Soto's Chess Game: Miami-Dade's Chief Judge Grapples With Judicial Vacancies in an Understaffed Circuit –

Chief Judge Bertila Soto equates filling judicial vacancies to a game of chess.

For all of the sentimentality and excitement surrounding investitures, their frequency speaks to one of the principal challenges Miami-Dade Chief Judge Bertila Soto has faced in her position: filling the gaps left by judicial vacancies.

Since becoming chief judge in 2013, Soto has overseen 56 investitures.

Her job carries many responsibilities — assigning judges and court officers, implementing a system that addresses all cases and complaints brought before Miami-Dade courts and ensuring the smooth operation of her circuit’s day-to-day affairs.

But it’s the investitures that speak to the toughest challenge — and “one of the best parts” of her job.

“You get to meet the judge and hear the friends that they’ve selected talk about themselves,” Soto said. “Their families attend and you hear their background about why they became a judge, how they became a judge, their dreams and their struggles, and it gives you an insight that you might not otherwise have. Some of the judges equate it to being their eulogy in life. It’s a really beautiful experience and it’s a gift to me [and other judges] to get to know our new colleagues.”

Miami-Dade Chief Judge Bertila Soto. Photo: A.M. Holt/ALM

Soto brings passion to everything she does, whether it’s in her position supervising Miami-Dade courts or simply decorating her chambers with wall-to-wall paraphernalia of her favorite college football team, the Miami Hurricanes.

So the chief judge does not mince words when discussing the ongoing attention that judicial vacancies require from her and the courts at large, referring to the constant, strategic maneuvering as a game of chess.

“We always love to have new judges and fresh perspectives. That’s part of the process. We know as judges when we run [for office] or are appointed that there’s a chance that we won’t be a judge the next time,” Soto says. “But it does have an impact, because all of those vacancies last anywhere from 60 to 90 days, and sometimes longer if a judge retires and their seat was up for election.”


22 New County Court Judges in 2 Years

Miami-Dade Judge Teretha Lundy-Thomas

Soto cites the example of Judge Teretha Thomas, whose last day on the bench was July 31However, because Thomas was elected, and the next election will not take place until Aug. 28, her seat will remain empty until the winner of the election takes office in January 2019. This will leave Soto juggling six months’ worth of hearings.

Although there are systems — such as the use of senior judges — in place to address occasions such as Thomas’ retirement, the circuit has seen a rash of retirements and appointments in recent months. Given Miami-Dade’s status as the largest judicial circuit in Florida, and the fourth largest in the United States, caseloads pile up quickly and judicial vacancies can become a sizable conundrum.

“On Aug. 31, Wendell Graham is retiring, which was unexpected. His seat isn’t going to election but the appointment process usually takes 90 days,” Soto said.

Sometimes, the appointment process is swift. For instance, within a year, Judge Renatha Francis occupied two spots on the bench. First, in August 2017, Gov. Rick Scott appointed her to the Miami-Dade County Court. By the following June, she had risen to the circuit bench to replace a departing judge.

“When [county judges] get appointed I have a vacancy at the county level going into the circuit level,” Soto says. “One vacancy gets plugged in and another one occurs. By the end of 2018, there’ll have been 22 new county court judges in the last two years.”


‘Starting Over From Scratch’

Soto is far from the only one feeling the pressure of turnovers in the judiciary.

“Whether it’s because a judge is retiring, has resigned or simply is not reelected to the position, you always have a concern that at some point in time the judge is going to change,” said David Weinstein, partner at Miami-based Hinshaw & Culbertson.

David Weinstein, with Hinshaw & Culbertson in Miami. Courtesy photo

Weinstein, who once worked as a prosecutor with the Southern District of Florida and the Miami-Dade County State Attorney’s Office, is well-acquainted with the myriad problems such rampant judicial vacancies can cause. Now, as a defense attorney, he is concerned about time lost in bringing new or temporary judges up to speed on the subtleties of each case.

“The danger that you suffer is that you’ve educated a judge about the intricacies of a case, and then that judge is gone and you’re starting over again from ground zero with the new judge,” Weinstein says. “In a criminal case there’s speedy trial issues to contend with and the right of the defendant to go to trial. In civil cases things tend to drag on a bit longer because you’re litigating about money; in dependency, family court and in probate sometimes it moves even slower.”

Hayden O’Byrne, K&L Gates, Miami. Photo: Harvey Bilt

Hayden P. O’Byrne has a unique view of the process. The commercial litigator with K&L Gates is also the new chairman of the Eleventh Circuit Judicial Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission, which helps the governor narrow the field of candidates hoping for judgeships. As judges move, their rotation can exacerbate the slowdown.

“You’re … getting judges that rotate from criminal to civil, but maybe they were a career state attorney or a criminal defense attorney, but they’ve never done anything civil,” O’Byrne said. “So they’re going into civil, they’re starting over from scratch, and they just don’t know civil procedure. They can learn it, but there’s a wrap-up period.”

According to Soto, several aggravating factors compound the problem of judicial vacancies.

“The legislature budgets a certain amount of senior judge days to each circuit … but we’ve never had enough senior judge days to cover the vacancies,” the chief judge said. “We don’t use senior judge days for one-day sick or for vacation. This is purposely for vacancies.”

Plus, a June 2014 ruling by the Florida Supreme Court placed restrictions on the caseload that senior judges can handle to avoid potential conflicts of interest, leaving Soto with yet another chess move to make.

“I think that that’s a valid point,” Soto said. ”But by the same token, our senior judges who only get paid $350 a day, when they could be making $400 an hour doing mediation, have chosen to do mediation, and you can’t blame them for that.”


‘Multifaceted Problem’

The creation of a back-up judge position could help alleviate the fallout of the high court ruling, but Soto anticipates bureaucratic and financial roadblocks.

Plus, some observers say the issue could be even more complicated.

Lee Stapleton, K&L Gates

“It is a multifaceted problem, but it’s not a situation that lends itself to throwing money,” said commercial litigator Lee Stapleton, a partner at K&L Gates. “It’s not a management issue. It’s a very human issue. It’s Important whenever possible to have continuity, but no management system or money can stop judicial turnover. … I don’t think it’s something that you can necessarily fix.”

For the time being, Soto has been deftly moving the pieces on the circuit’s chessboard.

“We do the best we can with what we can afford and with what we have,” she said. “You asked me how I do it. It’s because everybody is very in-tune to the vacancies and is trying to help out.”

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Maybe You've Seen This Before? Caruana Perfect In St. Louis … –

It’s a bit of a writers’ crutch to take any winning streak by GM Fabiano Caruana and allude to his seven straight wins at the 2014 Sinquefield Cup, but sometimes the man gives us no choice.

Caruana made history again today, this time at the 2018 Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz, where he became the first person to start any Grand Chess Tour rapid event 3-0 in the opening day of the rapid portion (hat tip: Isaac Steincamp on Twitter). The scoring system awards two points for a win, so the world championship challenger sits on six points, two more than both GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and GM Sergey Karjakin.

Not only did he win all of his games, you could make an argument for his trio all being “game of the round.” Caruana forces this writer’s hand again — they’ve all been included below.

Wesley So

While his countryman had a memorable day, the Grand Chess Tour leading GM Wesley So had a forgettable one. | Photo: Mike Klein/

The day was also a chance for those mired in the Grand Chess Tour’s basement to flip the tables. In round one, exactly that happened, as three bottom-enders all won: GM Viswanathan Anand, GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, and last-place Caruana. (Anand’s outlook: “I’m not thinking about the total because I’ve very far off the pace.”)

Round 1

Anand got the reversals of fortune going first by sacrificing an exchange to rip open GM Hikaru Nakamura’s king. All he needed to do after that was provoke some weaknesses by first toggling some checks with his queen, then some diagonals with his bishop.

“I liked my position after 15. f3; I like the structure for White,” Anand said, even though he was expecting a Pirc, which Nakamura sometimes opens with against him.


GM Viswanathan Anand got off to a fast start today. | Photo: Mike Klein/

He thought about going for 20. Bf4 Qd7 21. Rxf6! right away, but instead chose the more solid posting on e3. Then Nakamura lunged with 20…h5 and Anand didn’t have to be asked twice.

“I’d been dying to sac on f6 for a while already,” Anand said. “When he played …h5 it was too good to pass up.”

The GCT’s overall leader, GM Wesley So, had a tough day at the checkerboarded office. He dropped his two opening games, the first to Mamedyarov in a dismal effort.

You have to go back a long way to find a loss for So in rapid. And when your research ends, you’ll see Mamedyarov waiting there, too. The Azeri also beat him in the Paris event earlier this year and thus had accounted for So’s only two rapid losses on the 2018 GCT circuit up to that point.

Besides Vachier-Lagrave and Mamedyarov, who both played in Biel, most of the players have been on an extended break of more than a month. Nakamura said that can have negative effects.

“I think everyone’s just trying to find their way,” he said. “You can prepare all you want, but when you haven’t played, everything is just a little bit off.”


Defending Sinquefield Cup champ GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, right, currently holding down the fourth and final spot to London. | Photo: Mike Klein/

Speaking to when the day concluded, Nakamura said returning to chess in a rapid format is especially tricky.

“It makes a big difference — the more time you have, the easier it is after a break,” he said. From his own experience, he explained that a 3.5-week or one month break is ideal for him in between events. Recharging without rusting.

“Any time I’ve had a break of six weeks or more, I haven’t played well when I’ve come back.”


Last year GM Levon Aronian won this event, but this year it will also serve as a tune-up to his re-entry to the Olympiad. | Photo: Mike Klein/

The final winner of the day was the man of the day. Caruana rebuffed a queen sortie then launched the house at GM Alexander Grischuk’s king. A sacrifice on h3 then ripped the doors off.

Analysis by WGM Tatev Abrahamyan:

“This is ‘Murder She Wrote’ on the chessboard,” was GM Maurice Ashley’s take on the finish.

Round 2

Nakamura shook off his rust in the first hour by handing So his second straight loss, despite the latter claiming he didn’t play that poorly in the endgame until he faced time pressure.


GM Hikaru Nakamura had a chat with second NM Kris Littlejohn after his opening-round loss, then righted things in the next hour. | Photo: Mike Klein/

The game had some similarities from the opening round for both players. So got into another 19th-century opening (first the Two Knights’ Defense, now the Scotch Game), while Nakamura again built up a queen-and-bishop battery leading to h2/h7. The quirk of having that same mechanism repeat in two games was nothing more than that — Nakamura said he didn’t even realize the similarity.

In fact both players had chances on the h-pawn early:

Meanwhile Caruana laid waste to GM Levon Aronian’s king as the Armenian’s pieces seemed to commit mutiny. They mostly were absent from their posts, especially the queen, as Caruana’s queen and knights hopped in with precision and beauty.

Karjakin may have topped Caruana in terms of number of offerings into the collection plate. He jettisoned both rooks with 22. Qa1 and caused GM Leinier Dominguez to burn much of his remaining time before replying with the feeble 22…f6.

That pawn was like a s’more to a campfire and melted after the Russian built up five(!) pieces on it. When it cleared out of the way, Karjakin charred the black king.

The heroic save of the round came by Grischuk and cost Mamedyarov a 2-0 start. Up an exchange and coasting to victory, Mamedyarov then faced a crises when Grischuk played a seemingly-desperate double-pawn sacrifice just to shut down a diagonal.


GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov wasn’t too pleased after he couldn’t keep pace with Caruana. | Photo: Mike Klein/

Grischuk had only 13 seconds left when he conjured the idea, but it obfuscated the win just enough and the game ended in a perpetual.

With Vachier-Lagrave beating Anand, only this Houdini act prevented the round from producing five winners from the five games.


The blistering pace came almost to a stop right away. But even in a pitch-drop test, excitement eventually comes.

With four of the five games ending drawn after varying degrees of nothingness, can you guess which player continued to excite? Even amateur mathematicians can tell by the lede it had to be Caruana. It might also not surprise that his opponent was then second-place Mamadyarov.

Caruana had already won twice as Black, but this time got into a spot of trouble as White. The 21…Nxb4 piece sacrifice is classic Mamedyarov, and produced a game that left fun analysis all the way even to the final moves.

Caruana Mamedyarov

Caruana’s take on the final game to finish: “This last game was especially tough. I wasn’t sure if I was better or worse or losing.” | Photo: Mike Klein/

Once his offsides bishop on a2 recovered and the dangerous d-pawn was vacuumed, all seemed easy enough for Caruana, who said he planned to zugzwang Black with his extra piece in the ending. But then it turned into a tense pawn race, but with all lines leading to a win by a tempo. will have GM Robert Hess do a full treatment of this Game of the Day, but for now, we will satiate you with some fun ending tricks that Caruana showed off: also caught up with the day one leader and asked about being aggressive in rapid chess games, if he will upgrade his computer before the world championship, and other subjects:

Watch Fabiano Caruana On A Record Start In The Saint Louis Rapid from Chess on


Pairings for day two:




All graphics courtesy Spectrum Studios.

The Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz is a five-day event from August 11-15. The first three days are a rapid round robin and the final two days are a blitz double round robin. The games begin at 1pm Central U.S. time daily (8pm Central Europe).

Earlier reports:

Delta Kappa Omega hosts first annual chess tournament –

Special to the Chronicle
Published 12:03 p.m. ET Aug. 11, 2018

The 1st Annual Chess Tournament for participants in the Homework Assistance and Social Responsibility program was held at the Delta Kappa Omega Providence Community Service Center on Saturday, June 2, 2018. Mr. Alvin Bell, the Chess instructor, conducted a two hour session each week to teach the children about the game, the various pieces, moves, and rules. Participants in the program ranged in ages from 6 to 15.

Eight children competed in the tournament. They were Isaac Davis, Bruce Doyle, Kymarria Morris, Tramiya Morris, Tramarrion Morris, Mauricio Reyes, Veronica Reyes and Jaylan Smith. Each child received a medal and chess set for their participation. The competition was fierce with several games ending in a draw before winners could move on to the next round. At the end of the three hour tournament, Jaylan Smith, 15 years old, emerged as the First Place Winner; Tramiya Morris, 7 years old, Second Place Winner; and Tramarrion Morris, 6 years old, Third Place Winner.

Each winner received a monetary prize and certificate. Mrs. Mary Peters, program coordinator, full of excitement said, “I was so proud of all of our kids. It warmed my heart watching them concentrate and strategize before making a move.”

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Stokes admits to 'throwing several punches'

Ben Stokes

Image copyright

Image caption

Ben Stokes denies affray in a trial at Bristol Crown Court

England cricketer Ben Stokes admitted throwing several punches at a man outside a nightclub in Bristol, a jury has heard.

The Durham all-rounder, who denies affray, has taken to the stand for a second day at Bristol Crown Court.

Mr Stokes, 27, said: “It’s clear in my statements that I admit to throwing multiple punches.”

He is on trial alongside Ryan Ali, 28, who the cricketer is alleged to have knocked out, outside the Mbargo club.

Mr Ali has also denied a charge of affray while Ryan Hale, 27, was acquitted of the same charge on Thursday.

Mr Stokes told the court he felt “constantly under threat” by Mr Ali and Mr Hale who he claims made homophobic slurs to two gay men, Kai Barry and William O’Connor.

But when questioned by the prosecution, he admitted “slapping” but not knocking out Mr Ali or being very drunk.

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Media captionFootage from the arresting officer’s bodycam was shown to the jury at Mr Stokes’ trial

He agreed he had had at least 10 drinks, including pints of beer, vodka and lemonade as well as “a few” Jagerbombs, which are shots usually mixed with energy drinks.

Under cross-examination by Mr Ali’s defence counsel, he was questioned whether he had misheard what was being said.

But, he maintained Mr Ali and Mr Hale made homophobic comments outside the club in the Clifton triangle area of Bristol during the early hours of 25 September last year.

Mr Stokes told the jury he was not “threatening or aggressive” towards the men.

“I’d say I was verbally saying ‘I don’t think you should be saying that to these two guys because they’re gay’,” he said.

He also said he could not remember the specific homophobic words used.

“As I’ve said I can’t recollect anything specific, but I’m very clear the words used were a homophobic nature.”

As the prosecution began its cross-examination of the cricketer, the jury was shown CCTV pictures from outside Mbargo, where he was denied entry.

‘Effeminate nature’

Mr Stokes admitted trying to bribe doorman Andrew Cunningham with £60 to get in, but denied it was as much as £300.

He also denied being spiteful and aggressive or making derogatory marks about the doorman’s tattoos or throwing a cigarette in his direction when he was refused entry.

The court heard Mr Cunningham perceived Mr Stokes as “mocking” the gay men’s mannerisms” and mimicking “their voices and effeminate nature”, which the defendant refuted.

Image copyright
Avon and Somerset Police

Image caption

The jury was shown CCTV footage apparently showing the men involved – including Ben Stokes – in a fight in the street

Mr Stokes also denied being angry about not being allowed back into the club, where he was with fellow England player Alex Hales.

The court heard Mr Stokes had first played with Mr Hales in 2011, prompting prosecutor Nicholas Corsellis to suggest “you’d recognise his voice would you not?”. The defendant agreed he would.

But when Mr Corsellis asked whether he heard Mr Hales call out to him, “Stokes stop, Stokes no…”, during the incident, he said he did not.

“Did you not appreciate that the person who grabbed you by the arm was Alex Hales? Do you not remember he tried to grab you?,” said Mr Corsellis, to which Mr Stokes said “no.”

The cricketer also denied feeling enraged when his friend, Mr Hales was “ran at with a glass bottle” by Mr Ali.

Mr Stokes replied: “Throughout this whole incident my whole focus was where Mr Ali was and where Mr Hale was, from the moment I was verbally threatened and my friend Alex was run at with a glass bottle.”

At Bristol Crown Court

Chris Sandys, BBC News

Ben Stokes’s attire, demeanour, speech and poise have all remained the same throughout several hours of giving evidence.

Most of the time he remains standing, with the occasional request to sit which eases the back pain he is apparently suffering with.

Many of his responses have been short and mostly themed around having little memory of the night he is being quizzed over.

Prosecuting, Mr Corsellis asked: “Were you enraged?”.

“No, at this time my sole focus was to protect myself,” Mr Stokes replied.

He was then asked by the prosecution whether he tried to retaliate against Mr Ali after being disarmed by him, which he denied.

Mr Corsellis asked: “Is it what we see on the footage – an angry man who has lost all control?”

Stokes replied: “Absolutely not.”

The trial continues.

Chess Olympiad Lineups Announced; Russian Streak Ends –

The buildup has officially begun for the 43rd Chess Olympiad in Batumi, Georgia. The lineups are posted, so the pre-event punditry can begin. For the first time since its inception, Russia is not head of the open section.

From September 23 to October 6, a whopping 179 federations are expected to converge on the shores of the Black Sea for the 11-round team event, which comprises both an open and women’s section.

Promotional video from the official tournament site.

That leaves six weeks for top teams to pore over the lineups of their biggest rivals, and for smaller federations to wonder which beast they’ll be matched with in round one. 

Open Section

The United States will attempt to defend its gold medal as the number-one squad. Two years ago in Baku, the U.S. team was superseded by a mere two points in average rating to Russia. 


The American gold medalists celebrate just after the 2016 closing ceremony. | Photo: Mike Klein/

But what a difference 24 months makes. Since the last visit to the Caucasus, Russia has stayed almost exactly the same while the U.S. has padded its team average (now 2777) by a dozen points. The team will come to Georgia with the same lineup as two years ago: GMs Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, Wesley So, Sam Shankland, and Ray Robson.

This appears to be the highest-ever team average. Previously, Russia clocked in at 2773 in 2014 (when 2786-rated Karjakin played on board four!).

The average rating stat is composed of the top four of the five players, and you can likely guess who did most of the damage for the U.S.

Shankland’s U.S. championship win and 62-game unbeaten streak almost single-handedly vaulted his team to the top seed. (Interestingly, if you do count all five players in team rankings, then Russia jumps back above the U.S. But longtime U.S. team captain IM John Donaldson points out that the alternate Robson, 23, is still the youngest on the team, has now graduated college, and has “plenty of room to improve.”)


The medal stand in Baku: U.S. gold, Ukraine silver, Russia bronze. | Photo: Mike Klein/

The world championship contender Caruana also chipped in while the other team members only had marginal changes. The Olympiad represents another event in a very busy calendar for the challenger. Caruana is slated to play in the Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz and the Sinquefield Cup, both this month, then the Olympiad in September/October and the Isle of Man International later in October.

Russia flip-flops with the U.S. and goes in at the number two seed. That’s history just by itself. Since becoming an independent federation in 1992, Russia has had exclusive domain on the top of the pre-tournament rankings. While that streak ends, there’s another one they’d like to come to a close as well: despite being the team to beat, Russia has not won team gold since eight Olympiads ago, in Bled 2002.

Another bit of trivia: According to Donaldson, who is also a chess historian, this is the first time the Americans are favored since the advent of FIDE ratings, not counting the largely boycotted 1976 Olympiad in Haifa.

Unlike its American counterparts, Russia did make some lineup changes as the chase squad. Out are GMs Alexander Grischuk (first time missing the Olympiad since his first appearance in 2000) and Evgeny Tomashevsky, while entering are GMs Dmitry Jakovenko and Nikita Vitiugov. However, three of their top comrades return: GMs Vladimir Kramnik, Sergey Karjakin, and Ian Nepomniachtchi

USA-Russia is always anticipated (in 2016 it happened twice in the same round). Here’s the ChessVibes video from the 2012 battle in Istanbul.

The winner of the biennial event in 2014, China, is again camped out in the third spot. But like the U.S., it also jumped a dozen rating points in the last two years. China will return four of five players from Baku: GMs Ding Liren, Li Chao, Wei Yi, and Yu Yangyi. Those are all teenagers and 20-somethings, and they will replace one “veteran” with another. The 31-year-old GM Wang Yue is replaced by 32-year-old GM Bu Xiangzhi.

Some of their team members regressed in rating, so why the overall jump? You can thank two men: Ding Liren (2753 to 2797!) and Yu Yangyi (2725 to 2760).

You don’t need to speak Georgian to see that the beach is the place to be for the Olympiad.

 Donaldson gives many more teams than the top three chances to win it all. Here’s his explanation:

In 2016 we scored a record 20 (out of 22) points, but still ended up going to a tiebreaker with Ukraine to determine the winner. There is very little room for error. There are six teams with average ratings over 2700 and another seven over 2650. Only Armenia (2006 and 2008) has repeated as gold medalists this century. By the numbers no team has more than a 20 percent chance of winning. That said we have as good a chance as anybody and will do our utmost to repeat.

Other big risers in the top 20 since Baku? That would be India (#9 to #5); Armenia (did not attend to #9); Israel (#16 to #10); Romania (#30 to #19); and Peru (#34 to #20).

The biggest drop isn’t even close. Norway will come to Georgia with only three GMs and without the services of top GMs Magnus Carlsen or Jon Ludvig Hammer. Its young squad consequently falls from #12 to #38.


Now you see them, now you don’t. GMs Magnus Carlsen and Jon Ludvig Hammer (both left) will not play in 2018. | Photo: Mike Klein/

Well, you could take issue with the last superlative. In 2016, Bulgaria only played GM Veselin Topalov for five rounds and finished 66th, which was 44 spots lower than its ranking. This time around, it won’t even place after its federation was banned from FIDE (you won’t even find Bulgaria on the “top country” list).

Donaldson rounds out some predictions. When asked by to name all the teams that have at least a 10 percent chance of winning, he said:

Besides the U.S. and Russia the other teams with average ratings over 2700—China, Azerbaijan, India, and Ukraine—are the most logical contenders. China, which has won back-to-back World Team Championships as well as the 2014 Olympiad, is always tough. Azerbaijan is led by Mamedyarov who has been in great form of late, while India, which has played very well the past few Olympiads, has Anand playing for the first time since Turin 2006. Finally Ukraine, which played magnificently in Baku, is back at full strength.

Donaldson then named Poland as a possible dark horse, but also didn’t rule out a new-look Armenian team.

Of the top 20 players in the world, the only one not playing besides the aforementioned Carlsen, Grischuk, and Topalov is GM Peter SvidlerGM Richard Rapport is noticeably absent from the Hungarian team, as is GM Paco Vallejo for Spain, who has admittedly not had chess on his mind lately.


GM Viswanathan Anand will play at the Olympiad for the first time since 2006. | Photo: Official site.

Some notable captain changes will take effect, too. With IM Malcolm Pein on the ticket for the presidential campaign of IM Georgios Makropoulos, in steps legendary GM John Nunn to captain the English contingent. GM Jan Gustafsson jumps from player to captain (well, he last played in 2012), but for Netherlands, not Germany! Also changing roles will be GM Evgenij Miroshnichenko who “drops the mike”—he will go from commentator to captain of Iran.

2018 Chess Olympiad | Top 20 Open Teams

No. Team Team RtgAvg Captain
1 United States of America 2777 Donaldson John
2 Russia 2767 Filatov Andrey
3 China 2752 Xu Jun
4 Azerbaijan 2743 Guseinov Gadir
5 India 2723 Ramesh R B
6 Ukraine 2703 Sulypa Oleksandr
7 France 2690 Maze Sebastien
8 England 2682 Nunn John
9 Armenia 2679 Petrosian Arshak B
10 Israel 2677 Kaspi Alexander
11 Netherlands 2676 Gustafsson Jan
12 Hungary 2674 Balogh Csaba
13 Poland 2669 Socko Bartosz
14 Czech Republic 2637 Jansa Vlastimil
15 Germany 2631 Rogozenco Dorian
16 Spain 2623 Magem Badals Jordi
17 Croatia 2612 Kozul Zdenko
18 Belarus 2610 Tukmakov Vladimir B
19 Romania 2609 Berescu Alin-Mile
20 Peru 2601 Soto Vega Jorge

Women’s Section

There is slightly more movement at the top for the ladies. With GM Hou Yifan sitting out, defending champion China falls from number-one to number-three this time around. China also leaves GM Tan Zhongyi off the roster, despite her winning a women’s world championship in the interregnum since last Olympiad!

Russia returns all five women from last time but changes places, going from number-three to number-one (biggest riser: the youngster WGM Aleksandra Goryachkina), while Ukraine only changed its alternate and therefore remains the meat of the sandwich, still at number two.


China-Russia is usually the matchup to focus on (they’ve combined for eight of the last 10 women’s team golds), and it’s almost certain to happen in one of the 11 rounds. | Photo: Mike Klein/

Women’s perennial powerhouse Georgia was fourth in Baku, and it is not yet listed, but rest assured that the home country will be attending! Likely Georgia is waiting to see if there will be an odd or even number of teams. The host country traditionally gets two teams, and possibly a third if it will even out the number of federations, but this can affect how to form each five-some. 

Notable risers in the women’s tournament includes France (#23 to #6 as GM Marie Sebag and IM Almira Skripchenko return); Kazakhstan (#31 to #8 as young star IM Zhansaya Abdumalik [2481] added nearly 100 points); Azerbaijan (#16 to #10); Armenia (did not attend to #13); and Netherlands (#21 to #14).


Winners in 2016, can China repeat without its star? | Photo: Mike Klein/

Those beginning noticeably further down include the U.S. (#6 to #9 as U.S. women’s champion IM Nazi Paikidze declined her invitation); Hungary (#8 to #12); Lithuania (#12 to #24); and Iran (#13 to #26). As in the open, Bulgaria (#9 in 2016) will not attend, which will end GM Antoaneta Stefanova’s streak of 13 consecutive Olympiads (12 on the women’s team and once in the open).


A view of Batumi. | Photo: Official site.

Another notable absence this year is GM Pia Cramling, who first played 40 years ago and has split time between the open and women’s teams for Sweden. She is not on the roster due to a row about captaincy despite calling the Baku Olympiad her favorite since she got to play alongside her daughter.

2018 Chess Olympiad | Top 20 Women’s Teams

No. Team Team RtgAvg Captain
1 Russia 2523 Rublevsky Sergei
2 Ukraine 2489 Brodsky Michail
3 China 2485 Yu Shaoteng
4 India 2454 Aagaard Jacob
5 Poland 2415 Matlak Marek
6 France 2412 Cornette Matthieu
7 Germany 2401 Carlstedt Jonathan
8 Kazakhstan 2400 Khusnutdinov Rustam
9 United States of America 2387 Khachiyan Melikset
10 Azerbaijan 2365 Sideifzade Fikret
11 Spain 2358 Martinez Martin David
12 Hungary 2357 Papp Gabor
13 Armenia 2356 Chibukhchian Artur
14 Netherlands 2334 Cifuentes Parada Roberto
15 Mongolia 2329 Tserendorj Batsaikhan
16 Vietnam 2325 Vasilyev Mikhail
17 Romania 2321 Nanu Costica-Ciprian
18 Cuba 2318 Alvarez Pedraza Aramis
19 Serbia 2318 Chelushkina Irina
20 Italy 2316 Garcia Palermo Carlos

As he’s said several times, one of Donaldson’s main jobs is to bring the Tiger Balm and alcohol swabs. While the U.S. will not have any sort of training camp, here’s his plan for his team this year:

In Baku everyone knew each other from individual tournaments but had not played together. It took a few rounds to make the transition, but after that went pretty smoothly. That will not be an issue in Batumi. One take away from Baku was the need to stay healthy throughout the event. Olympiads can be stressful and because you have players from all over the world there is always somebody sick. will have extensive daily coverage of both events. Directors of Content Peter Doggers and Mike Klein will be on site, as will photographer Maria Emelianova.

Stokes denies homophobic comments

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Media captionFootage from the arresting officer’s bodycam has been shown to the jury at Mr Stokes’ trial.

England cricketer Ben Stokes told a court he “stepped in” to defend two gay men before an alleged brawl.

The Durham all-rounder is one of two men accused of fighting outside a Bristol nightclub on 25 September.

Mr Stokes, 27, denies affray and says he acted in self defence. He said he had drunk up to three pints and six vodka and lemonades but was not drunk.

Ryan Ali, 28, has also denied affray while Ryan Hale, 27, was acquitted at Bristol Crown Court of affray earlier.

Giving evidence for the first time, Mr Stokes told the court he intervened when he heard Mr Hale and Mr Ali “shouting homophobic comments” at two gay men, Kai Barry and William O’Connor.

He told the jury: “I stepped in and said ‘you shouldn’t be saying these things to these two men’.”

‘Knocked unconscious’

The prosecution has accused Mr Stokes of mimicking the voices and mannerisms of Mr Barry and Mr O’Connor in what was described as “a derogatory way”.

Mr Stokes was asked by his barrister Gordon Cole QC if any of his actions towards the two gay men outside Mbargo nightclub were homophobic.

The cricketer told the court: “Definitely not. The only comments between myself and this gay couple was about what we was wearing that night.”

Prosecutors previously told the court Mr Ali, who they say had been holding a glass beer bottle, and Mr Hale were knocked unconscious by Mr Stokes.

Image copyright
Julia Quenzler

Image caption

Ben Stokes has begun giving evidence in his defence in court

When asked what was “the first action in any violence” Mr Stokes replied: “Mr Ali turning the bottle he had. He took the neck of the bottle.”

Mr Stokes said he had been “protecting himself” and the people around him when he got involved in the fight.

He said: “I took the decision for what I did very quickly. As soon as this episode started I knew not just myself but other people could be a target of these two men.

He added: “As soon as I decided to get involved, everything I did was under self-defence. I did what I could to keep myself and those around me safe.”

When asked if he had become “enraged” at any point during the incident, Mr Stokes replied it was a “difficult question to answer”.

The 6ft 2in tall sportsman added: “I didn’t know they could be carrying more weapons on them.

“They could decide to attack me at any time if I was to turn my back on either of these two.

“At all times I felt under threat from these two.”

Mr Stokes, who was dressed in court in a blue suit, white shirt and blue tie, said that after a win against the West Indies he had celebrated at the ground then had two or three pints with a meal.

After the meal, Mr Stokes and some of his England teammates went to Mbargo, where they drank five or six vodka and lemonades.

‘Nothing unusual’

Mr Cole asked: “Were you drunk?” “No,” Mr Stokes replied.

The cricketer said a large group then decided to go to the Pryzm nightclub instead.

Mr Cole showed the jury a photograph of Mr Stokes and teammates James Anderson, Jake Ball and Alex Hales taken outside Pryzm.

He then returned to Mbargo in a taxi with Mr Hales.

Mr Stokes said there was nothing unusual in how he had behaved in his dealings with nightclub doorman Andrew Cunningham.

When asked by Mr Cole if he had become enraged at some point, Mr Stokes said: “No.”

He also said he did not remember flicking his cigarette at the gay couple outside the club.

Image copyright

Image caption

Ryan Hale has been found not guilty of affray

The court heard earlier that former soldier Mr Hale told police in a formal interview he believed Mr Stokes could have killed him.

He added: “I’m a dad. He could have killed me. I don’t know why he didn’t stop.”

Mr Stokes, of Castle Eden, Durham, and Mr Ali, of Bristol, both deny a joint charge of affray.

The trial continues.