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Russian Women Rule At European Team Championship
The Russian team with their gold medals and trophy. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Russian Women Rule At European Team Championship

The Russian women's team dominated the European Team Championship in Crete, Greece and won the event with a round to spare. IM Jovanka Houska, who played for the English team, reports.

Sometime in the 1950s some wise bods got together and in their infinite wisdom decided to create a team championship to fill in the rather long gap between the chess Olympiads. So, the idea of the European team championships was born.

Of course, not only has the event has grown considerably from being a small male only event to a highly prestigious international championship for both men and women. This year’s 2017 European Team championship took place from 28 October to 6 November in the rather idyllic resort of Creta Maris, Hersonissos, Crete.

This report focuses on the women's tournament where 31 nations, 32 teams and 158 players competed in this 9-round Swiss event.

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The match Turkey vs. Netherlands in round two. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Each team consisted of four players with one reserve available. The standard FIDE time control was in place, and draw offers were only allowed after move 30. As with FIDE team events, a team victory counted for two points and a draw one point.

Security measures were tight. Of course the usual electronic devices were not permitted but just like in the 2016 Baku Olympiad, players were not allowed to bring their pens (lucky or not!) although unlike Baku only the "dumb" watches were allowed.

These security measures perhaps added only very slightly to the sombre mood of the event. Whilst Olympiads are usually rather jovial, bustling affairs, in contrast the atmosphere at the European Teams is starkly serious. Most teams arrived well prepared, having spent some time at training camps, or working intensively with their coaches. Some lucky countries managed to bring an array of coaches and seconds. With a helper a thousand things are possible—to put it simply there was not going to be an easy ride to the top.

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Happy vibes! The Georgian ladies with team trainers GM Baskaran Adhiban and GM Elizbar Ubilava. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

The Russian women's team have, from 2007, been dominating the competition, winning since then all the championships bar one slip in 2013. Perhaps there was some positive karma circling in the air as it was here in Hersonissos, in the exact venue that the Russian team won their first ever gold medal! This year, once again it came as no surprise to see the Russian team heading the field above the powerhouses of Georgia and Ukraine.

In fact, the top six teams were:

2017 European Women Team Championship | Top 6 Teams

Bo. Title Name Rtg Fed Bo. Title Name Rtg Fed
1 GM Kosteniuk Alexandra 2552 1 GM Socko Monika 2479
2 GM Lagno Kateryna 2541 2 WGM Zawadzka Jolanta 2422
3 GM Gunina Valentina 2502 3 IM Szczepkowska Karina 2406
4 WGM Girya Olga 2505 4 WGM Kulon Klaudia 2358
5 WGM Goryachkina Aleksandra 2478 5 WGM Majdan Joanna 2349
Bo. Title Name Rtg Fed Bo. Title Name Rtg Fed
1 GM Dzagnidze Nana 2520 1 IM Paehtz Elisabeth 2453
2 IM Batsiashvili Nino 2472 2 WIM Heinemann Josefine 2269
3 GM Khotenashvili Bela 2459 3 WGM Hoolt Sarah 2423
4 IM Javakhishvili Lela 2438 4 WGM Michna Marta 2376
5 IM Melia Salome 2412 5 WGM Levushkina Elena 2309
Bo. Title Name Rtg Fed Bo. Title Name Rtg Fed
1 GM Muzychuk Anna 2576 1 GM Sebag Marie 2495
2 GM Zhukova Natalia 2426 2 IM Milliet Sophie 2377
3 GM Ushenina Anna 2445 3 IM Skripchenko Almira 2399
4 IM Gaponenko Inna 2433 4 IM Collas Silvia 2288
5 IM Osmak Iulija 2339 5 WGM Guichard Pauline 2285

The opening ceremony kicked off proceedings with some very energetic Cretan dancing and that zeal continued onto the chess board in round one with all the favorites winning their matches, perhaps as one would quite rightly expect... However, things often are not as simple as they appear on paper with a surprising amount of countries winning by the narrowest of margins.

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Cretan Dancing at the opening ceremony. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

There were some nice personal upsets too, with local heroine WGM Stavroula Tsolakidou (Greece), Nastassia Ziaziulkina (Belarus), Teodora Injac (Serbia), Laura Unuk (Slovenia), Sheila Barth Sahl (Norway) and Bojana Bejatovic (FYROM) all recording memorable victories for their teams. One of the most spectacular games was 17-year-old Unuk’s fantastic attacking game over Polish IM Jolanta Zawadzka.

nullLaura Unuk (Slovenia) playing Sophie Milliet (France). | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

In 2003 it was decided that the new scoring system for the European Team Championship would be decided by match points. Instead, game points were to be used as a form of secondary tie break. In Crete, whilst the overall scoring was done by match points, it was the game points that were used to decide the pairings, which meant two things. Firstly, the all-important match-ups inevitably occurred a lot sooner than expected. Secondly, the top seeds didn’t regain their spots on the top table until round five! 

"It’s not how you start but how you finish" is every chess player’s hopeful mantra but in Crete, the reverse was true. Rounds two and four saw some of the most critical match-ups between the top seeds. These rounds quickly became a critical battleground as to who could maneuver into that all important pole position and in addition determined which teams were hot on the ball. Georgia, Poland, Ukraine in particular all faced tough opposition in the second round in the shape of France, Germany and Armenia respectively, but all three put in very rather efficient performances.  

nullTop rated Ukrainian GM Anna Muzychuk facing Alexandra Kosteniuk. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

The highest rated player of the tournament, GM Anna Muzychuk (Ukraine), in particular played a model game against fellow GM Elina Danielian (Armenia).

However, it was in round 3 down on "board four" that the crowd got to see the first clash between the juggernauts Russia and Ukraine. The Russian team, captained by GMs Sergey Rublevsky and Alexander Riazantsev, had been somewhat convincing, although they had been winning their previous two matches with the smallest margin.

Yet Russia played like a team, covering any individual losses with the requisite wins. In comparison, Ukraine were hampered by the absence of GM Mariya Muzychuk, yet their super experienced squad of GMs Anna Muzychuk, Natalia Zhukova, Anna Ushenina and IM Inna Gaponenko meant that it was not going to be an easy or predictable match. Indeed, after three draws the result was decided by Gunina's plucky play against Ushenina, 

nullValentina Gunina of Russia. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

It was a case of deja-vu in the fourth round when Russia faced off against second seeds Georgia. The Georgian team had arrived to Crete, flushed with the success of NONA Batumi's victory at the European Club Cup and armed with two seconds – renowned trainer GM Elizbar Ubilava and his student GM Baskaran Adhiban. This encounter absolutely set the scene for the rest of the tournament.

Although Russia's 2.5-1.5 victory implied a close match, in reality the score should have been greater had Girya not spoiled a devastating attack against IM Lela Javakhishvili on board four. The highlight was with the ease that GM Kateryna Lagno polished off GM-elect Nino Batsiashvili in a fine positional game.

After this, the script was written. Russia would sail smugly into the lead and Georgia would have to forever play catch up.  

nullKosteniuk and Lagno both won gold board medals for their individual performances. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Whilst it was very clear that Russia were establishing themselves as the lead having defeated its two nearest rivals, they were not entirely alone at the top. Fourth seed Poland, along with Georgia and Ukraine, were establishing themselves as a commanding presence, although they had been held to a draw by the over-performing Spaniards and Italians in rounds four and five. They had dispatched Slovenia, Germany and Israel with relative ease.

By the time Poland and Russia met in round six, they were considered the last team to have the "firepower" to stop the Russian train. What followed next could have been the defining moment of the tournament. After three draws had been agreed, it all fell to the young WGM Alexandra Goryachkina to defend the following hopeless position.

The Russians were consistent in overwhelming their opponents, defeating Italy, Turkey and Armenia by such huge margins that they assured themselves of the gold medal by round eight! It was amongst the remaining teams that things started to get interesting, in particular  between Poland, Ukraine and Georgia who were all brawling it out in their bid for a place on the podium.

Georgia struck first in round six by defeating Ukraine - in a repeat scenario, from round four. This time it was Natalia Zhukova's loss against Nino Batsiashvili on board two that decided the match..

In round seven Poland did further damage by "holding" or rather letting the the higher rated Ukrainian team escape with a 2-2 draw but it was in round eight that things turned a little bit sour for the Georgian team. 

nullGeorgia-Poland in round eight. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

In the match between Georgia and Poland, Polish IM Karina Szczepkowska had very impressively defeated IM Lela Javakhishvili on board three so invariably it had al fallen to Batsiashvili to press home a slight advantage. It was that desire to push for a win at all costs that led to a tragicomedy that could have graced the late Mark Dvoretsky's "Endgame Manual." WGM Klaudia Kulon later attributed the team's success to a great team spirit and being friends on and off the board. 

In the end, things sadly went topsy-turvy for the plucky Polish in the final round when they lost 3-1 to an inspired Romanian team. (The English team can sympathise all too well with last round collapses!) Georgia and Ukraine coolly defeated their opponents Italy and Turkey 3.5-0.5 and 4-0 respectively to snatch the silver and bronze medals.  Special mention must really go to Romania, Spain and Italy who not only played fantastically well but also displayed great energy. 

European Team Championship (Women) | Final standings

Rk. SNo FED Team + = - TB1 TB2 TB3 TB4 TB5
1 1 Russia 8 1 0 17 258 25,5 182 171,75
2 2 Georgia 7 0 2 14 251 25,5 181,5 135,5
3 3 Ukraine 6 1 2 13 223,5 23 179,5 118,25
4 4 Poland 4 4 1 12 216 20,5 196 130,5
5 9 Romania 5 2 2 12 175,5 21 169 110,25
6 12 Spain 5 1 3 11 197,5 21 179,5 95,25
7 13 Israel 5 1 3 11 169 22 155 89,75
8 8 Azerbaijan 4 3 2 11 163,5 19,5 169 102,75
9 11 Armenia 5 1 3 11 147,5 18 184 99,5
10 15 Italy 4 2 3 10 162,5 19,5 174 80,25
11 17 Greece 1 5 0 4 10 155 19 165,5 85,5
12 7 Hungary 5 0 4 10 150 19 176,5 91,5
13 10 Turkey 5 0 4 10 113 15,5 179 90
14 14 Netherlands 4 1 4 9 145 18,5 166 81,5
15 19 Serbia 4 1 4 9 145 18 161 72,25
16 5 Germany 3 3 3 9 140,5 19,5 167,5 77,75
17 24 Lithuania 3 3 3 9 139 20 155 70,75
18 26 Switzerland 3 3 3 9 100 16 154 70,25
19 25 Austria 4 1 4 9 89,5 16,5 140 63,25
20 18 Belarus 3 2 4 8 159 18,5 177 73,75
21 16 Czech Republic 3 2 4 8 156 20 154,5 58,75
22 6 France 4 0 5 8 136,5 16,5 180,5 77,5
23 30 FYROM 3 2 4 8 77,5 15,5 145,5 49
24 20 Slovenia 2 3 4 7 124 19 147 51,5
25 22 Croatia 2 3 4 7 112 17,5 145,5 51
26 23 England 2 3 4 7 99 14,5 158 57,5
27 21 Slovakia 2 3 4 7 96 18,5 135 42,5
28 28 Norway 3 1 5 7 72,5 13,5 150 42,5
29 29 Belgium 2 2 5 6 75 13,5 147 39,5
30 27 Greece 2 1 2 6 4 62 13 133 21
31 32 Finland 1 1 7 3 54 8,5 142,5 23
32 31 Montenegro 1 0 8 2 52 10 134,5 8,5

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Captain Alexander Riazantsev, Alexandra Kosteniuk and Kateryna Lagno at the opening ceremony.

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A glamour photo with Alexandra Goryachkina and Olga Girya after their victory.

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Third place: Ukraine.

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Second place: Georgia.

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Board one medals: 1. Alexandra Kosteniuk (2632 TPR), 2. Anna Muzychuk (2621 TPR), 3. IM Deimante Cornette (2599 TPR).

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Board two medals: 1. GM Kateryna Lagno (2605 TPR), 2. GM Natalia Zhukova (2513 TPR), 3. WGM Stavroula Tsolakidou (2497 TPR).

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Board three medals: 1. GM Bela Khotenashvili (2608 TPR), 2. GM Valentina Gunina (2563 TPR), 3. IM Ana Matnadze (2521 TPR).

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Board four medals: 1. IM Inna Gaponenko (2552 TPR), 2. IM Lela Javakhishvili (2508 TPR), 3. WGM Klaudia Kulon (2433 TPR).

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