From Russia With Love

I returned from Russia safely. And it was quite a challenge.

Watching the World Cup was a great experience. The game I saw was Spain-Morocco and the city of Kaliningrad was uncharacteristically Russian. The “Russian” spirit in Kaliningrad was mixed with the rich vegetation and remnants of the German times. The result was surprisingly pleasant.

Everything went smoothly on our way there. We (myself and two friends) drove the 2000km without problems and arrived relatively quickly. Our stay there was nice and the game was one of the most interesting ones from the World Cup. We witnessed 4 goals and also a bit of VAR controversy.

It was the way back that turned out to be tricky. First we were held up on the Russian-Polish border for almost 2 hours. Routine checks, but it set the course of what was to come. Then we started hearing noises from the engine. Nothing could be seen when we opened the hood, so we continued driving.

Some 700km later, near Ostrava in the Czech Republic, the car broke down. Multiple failures in the engine and we could barely get off the motorway and reach the nearest village. The locals weren’t helpful. They didn’t want to talk to us and a couple of them even ran away when we approached them for help!

We stared calling various numbers for help and, to cut the story short, after more than 3 hours a tow service came and took us and the car to the Mercedes car repair garage.

More bad news came when they informed us that they would need at least 1 week to fix the car. Now we were really stuck. We booked a hotel, still without a clear idea what to do.

My friends don’t have the same travelling experience as I have. This meant that it had to be me who would find a way out of the situation. While watching Argentina qualify I was thinking of various ways to get us back home. My first idea was to take the train to Prague and then fly back to Skopje. But one of my friends has such a fear of flying that he basically blackmailed us into not considering that option.

This made things more complicated and problematic. Eventually I discovered that we can reach Budapest by train if we left in a few hours, at 2.36am. Then I arranged a friend of mine to pick us up from Budapest and drive us to Skopje.

The night train… It brought vivid memories of my decades of tournament-hopping. Impossible to sleep in fear of robbers. Usually I would take the night train either before a tournament, trying to reach it for Round 1, or after it, when I’d be on my way to the next one. It was profoundly excruciating experience, lack of sleep at its worst. It was often preceeded by trying to stay awake at the station, often in the mid-winter cold, waiting for the train to come.

This time at least I arrived at the train station by taxi and didn’t wait for too long. We also had the whole compartment for us so there was no need to fear being robbed. I still couldn’t sleep though, old habits die hard and the familiar surrounding turned on the forgotten switches.

I was severely sleep-depraved when we arrived. It all accumulated, each day of our trip we got up at 4.30am in order to have the whole day to drive. My friend picked us up soon after we arrived and then we set out to Skopje. I was falling in and out of sleep for the duration of the whole journey.

I didn’t have time to follow chess developments while away. The Grand Chess Tour finished in the meantime with the same players dominating both in Leuven and Paris. Caruana was still awful, his blunders becoming more shocking.

Karjakin-Caruana, the blitz in Paris. Of course this is easily winning, just don’t do what the Challenger did – he put the king on c4 and dropped the rook on a2.

The following one is equally unbelievable.

Caruana as Black is winning against Anand. The plan is to pick up the a-pawn with the king. What Caruana did follows the plan and loses the game in 1 move: 51…Kd7??? 52 Nxc5+.

I already posted the position that Caruana managed to lose to Nakamura in the rapid in Paris. Now take a look at the following transformation in the blitz:

Caruana is Black and is 3 pawns up. This is move 53 and White played 53 Bd3. Now take a deep breath and see the position that appeared on the board 45 moves later.

I won’t even try to explain this. Obviously Nakamura won the game.

The Paris leg of the Grand Chess Tour was won by Nakamura. It is good to have him back and win something, after a prolongued period of mediocrity (also see here). Still, it is “only” rapid and blitz and I would like to see him win a classical tournament for a change.

To finish with some good news, it was recently announced that the wild card for the Sinquefield Cup (with classical time controls) will go to Magnus Carlsen. This means that we will get to see another clash between the Champion and the Challenger before the match in November. I am certainly looking forward to that!

Alex Colovic
A professional player, coach and blogger. Grandmaster since 2013.
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