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.

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: β€œin every position, there is a move to be found – but you have to search for it!β€œ 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.

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!β€œ Hopefully, everyone reading this article will spend time looking for good moves in life as well.