First League of central Serbia took place right before the European Club Cup (17-25 September) in Kraljevo- one of the nice towns in the country. Twelve teams competed for the right to promote in Premier League, or to stay in the Central one. The time control is FIDE, and in there is a tolerance of fifteen minutes at the start of the game.
This was by far the strongest and challenging of the championship that I have played so far. At least four from the teams had real chances for the first place, and their direct encounters were bound to define the winner. The first match between the rating favourites Jasenica (my team) and Jelica PEP was played in round five. This was probably one of the unluckiest events I have ever taken part in. Not only I lost my winning game on board one, but my teammate Nebojsa Ristic could not convert an extra pawn, and at the end, the experienced GM Dusan (Dule) Raikovic failed to see a forced draw in one move and the match was tight. We then lost to the local team and elo favourite Sloga Kraljevo with a minimal margin, and our contest for the first place was over.
As usual, the system in Serbia is a match-point one, with three points for the overall match winner, and only a point for each team in case of equality. While previous years saw many undecided matches practically before the start of the round, this year’s cruel contest was forcing the top teams to get the maximum in each round. Moreover, the rumours spelled that the second spot in our division might satisfy this year too for promotion, as one of the Premier’s teams might not be able to keep its place in the league officially.
While Jelica were heading the table, everything seemed like it should be perfect for them. Their leader, the Polish GM Alexander Mista was making miracles on board one, and in the first eight rounds he did not lose even a half point- 8/8! The team’s young players were doing well, but there was the major match in the penultimate round against Kraljevo, which they need to survive. However, just a round before that their perfect machine cracked, as Mista lost on board one, and the team drew only against Sabacki. The tension then proved a bit too much for the young team, and they lost against Kraljevo 4-2. The locals were playing under tremendous pressure, and in each round a huge mass of chess fans was surrounding their table. In our match I was literally unable to record the moves in some moments, as the fans were so close to the table…Still Kraljevo made a great result, drawing only one match, and losing to…
The fourth team in the contest, which I did not mention yet, and which was the most successful one. For many years the even team of Metalac was always in the contest for the medals, and was usually taking either bronze or silver. They have changed the composition of the team almost every year, but keeping their good players. Their team constitutes by strong IMs mainly, and the highest rated were sent to the back boards. This year they made it to the most valuable base metal thanks to these changes. The top board IM Slobo Vratonic held it to the fifty percent, while the rest of the boards collected a total of +21 score. The top scorer was Metalac’s ex-top board IM Dragan Kojovic, who started with five draws, but won the remaining six games, but I should also mention the results of FM Vladan Rabrenovic on board three (7/10), IM Igor Solomunovic on board two (7.5/11- one draw only!), and naturally, Metalac’s most famous player IM Radovan Govedarica who scored 7/10.
Thus Metalac qualified for the Premium League, while Kraljevo who shared the first place, but had worse tie-break will have to wait and see if the rumours are correct.
I am sending you pictures from “Pasuliada”- the bean feast in Kraljevo, which showed us various ways how to cook, and eat beans, as well as a chance to degustate the local’s famous Rakia.