Category : My Tournaments

Italian Women Team Championship 2017

I have had many fabulous experiences over the years in many tournaments around the world, but the just finished Italian Women Team Championship in Gallipoli definitely ranks among the best.

It is not the fact that our team Caissa Italia Pentole Agnelli won the Scudetto. It is much more. Everything between my arrival in Bergamo last Wednesday and being picked up by Fulvio at the airport and the “ci vediamo e buon viaggio” with the girls, Yuri Garrett and Vittorio Perico, when I departed the hotel this morning, was incredibly smooth and soul-warming. Everything was just falling in place. I loved every moment of being part of our group.

I have been part of many teams in Macedonia, Spain, England and France, but nothing comes close to the atmosphere I experienced in Gallipoli. It is a rarest occurrence that you meet a person for a first time and you get along immediately – this time it happened with 6 people at the same time! Vittorio, “il gran direttore mega-galactico” was in charge of everything that had to do with the sponsors and the public relations; Yuri was our captain, I was the coach and the girls, Elisabeth Paehtz, Marina Brunello (a 100% score), Maria De Rosa, Alessia “il Bomber” Santeramo (a 100% score) and Silvia Guerini scored an unbelievable 23/24, wininng our first 6 matches and basically securing the title with a round to go. We beat two of our three main competitors 3.5-0.5. We drew the third 2-2 in the last round where a single draw secured the title.

It was the mutual understanding, respect and support that made the atmosphere so enjoyable, not only on a rational level, but also on a more subtle, deeper level where you can actually feel what the others are thinking and feeling. Yuri is a genius to create a positive atmosphere and keep it up, we only had to follow through. In the team’s first year of existence we won the national title with such ease that I still find it hard to believe. After all, the competition was fierce – the other teams had Stefanova and Fierro, Socko and Zimina, Vega and Sedina on their first two boards, while on boards 3 and 4 the ratings were about equal with our players. Yet we destroyed everybody.

My job was hard, but very fulfilling. I was working all the time, even when they were playing, preparing already for the next match. But out of the 12 games we played against our direct competitors, I managed to get 12 successful preparations on the board. Usually I am pretty good at this when I do it for myself, but I didn’t expect I would be able to do it for so many different players against so many different players! I was also a captain for the match against Padova (where Stefanova played on board 1 – we won 3.5-0.5).

In my first attempt at coaching a team and being a captain I managed to win the Italian Team Championship convincingly. Wow.

 

The Champions: Me, Yuri, Maria, Marina, Elisabeth, Vittorio, Silvia, Alessia (and Il Mostro inside the cup)

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Fischer’s Birthday

Today is Fischer’s birthday, he would have been 74. I have fond memories of this day as usually I played well on his birthday. He has always been my idol and I felt inspired to play on the day he was born.

The game I present below was played in Cannes in 2003. It was a difficult time for me personally, but one of the things I discovered about myself during the infinite nomadic travels from tournament to tournament was that I actually played well when things were difficult off the board. Whether those were personal matter or difficult conditions I usually managed to compose myself and really do my best.

The game against one of the strongest French Grandmasters, Christian Bauer is perhaps one of the best I have played against a strong opponent. The main theme is the one of control, I was never in danger and I kept him under pressure. The high quality of my moves was consistent. I still remember how it felt like a breeze. Perhaps that’s how Fischer felt too.

 

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Games from the PRO Chess League

I promised that I would post some of the games I played in the PRO chess league on chess.com. So now that the problems with the chessboard’s appearance have been solved, I present you with some of my efforts.

The league was a good training ground for some of the old analysis and preparation I never had a chance to use. For example, take a look at my game against GM Ghosh where I managed to use a well-forgotten idea from the 1960s in the Breyer variation of the Spanish.

 

 

Here’s an example how things can quickly go wrong in an endgame in rapid games. In the position below I offered a draw, but he immediately played a move.

 

 

And here’s a game where again I used a line that I prepared long ago. It turned out surprisingly well!

 

 

In case you’re in need of another idea against the Caro-Kann, here’s one that I used in the beginning of the 00s, admittedly with mixed success. But in the rapid it gave me a great position straight away!

 

 

In my next post I’ll take a look at some of my black games where I successfully used “The Double Fianchetto Solution.” Stay tuned!

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PRO Chess League On Chess.com

The popular playing site www.chess.com launched its Pro league in the first half of January. They managed to attract the world’s best players, including the World Champion Magnus Carlsen, So, Caruana, Nakamura, Vachier,  to name but a few. The main idea is that any city on this planet can form their team and participate.

I have excellent relations with the people of Chess Informant (I am also a regular contributor to the publication) and they invited me to be part of their team, the Belgrade Sparrows. The team has great spirit as I can hear every time we speak on Skype – they meet at the Informant’s venue in Belgrade and play all together. I am the only player who plays from home as I don’t live in Belgrade. After every match we chat on Skype and the cheers are loud and can be heard clearly!

So far the team’s run has been good – we won 3 matches, lost 2 and drew 1. The next round will be decisive for qualification for the knock-out stage and the pairings for it should come out soon.

To my own surprise, my result is great. I’ve won 13 games, lost 3 and drew 2. I played some very strong players like GMs Vidit, Gledura, Ghosh, Borisek, Skoberne and Pavasovic. The time control is 15 minutes with 2 second increment, so the quality of the games is acceptable, at least to a certain point. A typical example where I managed to use some old preparation in the Breyer Spanish (does anyone remember the move 11 Nh4, successfully used by Fischer in the 60s?) is against the Indian GM Diptayan Ghosh, currently rated 2573. I quickly got a winning position, played well and then missed a mate in 2! Luckily, the position was still easily winning even after that.

Another curiousity from my games is that except for one, all my black games started with 1 d4 or 1 Nf3. For this league I prepared the set-up with …b6 and …g6 in the QID and had great success with it! It also worked for the London System (1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 b6 3 Bf4 and also 3 Bg5).

It’s a lot of fun to play in the league, plus I am usually facing strong opponents. I will try to post some games in a later post, as for some reason the Blogger platform experiences problems with the chess.com board.

The last round of the group phase is on Wednesday, so I hope we qualify!

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Cheddleton Conquers Europe

This year I will again be part of Cheddleton’s team for our European campaign, the prestigious European Club Cup.

The Cup takes place in Novi Sad, Serbia, from 5-13 November. This is the official site and you can see the participating teams here.

Last year the Cup was held in my native Skopje and it was Cheddleton’s first outing in Europe. The result for the team was very promising. We were in contention for a Top 10 finish, but we narrowly lost our last two matches. I always say that it is better to be in contention and fail than not to be in contention at all! The tournament also marked my return to the competition, my first after 2008, and it was a fantastic come-back with 5.5/7 and the best overall score on Board 4 in the whole tournament!

This year we are stronger and even more motivated. You can see our line-up with the captain proudly leading the field! In order to promote and help our campaign, Fiona, our strongest player GM David Howell and a couple of other players (IM Vlad Hamitevici and the (in)famous Ginger GM (Simon Williams)) decided to make it massive – a full 12-hour live stream! To quote Fiona “the stream will consist of both a lot of chess and a lot of nonsense, so make sure you subscribe to my channel now and tune in later for a game or some banter!” You can subscribe to “Fionchetta” and follow the show for as long as you can stand good (and not always English) humour, some chess and great fun! The show starts at 3PM CET today, so I hope this post reaches you in time.

It is always a great pleasure to spend time with the guys (and the lady) and I hope we manage to improve on our result from last year. It should be fantastic!

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Baku Olympiad 2016 – Rounds 10&11

I couldn’t write last night as I was supposed to play in the last round, played in the morning, so I had to rest and prepare.

Our best match was yesterday when we beat the heavy favourites Egypt. It started all too well in the openings, on board 1 Pancevski with white chose a drawish line against GM Amin (2661) in the Spanish and this proved an excellent choice. Black was tempted to try for more and overlooked something in the process, leaving him in a probably lost endgame a pawn down with a rook and opposite-coloured bishops. The final combination of our player is very nice, even the computer doesn’t understand at first that white’s pawn is unstoppable.

I had already finished by that time, an easy draw on board 2 with black against GM Adly, the World Champion Under 20 from 2007. I was surprised by his choice of a drawish line, his idea was to obtain a risk-free slight initiative, but I outcalculated him and it was me instead who got the advantage. But then I didn’t play too well and eventually it was drawn (even though I should have continued in the final position!).

On board 3 Lazov with white got a good position in the Rossolimo Sicilian but in time trouble messed things up.

On board 4 Nikolovski with black was simply the better player than Hesham (2419) and won a good game in a Benoni.

All in all an excellent match and a good run of two wins in a row.

Due to reasons unknown to me, the organisers and FIDE decided to eliminate the second rest day, which was always before the last round. A very unfortunate decision because the last round started at 11am today while the board pairings were made available last night at midnight. So when do you get to rest and prepare?

In the last round we were paired against Bosnia. A stronger team than us, but one that was beatable, or so we felt.

On board 1 Nedev was suffering as black against GM Predojevic but suffered successfully and drew.

On board 2 disaster struck. Pancevski was lost on move 15 with white against GM Kadric. He must have missed something relatively simple, otherwise it’s difficult to explain such a rapid loss.

On board 3 I was black against GM Dizdarevic and I made another easy draw, just like yesterday.

We should have equalised the match on board 4. The game was equal for a long time and then suddenly Nikolovski got a winning position. And it was a technically winning position, a rook and two pawns versus a knight with two pawns, on the same wing. But technique failed him and he could only draw, and so we lost the match by the minimal margin. It’s a pity, as a drawn match would have equalled our score from Tromso 2014 when we played with a much stronger team.

Generally speaking our team did better than expected. We ended up sharing 58th-75th place (67th on tie-break, while our starting rank was 65th), but the fact that we were in a chance to achieve excellent result with a positive outcome in the last round (and we were so close!) is worth a lot and shows our potential.

Nedev on board 1 had 4/9 with a slight rating minus. Board 1 is always the most difficult board and this time he was better than in Tromso. A surprising fact is that all his 3 losses were with white!

On board 2 Pancevski was doing great until the last round. His final score of 5.5/10 doesn’t reflect his importance for the team. His most valuable win was against Egypt when he beat a much stronger opponent.

I had the best score in the whole team, 7/10, on board 3. I lost only 1 game (against Mamedov (2666)) and won 5. My game was mostly stable and my head was working well. I felt good to play for my national team and the surrounding and conditions were motivating for me to do my best. I enjoy playing Olympiads, playing side by side with the world’s best players is stimulating and it tends to bring the best in me.

Our youngsters, Lazov on board 4 (5/8) and Nikolovski as reserve (3/7) did better than I expected. Their main problem was the inexperience (like in the last round when Nikolovski couldn’t win a won position) and also lack of professional attitude and preparation. I hope they learn from this and improve significantly because they got this chance only because they’re young. Now they need to prove that they also deserve a place on the team because they are strong.

After I finished my last game I spent some time watching the games on the top boards. I positioned myself between the boards where Carlsen and Kramnik were playing, some 3-4 meters from both. And I observed them. I found it very difficult to look at Carlsen for a longer period of time. The amount of energy that emanates from him is incredible. Or perhaps the word aura is more precise. Something very strong and powerful irradiates from him and mind you, I was standing 3-4 meters from him. I tried to imagine how it would be to sit against him for hours on and play when he would make all these precise and strong moves. It would have felt as if he wanted to push me away. In that moment I understood Taimanov and Larsen when they were playing Fischer. “A wall coming at you” was how Taimanov put it.

Looking at Kramnik was different. There was also a lot of energy coming from him, but of a different kind. Less aggressive, yet imposing in its own way. I played diagonally from Kramnik in Tromso 2014 (when I was on board 2 playing Svidler and he was on board 1 playing Nedev) and it didn’t feel threatening. Strong, confident, imposing, but not threatening like Carlsen.

The Olympiad was won by USA. A very deserved victory won in the tightest of races with Ukraine, who came second, both teams with 20 match points our of possible 22. USA had two drawn matches while Ukraine lost one (to USA) and won 10 (!). USA had the better tie-break and won the gold. Bronze went to the Russians, who again failed to win an Olympiad, but frankly speaking, they didn’t stand a chance against the amazing teams that finished ahead of them.

USA had the superstar trio of Caruana, Nakamura and So and they did the job marvellously. When Fischer was playing for the USA at the Olympiads they won silver twice, in Leipzig 1960 and Havana 1966, but they couldn’t dream of challenging the Soviet Union. Fischer was more or less the only elite player on the team back then; now they have 3 elite players and it also happened that all of them played an excellent tournament. On board 4 they had Shankland who apart from the last round loss (which didn’t affect the score) also had a great tournament.

The Ukranians were also impressive. To win 10 matches and not win an Olympiad is probably a first-ever, but they can take pride in their run. Their engine was the reserve, GM Volokitin, who scored 8.5/9, an incredible result (he beat Grischuk with black in Round 4). The other players performed well too, Eljanov for example, won in rounds 10 and 11!

Russia won bronze, probably slightly disappointed (and even more frustrated to prolong their run of 14 years without an Olympiad gold – now their next chance is in 2018, when it will be 16 years! Their last gold was in Bled 2002, Kasparov’s last Olympiad.) Kramnik was incredible on board 2 with 6.5/8 and Nepomniachtchi was their powerhorse with his initial 7/7; alas, after losing to So he only managed 2 draws. Questions can be raised why Svidler didn’t play, but there’s no guarantee that things would have been better.

Of the others, Carlsen managed to lift his Norwegians and they shared 4th (5th on tie-break, a great result for them). With 7.5/10 he lost some rating points but he was a true leader and surely motivated his compatriots. Just imagine if Hammer on board 2 had a better tournament, instead of a dismal 4.5/11 with no wins.

To conclude, a few personal observations. This was the best Olympiad I’ve been to (compared to Dresden 2008 and Tromso 2014) – the organisation, the playing venue, the accomodation. Yet the tendency I notice with FIDE to give more power to the officials is worrying. Take for example the idiotic rule that every player must inform the arbiter when he/she wants to go to use the toilet. First, it’s impossible to implement (what if I’m walking around and then I want to go to the toilet, shall I run to my match arbiter on the other side of the hall and only then go to the toilet?) and second, and more important, it’s humiliating. I never reported anything (I often go to the toilet during games as I drink a lot of water) and nobody noticed. Another annoying moment I had was with the accreditation passes. I personally hate to have anything dangling around my neck, so I kept my pass in the pocket of my jacket. Yet every time a security official would see me without it they would pester me (one even got physical and pulled me by the arm!) to put it around my neck. It wasn’t enough for them that I showed it, I had to have it around my neck, just like everybody else! Well, I didn’t comply, and by the end of the tournament they knew me and didn’t bother me anymore. Individuality is never welcome with narrow-minded officials! I already described our scandal with the arbiters and the impression of most players was that the vast majority of the arbiters were incompetent. They hide when they should enforce the rules, yet are first to molest you with hand-held scanning devices during the game (never happened to me, thank goodness, but I saw people scanned in the corridors of the hall) or demand toilet-visits reporting. FIDE should really educate its arbiters, but for some reason I think that’s not going to happen.

Our flight home is at 2.30am, the bus for the aiport leaves the hotel at midnight and this probably means that I’ll have to skip the closing ceremony tonight. This is unfortunate, as I also missed the opening ceremony, but what to do. It was great to be in Baku for two weeks and to play my best Olympiad so far. Congratulations to all the winners and see you all in Batumi 2018!

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Baku Olympiad 2016 – Round 9

A very good match for us today, a comfortable win of 3.5-0.5 against Kosovo. We controlled the match from start to finish and never risked anything.

We were quickly winning on board 4, Nikolovski was winning after the opening, more or less, although the realisation took time and in fact he was the last to finish!

On board 1 Nedev had things under control with black in a KID against FM Saraci and they simplified to a draw.

I obtained an advantage after the opening against FM Ermeni and generally played a good game. I made a few imprecisions, but he didn’t capitalise on them and I won after displaying some elementary technique in the endgame. It was a sweet revenge for the missed win against the same opponent at the ECC in Skopje last year!

Board 3 was a messy game, but Lazov kept it cool and won in mutual time-trouble. If only we had the majority of the matches like this!

On the top boards USA beat Norway (Caruana-Carlsen draw, another Scandinavian from the World Champion, like in Tromso, but Caruana was more careful this time) and Russia beat the hosts winning both their games with white (Kramnik played 1 e4 against Radjabov and Grischuk played my favourite move in the French Winawer, 7 a4, against Naiditsch). Ukraina beat India and are shared first with USA. Tomorrow it’s Georgia-USA (Jobava has the best performance on board 1!), Czech Republic-Ukraine and India-Russia. We play Egypt, who have two over-2600 GMs on boards 1 and 2.

I’ll keep it short again, I need time to get some preparation done and rest.

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Baku Olympiad 2016 – Round 8

What a day and match. It was almost a reprise of our match with Tajikistan, but this time we managed not to lose.

It started “as expected” when on board 1 Nedev blundered in a normal position and lost in less than 2 hours against GM Salem.

On board 2 the game was strategically complex (as they usually are when Pancevski is playing) so we had no worries there.

On board 3 I had an overwhelming advantage both on the board and on the clock thanks to my preparation, but then I forgot how to continue and things turned around before I could blink.

A miracle how I managed to save this game. But by the time I was thinking whether to continue or take the draw there was a commotion on the board next to me, on board 4. I got up and I quickly realised that our player, Lazov, had won on time, since white hadn’t made move 40, but since the clock had already added the additional 30 minutes (which it does when move 40 has been played) the arbiter decided to let them continue the game, even though our player demanded a win on time! It was such an obvious case, only 39 moves were made and there was no doubt about it. I was shocked and outraged at the complete ignorance of the match arbiter. I was too disturbed to continue and took the draw. Then I decided to take matters in my hands and even though the match arbiter said they should continue I (together with our captain IM Mitkov) went to the sector arbiter, the famous Russian arbiter Alexander Bakh, and demanded an explanation. Initially he was in favour of the decision taken by the match arbiter, but that was just nonsense and I would take none of it. After my persistant and logical demand to award a win to our player he decided to take the matter to the tournament director, also an International Arbiter, Takis Nikolopoulos. He quickly decided the obvious, which was to award the win to Lazov. Bakh agreed and they also summoned the Chief Arbiter of the Olympiad, Faik Gasanov. He approved of the decision and we were finally awarded a win on board 4. The remaning game on board 2 was eventually drawn and we saved the match. So I can perhaps get 1.5 points out of 2 for this match!

The top board saw two wins by the black players and a 2-2 tie in the derby Russia-USA. A score that still keeps both teams in contention, yet a slightly more favourable for the Americans as they remain one point ahead of the Russians. After his 7/7 Nepomniachtchi lost with white to So and Robson managed to lose in the most drawish line of the anti-Berlin to Grischuk. Nerves, what else.

It’s been a very demanding day, both physically and mentally (running around the playing hall to various arbiters and arguing took its toll) so I’ll rest now. The fatigue accumulates, I’m playing every day and my insomnia is getting worse with each passing day. We play Kosovo tomorrow, another tough match ahead. On the top boards things are really heating up, for example Azerbaijan play Russia and whoever loses is out of contention. Speaking of contention, the Chinese can no longer defend their title, they lost to Hungary and have only 10 match points. Carlsen’s Norway managed to climb up to board 2 and they face USA, Caruana-Carlsen should be a great match-up!

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Baku Olympiad 2016 – Round 7

You cannot argue with a 4-0 win. A second of that kind for us in Baku, the guys from Mozambique were much lower rated than us and didn’t put up much resistance.

Since our match was easy, I’ll focus more on the top boards. USA beat India 3.5-0.5 and lead the tournament, a surprisingly big win on a top board in the later stages of the Olympiad. This victory will be a huge boost for the USA, who still have to play their main opposition – Russia, China, Azerbaijan, to name but a few.

Russia also keeps stomping, they beat the Czech Republic 3.5-0.5. A surprising quick loss for Navara on board 1 against Karjakin, things started to go down rapidly for him from move 14.

Karjakin is having a very good tournament actually, +4 on board 1 and without risking losses. Quite in contrast with Carlsen, who is having a topsy-turvy tournament, being lost on a few occasions and only his win today against GM Solak brought him on +3.

The star in the Russian team is Nepomniachtchi. With an amazing 7/7 score he’s the driving force in the team. The teams who have won Olympiads have always had a lower board that brought many points and it was clear from the start that this role in the Russian team was reserved for Nepomniachtchi (that’s why they took him, and not Svidler, for example). His style is well suited for killing lesser opponents and that’s what he’s been doing so far. He’s been fantastic and I’m curious how long he keeps it up!

The Dutch were at the top of the world when they destroyed the English 3.5-0.5 in Round 4, but today they were busted by the Latvians 3-1. Amazingly, the Latvians won both their games with black, the other two being drawn (Shirov-Giri on board 1 was an exact repetition of Ganguly-Vachier from 2013. A friend of mine finely put it when he said that there is no draw that Giri doesn’t know!)

The home team were lucky today, they were on the brink of losing to Croatia but they turned it all around and won 3.5-0.5. Take a look at this turnaround:

The English finally played a great match against world-class opposition. They beat the current Olympic champions, the Chinese, by 3-1. Two wins by Adams and Short (against Wang Yue and Li Chao respectively) and two draws by Howell and McShane (against Ding Liren and Yu Yangyi respectively). Have a look what Adams managed to win:

Tomorrow’s day brings the clash of the titans – Russia plays USA. You cannot ask for more, even if there are 3 more rounds to play after tomorrow, I cannot escape the feeling that the winner of this one will emerge as the huge favourite to win it. And in case of Russia, if they lose they can say goodbye to their title aspirations. Should be great!

The Macedonian team plays United Arab Emirates, who have GM Salem (rated 2628) on board 1 and then they have players rated around 2300 from boards 2 to 4, one of them IM and two FMs. It looks like a stronger team than Tajikistan, so it will be tough.

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Baku Olympiad 2016 – Round 6

Not a great day today for us. I played more than 5 and a half hours and 85 moves, the only good point was that I won. So I am very tired and this will be short.

Tajikistan beat us soundly and without many problems. Nedev with white blundered in an equal position and lost to GM Amonatov and this only put pressure on us. It was the first game to finish. On board 4 our youngster was lost before move 20 against an opponent rated more than 100 points below him. Pancevski tried his best to win with black but it was enough only for a draw. I stayed last and with the match already lost I could only score a consolation win.

Tomorrow we are paired against Mozambique, hopefully we win.

On the top boards USA beat Ukraine thanks to Caruana’s win over Eljanov on board 1. Russia got back to its winning ways by beating Germany. Note Kramnik’s 1 e4 against Meier, expecting the French (which duly followed) and his nice combination:

Every round is full of derby matches on the top boards so I am sure the spectators are enjoying it immensely. I know I am, but only when going through the games after the round, there is no time to walk around when I play myself. It’s impossible to be a player and spectator at the same time!

Time to rest now. 

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