Impressions from the European Championship

Impressions from the European Championship

Natalia_Pogonina
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From March 1st to 19th most of the strongest European female chess players gathered at Gaziantep, Turkey to compete for the classical, rapid and blitz titles. I don’t want to dwell too much on the statistics and peculiarities of the tournament struggle and will dedicate more time to the atmosphere and general impressions. After all, we had to spend over two weeks at the same venue, which is not very easy.

This year I decided to arrive at the Championship one day in advance. Two flights require a lot of energy, so the spare day was quite handy in terms of taking a rest, getting some sleep and familiarizing myself with the place.

Preparation for a chess tournament is by far not limited to working on one’s chess. Many other things are important as well: your physical shape, psychology, living conditions. By the latter I mean the hotel, nutrition, working schedule, etc. Having good Internet access is critical for communicating with your coach/second and other people via Skype. Overall the hotel was fine, although a lot of noise came through my window in the mornings. Also, the Internet was ok in the hall, but quite unstable and slow in the room itself. Last but not least, the choice of dishes at the restaurant was somewhat limited, so by the middle of the tournament many of us got bored with the cuisine and started eating out.

As I like to take walks before the game and afterwards, it is important for me to have a park nearby. In this case a park was available within 15 minutes by foot. I wonder how many miles I walked during those 19 days?!

The playing hall was spacious and comfortable:

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I started the event with a win, but then slowed down and made four draws. In round 6 I won again and got 4/6. March 8th was a rest day aka International Women’s Day. In Russia it is considered to be a popular holiday, but I am indifferent towards it since I have a birthday on March 9th. Therefore, all the attention that is left over from celebrating Fischer’s birthday (also March 9th) is transferred to mine. Wink Frankly speaking, I don’t like participating in tournaments on the eve of my birthday. I tend to get reflective and reconsider my life in general – not the best state of mind for playing competitive games. Nonetheless, I have been doing it on a regular basis, from the Russian junior championships until now. This year the game against Olga Girya in round 7 was also quite challenging. Eventually I got a draw. Naturally, one can’t celebrate the birthday too actively during a tournament, so the procedure was limited to a modest cake-eating ceremony with my friends on March 8th, reading a nice column titled "Do women have a chance against men?" and having a chuckle at a list where I was named one of the top-10 Russian female athletes.

After a victory in round 8 I found myself at 5.5/8. On the next day I had a promising position against Kateryna Lahno, but made a blunder and lost. Just like in 2011, I had to win both final games to qualify for the World Championship. I succeeded in both cases: 2/2 with Black and 5th-11th place (10th by tie-break); 8 rating points gained. The total prize of the classical chess championship was  € 100,000 with a record €20,500 for the winner. My share was €5,170 (about $6,900) – obviously, not much for 11 days of work, but at least more than enough to compensate for travel expenses, accommodation and the services of my chess second. Being a chess pro is tough even if you perform well.

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The new ECU dress code was introduced for the first time during this championship. For example, women weren’t allowed to wear sports shoes and suits and… undo over two buttons on their blouses. Funny, isn’t it? That is one of the few situations when chess news makes it to the mass media. Of course, the regulations were a popular discussion topic among the participants in private conversations and on Twitter. From my personal experience I can tell that not a single player was a fan of the new rules, but maybe such women do exist. My opinion is that dress code is relevant at super tournaments, World Championships and at other elite events with personal invitations. On the other hand, the European Championship is an open tournament that attracts people of different ages, cultures and backgrounds, so I don’t think it’s a good idea to impose such limitations. However, in reality some of the players were wearing sports shoes or too short skirts, and no one reprimanded or punished them for it.   

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After the classical tournament some players decided to stay for the rapid and blitz events. For some of the girls the idea was to have fun and train, while others were taking things seriously and aiming at the titles. Russia has confirmed its status as the #1 chess country in Europe: all three gold medals went to members of our national team. Having played 42 games in 19 days, I was rather tired and anxious to get home as soon as possible. This was typical of other participants as well.

At the Moscow airport I and my friend Baira Kovanova went to a traditional Russian restaurant and ordered borsch, meat rissole and fried potatoes. Home, sweet home!

In the first round I had to face my compatriot and long-time friend Liza Bronnikova.

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White chose a risky plan with 14.g4. The attack is illusionary, while the kingside gets weakened for real. After an overactive move 22.g5 the White king got into trouble, and Black quickly capitalized on the mistake.

All the photos are courtesy of Anastasiya Karlovich, http://eiwcc2012.tsf.org.tr

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