April 4, 2011

European Championship

After two weeks of tough fights, the 12th European Championship has come to an end. The 11th round tournament has left behind a sweet taste of victory, for some of the players, or a more bitter one for many others. Congratulations to the winners and for those who didn’t qualify, there will always be another chance: next year in Plovdiv!

To win such an event, with an incredibly strong starting list, you need not only to be a great player, but also to have the good forces on your side. Luck plays an important role and comes in different shapes or moments. You need it during your games, with the pairings, with the tiebreak system, even for your opening choices. Besides, for a long and stressful event like this one, when a qualification is at stake, strong nerves and a fitted body are more than required. All in all, the tournament is finished and conclusions must be drawn.
Before we proceed to introspection and the painful process of finding out why things didn’t go our way, we should mention a few aspects of the tournament and…maybe put the blame on them?!:)
I won’t forget all the efforts and hard work that organizers put into this championship. It is rather difficult to please almost 400 players, to find a great location and to prevent all possible things which might go wrong. Unfortunate situations will always appear and depends on each person how his or her reactions will be.
Unfortunately, despite the beautiful location, the playing conditions were not the best ever. There were four playing halls, three in the Congress Center, with the first 100 boards and the fourth one was settled in the Casino, for the lower boards, starting with 101 until the end.

Before every round, if you were playing in the
Congres Center, you would have had to cross
a beautiful park. An inspirational walk just before your game.

The Casino was surely an important attraction:)
Players who didn't have luck on their boards,
tried to find it somewhere else...

This was the playing hall in the Casino.
Many were wondering why they didn't switch the locations,
so that the top boards will be here. On the other hand,
the Congress Center was more suitable for receiving guests.

Everybody wanted to play on the higher boards of course, everybody wanted to qualify for the World Cup! That means you had to play in the theatre, without any natural light, if you were playing on the top 20 boards, or in the other two rooms located in the same Congress Center, on the first and second floor. In these ones there was natural light but…the heat was simply unbearable! The beautiful weather from outside was a nightmare in the playing halls, where too many players were “trying” to move around. I said “trying” because there was no space, it was way too crowded and at some point, no matter what happened on the board, you were happy. With a point, you were coming closer to your goal, to qualify, with a loss, you would have been sent to the Casino, where the playing conditions were by far much better. You had space to move, no blocked roads on your way to toilets, there was air-co, but, on the other hand, you were separated from what was happening on the top boards. Many people joined the tournament in the hope to watch live the Grandmasters, to see them thinking, to feel like they are taking part in the same event. With the way the playing halls were settled it became a little bit more difficult. In any case, I appreciate the efforts and the kindness of all people involved in the organization. They really tried hard and we should all understand that their task was clearly not an easy one, especially when dealing with so many chess players:)

A football match was organized in the free day,
after round seven. Some players decided to take the challenge.

Let’s further state that all players faced the same difficult conditions and only the more sensitive ones got affected. Once again, chess is a game of nerves and any small incident might make a big difference. But there was still one thing which you couldn’t have controlled at all, which is really only in the hands of faith: the tiebreak system. 
Many players didn’t understand it at all, only in the last rounds, when they were interested in the calculations for their chances to qualify. We were all surprised by the high or low performance we were seeing next to our names on chess-results. Mistakes? Didn’t we calculate it correctly?! Hmmm, very strange. It finally turned out that the rules were as follows: they have cut the lowest and the highest rated opponent you played with and also the results you had against them. Therefore, if you had the “bad luck” to win against Svidler let’s say, your point doesn’t count…because your highest opposition have been sent away. It is smarter to lose against a strong player and to win against a weaker one. And than again…how can you know what kind of rating your next opponent will have?! To me it sounds like the Russian roulette, where it’s purely a matter of luck. That’s why many players who were playing on the lower boards managed to qualify and few others, who would have been qualified without any problems with any other tie break system, with this one they were forced to say goodbye to Khanty Mansyisk…Sad but true.
All in all, despite these controversies, despite the heat from the playing halls or the tie break system, not to mention the attention Feller got (I am sure you all follow the latest news on his case), the games were interesting to watch and we all enjoyed the battles of the super GM’s. I would like to point out the courage French Federation showed, which I strongly admire and appreciate. Their determination to fight against cheating is a clear sign of maturity, fairness and love for chess.
I am also happy to see that a woman, yes, that’s correct, was shared first! Judit is an extremely talented and strong player, with an aggressive playing style which many times makes the delicacy of the audience. She proved her class once again and gave all of us hopes that women can face men on the chess board and quite successfully. As about the winner, Vladimir Potkin, he is a well known and respected GM, and here is a link with an old interview, in case you want to find out more about him.
When I look back, I realize that in fact, I quite enjoyed this tournament! As I said before, there were things which can be improved, but all in all I will surely remember it.

One of the official hotels: Astoria. You can also
see the tipical trees from Aix les Bains, which
should be prettier when green: birches.

Jeu de boules - a favourite outdoor activity for
the French people.
The town lies at an altitude of about 250 m and stretches
along the Eastern end of the beautiful Lac du Bourget.

Walking along the streets in Aix les Bains.

Aix les Bains was unexpectedly beautiful, it reminded me of Austria or Switzerland and maybe the closeness with Geneve has something to do with it and with the architecture that I admired a lot. The weather was great, sunny and warm, and the city has its own charm, which one can immediately see from the houses, from the trees and flowers all around or from the mountains which surrounded the place. For some players the location has a lot to say when choosing between playing or not. And this time, I am sure nobody had anything to complain about, when it comes to Aix les Bains and its beauty. Besides, tournament posters, traffic signs, fliers, they could be seen all over the city and everybody was aware of the current chess event.

If you don't know the chess rules but you would like
to enjoy the European Championship, here you can learn a bit
just before you enter the playing halls! This could have been
seen in the same park, on your way to the Congress Center.

If I am asked what is my final conclusion, the final picture I’ve got with this championship…well, first of all it is just my opinion, others might feel differently. I personally liked it and I think that the small issues which are inevitable in any tournament, spiced it up, made it even more interesting, and, as always, only the stronger ones will win…

I would also like to share with you two games which I particularly enjoyed. I am sure there are many others to worth a look, but I will let the pleasure of discovering them to yourself:)


  1. Very nice photos and games too, Alina! :-)

  2. Wszystkiego najlepszego dla Erwina z Polski

  3. very good conclusions about this tournament and I can say that all is true :-)

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