A DEVONIAN IN RUSSIA
DEVON CHESS FLAG FLIES IN RUSSIA
Like many club players I have always envied the masters and grandmasters with their invitations to play in exotic foreign tournaments.
This August 2011 I was lucky enough to fulfil one of my life’s ambitions during a holiday in St. Petersburg, Russia. I was able to play in a tournament in which I was the only non-Russian participant. The event was a Veterans (60+)Tournament organised by the St.Petersburg Chess Federation to commemorate the centenary of the birth in 1911 of ex-World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik.
I should perhaps mention that, in addition to my wife being Russian and from St.Petersburg , I am a Russian speaker and experience Russian teacher. This obviously made all my dealings with the players and officials relatively straightforward.
How did I manage to be accepted into the tournament? Well, it really was not very complicated. One day during my holiday I went to visit the famous Chigorin Chess Club situated just off the city’s main avenue, Nevsky Prospekt. There I saw an announcement about the Veterans’ Tournament which was due to start two days later. An organiser’s e-mail address was given so I sent off an enquiry about possible entry and was pleasantly surprised to be told that my entry would be welcome.
Two days later I turned up at the venue, a large Soviet-period hotel called the St.Petersburg, situated on the bank of the River Neva, right opposite the famous naval cruiser AURORA which fired the shots which signalled the start of the October Revolution in 1917.
There were 90 participants in the tournament, aged from 60 to 85 and their average ELO rating was about 2150 (ECF 190). There was one GM, several FIDE Masters and a whole army of Candidate Masters plus many first and second category players. Many of the players had known Botvinnik personally . I estimated that the standard at the bottom end was equivalent to ECF 160. So it was immediately clear that a stiff chess test awaited, the more so since the time limit required each player to make all his moves in 1 hour with two games a day, nine rounds in all. I set myself the target of achieving a 50% score but it wasn’t easy.
Two aspects of the play of my opponents immediately stood out. It was clear that these men (there were only a couple of ladies) had been brought up in the same Russian school of chess as the army of masters and grandmasters which so dominated world chess during the Soviet era up to 1991 (and which is still immensely strong today). Their rigorous grounding in the key principles of chess combined with a tremendous fighting spirit made every one of my nine games a battle to the last seconds on the clock. Not one of my opponents was willing to concede a draw until every possibility of a win was exhausted, even with both flags teetering on the brink. Given the time limit, mistakes in time trouble were inevitable and in fact cost me two wins. In all I won 4 drew 1 and lost 4 games and so was able, by virtue of a win in the last round, to achieve my target of a 50% score.
I felt that I learned a lot from the games and also gained much on the human front. One opponent had been an engineer on the Trans-Siberian Railway, another had lived as a child through the terrible siege of Leningrad from 1941-44. All were intrigued to meet an English chessplayer, especially a Russian-speaking one!
I am strongly tempted to return for another crack next year if there is a tournament. Would any Devon chess veteran care to come with me?!
Here are three of my games:
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e5 6.Ndb5 d6 7.Nd5 Nxd5 8.exd5 Ne7
Up to here this is a well-known variation . White should play c4 and his failure to do so is the start of his problems.
9.Be2 a6 10.Nc3 Ng6 11.0-0 Be7 12.Be3 Bd7 13.a4 0-0 14.a5 Qe8
I was pleased with this move which prevents Na4 and anticipates the queen becoming active on the kingside
15.Qd2 Rc8 16.Rfc1 f5 17.f3
17...Nh4 18.Kh1 Qg6 19.Bd3 Qh5 20.f4 exf4 21.Bxf4 g5
Now Black's attack accelerates.
22.Be2 Qh6 23.Be3 f4 24.Bf2 g4 25.g3 Nf3 26.Bxf3 gxf3 27.gxf4 Bh3 28.Bg3 Bg2+ 29.Kg1 Bf6 30.Re1 Rc4 31.Ne4 Bxb2 32.Rab1 Bd4+ 33.Bf2 Qg7! 34.Bxd4 Rxd4 35.Qf2 Rxf4 36.Nxd6 Bh3+ 37.Qg3
37...Qxg3+ 38.hxg3 f2+ 39.Kh2 f1Q