So-led US team favored in Batumi Olympiad

September 23, 2018

IN one of the  most-awaited events in chess this year, world championship contender GM Wesley So will make his second straight World Chess Olympiad appearance for the United States beginning Monday.

So, long considered as heir-apparent to reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway, will finally take the lead role for the top-seeded US team (ELO  2772) in  the 185-nation competition scheduled Sept. 23-Oct. 6 in Batumi,  Georgia.

The Cavite-born Filipino champion, who played for the Philippines in four straight Olympiads (2006 Turin, 2008 Dresden,  2010 Khanty-Mansiysk and 2012  Istanbul) before his controversial transfer to the US in 2014,  will play board 2 for the Americans  behind  world championship candidate GM Fabiano Caruana.

So’s presence in the  US team, which also include GM Hikaru Nakamura, Sam Shankland and former Webster University teammate Ray Robson is expected to boost the American team’s chances  to  retain    the   title in the prestigious event. dubbed as the “Olympics” of chess.

The Amercian captured the 2016 title in Baku,  edging Russia and Ukraine.

The 25-year-old  So is currently ranked  No. 9 in the world in the September list  released by FIDE.

Also expected  to figure prominently in the  title race  are No. 2 Russia, led by GMs Sergey Karjakin, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Vladamir Kramnik;  No. 3 China, bannered by GMs Ding Liren, Yu Yangyi and Wei Yi; No. 4 Azerbaijan, topbilled by GMs Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Teimour Radjabov and Arkadij Naiditsch; and  No. 5 India, led by GMs Viswanathan Anand,  Pentala Harikrishna  and   Gujrathi Vidit.

Other teams to watch in the men’s division are Ukraine, France, Armenia,  England and Israel.

Conspicuously absent  in the field is Carlsen, who is scheduled to  defend his FIDE world title against Caruana in London on Nov. 9-28.

The Philippines, led by US-based GM Julio Catalino Sadorra and  John Paul Gomez, is seeded only 54th  with an average ELO of 2473.

Also  in the GM Eugene Torre-coached Filipino team are IMs  Haridas Pascua  and Emmanuel Garcia  and FM Mari Joseph Turqueza.

The Filipino delegation, which included  the  WGM Janelle Mae  Frayna-led   women’s  team, arrived in Batumi early Saturday morning.

The team is billeted at the Legend  Business Hotel,  according to  women’s team coach GM Jayson Gonzales.

Aside from Frayna, the other members of the women’s team which is seeking to surpass its historic 34th-place  finish  in   2016 Baku,  are WIMs Catherine Secopito, Shania Mae Mendoza, Marie Antoinette  San Diego and Bernadette  Galas.

The top five seeds in the  women’s division are Russia (ELO  2523), Ukraine (2486), China (2485), Georgia-1 (2484) and  India (2458).

The two-week long competition  formally got underway Sunday with a spectacular  and unforgettable opening ceremony at the Black Sea Arena in Shekvetili, located some 45 km north of Batumi.

The official media announcement said the large-scale opening ceremony united the representatives of classical and modern cultures.

The grandiose ceremony  featured the  music of Maestro Nikoloz Rachveli and DJ Kordzi,a ballet choreography by Nina Ananiashvili and a dance presentation by the Sukhishvili .

Famous Georgian singer Nino Katamadze, Georgian baritone Lado Ataneli, singers Liza Bagrationi, Giorgi Ushikishvili, violist Giorgi Tsagareli, the indie rock  band Nika Kocharov and Young Georgian Lolitaz, the folklore ensemble Lashari, the Batumi cappella, the Evgeni Mikeladze State Symphony Orchestra  directed  by Nikoloz Rachveli and the Sukhishvili Georgian National Ballet were also present.

Distinguished Georgian writer Aka Morchiladze is the author of the text for the opening ceremony booklet.

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