The man of the Olympiad

IF there was a `Man of the Olympiad' Award, Vassily Ivanchuk would have walked away with it without challenge.

RAKESH RAO

Ukraine's hero Vassily Ivanchuk thinking of his next move. — Pic. RAKESH RAO-

IF there was a `Man of the Olympiad' Award, Vassily Ivanchuk would have walked away with it without challenge. This Ukrainian truly led from the front, played 12 successive rounds on the top board and ensured the first ever Olympiad title for his country. For someone, who reached Mallorca after failing to win a single game from seven outings in the European Club Cup in Turkey, Ivanchuk won five out of the first six games and inspired a young team to the game's most coveted team honour.

What Gary Kasparov did to the Russian team in the past, Ivanchuk did here. The reigning European champion not only performed like a champion but also inspired his mates like a leader. "Ivanchuk lives on Planet Ivanchuk. The rules that govern his planet do not apply here. What more can I say, Ivanchuk is Ivanchuk," said Anand of this enigmatic character and of course his friend from junior days. Here, it must be said that Anand makes no secret of his admiration for Ivanchuk's ability to get some truly amazing positions on the board. Known for his changing moods as much as for the methods he employs over the board, Ivanchuk is one of the rare `originals' in the chess world today. Runner-up to team-mate Ruslan Ponomariov in the 2001 World Championship in Moscow and the man who eliminated Anand in the semifinals, Ivanchuk is the kind of character a non-action sport like chess needs. Ivanchuk, after staying out of media reach through the Olympiad fortnight, chose to speak to The Sportstar soon after the closing ceremony. Excerpts:

Question: How significant was this title for Ukraine?

Answer: It is very significant because it is for the first time in the history that Ukraine won the Olympiad. This also means that we are the current world champions. It also shows that chess in Ukraine is quite strong. This should help Ukraine hold some big tournaments like the ones in Wijk aan Zee and Linares. I believe after this success, interest in chess in Ukraine will grow clearly. Since the victory came on the eve of the Presidential Elections in our country, it was very pleasant for our people.

Personally, how demanding was it for you to play 12 rounds without a break?

Okay, it was possible because of the nice atmosphere here. Very well organised and there was no conflict. Whether it was accommodation, restaurants or even going for swim or a long walk, it was all very pleasant. That's how we could use the time to relax and come back the next day.

Considering the lack of Olympiad experience for some of your team-mates, the results your team produced were simply incredible. How did it all come together?

The selection to form the Ukraine team was quite tough. Our coach Vladimir Tukmakov took the initiative to select the team. He helped the team during the tournament. We all had the liberty to call him even at four in the morning for advice.

The winning combination (from right) Vassily Ivanchuk, Andrei Voloktin, Alexander Moiseenko and Sergey Karjakin. -- Pic. RAKESH RAO-

It is not often that we get to see a team winning the first three rounds with perfect scores. Was it a conscious effort to score maximum points against the weaker teams early in the tournament?

It happened because each player tried to play good chess. It was without luck though. But then, it is not possible to win Olympiad without luck.

Which of your games would you pick as better than the rest?

I think, may be, two games were my best. I should analyse, of course. Probably in deep analysis if I find lots of mistakes then I will not consider them as my best. Now I can tell you about the two games that I liked. They were against (Alexander) Morozevich and (Teimour) Radjabov.

Any games where you missed chances to win?

It is hard to say. Sometimes, I missed a chance and in someothers, my opponent missed. Of course, there were some very dangerous games. But overall, I am satisfied with my final result.

How did your form change overnight from the one witnessed in Turkey?

It is difficult to explain even for me. Okay, it was another tournament. Even in Turkey, I felt I was playing good but wondered why I couldn't win any game. Here, once I had started well it was easy for me to continue.

Anand felt that the team members of Ukraine were competing with one another in giving off their best. Is it true?

I would like to say that we supported each other. We went out for a walk by the seaside. We even sang Ukrainian and Russian songs in the evening when all of us were together. There was great team spirit all through and the results were indeed very good.

How was it to beat Russia?

I did not consider this victory over Russia as something very special for us. I thought each match was very important. After the match against Russia (in the fourth round), I told my colleagues in the team that is only the start of the Olympiad. There were many difficult matches ahead, so keep your energy.

How do you assess the Ukraine-India match?

It was a very difficult match for our team. For me, too, it was a difficult match against Anand. He played a very strong novelty. After this novelty, my position was very bad, I defended well. He made a mistake and I survived to draw the game.

What about this Indian team?

No doubt, this Indian team is very strong and these players have made a great impression.

Do we get to see you play in India?

Yes, Why not? If I get an invitation, I would love to come to India. I didn't play in India with any great success (in the 2000 World Championship in New Delhi and the 2002 World Cup in Hyderabad) in the past. Despite that, I like India very much. For example, in Hyderabad it was fantastic. As I said, if I get an invitation, it will be a pleasure to come to India.