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The financial crisis has reached the chess world

Dresden, 16/11/2008

On the morning of the third round I ran into the Icelandic team coaches Sigurbjon Bjornsson (men) and Omar Salama (women) in the lobby of the Westin Bellevue Hotel when they delivered their team lineup. They agreed to give an interview and we sat down nearby.



Peter Dengler: Sigurbjon, I have to ask you this first: What are Johann Hjartarson and Mageir Petursson doing these days? I know for example Johann from his Bundesliga play for Bayern Munich.

Sigurdur Bjornsson: Well, Hjartarson played the last olympiad but he plays rarely. He works as a lawyer for Dicode, a company in the genetics industry. Of course we would have liked to have him in our lineup as he is still the strongest rated player in Iceland. Mageir Petursson has founded a bank (MP Bank) which is a pure investment bank. As you can imagine he probably has had a tough time over the last months due to the financial crisis. He is mainly doing business in the Baltic states. He also applied for a license as a retail bank which he will probably get in January next year.


PD: The financial crisis – Iceland unfortunately is in focus now.


SB: Yes, and I would rather blame some other countries for that. I have one country in mind which applied some law towards Iceland which was made for anti-terrorist fight and ultimately lead to the bankruptcy of our three biggest banks including Kaupthing and Glitnir Bank. We also feel the financial crisis in our wallets: Three months ago 90 Icelandic krona bought one Euro – today the exchange rate is 170:1.


PD: That probably made the search for a sponsor much more difficult. Did Mageir help?


SB: Not this time, he supported us in Mallorca. I don’t know if I should even tell but Kaupthing gave some money this time.


PD: How is the performance of your teams so far and what are your goals?


SB: Well, there is always some competition amongst the Nordic teams who will be ranked best. There is no goal set by the federation but the players have set that for themselves. However it will be very tough considering for example the lineup of Norway lead by Magnus Carlsen.


PD: Omar, the women’s team of Iceland never carried such famous names like Olofsson, Hjartarson or Petursson. What about your team’s ambitions and
how popular is chess amongst girls in Iceland?


Omar Salama: I tend to say it’s the same like in other countries, there are a lot of girls playing. At the moment the under-15 year old icelandic champion is a girl!


PD: How did your matches go in the first two rounds?


SB: We lost to the USA 1,5:2,5 and beat Yemen by 3,5 points. Now we have Angola which hopefully means another two points for us.


PD: Omar, what about the women’s teams ranking and lineup?


OS: We won against Japan and lost to Italy. Against Slovenia it will be very difficult. First board is Lenka Ptacnikova who is a woman grandmaster. She played five olympiads for Czechia and now the third for Iceland – and she is my wife. She also is the reigning Nordic champion for the second time in a row.
(Later I saw Omar with their one year old son Adam who looks truly Icelandic with red hair and some Viking expression in his face – though his parents are from Egypt and Czechia). Hallgerdur Thorsteinsdottir is 16 and the youngest player in the team. But she is the current Icelandic champion. For Elsa Kristindottir it’s most important to gain experience. But of course we are also trying to become the best Nordic team. Sweden are much better rated but they lost to Denmark already. It will be tough.


PD: What about chess in schools? It is a regular subject?


OS: Only in some schools. There is a chess academy in Reykjavik and they are giving courses in schools.


PD: Do the parents have to pay for it?


OS: No, it is sponsored by the city of Reykjavik and the Landesbank. Unfortunately retail banks don’t exist anymore to spend additional money…


PD: This means that compared to other countries chess is really popular in Iceland?


SB: Yes, almost everybody can play chess in Iceland. Chess and handball are regarded as kind of “national sports”. But football and golf are more “fashionable”. A lot of chessplayers also like to play football and golf… and Poker! I do the first two as well!


PD: Did you experience less popularity of chess clubs due to the upcoming of the Internet?


OS: Oh yes, in my home country Egypt they have a lot of chess cafes. When the Internet evolved people stopped coming to the cafes. After twenty years or more!


PD: Guys, thank you very much for your time, good luck in the tournament and see you soon!

 


Photos and Text: Peter Dengler


The author of this article is working as a volunteer in the press centre of this year’s chess olympiad. As an amateur chessplayer of rating around 2250 he is taking the chance to meet with the chess world, gather some information from different teams, organize the daily press conference and write it down for publishing on the official website and the olympiad newsletter.