Remarkable performances at Chess Olympiads


The 44th Chess Olympiad starts in Chennai in just a week. The most popular team competition will surely bring new records (at least one is certain – the number of registered teams is growing year over year), new stories and heroes. The main focus will undoubtedly be on the team results, as every match is a joint effort to earn a match victory. However, individual achievements are historically highlighted at Chess Olympiads, with a set of gold, silver, and bronze medals awarded for the best results on each board.

The top six individual results were awarded a prize already at the first Olympiad in 1927, and the tradition still stands. George Alan Thomas from England and Holger Norman-Hansen from Denmark shared the first prize in 1927; both scored 12 out of 15 (80% points). Looking forward to Chennai and browsing through the previous editions, let’s recall some of the remarkable individual results at the Chess Olympiads in XXI century.

Robert Gwaze – 9 out of 9

It sounds surreal, but there was a player who got a perfect 9/9 score playing on the first board at a Chess Olympiad. Zimbabwean International Master Robert Gwaze achieved this fantastic result in Bled (2002) and won an individual gold medal, leaving Garry Kasparov behind.


Robert Gwaze | Photo: lichess.org

Surprisingly, Gwaze’s result is not unique. One more player scored a perfect 9/9 on the first board, playing for France, and it was none other than Alexander Alekhine! The world champion played inspired chess in Hamburg (1930) and won the brilliance prize for his game against Gideon Stahlberg. However, Alekhine was not awarded an individual gold medal as he did not play enough games (the medalists played 17 games each).

Andrei Volokitin – Performance rating 2992

In Baku (2016), Grandmaster Andrei Volokitinplaying as a reserve for Ukraine, delivered a fantastic rating performance of 2992! He scored 8½ out of 9 games, helped his team to claim silver in the Open competition and won an individual gold medal. Among others, he beat Alexander Grischuk and Eric Hansen, and the only draw he made was with Wei Yi.


Andrei Volokitin in 2021. Photo: Anna Shtourman

There is a significant gap between Volokitin’s performance and the closest results. In Bled (2002), Garry Kasparov swept away the opposition on the first board, scoring 7.5 out of 9, but with ‘only’ 2933 performance. At the time, the board medals were not awarded according to the performance, and the great champion did not get any, finishing only fourth by points scored.

Not far behind is Georgian GM Baadur Jobavawho put in a whopping 2926 performance on Board 1 in Baku (2016). He finished the event on 8/10, beating Ghaem Maghami, Topalov, Vallejo, Lupulescu, Ponomariov, and Rapport!


Baadur Jobava at 2016 Olympiad | Photo: Andreas Kontokanis

GM Jorge Cori closes this improvised podium of the best-ever rating performances. Almost on par with Jobava, he showed 2925 performance in Batumi-2018 – an achievement that earned him an individual gold medal on Board 3. The leader of Peruvian chess dropped only half a point in eight games, drawing with Nepomniachtchi, and beating Wei Yi, Yannick Pelletier, and others.

Nana Dzagnidze – Performance rating 2719

The whole Board 1 individual medals pedestal in Tromso (2004) is quite remarkable. Pia Cramling got bronze with 2659 performance, Hou Yifan earned silver with 2671, but Nana Dzagnidze stood above all with her best-ever women’s section performance of 2719! Georgia finished fourth as a team, much to the disappointment of its leader, who scored 8 out of 9, defeating Anna Muzychuk, Irine Kharisma Sukandar, and Monika Socko in the last three games.


Nana Dzagnidze in 2020 | Photo: David Llada

The second place in this record category goes to another Georgian, the legendary Maia Chiburdanidze. In Dresden (2008), then 47-year-old former World Champion scored 7½ out of 9 with 2715 performance receiving an individual gold and sharing her team’s tournament victory. Chiburdanidze led the way, defeating Alexandra Kosteniuk, Anna Muzychuk, and Hou Yifan, among others.

“Prodigies and new champions hog the limelight, but sometimes former champions remind the world why they were, and in some cases still are, so great,” wrote Dylan Loeb McClain in The New York Times piece highlighting Chiburdanidze’s result.

Third place goes to Chinese star Zhao Xue. In Bled (2002), she delivered 2707 performance. Zhao Xue lost one game to Ketevan Arakhamia-Grant but otherwise completely destroyed Board 4, finishing with 11 points in 12 games.

Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen – Individual gold on the top board, twice

Viktorija Cmilyte started representing her native Lithuania in Chess Olympiads at 13. At 15, she was already the leader of the team. Cmilyte can boast of an unmatched result: she won two individual gold medals on the first board in Istanbul (2000), scoring 9½/12 and Calvia (2004) netting 8½/11.


Viktorija Čmilytė at 2016 Olympiad | Photo: David Llada

She also narrowly missed a medal in 2006, finishing 4th by per cent of points scored. Perhaps Viktorija could even improve her record, but she switched to playing in the Open section (Khanty-Mansiysk 2010, Board 3) and then entered politics in 2015, putting her active chess career on hold.

Judit Polgar – gold in Women’s, silver in Open

It’s difficult to be surprised by the achievements of Judit Polgar – it seems this chess goddess was omnipotent. Here is another unique one. In Thessaloniki (1988), together with her sisters, Judit claimed gold at the Women’s Olympiad for the first time. It was a smashing debut of the team that would also win the next edition. Novi Sad (1990) was her last women-only event. In Bled (2002), Judit won silver medals with the Hungarian team in the open section, defending the second board.


Hungarian Women’s Team at the 1988 Chess Olympiad. Left to right: Susan Polgar, Judit Polgar, Sofia Polgar, and Ildiko Madl | Photo: Chessbase.in

Undoubtedly, the 44th Chess Olympiad in Chennai will also produce jaw-dropping results, new records perhaps, and certainly much fun! Make sure to mark your calendars for its start on July 28th and put the official website chessolympiad.fide.com into bookmarks.

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