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U.S. team arrives, prepares for World Team Championship

By Tony Rich

BURSA, TURKEY -- What a long, strange trip it's been, and the real adventure is just getting started.

Despite inclement weather, traffic, and an extensive commute, the American team has made it to the World Team Championship, scheduled to be held in Bursa, Turkey from January 5-14. This ten-team, round-robin event promises to be full of excitement and top-level chess with teams from America, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Brazil, Egypt, Greece, India, Israel, Russia and Turkey.

The participants are being hosted at the five-star Almira Hotel, and the tournament is at the nearby Merlinos Congress Centre. The organizers have spared no expense, including free lodging, food and transportation for participants.

Each team consists of four players, two alternates and a captain. As a young team with an above-average rating, the U.S. contingent is confident in their chances. GMs Hikaru Nakamura, Alex Onischuk, Yury Shulman, Varuzhan Akobian, Robert Hess and Ray Robson will be led into battle by IM John Donaldson.

[imagefield_assist|fid=1752|preset=fullsize|lightbox=true|title=|desc=From left: GMs Varuzhan Akobian, Alex Onischuk, Ray Robson, Yury Shulman, Robert Hess, Hikaru Nakamura and IM John Donaldson.|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=233]Prior to arriving in Bursa, the U.S. team acclimated to the time difference by exploring the sights in Istanbul and seemed generally relaxed. With all of the individual events on the tournament calendars, it’s nice to see a team event and to feel the sense of camaraderie amongst the Americans. Whether wandering through the bazaars and spice markets or taking in the beautiful architecture, this team bonding experience may be the crucial factor for their success.


In the shuttle, traveling from Istanbul to Bursa on a wet, cool afternoon, Donaldson ensured the team’s comfort as they winded through town. Everyone discussed topics as varied as the beautiful mosques and Turkish history to opening novelties and current chess theory. A sitar softly wailed from the radio.


The opening ceremony took place on Monday morning, and various state and chess officials thanked each team and promised to make this a memorable experience for all. FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov welcomed the players and thanked the Turkish Chess Federation for their efforts in organizing this event. Turkish Chess Federation President Ali Nihat Yazici also said a few words of appreciation as teams, dignitaries and reporters observed.


Scattered throughout the ceremony were various displays of Turkish culture. One group of performers dressed in traditional warrior garb performed an intricate dance while clashing swords and shields. Another performance displayed Turkish men dressed in full regalia as they performed an Ottoman mehter piece, which for centuries accompanied the Ottoman army into battle. The pinnacle performance of the ceremony came from a Turkish youth soccer team as they entered the hall[imagefield_assist|fid=1750|preset=fullsize|lightbox=true|title=|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=375|height=250]juggling soccer balls amongst themselves while everyone watched with a keen eye.


The reason for the spectacle soon became apparent. The drawing of lots utilized these future soccer stars in a ingenious way; each youngster wore a green jersey over a white equivalent and team captains came forward, one at a time, to make a selection. The athlete removed the outer jersey to reveal the pairing number for that team. When the dust had settled, the seeds were:


  1. Azerbaijan
  2. Turkey
  3. India
  4. Russia
  5. Egypt
  6. Israel
  7. Brazil
  8. Greece
  9. United States
  10. Armenia

Based on these seeds, round one parings are as follows:

















United States





















The Turkish team is made up of GM Kivanc Haznedaroglu (2497), IM Mert Erdogdu (2489), IM Mustafa Yilmaz (2468), IM Emre Can (2449), IM Baris Esen (2493) and FM Burak Firat (2392). While the U.S. team is slightly older, they out-rate their first-round opponents by more than 200 points!


You can watch the games live at,turkish/ or check for game analysis by GM Ben Finegold.


Stay tuned for updates on the World Team Championship as the U.S. team attempts to further solidify itself as a dominant force in the international chess scene.