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World Seniors Championship 2019: expanded final report

The final round of the 2019 FIDE World Senior Individual Championships concluded last Saturday in Bucharest, Romania. The World Champions are:

Open 65+: Rafael Vaganian (on tiebreak).

Open 50+: Vadim Shishkin.

Women 65+: Nona Gaprindashvili (retains title).

Women 50+: Elvira Berend (three in a row).

There was a total entry of 366 players for the four tournaments, an increase on the 327 in Bled last year and similar numbers in Acqui Terme in 2017. It looked likely, near to closing date, that overall entries would be much lower, but eventually the greatly increased prizes attracted some GMs who have not been seen in these championships previously. Also the senior players of the host country eventually came in fairly good numbers. 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.

As usual, the Open 65+ was the largest tournament, with 192 players, and there were 138 competitors (including a few women) in the Open 50+ which the organisers designated incorrectly as "M50." Both the Open events had an increased entry compared with In the Women's Championships there were fewer entries than last year, with 21 players in the 50+ and 15 in the 65+, none being from the UK or America, although Helen Milligan (New Zealand) was originally Scottish.

The English contingent in the championships as a whole was smaller this year but it is not clear whether this is to be attributed to the weaker pound sterling or Brexit or just the relative unattractiveness of the venue. The tournaments were well supported by Scottish players who are perhaps more pro-European. Four players (one of them Romanian-born) came from Ireland and one from Wales. Some German amateurs we know, who have come in most previous years, were also absent.

Here is a summary of the last round's play in each of the tournaments.

Open 65+ World Championship

Former champion Anatoli Vaisser (France) and Yuri Balashov (Russia) were leading by half a point and paired against each other. This was the seventh time in 11 rounds that Vaisser had the White pieces, which rarely happens and makes one wonder whether any error had occurred in the pairings. Because Balashov had played White in both rounds 9 and 10, he had to be Black.

Although Vaisser played a sharp line against Balashov's Nimzo-Indian Defence, their game petered out into a draw in under four hours, which opened the door to Rafael Vaganian (Armenia) to catch up by winning his game against GM Jens Kristiansen, so three finished on 8.5 points.

As there are no play-offs in the Seniors, a tiebreak was required to decide the medals. The first tiebreak rule is direct encounter between the players, but this did not apply because Vaisser and Vaganian had not played. The second tiebreak rule is "Buchholz cut one" which means the sum of the total scores of opponents, disregarding the opponent who scores the worst. (This is fair because somebody might have met a player who afterwards withdrew or a first round opponent who performed very badly.)

On this rule, Vaganian came first, Vaisser second and Balashov third. A different rule might have benefited Balashov who was the only one of the three to go through the event unbeaten. Vaganian (who was the strongest of the three at the peak of his career) thus becomes World Champion for the first time.

65+ medallists

ABOVE: GMs Vaisser, Vaganian, and Balashov with their trophies. Picture from FIDE.

The highest placed British players were FM Philip Giulian (Scotland) and Kevin Bowmer (England) with 6.5 points. IM Nigel Povah, who had been co-leader early on, finished on 6 points, a highly creditable score for amateurs, which was also achieved by Jim Murray and Pete Morriss of Ireland.

Open 50+ World Championship

GM Vadim Shiskin of the Ukraine had been leading by a full point before the last round. He drew the top board game after four and a half hours play, so achieving an excellent score of 9 points out of 11. He held off the challenge of 2018 champion GM Karen Movsziszian who had reached a slightly favourable knight versus bishop ending, which Shishkin defended capably.

This meant that Movsziszian finished out of the medals on 8 points. A tiebreak was required to separate the two players on 8.5 points. Silver went to GM Vladislav Nevednichy (Romania) and bronze to Ivan Morovic Fernandez (Chile). They had drawn their meeting so again it was "Buchholz cut one" that decided the matter.

Open 50+ medallists

ABOVE: GMs Nevednichy, Shishkov, and Morovic Fernandez with their trophies. Picture from FIDE.

US grandmasters Shabalov and Yermolinsky, who had been on the American gold medal team at the World Senior Team Championships earlier in the year, both finished on 7,5 points.

The highest scorers from Britain were IM Stephen Mannion (Scotland) 7 and Peter Gayson (ENG) 6.5.

Women's 65+ World Championship

GM Nona Gaprindashvili (Georgia) has won this title again by winning her last round game against her untitled Mongolian opponent. She finished on 8.5/11 despite losing two games earlier in the event.

The silver medal went to Russian WGM Elena Fatalibekova (one of the players who had defeated Gaprindashvili), but she took big risks against another Mongolian opponent. A draw would have been insufficient for second place as WGM Valentina Kozlovskaya (also Russia) had won quite quickly to reach 8 points. Despite being close to lost at one point, Fatalibekova eventually won her game to also score 8/11, and take second place thanks to "Buchholz cut one."

Women's 65+ medallists

ABOVE: Women's 65+ medallists (from left): Fatalibekova (silver), Gaprindashvili (world champion), and Kozlovskaya (Bronze medal). Picture from FIDE.

Women's 50+ World Championship

The Kazakhstan-born defending champion Elvira Berend (Luxembourg) had a full point lead going into the last round. Her opponent WGM Tatiana Grabuzova (Russia) chose the Dutch Defence, showing that she was up for a fight. However, the game ended in a draw so Berend finished on 8.5 points and Grabuzova on 7. The second and third board games were also drawn.

The silver medal went to WGM Tatiana Bogumil (Russia) with 7.5 points, and there was a tiebreak between three players on 7 points to decide the bronze medal. Once more "Buchholz cut one" had to be calculated, and the beenificary was WGM Galina Strutinskaia of Russia, with Grabuzova placed fourth and Marina Makropoulou of Greece fifth.

Women's 50+ medallists

ABOVE: Women's 50+ medallists Bogumil, Berend (world champion) and Grabuzova with their trophies. Picture from FIDE.


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