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Aug 16,2002

chess chess

Second Coming to Elista...

Honestly, I never thought I ever would be missing Kalmykia landscapes. But when the train was jolting me on the way to Volgograd, and later, when I was peering into the endless plains, vague but somehow very pleasant sights of the one-storeyed Elista and of the desolate Chess town appeared in my memory… National championships, President and Russia Cups - why, it's great that chess returns to it's alma mater at last after three years of wanderings! So it may possibly reach its former level in a year or two…

Small towns like Elista are simply intended for big chess. Quiet and still, they encahnt you with their slow rhythm, let you stop and concentrate, dispose yourself to the fight without wasting forces for unimportant things. Remember, Linares and Wijk aan See are just villages, where the greatest chess events in the world are held one year after another. But for its too remote location on the Russian map Elista, the capital of Kalmykia, (its West side, to be more precise) really might have become the national Mecca of chess where inhabitants of overcrowded cities would move eagerly. When the building of Ilyumzhinov's City Chess was still at the height, he gave sites there to all the best players, probably dreaming of Fisher's or Kasparov's houses, standing out in the most picturesque surroundings... But now the town wakes up from its lethargy no more than one or two times in the year. Apart from these times only football players from the local team Uralan, several residents of Elista who were reach enough to buy cottages in City Chess, and two or three FIDE officials can be met here.

But… as soon as the chess party lands, the good time comes. Hopefully, the Russian Chess Federation won't strike up senseless quarrels with Ilyumzhinov any more, trying to demonstrate its non-existent power, which has not brought anything but problems for the last several years! At last, but for the President's compliance, we might have only a miserable qualification tournament in Moscow, consisting of 7 rounds, whereas the question about the national championship would recede into darkness again… However, it turned out so that everybody is content, and Kirsan Ilymzhinov maintains his reputation of the eternal benefactor (or even saviour) of the Russian chess!

Of course, it was not like in the middle nineties this time. The prize fund was $30.000 vs. $100.000 at that times, and participants had to take care about their accomodation and board themselves which cost some $15 per day for one person. Yet, on the other hand, everybody was promised a prize, the minimal prize sum being as much as $120 for the last place - probably enough to cover the accomodation, but certainly not fare expences. So, unlike in the previous years, many players preferred a train to Volgograd to an aeroplane to Elista.

The special significance of this championship was quite important for the attitudes of the participants: it was a qualification event. However there were no passes to the World Championship which used to cost $6000 at the least to their winners in the previous years. Well, this is just for the better, since the Russian Chess Federation allowed almost blackmail, forcing participants to agree to any conditions… This time it was the Europe Championship for which winners of this tournament were to qualify. This is the only way to become the World Championship's participant now, but, on the other hand, there are many qualifying places there! It looked so simply: 20 participants from a country, yet the RCF managed to cheat and evoke mass resentment even here. First question chess players were asking was why there were as many places for Russia as for small countries like Malta or Liechtenstein provided? And second, why did the Federation contravene the sport principle again, having released four members of the Olympic team (Dreev, Rublevski, Sakaev and Zviagintsev) from the qualification by the decision of the so called trainers' council?

There is no discussion about the worthiness of these players. But then, why not include the Russia Champion 2000 Sergei Volkov in this list or holders of high ELOs, such as Shipov, Charlov or Lastin who had proved their strength more than once? Nobody can tell… The situation looked still more strange since the decision of the trainers' council should have been approved by the executive committee, held just before the start of the championship, quite naturally. All this time dismissed players were on the anxious seat. Volkov tried to contact Selivanov, the RCF head, with the help of the Mordovia President himself, Kharlov and Shipov wrote open letters - but all this was in vain. The functionaries won one more victory over the players without fail.

There were some amazing affairs also before the start of the Championship in Elista. The tournament suddenly lost several participants, and then new people came. From the very begginning it was well known that several players were not coming. Valery Popov, having won the St.Petersburg Championship, went to Budogosh and scored a success there… Sergei Ivanov who was third at the same event stayed at home. Denis Evseev and Victor Varavin won their zone tournaments but did not come to Elista, Vaulin and Zaharevich came instead. Now Konstantin Landa, on the contrary, left Dortmund only to play in the Championship (though living in Germany, he is a Russian chess player, as well as Epishin), but somehow he managed to be 15 minutes late for the flight to Elista. Then, Piotr Kiriakov came to Elista in time, but did not play a single game and flied away next day. Like in an old play, Piotr came to Elista at the first round day and appeared almost before the very start. The grandmaster from Krasnoyarsk was welcome, and at first arbiters even included him into the players list, but then they quickly stroke him off, and there were no ways to persuade them to change this position. Many participants must remember the scene when the main arbiter Vasiliev and respected Postovski were staring at each other silently… Well, Kiriakov, since he was guilty (his fount was proclaimed that he had not called from Moscow to confirm his participation) asked to let him play with a penalty of one ore even two "zeros", yet nobody seemed to be sympathising with him. He was refused firmly, although there was an opportunity to include Panchenko in the tournament (he just was having a session with his school in Elista). As the result, there were as many as five local participants at the Championship (and also Dju from Ufa who came at the first round day as well, by the way), and grandmaster Kiriakov had to return to Krasnojarsk. So who gained from this?

Meanwhile, the fixed idea about the Europe Championship influenced the players' minds so strongly that three rounds before finish none of the leaders said to me he would struggle for the Russia Champion's title at any cost! This is how the qualification possibility defeated ambitions. They figured out that +2 would be enough and did not try to go for anything else…

Later it was found out that instead of 16 there were 17 places available because Dreev with his ELO 2680 proved to have a personal right to play at the World Championship without any council decisions. But this is not the end of the story. So, Malakhov declared he would not go to Macedonia. First, he has his examinations at the university, and second… it's quite unsafe there, and anything may happen. So the number of vacant places can grow, all the more that the trip costs some $1500 which is quite a large sum for Russian grandmasters.
The Championship was the first big trial of FIDE's new time control, the players even were asked to state their opinions. There were various points of view there… Older players were particularly dissatisfied, though young ones suffered as well. Evgueny Sveshnikov who performed unusually badly at the tournament, did not claim to justify his result with the new rules, yet he said, "First, they bereaved us of 20 minutes before first control, and, second, after you make the 40th move at last, you can't even leave the board for a short while, or you simply lose on time!" Really, 30 seconds per move is quite a short time… I saw many times players make a move with shivering hands one or two seconds before time expired only to repeat the same on the next move. Sometimes this excessive nervousness burst out, and upset duellists swept electronic pieces away from the board, to programmers' horror… There was also an opposite attitude there. So Andrei Shariyazdanov, brought up in tough Western tournaments, was not used to spending over the board three hours only and felt ready to play two such rounds at a day! For Denis Frolov the Elista control was almost fun, "In the qualification tournament we played with mechanic clocks, three hours per game, two rounds a day…" So you can imagine this, considering that the qualification event finished three days before the Championship's start...

By the way, the terms of the championship turned out an unpleasant surprise for many of its participants. It had been announced for a month only, so many players had to change all their spring plans…For example, Rustemov had to refuse to come to Bundesliga rounds, although his participation had been agreed long before, whereas for Filippov the Championship was his fourth tournament in series. Taking into account that it was scheduled only three days after a large Swiss Open in Dubai, and the Russia Team Championship in Tomsk started only four days after its finish, an then (almost without pause) the Europe Championship is going to start, you can easily guess what was the mood of some players: it would be nice to survive! Perhaps this was why tough failures of several favourites were, actually, not absolutely unexpected… although Filippov's and Rustemov's one point out of four at the start, as well as Sveshnikov's final 3.5 out of 9 points still look unbelievable. As a whole, the favourites confirmed their class, and in the top twenty of the Championship there are practically no new names. The list of those who failed is much more impressive: Volkov, Aseev, Vaulin, Shipov, Dvoyris, Balashov, Dolmatov, Yakovich, Shariyazdanov, Ibragimov… A team which might perform excellently at the highest level, yet they won't come to the Europe Championship.

On the other hand, young players were at the top: Najer, Kobaliya, Galkin, Turov, Malakhov, Smirnov, and Lastin and Motyliov as the winners. A 21 y. o. champion - this looks symbolic. The point is not that young players find it easier than middle-aged ones to keep up with the new conditions. The point is that new strong players, real stars still appear in the poor penniless Russia, abandoned by all the best specialists. So in a year or two they may prove to be no worse than those who are 10 years older, and maybe they will even outdo them! Yet, when I asked Motyliov, "What result would you have expected from yourself if the championship started afresh now?", he answered nothing…

"He who fears an isolated queen's pawn should give up chess". Siegbert Tarrasch

"The most powerful weapon in chess is to have the next move"! David Bronstein.

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