaijan was. It is truly amazing that in this day and age there are still countries undiscovered in various parts of the world. At the Dubai airport we met up with members of the Zambian team who will be playing. Musa Simutowe is the brother of Grandmaster Amon and is playing a mean game.
What does the Olympiad mean to us as a country? Our participation in the event affirms us as a country that can hold its own, compete and play hard. I remember with great pride when I was chosen to represent the country at the 1992 Olympiad in Manila, Phillippines in June 1992. It was a fantastic experience as we were able to test our mettle against the best in the world. In the very first round we played Argentina and I played against the the then world junior champion Grandmaster Pablo Zarnicki. I went the exchange up but he crashed through in our mutual time trouble. I received at that Olympiad one of the very first titles for South Africa which was the Candidate Master title. I also recall with great pride the day of 22 June 1992 when FIDE announced the acceptance of South Africa as a full member. What many people don’t know is that it was at that Manila Congress that all the Ex -Soviet Republics were also accepted as individual nations on the same day as South Africa. So we were in distinguished company upon readmission. in those days we could not obtain visas for many countries. We had to travel to Hong Kong which was still a British Colony at that time and wait three days until the visas were approved.
In 1994 Chess South Africa hosted a spectacular 14 man trials at the Peninsula Technicon in Bellville. I was in my fourth year of law studies and I had to negotiate with Professor van Huyssteen to postpone one test of mine to allow me to properly prepare and participate. He allowed me and in what is probably one of my best performances in a SA Closed I scored 6 wins, 6 draws and one loss which propelled me directly into the SA Team. I was so excited as I would be travelling to Moscow.
Going to Moscow was a dream for any chess player. Because of our seeding we had to play the USA in round one. I played against the former Soviet Champion Grandmaster Sergey Kudrin who essayed the Hedgehog and simply shuffled his pieces at the back and then came crashing through once I made the inevitable mistake. For me though a personal highlight of that Olympiad was meeting Former World Champion Anatoly Karpov in the Cosmos Hotel. He has visited The University of the Western Cape in 1993 as part of a history series and we had met at the University.
I remember clearly sitting and watching the great players in action on the stage in Moscow. The top boards were in a theatre and people literally brought their children to watch the great players in action. I watched Micheal Adams play against Kramnik in a nail biting game.
In 1995 a fax ( you read correctly ) arrived from Karpov inviting me to be part of the Karpov school of chess in Sweden. I accepted this invitation and went to Sweden for five months to study chess. I learnt a lot about myself, training methods and enjoyed playing in the All Svenska which was the all Swedish league. When I returned later that year to South Africa I wrote a proposal to Chessa to start a national chess league based upon my experiences. It was only later that Chessa took up that offer and started the national club championships.
In 1996 I travelled with the Karpov school of chess to the Olympiad in Armenia. I didn’t make the team and went in a journalistic capacity. I enjoyed watching the games and we nearly surprised Israel in round.
In 1998 I had started taking my legal career seriously. This was also the time that Kenny Solomon, Daniel Cawdery and other young stars came to the fore. They represented us in Kalmykia. The most significant aspect though was that a Ladies team was sent to Elista. Our ladies have subsequently not missed an Olympiad.
In 2000 the event was held in Istanbul. Maxwell Solomon accompanied younger brother Kenny to the event. I wasn’t very involved with that Olympiad.
In 2002 I was requested by Chessa to be the captain of the open team and also to serve as coach for the ladies team. The team played in Bled, Slovenia. Bled is truly postcard pretty. I enjoyed being back in the Olympiad space. A few things stood our for me. This was now another opportunity for me to see Kasparov in full force. I saw him play in 1992 in Manila and remember watching him demolish Kamsky in a Kings Indian in that event. Here he again dominated but the surprise medal went to Robert Gwaze who on board scored 9/9. Gwaze scored a perfect 100 percent and was awarded the gold medal for board one.
Whilst I was on the floor Mr. Owen Williams came over to introduce himself. He was Kasparov’s manager and was South African although he had been living in the USA for some time. We were able to reminisce about some nice places in the Eastern and Western Cape.
In 2004 I was again appointed to be the captain and coach when the Olympiad was held in Calvia, Spain. A beautiful place no doubt and I was taken aback by the topless bathing at the beach! South Africa was now competing against the top nations and some of my favourite memories was our ladies team downing Vietnam and Tajikistan. these were important victories for the team as it built team morale.
After that I did not return to the Olympiads until 2014. There were many reasons for this which included work, coaching of junior teams amongst other things. In 2014 however Chessa again decided to ask me to captain the team to Tromso, Norway. The Norwegians really put on a fantastic show and of course the standard was very high of the games. The role of the captain and coach had also changed in the ten years I was away from the arena.
I now have a different view to the captaincy of the national team. The captaincy of the national team is a privilege and must be treated with great deference. You are there to listen to the players, guide the players, ensure that all playing conditions are adhered to and that they players must be placed in a mental frame of mind to perform their best. The Olympiads can be a cruel place as ill prepared players can quickly exposed. The role of the captain is to be able to look for the positives and still select the best team for the following day.
In 2014 one of the players lost on time and I wasn’t there at that moment to witness it. I have decided to be in the playing hall relentlessly and specifically close to the time trouble and move forty. The captains role is pivotal. We must also keep in mind what a player needs to score a title and remember that a grandmaster norm at an Olympiad counts as a double grandmaster norm. The captain must be au fait with the technical aspects of the title rules and also understand the colour preference of players. It is however necessary to ensure that players receive an equal amount of whites and blacks else some players may be prejudiced and others favoured.
I am proud to be captain of the South African chess team and I am sure I can speak for my fellow captain Winston Dalpat to assure all of you we will do our best to ensure that South Africa’s two teams deliver their best.
Dr Lyndon Bouah
Reporting live from Azerbaijan airlines travelling to Baku