Plovdiv Again

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)


Positional Sac in the Trompy

Ety's best achievement in Ulanbaatar was the following game:
Stefanova Antoaneta - Kosintseva Tatiana [D00]
Ulaanbaatar GP Mongolia
[Dejan Bojkov]
1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5 A time for a change. In their previous encounter just a month ago in Jermuk the players tested the main lines of the Ragozin. However, Tatiana is definetely well prepared against the Trompy, too. 2...d5 3.e3 g6 4.Bxf6 exf6 5.Ne2 Bd6 6.g3 c6 7.Bg2

7...f5! A good idea. Black was less precise in the following game: [7...Nd7 8.b3 f5 9.c4 Nf6 10.Nbc3 Be6 11.c5 and White achieved harmony in his development and initiative on the queen's flank. 11...Bc7 12.b4 a6 13.a4 0–0 14.0–0 g5 15.b5 Qd7 16.Qd3 Kg7 17.f4! Laznicka,V (2617)-Mamedov,N (2614)/Benasque ESP 2009/The Week in Chess 766 (42) with pleasant advantage for White who won later.] 8.b3 Be6 Now Black forces her opponent to lose some time before advancing the c pawn. 9.Qd3 Nd7 10.Nd2 Nf6 11.c4 Ne4 12.c5 Bc7 13.b4 h5 Both players wait with the kingside castling. 14.Nf3 Qf6 15.h4 Qg7 The trick: [15...a5 16.b5 (16.0–0 axb4 17.Rfb1 Ba5 18.a3 is also good for White.) 16...Nxc5 does not really work as the c6 pawn is hanging: 17.Qc2 Ne4 18.bxc6 b6 19.0–0 0–0 20.Rab1±] 16.0–0 Now when h5-h4 is stopped White can finally castle. She has though to hurry with her play on the queen's flank. 16...f6 17.b5 g5 Kosintseva straightforwardly follows her plan. However, a little profilaxis might be better here: [17...Bc8 18.Rab1 0–0 19.Rb2 (19.Nf4 does not prevent g6-g5, as the knight might be trapped after: 19...g5 20.Nxh5? Qf7 traps the knight) 19...g5 with sharp play where both sides have their share of chances.] 18.bxc6 bxc6 19.Qa6 Bd7 20.Rab1 0–0

21.Rb7! A nice positional sacrifice. Ety will gain control over the light squares thanks to the invested exchange. 21...Bc8 22.Rfb1 Worse is: [22.hxg5 Rb8 23.Rfb1 Qd7 24.gxf6 Bd8! However, objectevely best seemed to be:; 22.Qxc6 Bxb7 23.Qxb7 Rfd8 24.hxg5 fxg5 25.Qc6 with full compensation for the exchange.] 22...Bxb7 There is nothing wrong with this move, but White's task would have been much more complicated after: [22...Qd7! with the idea to exchange both the white rooks. Play may continue: 23.hxg5 (23.Rxc7?! Qxc7 24.Qa3 Rb8µ) 23...Rb8 and now the highly entertaining sacrifice: 24.gxf6!

In the line: (24.Qxa7?! Bxb7 25.Rxb7 Rxb7 26.Qxb7 Rb8 27.Qa7 (27.Qa6 fxg5) 27...Rb1+ 28.Bf1 Nxg5 29.Nh4 White seems in control, but there is a tactical stroke: 29...Nh3+ 30.Kg2 Nxf2!) 24...Bd8 25.Rxb8 Bxa6 26.Ne5 Qc7 27.Nf4! Better than: (27.f7+ Rxf7 (27...Kg7 28.Nf4 Ng5 29.Nxh5+ Kh6 30.Nf4ч) 28.Nxf7 Kxf7 29.Nf4 Bb5!µ) 27...Bc8 (27...Rxf6 28.Ra8 Kh7 Here: (28...Bb5? loses to: 29.Rxb5 cxb5 30.Bxe4 dxe4 31.Nd5+-) 29.Rbb8 Bb7 30.Rxd8 Bxa8 31.Rd7+ Qxd7 32.Nxd7 Rf7 33.Ne5±) 28.f7+ Rxf7 29.Nxf7 Kxf7 30.Ra8

and it is difficult to judge who is better, but obviously White should have at least enough for her sacrificed piece.] 23.Rxb7 Qd7 24.hxg5! Ety looks for juicy squares for her knights. 24...Nxg5 The only move, as Black's position crumbles after: [24...fxg5 25.Ne5 Qg7 26.Qxc6+-] 25.Nh4 [25.Nxg5 is enough only for a draw, as after: 25...fxg5 26.Bxd5+ cxd5 27.Qg6+ Qg7 28.Qxg7+ Kxg7 29.Rxc7+ Black can harass the active rook- 29...Rf7=; 25.Nf4!? though deserved serious attention: 25...Rab8 only move (25...Rfb8? 26.Nxg5 fxg5 27.Nxd5! cxd5 28.Qg6+ Kf8 29.Qh6+ Qg7 (29...Ke8 30.c6 Qe7 31.Rxc7 Qxc7 32.Qh8+ Ke7 33.Qg7+ Kd6 34.Qf6#) 30.Qxg7+ Kxg7 31.Rxc7+ Kf6 32.Bxd5+-) 26.Nh4 (26.Nxh5 Rxb7 27.Qxb7 Kf7 28.Nh4 also gives great compensation to White.) 26...Rxb7 27.Qxb7 Rb8 28.Qxa7 Rb1+ 29.Kh2 (29.Bf1 Qc8 30.Nxh5 Ne4) 29...Ne4 30.Bxe4 fxe4 31.Kg2 and I would love to have White here.(31.Nxh5? Bxg3+) ] 25...Rfb8 26.Nf4 White is better, although the computer claims that the position is equal (it already sees the only salvation that Black has though). However, for a human being defending both the king and all the pawn weaknesses without having any active plan is a painful task. Moreover, if both the humans are in time trouble this task becomes impossible for the defender. Tatiana soon erred. 26...Rxb7 27.Qxb7 Rb8 28.Qxa7 Ne4 29.Bh3 Rb1+? The rook had to stay on the eight rank in order to protect the king. [29...Qc8! with the idea: 30.Bxf5 (30.Nxf5 Qb7 31.Ne7+ Kf8 32.Qxb7 Rxb7 33.Nxc6 Bxf4 34.gxf4 Rb1+ 35.Kg2 Rb2) 30...Ra8!

was Black's only chance. After: 31.Bxc8 Rxa7 32.Bd7!? Bxf4 33.Bxc6 Nxg3 34.Bxd5+ Kh7 35.Ng2 Bc7 36.fxg3 Bxg3 the position is approximately ballanced.] 30.Kg2 Rb2 31.Bxf5 Qg7 [31...Rxf2+ 32.Kg1 Qd8 33.Bxe4 and wins.] 32.Nxh5 Rxf2+ 33.Kg1 Qh6 34.Qa8+ Qf8 35.Be6+ 1–0


Three Weeks in Mongolia (for NIC)

We work with Ety since October 2009. My contract obligations included the tournaments from the Women Grand Prix series. These tournaments were created only a couple of years ago in attempt to lift the image of the women chess all over the world. The initial idea was that they are rapid events, but later it grew in something more substantial. The stakes in this circuit are high. The overall winner of the event receives the right to play a match against the World Champion who must be defined at the end of this year in Turkey. Therefore almost all the best women players take part in the event. In the strength of the players the tournaments can be compared to the super male round-robins, such as Linares and Wijk an Zee. A fact that was not seen lately in the women chess world. It is not a secret that most of the ladies compete in usual opens, and the one in Gibraltar for example brings together the cream of the female elite with the attractive prize fund and the opportunity to win prices in both men and women sections.
The Grand Prix series consist of six tournaments (Istanbul (Turkey), Nanjing (China), Nalchik (Russia), Jermuk (Armenia), Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) and Santiago (Chile), and each player can compete in maximum four of them. The best three are counted for the overall standings. Each host country has the right of a participant in the series.
Speaking of the world championship system we never have clearance. Of lately the Russian chess federation came with a new proposal that adds two more players in the fight for the title-the current World Champion Alexandra Kosteniuk and the last spot is left free for the top rated female player.
In my personal opinion the Mongolian Grand Prix was the strongest of them all. Four former World Champions took part in the event, as well as the top three rated players (we if of course exclude J. Polgar).
The further expansion of the chess popularity is very welcomed. Mongolia is relatively new destination on the chess map, although as a former communist country largely influenced by USSR our sport is very popular there. We lived in the closed area Ikh Tenger which is the president’s complex.
In the day of the opening ceremony the new Chess Academy was opened by Kirsan Ilymzhinov himself. The FIDE president had a very busy schedule due to his elections campaign but nevertheless found time to open the tournament, just like he did in Jermuk. In the center of the town, in front of the monument of Mongolian’s most famous personality-Chingiz Khan the ladies picked their numbers in alphabetical order of names. Curiously, those who started first were picking up the small numbers and the more white pieces.
The ladies play the way with the Sofia rules and they cannot agree short draws. This probably is not needed as they all are proved fighters and like to play till the end. The chief adviser for the draw offers in the event was the legendary Nana Aleksandria from Georgia and her opponent for the World Championship in 1981 Maia Chiburdanidze was participating in the competition.
The initial rounds define the roles in a tournament, and show who will play the role of an underdog, and who will compete for the top places.
Ety started with two draws, and the second one was especially unpleasant as she spoiled huge advantage in her time trouble against Maia Chiburdanidze. In the next eight rounds though, she would take no prisoners, scoring six wins against two losses.
As the tournament equator was reaching the column was led by the Chinese Zhao Xue. Her wins though were not very impressive; one could find many twists in her games, and decisive changes in the evaluation of the positions. Her game against Zhu Chen was especially significant in that sense. First White was completely winning, and then came a huge blunder and it was Black who was winning. Finally the game reached the position on the diagram:
Zhu Chen - Zhao Xue
Ulaanbaatar GP Mongolia

Without spending more than a second on her next move the former women champion played: 64.Kb8?? Instead the precise [64.Ka8!= would save the day- 64...Qe8+ 65.Kb7 Qe4+ 66.Kb8 Qb1+ 67.Ka7 Qa2+ 68.Kb8 Qh2 69.Ka8] and resigned after: 64...Kc5 65.Ka8 Qd7 66.Kb8 Kb6 0–1

The logic of the events was telling that Zhao should not keep the lead. Indeed in the very next round she was technically outplayed by Tatiana Kosintseva. The Russian player had no other alternative in this tournament but first place, as due to the engagements with her Russian club for ECC in Ohrid 2009 she could play only three Grand Prix tournaments. Tatiana was playing in her usual solid manner, but in the very next round she was stopped by Ety.
This was a period when the leaders were constantly changing their places and none could really predict the overall winner. Ety was replaced in the lead by top seed Humpy Koneru, then the Indian lost to Zhao, and this finally gave a chance to Hou Yifan to grab the lead after her postponed win against Zhu Chen. The young Chinese had a critical moment in round eight when she had to visit the hospital due to health problems. Luckily for her this round was the one before the second free day, and her opponent generously agreed for a postponement. How Hou won this important game you can see with her own notes.
Most of the participants had problems with the food throughout the whole event. I do not why it was happening like that-normally it was delicious, and I cannot call it exotic, but it was obviously the overall change that mattered.
As in a good movie the tournament winner had to be decided in the final round. Hou Yifan was leading with a half point advance in front of Ety, but we had the white pieces. An unpleasant change in the program spoilt a bit the tournament finish when the players were asked to play at 10.00 a.m. The organizers insisted on this hour as it would give them a chance for a comfortable closing ceremony at the theater, and as there were public speeches scheduled for later in the evening, the closing should take place at five p.m. in fact the organizer’s second proposal was that the games start at 9.00 a.m...For an owl like Ety such a change had a huge psychological impact. We tried to protest, taking on the account the fact that for such a change there should be the signature of the FIDE president, but the FIDE official could not contact him. There was only one critical moment in the game, but it could have changed the name of the winner.
Stefanova,A (2560) - Hou Yifan (2577) [A14]
5th FIDE GP w Ulaanbaatar MGL (11), 11.08.2010

After a stubborn and careful defense Hou Yifan decided to activate her knight with:28...Nb5? But this moves blunders a whole pawn. However Ety also missed the chance- 29.e4? The simple: [29.Bxf6 wins a pawn as the line 29…Rxf6? 30.Rc2 loses even more material. Now the position is balanced again and draw was agreed after sixty moves.] 1/2
Thus the young Chinese remained the only undefeated player, and deservedly won the tournament. The tradition that in each tournament from the series there is a new winner was kept. Stefanova finished clear second, and there was a tie for the third place with Kosintseva, Zhao and Koneru to finish in this order.
We arrived a couple days before the start of the event, and had some time to visit the local attractions- the Gandantegchenling Monastery and the Migjed Janraisig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, the symbols of the Mongolians-the bell tents (called yurts) in some of which there are still people living. That was all the fun as during the tournament I lived like a hermit and worked in the hotel. The first free day could be a change as there were meetings with the sponsors organized, but the door-knob of my room decided to take a day off, and I was left locked inside for some hours. The previous day I asked Ety if she would like to go to these meetings or she would rather prefer to stay and have some rest to which she replied: “We are all complaining for the lack of sponsors, but when a time comes for a single sign of respect everyone tries to cover himself. I have my obligations to these people, and I need to go.” However when in the second free day the organizers made a large entertaining program with museums, horse riding and archering she preferred to skip the attractions and have some rest for the decisive rounds.
A quick look at the overall standings of the Grand Prix events reveals that the leader now is Hou Yifan with one first, one second, and one shared second places or total of 410 points. However, she already accomplished her tournaments and has to wait and see if some of her two closest rivals Nana Dzagnidze or Humpy Koneru might catch up with her. The final stage is scheduled in Chile, but the earthquakes might hinder the organizational process. There are rumours already that the tournament will be postponed, or even cancelled.
In any case for the good of the women chess I hope that these Grand Prix series will continue in the future.