ECC in Plovdiv had started with a small crisis when the NATO soldiers decided that the dates of the tournament are perfectly suitable for them too to occupy the building. One problem is that Novotel has a contract with the NATO forces that gives them the possibility to use it any day they want. The other problem is that the American soldiers does not want anyone else on the floor where they have people, no matter if the floor is full or not. These things caused some inconvenience with the accommodation of the players. Still, place for those rated over 2700 for the open event, and over 2500 in the ladies part was duly reserved.
The freshly elected presidents Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and Silvio Danailov presented at the opening ceremony. The ECU President also made the symbolic first moves on both the male and female boards at the start of the tournament.
The colour of Europe meets in Plovdiv in the open section. Except for those who participate now in Nanjing all the best players are practically here.
The top seeded Levon Aronian shines so far in the event with a rating performance of 3000 elo points. His Mika Yerevan (practically the Armenian national team) will try to overcome the one point deficit in a direct encounter against the leaders- Economist Saratov, who had won all their matches so far. The latter also has a top scorer- Alexander Moiseenko, who has 4.5/5, but the truth is that both teams has practically no weak point, and the match will be decided on very minuscule nuances. Some more top scorers include Alexander Grishchuk 4/4 and Vladimir Malakhov 4.5/5.
The female tournament is extremely strong, too. The ladies from AVS, led by Antoaneta Sefanova are leading in the female part. However, four teams are pursuing them a point behind. Nothing will be clear there until the very last game. Koneru, Atalik, Zaiatz and Galojan are the top scorers after the fifth round.
As a tradition the nations are of no big meaning here. We can see players from China, India and USA taking part in the European event, and this is normal. We can also observe couples playing in the same teams, or in two different teams. The Zhigalko brothers for example play for two different teams-one leads a team from home country Belarus, and the other one strengthens an Ukrainian one.
One of our journalists even joked that there are some illegal Bulgarians here-those who do not represent our country.
I am one of those, as I play for my Belgium team. We also have a couple of German players (one of them is surprisingly fluent in Russian, too), and a Dutch guy (also illegal I might add). And there are teams who have player only from different countries. Just have a look at the team Werder Bremen- the apotheoses of internationality.
As my Belgium teammates have never been yet in Bulgaria, we went to a typical Bulgarian restaurant. Vesloto selo (The “Jolly Village”) was especially good for this reason. The food starts with our typical rakia (not to be confused with the Turkish raki, ours is made by fruits and does not smell like anise!), then follows the rich meat main course. In the meanwhile the entertaining program have started, which includes various Balkan rhythms- Greek, Serbian, Gypsies, Oriental. It all ends with the traditional Bulgarian dance-horo, which my teammates learn with surprising speed.
The preparation was a huge success, and next day we comfortably lose 6-0.
(Pictures Claude Bikady, Evtim Stefanov)