Where Ne Means Yes (for NIC)

“Ne, ne” was Hristos Banikas saying, nodding with his head. “Yes, yes”, I was shaking my head from left to the right. This was the first time when I spoke with a Greek and we both look very astonished from our reactions. The point is that the Bulgarians usually nod their heads when denying something (I have heard that Indians are the only other people in the world who do the same, but have no proof on the matter), while Greeks use the word “ne” for confirmation (“ne” is yes).
The first time that I took part in the Greek team competition was back in 2005. I was the lowest rated player with 2522 on board one, and the average rating of my opponents was 2615. Among the coryphaeuses were Navara, Volokitin, Izoria, Gustafsson, Avrukh, Inarkiev and many others. Coryphaeus (the top of the head) is a typical Greek word that we use constantly nowadays for someone very experienced, leading person. I remember the worm and nice team atmosphere which helped me get over the shock, and I made a good result. Since then Greece has become one of my favourite places.
Harikrishna Relaxing
In 2006 the incredible David Navara scored “plus five” on board one, and passed the 2700 elo barrier. I may never forget the astonished Vasilios Kotronias analyzing again and again their game. “Usually I get very angry when losing a game, but this time I felt that everything was logical. Navara used a new plan, got slightly better position out of the opening and never made a mistake. I checked it out with a computer later-flawless! Unbelievable! This guy is a genious!”
Greek team competitions are made on 12 boards. It is probably one of the very few places where people take care about their youngsters, giving them chance to decide the overall result of the matches. There are four boys (under 12, 14, 16 and 18) and two girls (under 16 and 18). Attention is paid to the women too-one female board is a must. Some eight years ago Vassilis Theodoridis, vice-president of Greece Chess Federation and Vassilis Liogkas, president of the strongest chess club “Kavala” suggested the idea and it was never changed after. Still, the fact that the children can play in the event does not really mean that they are taught in the best way. This year we witnessed a curious game in which eighteen-year old girl did not know how to mate with a bishop and knight against a sole king. Strange, but happens.
Greece had always enjoyed huge popularity as a touristic destination. The climate is hot, even for Pentala Harikrishna it was too much, despite the fact that he comes from India. The usual Greek regime includes jolly time in the taverns, discotheques and bars until 4-5 in the morning when the weather is fresh, and sleep in the hot hours of the day. But note that you can no longer break plates in the taverns, now you can throw pink blossoms instead. Greeks are very proud nation, and they have opinion on most of the things in life. Their ancient culture and language are good reasons for this (I cannot help recalling the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding where the father of the future bride was explaining to everyone that all the words in the world have Greek roots). It is hard to change their mind if they think they are right (they still call Istanbul Constantinopoli), and always take the chance to show the positive parts of their life and country. Usually they conduct the Leagues in luxury resorts on the beach, where you can enjoy almost every attraction you may think of. Every inch of the ground is a fine piece of work-no matter if it a flower, bush, garden, or palm tree.
My roommate is a good friend of mine Atanas Dimitrov, semi- Bulgarian, semi- Greek, who introduces me in the life of the locals. I see him chatting with one of the referees once, and he tells me an old story of his grown prestige: “We were sharing a room with that arbiter in a tournament where he was a player as well. One night while I was sleeping they were analyzing with his friends his daily game. I woke up for a second, had a glance at the boards, said the best move, and felt asleep again. Ever since my prestige grew enormously.”
Stelios Halkias
Greeks are very religious people; you can see Orthodox churches and chapels practically everywhere. Theology is a compulsory subject at schools.
Their top player at the moment is Ioannis Papaioannou, who recently qualified for the World cup from the Plovdiv EICC. I congratulate him with this achievement on which he modestly replies that he does not feel like a chess professional, had a lot of luck for the qualifying, and that the World cup will be great experience for him.
A strange coincidence it is but almost all top Greek players are born in Thessaloniki. This includes their current champion-Ioannis Papadopoulos. He is only twenty, and is already expecting his GM title. Very modest and obviously hard-working his chess prospects look nice.
Being chess professional in Greece is not an easy task. As most countries with good living standard it is much more reliable for the chess player to start a casual job (probably this is the reason why Papaioannou does not call himself profi). Some years ago Stelios Halkias, another prominent Greek player with exquisite sense of humor was dropping in to Bulgaria for some rapid tournaments, complaining that there are not enough in Greece. But obviously things change, and now I can think of at least dozen of good tournaments in this worm country.
Two days before the team championships the finals of the Greek cup were conducted in the same fine resort-Kallithea. SA “Thessaloniki” (A. Mastrovasilis, D. Mastrovasilis, V. Iotov, and D. Zakarian) triumphed with the title after four hard matches. The point is that in case of equality in the final four the match is replayed until one of the teams win (while in the preliminary matches in case of a match draw the team who won on top boards advances).
From 6-th till 10-th of July the Greek team finals started with twenty teams to compete in a seven-round Swiss tournament. The fact that no team was dropping out of the league did not prevent a strong field of participants. “The usual suspects” from SO “Kavalas” led by Harikrishna, and having in their disposal most of the Greek Olympic players (Kotronias, Papaioannou, Halkias, Skembris, Botsari), and excellent children boards claimed the title convincingly with six consecutive wins, and one final draw. Silver ran for the cup winner “Thessaloniki”, bronze for “Kidon”-Chania.
Next year 34 teams will participate in Greek highest league, and the expectancies are for harder fight.

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