Baku: 101 Nights Before the Olympiad

Friday, 27.05.2016 13:44

Translated from Russian by Ilan Rubin

The final of the European under 17 championship was due to be played in Baku’s beautiful, massive Olympic stadium. However, after the interest of fans turned out to be lower than planned the game was moved to the Bakcell Arena – another modern stadium but a cosier one.

Looking around it seemed that the stadium’s capacity didn’t exceed 10,000, but the fan sitting next to me insisted that it housed 15,000. I had no right to argue with him, as this particular fan was apparently the guy who actually built it.

Actually I can’t remember the last time that I went to a football match. Just imagine how I felt: I’m sitting down to watch the European Championship but on the pitch I can’t see any Tomashevsky or Inarkiev. I only see unfamiliar faces – Spaniards in a white strip or heavily tanned guys in red jerseys. The tanned guys impressed me from the beginning – it was obvious that they knew what to do with a football. The ball stuck to their feet better and their legs ran faster. In fact these guys turned out to be the Portuguese team and I mentally bet that they would win.

Once the 80 minutes were up (the juniors play shorter matches than the adults), I was slightly upset to find myself with the thought that I had reached that stage in life where I no longer care who wins a football game. A penalty shoot-out when you are sitting behind the goal is a wonderful sight. I would have died for that 20 years ago. Now however, sad as it sounds, a neat trick in a chess endgame gives me more pleasure than seeing a football hit the back of the net nine times in a row.

Tragically for the Spaniards penalty number 10 hit the very top of the post with a crunch: victory to Portugal!

But it wasn’t for the football that your correspondent had come to this amazing city, which gets better and better every year. Of course I’m not the first person who is stating the obvious here, but believe me: when you walk around Baku – and this time I only had a tiny amount of time to wander aimlessly – no other thoughts enter your head. 

I was particularly impressed by the pedestrianized zones, whose number keeps increasing. It’s an amazing sensation when you walk in the middle of a huge city and feel all of its strength and power.

What was most amazing of all for me what that it’s not only the pedestrian zones that are westernizing, but the people themselves! Fewer people seem to smoke, the air is cleaner. Unlike a certain city in a neighbouring country, where the air is rich in tobacco, here you can fully inhale and exhale the oxygen around you.

It’s especially pleasant to breathe the air in the evening or at night.


There are a lot of wire fences like this in the centre. But don’t be frightened! There’s nothing sinister in this. The reason is simply that the Formula 1 Grand Prix will be held in Baku in June. By the time of the chess Olympiad the fences will have long been dismantled.


One of Baku’s traditions is that families go for walks until very late. It’s perfectly normal to come across lively children well into the evening. I especially checked my watch after yet another young mother passed me by with a pram – it was nearly midnight...

The residents of Baku have another trait: weekends, the central embankment, the fun park. Would you have sat on this thing though? I certainly didn’t. But see how many pairs of legs are dangling from it!

Passers-by come here in their droves! They shout, they scream, but they always stay on this thing until the end. Then they jump out of it, holding their heads, smiling, to be replaced by the next bunch of dare-devils.

My friends, you can see and try all this for yourselves if you come to the chess Olympiad in September. I don’t like pompous and clichéd statements. Indeed, let’s not count our chickens before they hatch. But let me say, cautiously, Baku currently has everything it needs to make this Olympiad the greatest in history.

Whether you are a club player, a fan, a relative of a competitor or a FIDE official, you will have a thousand and one opportunities to enjoy all the wonders of this city. Or, if you are a player or a coach then, I hope, it will still be interesting to journey with me right now across those sights where the main events will take place.


The Crystal Hall is found slightly away from the main streets, squares, hotels and entertainment. You can always come here in your own car but we have been promised comfortable city transport infrastructure.


Whilst I was there I saw them laying down the road along which tournament participants will be brought to the playing hall.


The space is wide open outside – there’s no hiding from the sun. The temperature at the end of May is the most pleasant: 23-24 degrees; it should be hotter at the beginning of September... Although there will be a mitigating factor then – the sea wind, which it seems to me will never fully die down here.

I walked inside this building one day before the President of FIDE. This fact needs to be recorded.


This foyer is located between the playing hall and the press room. Here you can sit and relax, even chat.


Work is going full steam ahead in some of the rooms – key issues are being handled on a daily basis.


The transport team sits here. If you have any transport issues please come here for help.


And this is the most important room that Kirsan didn’t see. The future playing area is still being set up.


It will be closed to spectators, despite the stands. The reason is that the stands’ metal constructions are too noisy. I was surprised at first, but I understood the issue once I had heard the noise myself. Indeed, you cannot play chess with that racket around you, unless you are deaf of course.

A special podium with seating will be built for spectators, from where both the players (at least in the main games) and the demonstration screens should be visible. Contact with the players will be impossible: special fences will be set up, beyond which the route of the players will be totally separated from the spectators.

A special group of volunteers will manage the spectators. The organizers plan to attract 400 of them! Everybody will get the help they need.


The lights were turned on (or at least most of them) especially for me. The number of light bulbs in the hall and their capacity goes far beyond FIDE’s requirements. Vladimir Kramnik’s opponents won’t have to be asked whether the 14th world champion can have an extra table lamp over the board.

The room size is around 12,000 square metres. Apparently, when the FIDE officials first came here they were extremely surprised, stating that this is far better than ever before. And although the number of guests will also be a record – 2,300 participants alone – there should be tons of space for everyone. The gap between the tables is set to be 4 metres.

The climate control will make sure that the temperature in the building doesn’t change. So basically, unless I’ve got the wrong end of the stick, Tromso-2014 will be long forgotten.


Pictures of stars who have performed in the Crystal Hall hang in the corridors. The building was constructed for Eurovision 2012, since when various concerts and other popular events have been held here.

Given that there will only be one rest day rather than two at the Olympiad a simple solution is being discussed that is meant to satisfy everybody.


3 September will be a day off for all, there will be nothing do with chess happening that day, and all participants and guests can go and listen to pleasing live music at the Green Theatre. Whatcha Think About That?


Three charming ladies, Arzu, Aidan and Ramzia, led me through the myriad of rooms – some dark, others with light. There are rooms for the arbiters, the appeals committee, special toilets for doping control… everything you could imagine.

And the VIP Hall, naturally.


This is just a very provisional version of how the room will look, but the VIP FIDE officials who came to check the place out have already requested that the furniture be upgraded.

A special office has been prepared for the (officially “ex”) FIDE President.

And another one for the officially Acting President.

This is the Makropulos, for the guy who comes here to relax for a full two weeks. The VIP room is not for him. This is another room, which he personally chose himself. He liked the view! And who wouldn’t?


I can already see this Olympiad-2016: while two thousand fools struggle to work out how to refute a novelty on move 26 the one smart guy sits on this chair (which will of course be replaced by a more luxurious one), cigar in hand and the full works for a relaxing day. To enjoy the view.

And if he gets bored he can go for a walk by the Caspian Sea, with me...


Another huge hall – this is for exhibitions. Stands will be set up here, events will be held. Less serious chess tournaments and so on, while some guys continue to look for that refutation on move 26 and others smoke their cigar in the VVIP apartments. In terms of size this hall could house another Olympiad by itself.


This room will host press-conferences. When we took the photo it was empty, but the important guests sat here the following day.


Kirsan Ilyumzhinov was joined by the sporting and chess chiefs of Azerbaijan to mark one hundred days to go before the beginning of the tournament. An interpreter from the Azerbaijan language sat behind Kirsan.


Kirsan pressed the button on a special chess clock, after which the countdown began. 99 days, 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds to the beginning of the Olympiad... So now we know: we all live in a time that Kirsan personally began.


And they presented the official mascot here. The organizers were sent a huge number of sketches from chess lovers and eventually went for this little boy in a national costume. The author of the drawing was awarded a special prize – one thousand manats. Where were you when they held the competition?


Note that two of the officials are wearing ties whose colour matches the event’s official colours. And Kirsan didn’t rock the boat either...


All these people are already working to make the tournament a success. They have another three months of hard slog in front of them to make sure that two weeks in September will be a memorable occasion. If they succeed then you can applaud them!


  


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