European Club Cup- an Inside Look
The European Club Cup took place in Ohrid, Macedonia on the beautiful lake with the same name near the Albanian border between 4-10 October.
I was there as a trainer of the former Women World Champion Antoaneta Stefanova. Eti invited me to work with her at the end of August, and before the Inventi tournament in Antwerpen we had our first camp.
She plays for the team of Spartak Vidnoe, together with sisters Nadezhda and Tatiana Kosintsevi, Ekaterina Lahno and Evgenia Ovod. The team is a real bunch of European champions, but they were the second-seeded team after the last two-time champions from Monte Carlo. The expectations were that these two teams would fight for the title.
The Russian players have great organization. They did not save money for trainers-Yury Dokhoian, the legendary trainer of Garry Kasparov (and current second of Sergey Karjakin) was here to take care about the Kosintsevi sisters. They both scored well, winning individual silver medals on boards 1 and 3 respectively. Dokhoian is a remarkable trainer, who takes to his heart any lost game of his students. However, when the game is over, he becomes a completely new man, with great sense of humour, and exact evaluation of what had happened. Robert Fontaine was also here to support and prepare his wife Katya. Last, but not least, we had our captain- WGM Elmira Mirzoeva- famous chess journalist, and incredibly cheerful person, who was always where the girls needed her.
The tournament went smoothly for our team. It all started more than convincingly with a 4-0 win against the solid team of “Mika”- Erevan. Then two draws followed against “Economist” and the “Samaia”- Tbilisi. The second one was a piece of bad luck, since we managed to repel both our blacks and could not profit from the good positions of the white colours. After this match, the ladies found their rhythm and won three matches in a row. Especially valuable was the one in the sixth round against one of the best teams- “T-com”- Podgoritsa- 3.5-0.5. Before that round, the team was discussing the strong performance of Ekaterina Kovalevskaya- the fourth board of the Montenegrin team. “However, we have another Katya on board four”-remarked Dokhoian. Indeed, our Katya proved stronger, and brought a “black” victory for “Spartak”. The lost of the Montenegrin team forced them to rest in the last round, and at the end, they were only a mere half point short to the bronze medals. Rather weird destiny for a medal contender. As a whole, the format of the event- seven rounds for eleven teams was predisposing some odd situations. For example, the team of Monte Carlo drew their first match, but had the luck to be paired on the next day against the underdogs from” Vandoeuvre”, and after a 4-0 win immediately went back into the lead. While the last round pairings did not oppose the leader “Spartak” against the third in the table Monte Carlo due to the impossible parings of the tournament “tail”. At the same time at the men’s section, it was very strange to me to discover that the team of “Baden-Baden” who lost only 5 points in total in the first five matches does not have even theoretical chances for the title, due to their minimal defeat against “Mika” (the match where Naiditsch blundered a whole rook in a much better position).
Back to the sixth round of the women event- this became in fact the decisive round of the tournament, since it secured the title for the Russian team. By that moment we had the same match points with the Georgian team, and Monte Carlo was a point behind. The expectations were that everything will be decided in the final round, but…First the team from Tbilisi gave rest to their leader Maya Chiburdanidze, and lost their match. Moreover, Monte Carlo could not deal with “Mika” drawing yet another match. “Spartak”- Vidnoe became champions within a spare round!
The success was a result of the convenient play of all the players. Except the silver individual medals for Nadya and Tanya Kosintsevi the team took two golds- for Eti on board two, and Katerina Lahno on board four. Katya also had the best overall performance in the women section with her 5.5/6- 2772.
I did not have a lot of time to observe the men section, since they were playing in another hotel- INEX Goritsa. The general impression was that the young team of Saratov won quite convincingly. Probably the match that they were is most dangerous situation was…the first one. However, the fact that they won all their matches (even though most of them with a minimal margin) speaks for itself. It is hard to point out their best player; they performed excellent as a team. From the individual performances, the play of Levon Aronian looked quite impressive, even though he lost his final encounter against Mamedyarov. Remarkable chess was definitely shown by Peter Svidler. He took silver medal on first board, but showed the best overall performance in the open section- 2920! While the golden medal on first board went to Vladimir Georgiev, the former trainer of Eti. He scored 5/6 for his KSH Llamkos (Kosovo). The most points achieved Michael Adams (Baden-Baden) and Artur Zarka (Roskovec), both 6.5/7.
The organization of the event was on a very good level. Especially delightful was the service, and the attitude towards the players. There were some extraordinary events- like the chess game under the water. The event was richly covered on the national television, and the results of the local Alkaloid closely followed. It is a pity for them that they could not develop they start of five wins. Nevertheless, one of them showed once again great performance, eight years after his first visit in Ohrid. Andrey Volokitin won the third board with convincing 6/7, and what was the surprise- he won some elegant rook endgames instead of his “common” sharp games.
Eti had one free day in which we visited the monastery of St Naum which was established back in 905. Naum- one of the students of Cyril and Methodius (the creators of the Cyrillic alphabet that is now used in Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Serbia) lived some twenty kilometers away from Ohrid. Peacocks are living comfortably in the church area. The monk on the front desk taught us what to do for luck. We just made a wish, while touching the Saint’s grave, and with the right ear, we tried to listen to his heart.
I could not hear it, but I hope that my wish will come true.