After some consideration I decided to participate in the European Qualifier for the World Cup. This event was the first big hybrid event and I was curious to see how it would work in practice.
An additional motivation for me to play was that I have never played a match in my life. Here I was guaranteed 2 games against a strong opponent and this spiked my curiousity to see how I can deal with a match situation.
I was paired to play against GM Ivan Salgado Lopez from Spain. I happen to know Ivan pretty well, he was a board member of the ACP for quite some time and we worked together well. When I analysed his games I saw that he is very gifted tactically, so I thought that my chances would be higher if I “dulled” the game somewhat. I also noticed that he prefers to attack, so taking the initiative was also a priority (you can notice how this affected my decisions in the second game).
I cannot say that my chess preparations went particularly well, due to other commitments, but I did what I could.
The venue in Skopje, where we played, was in one of the best schools in the city. It was comfortable and the internet connection was stable. I used a chess board to think and move my pieces on, which was a bit unnatural in the beginning, as I had to make the move on the laptop first and then on the board. This made it a bit difficult to concentrate at the start of the first game, but I was surprised how quickly I got used to it and soon enough my concentration was quite alright.
The only time I ditched the chess board was at the end of the first game, when I had several minutes left to finish the game, so I moved to my laptop to execute the moves directly. Unfortunately that was when I blundered.
Generally speaking, I was pleasantly surprised by the hybrid format. My main concern was the ability to concentrate under strange conditions, but with that out of the way everything was normal. In a way I felt more relaxed than usual, without having a physical opponent to see there was less tension.
The match was very exciting and I enjoyed it tremendously. I should have won the first game and in that case I would have played the second one differently, but both games were full-fledged fights and this is something I have missed for quite some time with lack of playing opportunities.
In the first game I was Black and in spite of all the preparation we left theory rather early.
It was a real pity not to win a game where, as he admitted after the match, I completely outplayed him. But there was no time to waste and this is what happened in the 2nd game.
All credit goes to my opponent who found two great moves to refute my rook sacrifice. Still, I enjoyed playing the game the way I did – I am not sure going for a draw and a tie-break would have increased my chances in view of my complete absence of practice when it comes to online games at quick time controls.
So I lost the match, but it was an experience I thoroughly enjoyed. It reminded me how much I miss playing chess and now I feel a bit sad going back to the “usual routine.”
As for hybrid chess, having experienced it personally, I am now more optimistic about its future than before. With proper technical preparation, like the one we had in Skopje, and a stable online platform I don’t see a reason why there shouldn’t be more tournaments like this.