National Masters Athletics Championship

The National Masters Athletics Championship Indoor took place on February 22nd and 23rd in Bucharest. The only difference compared to the senior championship is that in masters everyone is competing for their age category and there are winners for each age category. The limit age for masters is 35 years old and people are grouped together in a race depending on how old they are. The first age category is 35 to 39 years and then 40 to 44 and so on from every 5 years. This is the standard that applies worldwide.

The national championship has all the track and fields of indoor disciplines. The running distances are ranging from 60 meters to 3000m. Besides running, there are also competitions of high jump, long jump, triple jump, pole vault, etc.

Initially, I wanted to run in the 1500 meters in my age category and I registered for that. However, when I saw the starting list I realized that all the other 9 competitors were about to finish the race under 5 minutes while my personal best time stays at 6:00. In these circumstances, I thought a lot and decided to skip this race. It is not common for me to change my mind after announcing that I will participate so I was not happy with that. However, this race was with people from a different league.

On Saturday, I went to the “Ioan Soter” athletics hall only as a spectator to watch the masters races during that day.

I even recorded using my phone the race where I was supposed to run that day. The winner in the 40-45 age category was Marius Busca who won it with a time of 4:07 which was a new national record for the age category. The previous record was 4:17. One week later, I saw Marius Busca running in the 3000m seniors championship final where he was the only runner over 35 years. Yet he finished 5th in that race also beating the M40 masters national record for 3000m.

1500m M40 race at Romanian Master Championship

As you could see in the above race, all the runners finished under 5 minutes except for the last one who did it in 5:18 but nevertheless, he would still have finished with one lap ahead of me.

Since I am writing about 1500 meters races, that day there were other two national records beaten in the same race distance. Stefan Ciochina at M60 surpassed the previous record held by Ilie Cioca by almost 20 seconds and finished in 4:59, a great time. Yet, Cioca Ilie responded the same day by beating the M75 national record with a time of 6:05. This is the beauty of running in the masters series. Every five years you enter a new category and aim for your best performance according to your age.

On Sunday, the second day of the championship, there was amongst other races the 3000m run. This is the longest distance to run in indoor competition. In this competition, there were again two new national records. Stefan Chiochina has beaten the M60 record previously owned by Ilie Cioca by 40 seconds. And Cioca Ilie replied in the same race by beating the M75 national record. This sounds like “Groundhog Day”, right?

The most spectacular race of the day was the 800 meters run at M50 where our colleague Victor Bratu who owned the 1500m record in M50 tried to beat the national record for 800m too. But in that race, it was also Gheorghe Romascanu who owned the 800m record.

Better to see the race and convince yourself that it was a nice competition. Victor Bratu had the white shirt and Gheorghe Romascanu the orange one.

800m M50 race at Romanian Masters Championship

Victor Bratu won the race with a new national record of 2:16 for 800m!

I would like to congratulate all my colleagues from “Trupa lui Fane” who won the titles of National Champion for their age category: Bogdan Nitulescu M45 3000m, Laura Panaitescu F35 3000m and 1500m, Gloria Suciu F50 1500m, Cristina Ciobanu F55 1500m, 800m, 400m and, 200m, Victor Bratu M50 800m, Gil Popistasu M70 800m, Vali Puzderica M50 400m, Dan Constantin M45 60m, 200m and, 400m. Many thanks to our coach Stefan Oprina who helps us becoming better runners!Congratulations also to all the athletes who participated in this event!

This was a nice championship and I am looking forward to my next race, this month on March 22nd at Baneasa Forest Run where I will run 11km.

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.

How I became champion of Bucharest at 1500m indoor running, age category 40-45

The explanation is simple, nobody else competed in my age category at the Municipal Championship.

Happy after my first official race indoor.

There are tens of thousands of runners in Bucharest and the running community is growing fast in the city. Most of the people are running because it improves health and they are not interested in competitions. Besides, people are running long distances, longer than 3km and only outdoor.

To participate in an official competition, as the Municipal Championship, you have to be registered in a running club and to pay a small registration fee, around 10 USD.

This was my first indoor competition. The course has only 180m length and for a 1500 meters race, you have to run 8 laps and another 60 meters.

On Saturday, January 11th, we gathered at the start and once we heard the pistol shot we start running. I knew I was a slow pacer and my target was to finish the race under 6:20. For this reason, I did not start fast. During the race, I had a very strange sensation, similar to the one when I was a child in a merry-go-round. I was seeing the same faces every 45 seconds as this was the time it took me to run each lap.

With our coach Stefan Oprina who won three gold medals at the Municipal Championship

The surprise came when the arbiters asked all the participants to run a lap more than it should have been for 1500 meters. Probably they made a mistake in counting the number laps needed for this race. It was very strange as all of us knew that we shouldn’t have to run that last lap, yet we did it. Of course, everyone contested the result and it proved that we were right and the arbiters adjusted the results. My official time was 6:03 although I am sure I did not run faster than 6:15. As a bonus, since I was the only runner in my age category I got the “gold” medal.

The next day, on Sunday, I ran the 800 m race, which was only four laps long. This race was without special events and I finished it in 3:07, not a great performance. However, I got the “silver” medal because there was only one runner who was faster than me in my age category.

Although not planned, my teammates asked me to join them in a relay race, 4×2 laps. This was a really hard race for me as I am not prepared for running short distances at high speed. The experience was interesting but I am not sure I want to repeat it soon. Our team got the “silver” medal for the relay participation.

With some happy colleagues and our coach

All my colleagues who participated in the races got “gold” or “silver” medals in their age category group. Our coach, Stefan Oprina, won his three races where he participated. Many thanks to Stefan for helping us become better runners!

One could say my first competition indoor was a success. Or, as a friend told me recently, the key to success is the lack of competition.

It was the first time I won my age category in an official competition.

“Ioan Soter” running hall. The only place in Bucharest for indoor running

We train twice a week in this running hall during winter and it is always very crowded. In my opinion, there should be more than one running hall in such a big city like Bucharest. Ideally, a running hall should have a 400 meters lap and not 180. This way more people would be able to train in winter when it’s hard to run outdoor.

December 1st Half marathon

December 1st is Romanian National Day and a running competition is organized each year in Bucharest to celebrate this occasion. Last year on December 1st it was snowing and the temperature was -10 Celsius. I went to see people running that day and I thought I’ll never run outside at that temperature. This year the weather was much better, a +4 Celsius and I decided to run a half marathon.

This year’s edition of December 1st Marathon celebrated the memory of Alexandru Ioan Cuza. He was the first ruler of Romania from 1859 to 1866. He was born exactly 200 years ago and became ruler of Romania 160 years ago. Another coincidence, the competition happened in the “Alexandru Ioan Cuza” park in Bucharest.

The competition medal was engraved to honor Alexandru Ioan Cuza

As a side note, this April, I was visiting Heidelberg, the city where Alexandru Ioan Cuza died while in exile in 1873.

As for the race, the course map was a 4.2 km circle in the park which we ran five times by the half marathon runners and ten times by those running a marathon. It was not the ideal circuit, it had ups and downs, climbing and descending on stairs. With this in mind, I thought it was not a race for achieving a personal best time. Therefore having fun was more important on this special occasion.

At the start, there were 1200 people prepared for a run on a special day

During the race, I had a constant pace, except for the first km when it was very crowded with all the participants it was slower. I completed the half marathon in 1:53:38 and placed 147 from the 375 runners who finished the race. It was not my best time this season but not the worst either.

A runner in a park by the lake
Looking relaxed on the run
Happy after a good race on December 1st

Many thanks to Radu Neagu who took the pictures above and sent me quickly as always! He did run an 11 km race which started after we finished the half marathon and had time to take us pictures before his run.

The MC for this event was Bogdan Nitulescu, my colleague from “Trupa lui Fane”. Bogdan does this job every year for this competition. Last year he stayed for more than 7 hours outside at -10 Celsius. This year the weather was much better. Many thanks, Bogdan, for encouraging us through the race in a cold December morning!

Bogdan looking happier this year. Thanks for your support!

This race was the first half marathon for my friend and colleague Bobo. It was a great result for him finishing in 1:56 such a race as the course was difficult and it was cold outside.

With Bobo at the end of his first half-marathon. Congratulations on your first half marathon!

The December 1st half marathon was a nice way to end the competitional season outdoor by running on a special occasion.

Urban Athletics 2019

This year, I ended my outdoor running season at Urban Athletics in Bucharest. It was the second edition of this event. They had three races, 800m, 3km and one mile (1609m). I went for the 3km distance, which is still a short distance for me but it was the best option available. Those were the official races but it was also a family-run.

The event was very well organized and more important it was a lot of fun to be there. They provided water and sweets for the runners as well as diplomas and medals for all the finishers. Kiseleff Boulevard was a good choice for a fast run.

It was a misty day last Sunday when we took the start at 9 am for the 3km race. There were not many runners and this also helped us obtain a good result. The temperature was about 10 Celsius which was also ideal for cooling during the run.

The 3km race started in a misty morning

I have no experience with the 3km distance and carried out by the wave of runners I began running with a pace that I could not sustain for the whole race. When I looked at my watch the pace was 3:40/km, which was obviously too fast for me. I ran the first kilometer in 4:04 and then the last two kilometers in 4:24. I was not able to keep the same speed for the whole distance. But I am happy that I was able to run at a decent speed for the rest of the race.

As it can be seen here, I was obviously suffering for the last kilometer of the race. Yet I am happy I could finish with a good result.

My finish time was 12:53 placing me at 60 position in a list of 136 runners. It was, of course, a personal best for this distance and I am really happy about that.

After the race, I was looking more like a protestant in front of the Government building than happy about my performance.
Bobo also ran a 3km race and obtained a personal best time. He looked happy with his result.

Once the races finished we waited for the prize-giving ceremony to congratulate the winners. A funny moment was when Radu Neagu took us a picture, a very young competitor showed up in front of us.

With colleagues and our coach Stefan Oprina who won his age category in the one-mile race. In front of Stefan is a young athlete, looking forward to future races. The future is his.
Many thanks to Radu Neagu for the pictures he sent me! Here you can see him running a one-mile race at Urban Athletics

Since it’s already November we’ll start training indoor until March. Maybe I will compete in some indoor activities during this time.

My conclusion is that I liked very much the Urban Athletics competition because it was very well organized and good for speed running on short distances. I recommend the next edition of this race for all interested in running either short or long distances.

MIB 2019-Running a half marathon

This year’s edition of the Bucharest International Marathon happened on a beautiful and sunny day in October. This was my fifth participation at MIB. Like every year I ran a half marathon.

MIB is the most important running event in Romania by the number of participants. What makes special this event is that you meet many friends, colleagues and people you would not see in a while.

With my former colleagues before the start of the half marathon. They just finished the 10 km race and got their medals. Behind us is the Palace of the Parliament, the biggest building in Europe.

For this race, I aimed to finish it in 1 hour and 45 minutes. In order to achieve this,I planned to follow the 1:45 pacers. One advantage of this plan is that you don’t have to look at your watch and calculate how fast you should go during the race. You just follow the pacers and if you are up to that task you’ll finish in 1:45.

Everything went according to the plan until at km 17, when I was not able to continue keeping up with the pacers. For the first 17km, my pace was at about 5 min per km then I dropped at 5:15 and finally for the last two kilometers at 5:35. Eventually, I finished in 1:47:32 which is not a bad time, after all, it is my second best time. This result placed me in the first 20% of the 2166 people who finished the half marathon.

Full energy at the start of the 12th edition of Bucharest International Marathon. Near me, you can see a 1:50 pacer helping those who wanted to finish the half marathon in one hour and fifty minutes.
After 4km into the race. Far behind us, you can see the Palace of the Parliament. I am the one with the blue cap.

Once the half marathon was finished we waited to greet our colleagues, from the group “Trupa lui Fane”, who were running the marathon race. On that heat, at above 25 degrees Celsius, it was very hard to run for many hours. Especially for those who finished in 4 or 5 hours, the race was really difficult. Because of that many people abandoned during the marathon. A suggestion for the organizers for the next editions would be to start the marathon earlier.

A small group from “Trupa lui Fane” after the half marathon race.

My thanks and gratitude to my coach Stefan Oprina for the training and the constant encouragement he gave me in many situations. One example, before joining his team I often had injuries because I did no warm up before the training sessions.

Also, warm thanks to Radu Neagu, who after running a half marathon took us pictures, including the photo above.

This was my tenth official half marathon. In 2015 I finished it in 2:15 and now I can run the same distance almost 30 minutes shorter, which is quite ok in my opinion.

Leaving aside these technical details, more important is that running changed my life. I would like to end this story with a quote that has been on my mind since I start running four years ago:

An athlete cannot run with money in his pockets. He must run with hope in his heart and dreams in his head.” – Emil Zatopek

Running a half marathon at Balkan Masters Athletics

This year edition of the Balkan Masters Athletics was organized in Bucharest. It was a competition open to all athletes from Balkan countries aged over 35. It had all the races you can see in the athletics section of Olympic games with some small differences, one being that instead of a marathon the participants run only a half marathon because it deals with people over a certain age.

It was a nice edition with many spectacular races. I liked watching the relays but also the spectacular 3000m obstacles or the 1500m race. Except for the half marathon, all the other events happened on “Iolanda Balas” stadium.

It was a good opportunity for me to see how prepared I am for the traditional half marathon I run every year in October.

Together with my colleagues Bogdan and Ioan from “Trupa lui Fane” before the start of the half marathon. They both got bronze medals in their age category.

There were around 80 participants that started the race on a beautiful Sunday morning of September. We had to run 3 times around the Herastrau lake as shown in the map below where a lap is around 7 km long.

The map of the half marathon race

Constantina Dita, the Olympic champion, was invited to give the start signal for the race and she not only did that but she also watched the whole race and gave water to the thirsty runners after each lap. In the end, she congratulated the finishers. It was very nice of her to go the extra mile and I am sure that as myself all the runners really appreciated this. A warm thank you to all the arbiters and officials who were aligned on the route to make sure everything is ok. They stayed there for more than three hours until the race finished.

We took a picture with Constantina Dita before the race. She is the most famous Romanian athlete for long-distance running, besides winning the gold medal at Olympic Games in 2008 she still holds all the national records for women ranging from 10km to marathon.

As for the race itself, I started with a comfortable pace of 5 minutes and 10 seconds per kilometer and continued at that speed for 14 kilometers when a runner from Greece reached me from behind. In all the races before I focused on my run, but this time I made the mistake to compete with this guy. For the next 3 km, I had a pace of 4:50 which was too fast for me. As a result for the last 3 km of the race, I had an average of 5:24 and finished in 1:48:05 official time ranked 8th from 12 participants. While this is not my best time for a half marathon (1:46:46), I am happy with my performance, an average of 5:08 per kilometer for 21 kilometers. In the end, I congratulated the runner from Greece who finished two minutes ahead of me. Running and sport, in general, is about fair-play.

I would like to thank my coach, Stefan Oprina, the driving force at “Trupa lui Fane”, who is helping me for over a year to improve my running with great advice in cool training sessions together with many other runners.

With Stefan after he finished the 5000m race which he won. This is why he is inside the stadium while I am outside. Stefan got three gold medals in this edition of the Balkan Masters Athletics. His motto is: “Together we are stronger!”

Many thanks to Radu Neagu who made the photos above and sent them to me late in the night so I can write this article!

I liked this edition of the Balkan Masters and I would like to participate next year as well when will be hosted in Albania.

My next race will be at the traditional Bucharest Marathon on October 13th when my objective is to finish the half marathon in one hour and forty-five minutes.

Playing chess in Arad

Arad chess open is the most important chess tournament in Romania. This year it was it’s twelfth edition. The tournament was very well organized with players coming from all over the world. The venue for the tournament was the Continental Forum Hotel.

International chess festival – July 24-31- Arad

I took a few pictures from the organizer’s site to illustrate my experience within the tournament. I started the tournament with two loses then I was able to focus better and bounced back with four wins in five games.

At the chessboard during the 4th round

An interesting moment happened in round 7 when my opponent sacrificed two pawns in the opening in order to develop his pieces and tried to capture my queen.

The critical moment in round 7. I took two white pawns which can be seen above this text, but I realized that it was a trap. I spent 30 minutes in that position to understand all the complications and found a good move. I won the game in the end.

The most important game came in round 8th. I played a junior girl rated 150 points above me who had a great tournament. It was a very sharp game with chances on both sides.

I played a sharp English attack against Najdorf defense in round 8th.

The position below was the decisive moment of the game.

She played the black queen to h2 threatening both to checkmate the white king by playing queen takes c2 or to capture the bishop on h3. At first glance in the above diagram, it looks like white is lost. But in reality in this position, it is black who is lost and that is the beauty of chess. White responds with rook from d4 to d2 and stops the checkmate threat. Then the black queen captures the white bishop on h3 and white plays rook to h1 and the black queen is lost as it has nowhere safe to go. White would win the game. Also, instead of playing rook to h1 white has an even more powerful response, he can move the queen to e3, but that move is hard to see by humans. Stockfish 10, a powerful chess engine found that move in a few seconds.

I failed in finding this good defense and took the black knight on a3 instead, then she took my knight on c3 with the rook from c8 and resulted in a position lost for white. I resigned the game a few moves later.

After that game, I lost my focus and did a draw in the last round and ended the tournament with 4.5 points from 9 games.

I have played more than 400 moves in all the games in Arad but the move in the position above made the difference between a good and a bad tournament. This was a perfect example for the quote from Keres mentioned in a previous post: “in every position, there is a move to be found – but you have to search for it!“ Also my opponent deserves congratulations for courage to play a risky move that won the game. As they said: “Audaces fortuna juvat” ( “Fortune favors the bold”).

My participation in the Arad open was a great experience overall. I learned many things and I had the chance to visit Arad and Timisoara for the first time.

Running in Potsdam

During the first weekend of June, I was in Potsdam with Bobo, a friend, running at the 16th edition of ProPotsdam Schloesserlauf. It was a perfect time for a short visit to Berlin and Potsdam before the race.

In front of Brandenburg Gate
With Marx and Engels
Television tower in Alexanderplatz
View of Berlin from the television tower
Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam
Charlottenhof Palace in Potsdam
View of Charlottenhof garden on a summer evening

As for the race itself, there were two options, either 10km or half-marathon (21.1 km). Usually, I run half-marathons but this time we had two busy days in Berlin before the race and a returning flight soon after the course so I chose to run 10 km. It was a wise decision as June 2nd was a hot day in Potsdam and the race included a somehow steep climb near the Sanssouci Palace.

My objective was to finish the 10 kilometers race in less than 50 minutes. Unfortunately, I missed this goal by 30 seconds as my official time was 50 minutes and 29 seconds. Nevertheless, the whole trip was a cool experience and I am very happy I ran there.

With Bobo after the race

The race itself was very well organized. The sightseeing was beautiful as we ran around the Potsdam castles. My only suggestion for the organizer would be to group the participants at the start according to their expected finish time. For me, it was very hard to advance during the first kilometer because it was very crowded in front of me. Because of that, I ran the first kilometer in 5 minutes and 30 seconds. I kept my energy and accelerated during the last kilometer in 4:39. I had a chance to finish under 50 minutes if I would start sprinting one kilometer earlier.

There were 1477 runners who finished the 10-kilometer race. Of these, 772 were women and 705 men. It was the first time I run a race of such size where the majority of runners are women. It is great to see so many women running long distance races as this has a positive impact on health. My rank was 182 from 1477 finishers in the general standings and 21 in my age category.

I noticed in both 10 km and 21.1 km competitions almost all the participants finished their race. I think it is a cultural thing in Germany to achieve your commitment.

It’s a race…not a riot

Those castles had been built a few hundred years ago by the rulers of Prussia. At that time the only reason for thousands of common people running around the castles would be a riot. Fortunately, society evolved and continues to do so. These days so many people choose to exercise as it improves their health and life.

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.