My European Championship 2019 – Part I
I expected it to be tough and it was. Just that I didn’t expect it would be so from the very beginning.
Generally speaking my result at the tournament was acceptable. Even though I performed around my rating and scored a +1 (6 out of 11) and it was by far my most successful European Championship (the previous three being complete catastrophies), I cannot say it was a great success. I will try to explain what was happening in every game and why I think so.
Being ranked at the bottom of the first half in Round 1 I was paired with one of the lowest ranked players in the whole tournament. I expected a smooth sailing, but it wasn’t.
The players are just more resilient at this tournament, I don’t know if it’s the fact that they’re playing a continental championship and that makes them proud and more motivated. In any case, nobody folds, nobody gives up. My game from Round 1 is a typical case. My opponent was rated 1690, but even though he was inferior in positional understanding and allowed me to obtain an advantage, he simply wasn’t blundering and that meant that I had to work hard to win. The game lasted for almost 5 hours.
After the game I remember that I thought something like “if I had to play for so long and work so hard against a 1690-rated player, then what awaits me next?”
But I was psychologically ready for hard games in every single round and I think that helped me. Just a small fast forward: the average length of my games was 57 moves, the shortest one 37 moves and the longest one 106 moves.
In Round 2 I was already playing strong opposition. GM Paichadze from Georgia was rated 2576. He wasn’t very strong theoretically, but was very good at technical chess. This meant that I had to use my good preparation to get a good game, but unfortunately I messed it up.
What to feel after a game like this? I wasn’t sure – I was lost soon after the opening, then I fought back, then I missed my chances to equalise, then I fought back again, then I missed my drawing chance in the endgame and in the end I was lucky. I was playing both well, when having to fight back, and badly, when having to actually capitalise on the previous effort. It is not a good sign when you miss your chances, plus I was tired after another long game.
In Round 3 I got paired against another strong player, GM Hracek, rated 2578. In my preparation I noted his extremely solid repertoire so it was difficult to find a spot where to hit. Eventually I decided to surprise him with a line that I’ve never played before but one that I had prepared.
A strange game. During the game I thought I was doing alright for most of the time, but the engine disagrees completely and gives Black an advantage from the start. Such a huge disproportion in the evaluation rarely happens and even now I’m not sure that the engine is entirely right. My impression of the game was that I was fighting on equal terms and I made the decisive mistake in time-trouble, while following the engine evaluations it appears I was worse after the opening and then I only got a few chances at equality which I didn’t take.
Round 4 brought the third strong GM – Onischuk, rated 2626. He had a limited repertoire and almost always stuck to his lines. This was a good opportunity to take advantage of it with a precise preparation, but unfortunately I messed it up.
After returning home after the game I realised that the scenario was identical to the game with Hracek – I thought I was fighting well and the position was around equal, while the engine said I was mostly much worse and I missed a couple of equalising chances. The decisive mistake was again made in time-trouble.
The two losses in a row against strong opponents didn’t discourage me. I was more convinced in my own feeling that I was playing OK than the engine evaluations. What bothered me was that I was lost in all three games and I was never in a situation to try for more.
By this point in the tournament I also realised that I am suffering from severe insomnia. There were objective and subjective factors for this. The objective ones were that the appartment where I was staying was on one of the busiest boulevards in the city and even with earplugs I could hear the busses and cars all night. The subjective ones were that I got into the hectic rhythm of preparing, eating, playing, sleeping and I couldn’t find a way to break out of it. The few times I managed to switch the laptop off earlier I got better sleep and felt more rested, but these were rare.