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World Senior Championships

Acqui Terme, Italy, November 2017. Report by Tim Harding

The 27th FIDE World Senior Chess Championships took place in Acqui Terme from 7-18 November. This was the second time this small city in north-west Italy has hosted the event.

As in every year since 2014, there have been two age categories: 50+ and 65+ (based on your age at 31 December 2017) with separate championships for ladies, although a few lower-rated women have chosen to play in the Open events. The Open tournaments were played over 11 rounds but both the women's championships were shortened to nine rounds, giving those players two additional rest days.

Unsurprisingly, entry levels in the Open events were well down on last year's record figures, although somewhat higher than in 2015. In total there were 315 competitors from 51 countries, compared with last year's record 470 entries from 50 countries . Probably the Acqui Terme congress hall could have accommodated 470, but not in such spacious comfort as we enjoyed.

The Ladies' Championships were slightly better supported this year (37 compared with 27 players last year) and my impression is that more Italians entered than in 2015. Part of the reason for the larger entry in 2016 was the excellent turn-out of players from the host country, as well as from Slovakia and Germany who had relatively easy journeys to Mariánské Lázne . It will be interesting to see the level of entries next year in Bled, an attractive venue which is said to be within 30 kilometres of Ljubljana airport, though from many countries (like Ireland) two flights will probably be needed to get there.

The championships

In the Open 50+ (not counting two entrants who did not arrive) there were 93 players, including six grandmasters, 14 IMs and several FMs. There were 166 players in the 65+ Open including no fewer than 11 grandmasters, 15 IMs and several FMs. There was fierce competition and, except for the very top of the 50+ and very bottom of the 65+, the standard was really no different in the two events.

Granda Zuniga

There were four new world champions this year. Many people thought that the presence of 2650-rated GM Julio Granda Zuniga of Peru (above) raised the status of the event, since he is still an active player in major events and only just outside the current top-100. Granda won his first four games, defeating among others GM Eric Prié of France who also played very well in the tournament and was perhaps unlucky to only take the bronze medal on tiebreak.

In round five Granda drew with Zurab Sturua, twice champion in the past, and then with Rogelio Antonio Junior of the Philippines, who won the silver medal. The only other half-point conceded by Granda was a quick draw in the last round when the tournament was already won. Antonio and Prié, who both scored 6½, which might sometimes be sufficient to win the championship, were in turn a full point ahead of Sturua and six other masters.

Julio Granda Zuniga – Evgeny Kalegin

English Opening [A25]

World Senior Open 50+, Acqui Terme 2017

1 g3 e5 2 Bg2 Nc6 3 c4 g6 4 Nc3 Bg7 5 e3 d6 6 Nge2 Nf6 7 d4 0–0 8 0–0 Re8 9 d5 Na5?! 10 b3 e4 11 Bb2 a6 12 Qc2 Qe7 13 Nxe4 A temporary piece sacrifice creating difficult complications. 13 ..Nxe4 14 Bxg7 Kxg7 15 b4 Nc6 It's unclear whether this was the best way to return the material. White seems to emerge with an edge in most lines thanks to his safer king. Alternatives included15...Nxc4!? 16 Qxc4 a5!? and15...Qe5 16 f4 (16 bxa5 Nxf2! 17 Kxf2 Qxe3+ 18 Ke1 Bg4) 16..Qe7 17 Rfe1.16 dxc6 bxc6 17 Nc3 f5 18 Rad1 Bd7 19 Rd4 Nxc3 It was probably wiser to retreat the knight but White has queenside pawn breaks to open the position when he is ready. 20 Qxc3 Qf6 21 Qd2 Rab8 22 Rd1 Re5 23 Rd3 c5 24 a3 Be8 25 h4 Bf7 26 Rc1 h6 27 Bd5 cxb4 28 Bxf7 Qxf7 29 axb4 Re4 30 c5 Rexb4 31 cxd6 cxd6 32 Rxd6 Rb1 33 Rxb1 Rxb1+ 34 Kh2 Rb7 35 h5 gxh5 36 Rxa6 Rd7 37 Qb4 Kh7 38 Qf4 Qf8 39 Rxh6+ 1–0. The queen ending with two extra pawns should be easily won.

The Open 65+ saw tough fights throughout and after seven rounds there were ten players jointly leading on 5½ points — yet none of them came out the winner. The top seed, Evgeny Sveshnikov of Russia, had lost in round three to European Senior champion IM Nils-Gustaf Renman (Sweden), and in the next round surprisingly lost again with Black to untitled Marat Primbetov of Kazakhstan. So in round 6 he was relegated to a non-live board, but his fight-back started. He won five of his last six games, conceding only a draw to German GM Lothar Vogt in round 9.

In that round GM Vlastimil Jansa took a full point lead by defeating GM Yuri Balashov, But in the next round the Czech grandmasters blundered into a clever tactic against Sveshnikov on move 29 to set up a tense final round. The pairings, with six players on the same 7½ points mark, were defending champion GM Anatoly Vaisser (France) against GM Eugenio Torre (Philippines, former world title Candidate and board prize winner at the last Olympiad); Sveshnikov versus IM Arkady Shevelev, and Vogt against Jansa. Immaculately dressed as always in suit and tie, Sveshnikov took advantage of his somewhat easier pairing to win while the neighbouring boards ended in draws.

It was certainly surprising that even a player as famous as Sveshnikov could lose two games and yet win the championship outright. No fewer than 9 players finished on 8/11, with Vaisser taking the silver medal and Jansa the bronze. The others to score 8 points were: Vladimir Okhotnik of France (the 2015 champion), Vogt, Balashov, Torre, IM Alexander Lisenko (Russia), IM Jan Rooze (Belgium), and GM Evgeny Vasiukov (Russia), who is now 84 years old.

A special presentation was made on the final day to the Italian veteran Antonio Pipitone, who is 91 years old this year, and may be the oldest competitor ever in one of these events. As it happened, I played him in the second round and only won in the king and pawn ending after some stout resistance. He finished on 4 points.

Khmiadashvili

The Women's 65+ tournament, began with 15 competitors, only six of them titled and the rest rated below 2000. It came down to a battle between two Georgians, with WGM Tamar Khmiadashvili (born 1944), above, vanquishing defending champion GM Nona Gaprindashvili who is three years her senior. The new champion won the following crucial game in the third round.

Nona Gaprindashvili – Tamar Khmiadashvili

Queen's Gambit, Ragozin Variation [D30]

World Senior Women's 65+ Acqui Terme 2017

1 d4 d5 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 Bg5 Bb4+ 5 Nc3 h6 6 Bxf6 Qxf6 7 Qb3 Nc6 Played by Ragozin against Ilya Rabinovich back in 1937; if now 8 cxd5 Nxd4. 8 e3 0–0 9 a3 A waste of time because after 9 Bd3 the Black bishop will probably retreat anyway. 9...dxc4 10 Bxc4 Bd6 11 Bd3 e5 12 d5 Nd8 13 Qc4 Qe7 14 g4?! This was the start of an ill-judged attempt at brutal attack from a roughly equal position. 14...a6 15 Rg1 b5 16 Qe4 Rather than retreat, Nona gives up her queen for insufficient compensation. 16 ..f5 17 gxf5 Bxf5 18 Qxf5 Rxf5 19 Bxf5 Now White wants to double rooks on the g-file but Black's active counterplay does not allow this. 19 ..b4 20 axb4 Bxb4 21 Kf1 Bxc3 22 bxc3 Qc5 23 Rd1 Nf7 24 Rg6 Nd6 25 Be6+ Kh7 26 Nxe5 Qxc3 27 Rd4 Rf8 28 Rg3 Nf5 29 Rf3 Nxd4 0–1.

However, Khmiadashvili conceded two draws subsequently so that their scores were level going into the last two rounds when both were meeting much lower-rated opposition. Gaprindashvili had a very quick win in the last round, but Khmiadashvili with Black and the stronger opponent, had to grind out a long endgame win in about four hours to collect the title on the basis of the head-to-head tiebreak. The bronze medal went to WIM Natalia Titorenko (Russia) a whole point behind on 6½.

Elvira BerendThe Women's 50+ championship had a larger entry this year, with 22 competitors, the majority being titled. It was won by the top seed, Kazakhstan-born WGM Elvira Berend (right) , who was runner-up on tiebreak last year. This time she scored 6½ points in the first seven rounds, helped by a huge reversal in round two when the defending champion Tatiana Bogumil of Russia threw away a winning position against her in complications before the time control.

Although Berend was defeated in round 8, her nearest rival only drew. This meant that she could take a one-move draw in the last round to be assured of at least first on tiebreak, but as the results fell she was actually a full point clear at the end. It was certainly interesting, at the closing ceremony, to hear the national anthem of Luxembourg, which is probably a rare happening at sporting events. There was a three-way tie between three WGMs on 6 points with the placings on tiebreak being: 2nd, Marina Makropoulou (Greece), 3rd Galina Strutinskaia (Russia) and 4th Bogumil (also Russia).

Pros and Cons

In some respects the quiet spa Acqui Terme was a good choice for the championships. It was an interesting and pleasant small town with friendly people, and the local Red Cross had a presence every day in case anyone became ill. Nevertheless I believe there are good reasons why the event should be not held there again in the near future, not least because most players would prefer fresh sights to a second or third visit to the same place. Moreover, the journey to get there is quite and awkward and time-consuming for the majority of competitors.

My own score of 50 per cent equals my worst ever result in the Seniors - two years ago at the same venue, another reason why I won't be going there again.

The organizers definitely succeeded in some of their attempts to answer the strong criticisms that were made against the way they conducted the 2015 event but some things are hard to improve. The competitors were accommodated in various hotels, with a choice to be close to the playing hall but far from the town centre, or vice versa. No shuttle bus was provided except by a couple of the hotels.

The organizers kept the closing ceremony short, and conducted most of it in English, a blessing compared with 2015. However before the first round, when we all wanted to get going, players were kept waiting in our seats by speeches until more than 30 minutes after play should have begun. It was made worse by the fact that the various speeches in several languages were mostly inaudible at any distance from the stage because of the poor quality of the sound system.

I heard many complaints about poor internet coverage in much of the town although it was adequate most days in the hotel where I stayed. This is one reason why I upgraded from the hotel we used in 2015.

The committee trying to arrange better conditions for Senior players distributed a questionnaire for players and an analysis of the responses can be seen on their new website. Although there were several positive comments, it is clear from this that a large minority (if not majority) of players had problems with the arrangements for collecting and registering players at the start, and about financial matters.

Unlike last year, the organisers did not have a team of helpers to input games from the scoresheets, so only those games played on live boards are available. You can download them in PGN here. At least future opponents will have trouble finding most of my games from the tournament — a couple were so awful that I am glad of it!

 

More photographs from Acqui Terme

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