The 28th FIDE World Senior Chess Championships took place in Bled from 17-30 November. Two new world champions were crowned in the Open events this year.
This was the first time that country has hosted these championships but the town has a long chess tradition, having hosted major tournaments in 1931 (won by Alekhine), 1959 (Candidates tournament) and 1992 (FIDE Olympiad).
The location was perfect, the organisation (by Euro Chess Academy, of Maribor, and Sava Hotels) was efficient and in general the event was a great success. I think most competitors would be happy to return there two or three years from now.
The Grand Hotel Toplice at Bled, venue for the World Senior Championships. The tournaments were played in the white restaurant building on the left, closely overlooking the lake, where the 1931 tournament was held.
As in every year since 2014, there have been two age categories: 50+ and 65+ (based on ages at 31 December 2018). There are separate championships for women, although a few have preferred to play in the Open events. All four tournaments were played over 11 rounds this year.
The total number of competitors was 327 players from 57 countries on all continents, slightly up on last year's figures. The number of nations represented continues to rise. However the record total entry of 470 players in 2016 is unlikely to matched unless the tournament is held in a major and easily accessible chess nation such as the Czech republic or Germany.
The increased number of players in the women's championships meant that for the first time there were sufficient entries to run two full-length separate Swiss system tournaments.
Nona Gaprindashvili (left) from Georgia and Dinah Norman from England before their hard-fought last round game that decided the Women's 65+ Championship.
The Women's 65+ championship had 20 players this year (up from 15 in 2017) including former world female champion GM Nona Gaprindashvili from Georgia who had won this title in 2014, 2015 and 2016. There were also three WGMs, three WIMs and one WFM, making it significantly stronger this year. The tournament began with a big upset when 1659-rated WCM Dinah Norman from England defeated the defending champion, WGM Tamar Khmiadashvili of Georgia in a hard-fought game.
The Georgian defintely made a big mistake playing for a win, though she was a pawn up, and was well punished. She was probably unaware that her opponent was a very experienced international competitor in the past who had, as Miss Dinah Dobson (and later Mrs Dinah Wright), won the British Ladies Championship in 1967, 1968 and 1969 (twice shared with Mrs. Rowena Bruce).
As Gaprindashvili was held to several draws, the early pacemaker was WGM Valentina Kozlovskaya from Russia who scored 5.5/6 in the first week displayed great fighting spirit throughout the tournament. In round 7, howver, Gaprindashvili beat her to reduce the lead to half a point and in round 9 the Russian lost to Khmiadashvili who thus did the veteran a great favour. Nona held a slim half-point lead going into the last round where, in a long fighting game, she gradually broke down the doughty resistance put up by Mrs Norman to reach 8.5 points.
Kozlovskaya finished second on 8 points and the bronze medal went on tiebreak to Ludmila Tsifanskaya of Israel (7.5) ahead of Natalia Titorenko of Russia. Dinah Norman finished on 5.5 points and gained 29 rating ponts and a lot of respect. She says she will probably play in the Open next year.
View of the far side of Lake Bled, looking towards the mountains of the Triglav National Park. On the third and fourth days of the tournament we had snow.
There were 24 entrants for the Women's 50+ championship, the majority being titled. Unfortunately one was too unwell to compete so there was a bye in every round after the first. It was won for the second year in succession by the top seed, WGM Elvira Berend of Luxembourg (right), who was runner-up on tiebreak in 2016. Here only close competitor this time was WGM Galina Strutinskaia, with whom she drew in round 4. Then in round 9 WGM Marina Makropoulou (Greece) defeated the Russian, so in the last round Mrs.Berend only needed a quick draw to secure the title on 8.5 points.
The silver medal eventually went to WGM Tatiana Grabuzova of Russia on tiebreak from Strutinskaia (both on 8) and Makropoulou was fourth, the only player on 7.5 points. Ingrid Lauterbach (England) was seventh on 6 points, Helen Milligan of New Zealand (formerly Scotland) scored 5.5 and Petra Fink-Nunn, wife of GM John Nunn, scored 5.
In the Open 50+ championship there were 104 players, including ten grandmasters, 15 IMs and several FMs, but the previous champion ((GM Julio Granda Zuniga of Peru) and last year's runner-up (Rogelio Antonio Junior of the Philippines) did not return.
The top seed was GM Zurab Sturua of Georgia, a former champion. Eventually he finished third on 8 points, ahead on tie-break as three other players made the same score. Half a point ahead of them were GMs Karen Movsziszian of Armenia and Giorgi Bagaturov of Georgia, but the Armenian had won their head-to-head encounter in round 5 and that decided the title.
The last-round clashes on the top boards in the Open 50+. Foreground: Sturua v Bagaturov. Behind them, Movsziszian (left) playing Mark van der Werf (Netherlands), who finished sixth..
A noteworthy performance was that of GM Ketevan Arakhamia-Grant of Scotland who was joint leader after six rounds and finished eighth with 7.5 points. Had she played in the Women's 50+ Championship she would have been top seed but it is understandable that, having recently scored 10.5/11 in the Batumi women's olympiad, she preferred to play against men for a change. In the second week, she recovered from losing successive games to Bagaturov and England's Keith Arkell (who finished ninth). But for a round ten pairing against her husband Jonathan Grant (a quick draw, understandably) she might well have finished in the group on 8 points. This is not to belittle the performance of the defending 50+ women's champion. The influence of classic Soviet training is very evident: Ketevan was born and learned her chess in Georgia, and Elvira in Kazakhstan. Nearly all the Open medallists had similar training.
There were 177 players in the 65+ Open Championship including nine grandmasters, 20 IMs and several FMs. There was fierce competition and, except for the very bottom of the 65+, the standard was not much different in the two events.
This tournament saw a changing of the guard because neither the top seed (Aantoly Vaisser of France) nor defending champion Evgeny Sveshnikov of Russia put in a sustained challenge for the title, opening the way for a new winner. The destination of the gold and silver medals remained in doubt until literally the last minute of the tournament.
Both the favourites lost ground against IM Leon Leerman of Israel who held Vaisser to a draw in round three and defeated Sveshnikov in the last round. In round five another Israei IM, Nathan Birnboim, defeated Vaisser, while Sveshnikov lost with White to Czech grandmaster Vlastimil Jansa, whgo had been the bronze medallist in 2017.
Thereafter the tournament became a three-horse race between Jansa and two Russian grandmasters, Yuri Balashov and Nukhim Rashkovsky. In round 7 Balashov and Jansa drew; next day Jansa drew with Rashkovsky while Balashov beat Vaisser. Going into the final round, Balashov and Jansa were level on 8.5 (last year's winning score) but Balashov had the seemingly easier pairing. Half a point behind them, Rashkovsky secured the bronze medal with a draw.
The start of the final round in the Open 65+. Foreground: Vaisser (left) against Jansa; behind them, Balashov (left) against Russian GM Gennady Tunik.
Balashov won his game while Jansa slowly attempted to convert the advantage of an extra pawn. It finally came down to knight and two single pawn against knight after five and a quarter hours play, with almost every other game finished. At move 77 Jansa slipped, missing the unique winning move Nd6, and Vaisser captured one of the pawns. With a crowd of about twenty people watching, and Jansa a few minutes ahead on the clock, the situation remained tense as the last pawn reached d3.
At move 84 Vaisser erred fatally, moving his knight when a king move was required. The black pawn reached the seventh rank and Jansa thereafter usually had more than one move to win. The game and the championships ended at move 98. One had to feel rather sorry for Balashov who had scored nine and a half points yet had to be satisfied with the silver medal.
A special presentation was also made, by the family of the recently deceased grandmaster Victor Kupreichik, for the best attacking game. It was good that this went to somebody who had not won a main prize (Per Ofstad of Norway) but unfortunately it was not stated at the prizegiving which was the game that had earned him the award.
It was also very disappointing that no prize was awarded to the highest scoring player of 75 years or older, as had been the case in previous years. That prize should certainly be made official in future; indeed there should be age prizes for 70+, 75+ and 80+. This would certainly be an incentive for the older players to continue entering these events.
My own score of 6/11 equals my finish in 2016 and included one draw with an IM and two draws with FIDE Masters. I won four games and lost three. Interestingly, I played opponents from eleven different nations, meeting no German and no British player.
The whole congress was in general very well run by a team headed by Georg Mohr and Adrian Mikhalchishin. Several of us were moved at the last minute from the hotel we had chosen (which ahd the best leisure centre) to the tournament hotel (at no extra charge). By western European standards the Grand Hotel Toplice does not merit five stars, rather four, but it had old world charm and the food was good. Also, unusually for chess tournaments, the wi-fi internet worked well nearly all the time and it was possible to follow the World Championship match on days when one's games finished in time.
Unlike last year, the organisers must have had a team of helpers to input games from the scoresheets. At first only those games played on live boards are available, but gradually most (if not all) games were made available on the conbress page at chess-results.com and then at Mark Crowther's TWIC downloads.
A report of the Seniors tournaments is also available at the ChessBase news website.
My only really negative comment (shared with many others) is that the outing on the free day was badly organised. For 75 Euro a head we were promised a tour of the famous Postojna caves (see picture below), then lunch followed by a walking tour of the Slovenian capital Ljubljana up to 6pm.
Evidently somebody booked the caves for 11am when it should have been 10am. After rising early and leaving on a bus at 8am, we were kept hanging about, first at a motorway service station and then at the cave gift shop. The caves themselves were very interesting but this was followed by a truncated city tour of only 60 minutes and no food until after 4pm.
Unusual stalagmites a couple of feet apart in the Postojna caves. The one on the right is pure calcium carbonate but the brown one includes mineral deposits, showing the diversity of the geology in the region.
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