Chess Olympiad History

    Hosting such an important chess event as a Chess Olympiad remains for any country as very special memories. While Baku is getting ready to write the next chapter of the history of Chess Olympiads, it’s worthy to recall the most important and interesting facts of the previous major chess events.

    The Chess Olympiad is one of the major events in the world of sports, attracting more than 150 countries and around 3,000 athletes and officials.

    The first two Olympiads were organized unofficially in 1924 and 1926. It was in 1924 when the first attempt to include chess in the Olympic Games was made. Unfortunately, it was unsuccessful because of the troubles in distinguishing amateurs from professional chess players.

    The ending of the first unofficial Chess Olympiad became a milestone in chess history as the World Chess Federation (FIDE-Fédération Internationale des Echecs) was created during its closing day - July 20th, 1924 in Paris. This historical day became not only a birthday of FIDE but also the international day of chess.

    FIDE organized the first Official Olympiad (the name “Olympiad” became official only in 1952) in 1927 in London. The Olympiads were held occasionally and at irregular intervals until World War II. There was a long break from 1939 until 1950 but since 1950 they have been held regularly every two years. 41 Olympiads have been organized since 1927 and the Olympiad in Baku will be the 42nd.

    The first Chess Olympiad in London gathered 16 teams; in 2014 at the 41st Chess Olympiad in Tromso, Norway, their number reached 176 in open section. In the first ever Women's Chess Olympiad (1957) the number of the teams was 21 while in Tromso, there were 136 female teams.   

    A number of features which are standard in Olympiads today were absent in the first events. Most teams had just four players and some had one or even two reserve players. In the early Olympiads the playing schedule was very exhausting. At the first ones 15 rounds had to be played in 11 days, so on fourth day there was an extra round.  At the same time there were adjourned games and so, the unfinished games had to be played the following morning!

    Nowadays the competition consists of 11 rounds, with one round per day, 1 or 2 free days and every team has one captain and one reserve player. No need to emphasize that all games have to be finished the same day.

    FIDE Congress in 1927 bowed under the tension of British delegates and decided to allow only amateurs to take part in Olympiads hoping for the inclusion of the Chess Olympiad to the Olympic Games. As a result, the world top players ignored the Olympiad in Hague in 1928, weakening its strength and prestige. The definition of the amateur status was left to the national federations and different countries took different decisions. The situation changed over the years and Olympiads became the most prestigious team competition where the strongest players of the World represent their countries. Almost all the World Champions and contenders for the title have taken part in the Olympiads, except Steinitz who died in 1900 and Lasker who was already retired in 1927.

    On September 1st, 1957 FIDE launched the first-ever Women's Chess Olympiad, which was held separately from the “Open” Chess Olympiad. It took place at Emmen (Holland). There was a surprisingly large entry of twenty-two nations for this two-a-side event, for which only Chile failed to appear. For the first time the Open and Women's Olympiads were held together in Skopje in 1972.  Those two events were once again separated in 1974 for the last time to be united since 1976 till nowadays.
    Before the Second World War, the Women's World Championship coincided with the Olympiad. The first championship, in London in 1927, was won by Vera Menchik. She also won the 2nd (Hamburg 1930) and the followings until the 7th (Buenos Aires 1939) championships.

    The geography of Olympiads is very impressive but only 4 cities have been organizing the Olympiads two times, including Moscow, Istanbul, Thessaloniki and Buenos Aires.
    Munich cannot be included in this exclusive list of cities because  the Munich Olympiad is considered as an unofficial Chess Olympiad. Unlike the International Olympic Committee, FIDE expelled Germany from chess community on a basis of racial segregation and Nazi ideology dominant in Germany under Hitler. The newly settled All-German Chess Convention accepted only Aryan players which brought much confusion to top German players of Jewish origin.

    The so called Against Chess Olympiad was arranged as an alternative to the official 22nd Chess Olympiad, held in Haifa, Israel, almost simultaneously. This unofficial Olympiad took place in Tripoli, Libya from October 24 to November 15, 1976. None of the big chess nations (Eastern or Western) came to Libya, so the field consisted of the Arab states, a number of minor chess nations, and some that were not even members of FIDE.
    Helsinki 1952 saw the first participation by the USSR team, which finished ahead of Argentina and Yugoslavia. The team won every event up to and including their last participation at Novi Sad 1990, except Haifa 1976, which the Soviets boycotted, and Buenos Aires 1978, where they finished second, one point behind Hungary.

    Continuing the Olympiad tradition of the Soviet teams, the first Russian team won gold medal in Manila in 1992. The Russian team became six times Olympic champion but in 2002 the situation has dramatically changed and Russia couldn’t win any Chess Olympiad.

    Article written by Anastasiya Karlovich, FIDE Press Officer.


    Sources:  the encyclopedia of team chess tournaments

    Wikipedia the free encyclopedia

    Website of chess Olympiads official website of FIDE

    Chess Olympiads and Istanbul by Hairy Ozbilen & Dr.M. Sabri Kocak