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On Chess: Chess on the China road

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 20, 2011 - Greetings from China! I am writing this column from my hotel room in Ningbo as I attend the 2011 World Team Chess Championship, which runs from July 16 to 26. Although I lived in Europe for four years (1988-92), this is my first trip to Asia. I feel privileged to witness the U.S. team as it battles hard against a tough field in an attempt to earn a medal and represent our nation on the world stage. I was invited to be a coach for the U.S. team, which is made up of three-time and reigning U.S. Champion Gata Kamsky, 2006 U.S. Champion Alex Onischuk, 2008 U.S. Champion Yury Shulman, four-time U.S. Champion Yasser Seirawan and 19-year-old phenom Grandmaster Robert Hess. A formidable team indeed.

The 10-day tournament pits the top 10 teams in the world in a round-robin (all-play-all) format. The U.S. team is ranked seventh, and we hope to finish better than our seeding. I would not be exaggerating to describe this as one of the most prestigious championships in the world. At least 95 percent of the players are Grandmasters, and the competition is fierce. The players are all staying at a lavish five-star hotel and playing conditions are topnotch, with complete silence in the playing hall.

Each game in the event is shown live on the Internet (chessdom.com is one option to watch the games), and there are reporters and photographers everywhere. The president of the World Chess Federation (FIDE) was in attendance at the opening ceremonies to kick things off on July 16.

Thus far the United States has lost its first match to heavily favored Russia by a score of 3-1 (we lost two and drew two games) and drew the second match against the tough Armenian team 2-2. Armenia had higher rated players on every board, but Kamsky was able to win on board one against World No. 3 Levon Aronian to offset Alexander Onischuk's loss on board two. We scored our first victory in round three against Egypt, the lowest ranked team, for a badly needed win.

China is fascinating, and, obviously, a lot different from the United States. We had some interesting travel hiccups - the most notable was arriving at Ningbo train station, where it took more than 20 minutes to find someone who could read or speak English, so we could tell our taxi driver the name and address of our hotel. Also, it is very hot and humid in Ningbo (hmm ... maybe not so different from St. Louis), and unfortunately the air conditioning is not quite what we're used to at home. But the hotel buffet and awe-inspiring sight of all the world's top players in one place makes up for any inconveniences.

After this event, I am flying to Chennai, India, to coach American Ray Robson in the World Junior Championship. Another exciting event in my summer travels; and maybe I will see my old friend, World Champion "Vishy" Anand, as he lives in Chennai.

Ben Finegold is a chess grandmaster. On Chess comes from a partnership with the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis. 

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