The recent fourth-place finish of the Russian national team in the World Chess Olympiad in Tromso, Norway, reflects the apparently downward spiral of Russian chess since the breakup of the Soviet Union more than two decades ago.
Still dominant, nevertheless, until 2002 – a decade after the Soviet collapse – the Russians have not won a single Olympiad since. In the last five years, the gold medal has gone instead to either Ukraine or Armenia – both former Soviet republics – and most recently to the Chinese, undoubtedly the first of many to come.
What may seem a Russian death knell to many observers is hardly so. Chess still thrives in Russia albeit on an attenuated scale.
In a sense, the immense Russian/Soviet investment in the game before the break-up has served a higher purpose.
Aided in no small part by the worldwide popularization resulting from Bobby Fischer’s appearance on the world scene, and the advent of the Internet and computer chess programs, top-level chess is increasingly ubiquitous and flourishing.
The theory and practices of the so-called Soviet school have transmogrified into a new world chess paradigm transcending all borders.
To the chess aficionado, it is a heady occurrence.
The top 12 grandmasters in the world now include a Norwegian, an Italian, an Indian, a Frenchman, a Cuban and a Filipino – a rich medley of nationalities and chess practice inconceivable only a few decades ago.
Below is a win by Gata Kamsky of the United States against Elijah Emojong of Uganda from the Olympiad in Tromso, Norway.