The European Chess Club Cup is usually held in one of the European countries. This year was an exception – it took place in the Middle East, between Asia and Africa. The leading clubs travelled to Eilat, Israel, to determine the best of the best. Due to the venue choice (long travel; rather expensive city) there were fewer teams at the event than last year. In the women’s section there were just 8 clubs, while in the open section 34 teams showed up. The line-up was incredibly strong: 31 players were rated 2700 and above! In case you are interested in the big names, here is a more detailed preview.
My adventures started in Moscow. For well-known reasons Israel is strict about security, so before taking a flight from the Russian capital to Tel Aviv I had to attend an interview with an Israeli security officer. He was rather surprised to hear that I am a professional chess player and started asking me all sort of questions like “who is the best chess player in Israel?”; “who is #1 in Russia?”; “who is the best player in the world?”. The matter was resolved after they decided to do a web search on me. The checkout was even stricter on the way from Tel Aviv to Eilat. They examined every little item in my baggage, including coins. My friend and teammate, ex-Women’s World Chess Champion Antoaneta Stefanova, spent half an hour there. This was the only drawback of the trip. Otherwise, everything was fine.
The Eilat airport is located within the city. One can often see planes land there.
Photo by Natalia Pogonina
Eilat is located by the Red Sea on the border of Jordan and Egypt. The weather is always warm, and even in January it is about 20 degrees centigrade, while the temperature of the water is about 22 degrees. During the event it was even hotter – over 30 degrees – compared to Moscow’s 10.
The open tournament was a Swiss competition, while we had a round robin with 7 rounds. After the opening ceremony we found out that our path would be challenging, because we were to play all the main competitors in the first few rounds. Here is the list of the teams:
- «Monte Carlo Chess Club» from Monako – a dream team with an average rating of 2578 (!) and Women’s World Chess Champion Hou Yifan on board 1
- «AVS» from Krasnoturinsk, Russia (2512) –my club and the reigning European Club Chess Champion at that moment
- «Mika», Armenia (2472)
- «SHSM-Nashe Nasledie», Moscow, Russia (2444)
- «Ugra», Khanty-Mansyisk, Russia (2397)
- «Chigorin Chess Club», St. Petersburg, Russia (2277)
- «Ashdod», Israel (2228)
- «Rishon Le-Zion», Israel (2036)
The main favorites were the club from Monte Carlo and our team, but the tournament went terribly wrong for us. In the first round we were paired against Ugra. Not a bad team, but obviously lower-rated than ours. Antoaneta Stefanova decided to take a day off. The board pairings were the following: 1. Lahno vs. Kovanova, 2. Girya vs. Cmilyte, 3. Pogonina vs. Romanko, 4. Shadrina vs. Muzycuk M. We had arrived the evening before the playing day, so most of us were rather exhausted. Viktoria Cmilyte quickly lost to Olga Girya. Kateryna Lahno had to work hard to beat Baira Kovanova. I played rather poorly and eventually drew against Marina Romanko. After a tiresome defense, Marya Muzychuk blundered a pawn breakthrough and lost to Tatiana Shadrina. 1.5-2.5 in our opponent’s favor – that was not the start we were expecting.
Here is an example:
Photo of you know who by Alina Kashlinskaya
The central match of Day 1 was Monako vs. SHSM-Nashe Nasledie. On board one Sasha Kosteniuk managed to outplay Hou Yifan once again and clinch an important point. However, Valentina Gunina lost to Konery Humpy, Alina Kashlinskaya to Pia Cramling, and Ekateryna Kovalevskaya escaped from Anny Muzychuk. Monte Carlo Chess Club won 2.5-1.5.
Hou Yifan and Koneru before the round. Photo by Anastasia Karlovic
Other results: Mika – Rishon Le-Zion 3-1; Ashdod – Chigorin Chess Club 2.5-1.5.
A disappointing upset for us in round one was followed by a match against the main competitor – Monako. Last year we defeated them thanks to Antoaneta’s win over Hou Yifan. This year was a reversal: Antoaneta lost to Hou, while all the other games were drawn. In my game vs. Pia Cramling I missed decent winning chances, made some inaccurate moves and had to defend a worse endgame.
Another important match was Ugra vs. Mika. Ugra won. Baira Kovanova lost to Elina Danielian, but Olga Girya and Tatiana Shadrina stroke back.
Ugra headed by Baira Kovanova. Photo by Anastasia Karlovic
SHSM-Nashe Nasledie vs. Chigorin Chess Club ended in a tie.
In a clash between the two Israeli clubs the higher-rated one dominated. Ashdod won 3-1.
After two rounds we had already lost any chances to keep the title. But what about the other medals? We were paired against SHSM-Nashe Nasledie. After two tough games I had a day off and spent it at the beach swimming in the sea. After having eaten tasty ice-cream I decided to take a look at our girls’ boards. Marya Muzychuk won quickly, but then things went astray.
Everyone is in a good mood. Photo by Natalia Pogonina
Antoaneta Stefanova had an edge against Alexandra Kosteniuk, but the game ended in a draw after Eti let the advantage slip away in time trouble. Viktoria Cmilyte had a worse position vs. Ekateryna Kovalevskaya, but the game was also drawn. Final game, Kateryna Lahno against Valentina Gunina. Alas, at some point Valya’s initiative became too dangerous, and Katya wasn’t able to defend the position. The match was tied.
Ugra wasn’t able to continue winning. Ashdod held them to a draw.
Monako was victorious again. Hou Yifan toppled Elina Danielian; Monako-Mika 2.5-1.5.
Chigorin Chess Club scored 3 points vs. Rishon Le-Zion.
The atmosphere in our generally friendly team was so-so: everyone was very upset with such a terrible performance. We had just 1 match point out of 6. AVS still had minimal chances for a medal, but after another loss (to Mika) they evaporated.
The only decisive game occurred on board 4. Marya Muzychuk got a bad position from the opening and then blundered.
After this match it became obvious that we didn't have any chances to earn a decent place in the event. Surprisingly, all of us seemed to be in bad form.
And the powerhouse from Monako kept crushing one opponent after another. Ashdod was wiped out with a 4-0 score. It wasn’t easy though:
Other results: SHSM-Nashe Nasledie vs. Rishon Le-Zion 3-1; Ugra vs. Chigorin Chess Club 2.5-1.5.
Standings after four rounds:
- Monako – 8 points
- Ugra – 7
- Ashdod - 5
4-5. SHSM-Nashe Nasledie, Mika - 4
6. Chigorin Chess Club - 3
7. AVS - 1
8. Rishon Le-Zion – 0
The open tournament was held nearby. Photo by Natalia Pogonina
To be continued…