Run around the house and chess in Bucharest

During WWII, while working in Bletchley Park to break the Enigma code, Alan Turing invented a game that combined chess and running. The contest rules: You sit with your opponent in front of a chess table. You make your move and run around the house. The other player has to move before you return. Once you sit down at the table, the other player runs around the house. Then you have to move, etc. You lose if you are checkmated or fail to move before your opponent returns to his chair.

The above mentioned is a rare example of a game that exercises both mind and muscles hard. But what made Turing invent such a strange game? At Bletchley Park, there were excellent chess players ( e.g., C. H. O’D. Alexander was the British chess champion and became International Chess Master). They were playing a lot of chess. Turing was a modest chess player despite all his tries. But he was a very competitive person. And a great runner with a personal best of 2:46 per marathon. That would be a fantastic time, even by today’s standards. The game mentioned above helps the fast runners as it gives them more time to think.

Romanian Parliament House

During my stay in Bucharest, I played in a chess tournament and ran a half marathon in May. The chess event happened inside the giant House of Parliament, the most prominent building in Europe. The start and finish of the race were in front of the same house. That made me think about the game proposed by Turing, although in my case, the two events (chess and run) happened within one week, not on the same day.

Side view of the Parliament House

It is funny to imagine Turing’s game inside the House of Parliament in Bucharest. One run around this house is longer than 3 km, and after just 14 moves, you run more than the equivalent of a marathon. This game would require players with great physical shape. This is an amusing edge case for the proposed game.

Playing venue inside the Parliament House.

First, it was the chess event. About 200 players from 15 countries gathered in a massive hall from Parliament House. There were 10 rounds of rapid chess (15′ +5″ format). My result was 4.5 points from 10. Because 9 out of 10 opponents were ranked higher than me, I gained 38 ELO points. My opponent had a considerable advantage from the opening in one of the games. I continued playing as I still had pieces on the table. He relaxed, and his advantage started to decrease. I kept calm and played the best I could. The position was drawn, and then I had the advantage and won. The win was not because of a blunder but because of the constant improvement of the situation. Later, I saw that my opponent was above 2200 ELO in classical chess while I was 1800. The lesson is to continue the game as long as the position still could give some hope. Playing in this tournament was a fun experience!

I was happy to see that chess is becoming more popular in Romania.

At the start of the Bucharest Half Marathon

The second event was the Bucharest Half Marathon. I’ve participated in the last five editions of this competition. This year the weather was ideal for running. I tried to improve my time from the Warsaw half marathon in March but failed to do that for 3 seconds! The official time was 1:54:30.

Close to km 10.

One statistical aspect is that the average time for finishing this half-marathon was 1:58, while in Warsaw was 1:54, and in Krakow, 1:52. Although I failed to improve my time, I was happy to see many people I knew. It is good to say hi! and exchange a few words.

With colleagues from “Trupa lui Fane” after the race

Let’s get back to the story about Turing. The run-around-the-house chess had no success. Nobody was willing to play it (for some reason, runners are not interested in chess, and chess players do not run). Turing did not give up. He came up with the idea to create a program to play chess and defeat his colleagues. At the time, the computer was at its beginnings. Turing created the first chess program called Turochamp in 1948. His idea was that if I couldn’t beat you, I would make a program that would do that. This second plan was much better. It led to a challenge between man and machine. These days a chess program on any smartphone can defeat the best human chess player.

European Rapid and Blitz Chess Tournament 2021

The European Rapid and Blitz Chess Tournament venue, Katowice, is a Polish city with modern urban architecture. It looks more like an American city, and it has tall buildings in the center and wide streets and boulevards. It also has a vast sports arena called Spodek, which translates to “saucer”.

The Spodek Arena was the venue for the 2021 edition of the European Rapid and Blitz Chess Championship. The championship was organized really well in such circumstances. One should keep in mind that there were strict sanitary rules in Poland in December 2021.

Spodek Arena in Katowice

Katowice is only about 80 kilometers west of Krakow. Therefore, driving there for this tournament was a good option for me.

The blitz championship took place on Friday and was won by the local chess star Jan Krzysztof Duda. The rapid chess tournament followed on Saturday and Sunday (17-18.12.2021). The playing rate was 15 minutes for the game, with 10 seconds added after each move. Six rounds were played on Saturday and five on Sunday.

I played only in the rapid section of the championship among other 570 players. The tournament was open for any chess player in Europe. There were registered players from 23 countries, and I was the only player from Romania. The Covid pandemic was at its peak in Poland, and many players chose not to risk traveling to play in an event with so many people.

Spodek prepared for the chess tournament

I was pleased with my game from the first round. I met a Polish International Master. The game was exciting and intense, but I made a mistake in mutual time trouble and lost. This is my only game recorded from the 11 played in the tournament. A couple of days later, a colleague told me that my opponent is a famous chess player and streamer in Poland. He finished fifth at the end of the tournament.

The next rounds also came with some hard-fought games, which I am happy for. I wanted to have fun, and it was a great experience. My opponents ranged from 12 to 65 years old, mainly from Poland, and five of them were children.

My result was 4.5 points out of 11 games, but I should have made at least 5 points based on the initial rating and ranking. As a consequence, I lost 40 ELO rapid chess points. The ratings for blitz, rapid and standard (classical) chess are differently measured.

Chess tables are connected with wires for transmitting the games online


The majority of participants were young. This is very good for the chess future. After the “Queen Gambit” series, there is a lot of interest in this game worldwide. Some youtube channels with chess content have more than one million subscribers.

It is good that the parents understood the benefits of chess for the development of children. It is good that the parents understood the benefits of chess for the development of children. Chess offers the possibility of learning things not covered in schools, such as decision-making and assuming consequences.

One of the videoclips from the rapid chess championship. These days chess is very popular on Youtube and Twitch.

The organizers did an excellent job of transmitting live the tournament on youtube, with interviewers and professional players commenting on the games. Lately, chess has been a lot about content streaming.

Games in progress

Chess is very popular in Poland. Besides the European Rapid and Blitz Chess Championship, the World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championship was hosted in Warsaw at the end of December.

Spectators watching the drama closely during the last game of one round

Spodeck was the largest indoor venue of its kind in Poland until it was surpassed by Tauron Arena in 2014. A fun fact is that I participated in sports competitions in both arenas in two months. The Krakow half marathon ended inside Tauron Arena.

Krakow International Chess Festival 2020

Traditionally, at the end of the year, there are many chess tournaments around the world. At that time, most chess players are on vacation. The most famous example is Hastings International Chess Congress, which had its first edition in 1895. This year, because of the Covid pandemic, tournaments decades older moved online or got canceled. There was one exception. The XXXI edition of the Krakow International Chess Festival took place from December 27th to January 4th in a traditional format. Players were meeting face to face. They were grouped by rating in six different tournaments. Almost 500 players participated.

To play chess during a world pandemic… That sounds like Antoninus Block in Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal”. “A man seeks answers about life, death, and the existence of God as he plays chess against the Grim Reaper during the Black Plague”. If you haven’t seen the movie, I recommend it. It’s one of the most important movies ever made.

The most famous chess scene in a movie

These days, in chess, Grim Reaper was replaced by computers that can defeat any human being. Computers are trying to kill the soul of chess by exploring all the possible variations of the game.

Returning to real life, there were, of course, special safety measures for the Krakow tournament. All players had to have their nose and mouth covered with a mask. Each player’s temperature was checked at the beginning of the game. The hands were disinfected. Also, no visitors were allowed inside the playing venue. The pictures for this post were taken from the tournament site.

Before entering the playing hall. Arbiters making sure that I respect the tournament rules. On the table, you can see the device for checking the temperature.

Due to the current world situation, I expect to pass a long time until the next chance to play chess at the table. The alternative is not too good. There are many online chess tournaments. The problem with online chess is that some players are cheating with software. They are identified after the games with the help of software that detects computer moves. Unfortunately, the rankings can’t be corrected at the end of the tournaments. The damage remains.

My hope for this tournament was not to get infected with Covid. Now, I can say that I achieved this goal. I was playing in the B section of the tournament. Together with 95 other players and 3 arbiters. We were in the same room for 3 to 4 hours for 9 days. Although we were wearing masks, the risk was present. The context was that at that time, Poland had a high rate of infections.

This is how the tournament B playing hall looked like

The tournament venue was the Galaxy Hotel on the shores of the Vistula river. It is not far from the city center. The playing conditions were great. Many boards were transmitted live on popular chess sites. The organizers had to cancel some other touristic activities planned for the chess players because of Covid.

The only image from the tournament hall where I could identify myself

As for myself, I played in the intermediate level tournament. It was open for players rated between 1700 and 2100. The nine players that I encountered were rated higher than me. I lost 5 games, won 3, and draw one. Not a great result. However, because of the differences in rating, I ended up winning 15 ELO points. More important, I was able to enjoy some chess games. Normally, I would share some chess positions as highlights. Unfortunately, I had no chance to make combinations. The only combination that was played against me was incorrect. I played correctly and my opponent gained nothing out of it. All the games were interesting. It was tough fighting even if there were no fireworks.

Children section of the tournament. The future of chess is in their minds.

I would like to end on a positive note. It makes me really happy that chess is so popular among children. This happens not only in Poland or in Romania but in many other countries around the world. Children can learn a lot of things from chess. Maybe I will write later a post about the benefits of chess.

Across the world, based on the average ratings of the top 10 players, the leading countries are Russia, the United States, China, and India. This can give you insight into how popular chess became worldwide.

National Chess Championship Semifinal in Bucharest

It’s been a while since I haven’t written about chess on this blog, and I think it’s time to cover a chess tournament.

In Romania, if you are not a chess grandmaster, international or FIDE master you have to play in a semifinal tournament to qualify for the final phase of the National Chess Championship. The Federation chose five cities in Romania ( Timisoara, Cluj, Iasi, Bucharest and Braila) to stage semifinal tournaments in February. The players finishing on the first ten places in the semifinals have the right to participate at the National Championship Final in April.

Because I live in Bucharest, I played here in the semifinal tournament. The venue was the new building of the Polytechnic Library on the University campus. The library was an excellent location because it’s quiet and has lot of natural light on the last floor.

National chess semifinals in Bucharest in UPB Library

There were nine rounds played during two weekends full of two rounds per day and one day with three rounds. It would have been nice if instead of having three rounds in the second Saturday we could play one round in the Friday evening and two rounds on Saturday.

At the start of the game each player has one hour and a half on the clock and gets an additional 30 seconds for every move he or she makes. This way one round could last for four hours or even more in some cases. The thirty seconds increment is to make sure that if a player reached a won position he or she has enough time to convert that position and not to lose the game because the time has run out.

The only unpleasant thing to mention was during the first Saturday when in parallel with the chess tournament there was a robotics competition in the same Library on the second floor. This was very nice and the young people participating there were very enthusiastic. The problem was that the Library had open space between floors and we heard all day screams and loud announcements from the second floor making our concentration difficult.

To qualify for the finals a chess player needed 6 points out of 9 games. There were no prizes and the only thing at stake was the qualification for the next phase of the National Championship. It was natural that all the players who were at 5.5 or 6 points made quick draws in the last round.

As for myself since I only had 4.5 points before last round and a win would not be enough to qualify I decided to play a nice game.

In the last game, I had the white pieces and we played a Sicilian Najdorf variation in which I went for a classical English attack on the king’s side. Twenty moves have passed and we reached the position below with white to move.

What do you think about the move rook takes h7 pawn? Do you think this sacrifice works?

I spent a lot of time thinking about whether the sacrifice works or not. If it doesn’t work, and I would move something else, the white offensive on the kingside will end and it will be black to counter-attack on the queenside.

Looking into the defensive resources of the black player I noticed that in the mainline he can protect his king with the bishop from e6 moving to g8, but I thought I can manage that if I bring my rook to h7.

The complexity of the above position is above my power of calculation. However, my intuition told me that the sacrifice is correct hence I did sacrifice a rook on h7.

To answer the question I asked my readers above I will tell you that the sacrifice is indeed correct. The sacrifice works only if white at the next move diverts the black queen from defending the e6 bishop. The move order is rook takes h7 pawn, the king takes the rook on h7, knight to a5, attacking the black queen and black queen goes to c7 then white plays queen to h2 check, the king takes the pawn on g7 and white rook from d1 to h1. This way the white queen penetrates the black defensive lines winning the game.

Unfortunately, in the game, both I and my opponent made serious mistakes. Once the rook was taken I played Queen to h2 and then Rook to h1 without diverting the black Queen. My opponent played Rook takes f3 pawn which gives the advantage back to the white player. I played Queen h7 check and after king to f8, I moved the white Queen to h8 allowing the defensive Bishop g8 and the game is lost for white. Instead, if I moved the knight to d2 I would have had a won position.

It’s not common in chess to have so many ups and downs in a few moves. This is an example where the intuition is far better than the calculation power of a player.

It’s good and very helpful in life in general to have a good intuition. The calculation power can be improved by solving many chess problems and this where I can do better.

GRENKE chess festival

I thought to write down some of my impressions as a participant in Europe’s biggest chess festival. It was indeed a great tournament and a special experience for me being in the same place with other 2000 chess players, including the best players in the world.

The venue, as in the previous years, was the Schwarzwaldhalle in the big Congress Center in Karlsruhe. There were two big conference halls where we played grouped in four tournaments.

Karlsruhe Congress Center

The tournaments were scheduled around catholic Easter between 18th and 22nd of April. It is the same each year, many people can play as they have free days during Easter. This was a nine-round tournament in five days with four days with double rounds and one day a single round. Most of the chess tournaments in present have a single round each day because it can take up to five hours of intense effort for a game to finish. Another difference from most of the tournaments is that it’s played in classical time format. This means each player has two hours to make forty moves and then receives other thirty minutes to finish the game. Hence a game can last for a maximum of five hours. This is how the chess tournaments were played before digital clocks were invented.

The main conference hall

In the conference hall above you can see a stage where the world best players including the world champion, Magnus Carlsen, had a closed tournament with only ten competitors. While the rest of the tournaments started on Thursday they started their tournament on Saturday. The reason behind this decision is that on the Friday before the Easter they don’t broadcast chess games. I guess it is a strange local policy in Karlsruhe.

A section of the second conference hall

Most of the chess players were assigned to play in the bigger conference hall seen above. I played all my nine games in this conference hall. The playing conditions were great, nice wooden boards and pieces on all of the tables. I would say that the tournament was very well organized in all details. It is not easy to handle 2000 people.

A standard chess set and clock used during the tournament

As for my experiences, in the first round, I lost because I made the move forty with one second too late. This was because I haven’t played a classic game in the last twenty years and I was not prepared for time to pass so quickly. I had fifteen seconds to make the last three moves. I thought I made the last move just in time because the clock displayed a confusing message. My opponent also thought that I made the move on time. He spent the next ten minutes thinking on his move when an arbiter came to our table and asked if I did forty moves. I did, but it turned out the last move was done out of the assigned time. The arbiter said that I lost the game for failing to make forty moves in two hours. His decision was right. I congratulated my opponent and went to the hotel as it was almost midnight and the next day I had other two games to play. I learned from that mistake to better organize my time. I did not lose another game on time.

Another interesting situation happened a few rounds later. After ten moves were played my opponent complained to the arbiter that I wrote down the moves I intended to make and then perform the move on the table and press the clock. I must say I did not know about this rule. In the books I used to learn chess from, written in the 1950s, they say that you should write down your move, think about it some more and only then perform the move. The arbiter asked me to make the move first and only then write it down. I thought this was a trick by my opponent to distract my attention and lose my focus. I thought I will not let myself fooled like this, I will fight hard and win the game. I was ranked higher than my opponent, I got a better position with a strong attack. At some point, I thought I had a winning combination if I sacrificed an exchange and I did that. It turned out my sacrifice was a mistake, one that I would see immediately in a normal context. The problem was that I wanted too much to win, to punish my opponent for the cheap trick he tried. This wish was stronger than my objective reason who would have seen the error if I thought a little more. As a result, I lost that game too. Psychology plays an important role in chess and in life. The good part is that chess helps you understand and maybe correct the behavioral problems you have at the cost of one game. After the game,my opponent apologized for calling the arbiter but he said he couldn’t concentrate on the game because I did not respect the procedure.

Those were the only games I lost in Karlsruhe. I also had pleasant experiences. In the position below I played black, and for the last five moves I chased the white king trying to checkmate it or gain a material advantage.

In chess it is important to defocus before focusing again

My focus was once again on finding moves to attack the white king, but despite my effort, I saw no way to make progress. I was looking only on the left side of the board where all the action was happening. Time was passing quickly and my calculus led to nothing. Then I stopped and I looked at the entire board and immediately noticed that if I would push the a6 pawn to a5 my opponent would move the bishop and then the pawn on c3 would remain unprotected and could be captured by the rook on d3. I won that pawn and then the pawn on a3. My opponent resigned the game seven moves later.

The lesson here is that sometimes it’s better to take a break from your plans and look for opportunities on other sides.

The next morning I had an even more pleasant game. We reached the position below, myself playing white after I sacrificed a knight for two pawns to obtain an attack against the black king.

Before I sacrificed the knight on move 12, I calculated the position above and evaluated it as much better for white who could take the pawn on b7 and then the one on c6 because the knight on b8 would move on d7. This way I had four pawns as compensation for a knight. A knight is generally considered equal to three pawns so I was better from the material point of view. But more important the black king was under attack from the white pieces, for example, the white rook could move to e1 and check the king.

Everything looked great for white, but before continuing with my long term winning plan I defocused and asked myself if I could do better than that. Soon, I noticed that if I moved the white bishop from c4 to f7 the black king could take the white bishop but the black queen was lost as it would be captured by the white queen. The option to play the king to e7 instead of capturing the bishop did not help as white would reply with rook to e1 and black would lose the queen in worse circumstances. My opponent took the bishop with the king, I took the black queen as mentioned above and he resigned the game.

In chess, the tactical sequence described above is called deflection.

I was very enthusiastic about the aesthetic beauty of that bishop sacrifice. Players that I did not know smiled at me after I moved the bishop to f7. It was the most beautiful move I played this year. It reminded me of a poem by Romanian poet Adrian Paunescu -“Nebun de alb” (Bishop of white). In this case, the white bishop did not take the white queen but sacrificed itself for the capture of the queen, which sounds like a different poetic image.

I would like to end this post with a quote from Paul Keres, a top chess grandmaster from the XX century: “in every position there is a move to be found – but you have to search for it!“ Hopefully, everyone reading this article will spend time looking for good moves in life as well.