22:50
September 23, 2016

“Do not pay attention to ratings when talking about children”, a famous junior trainer told me. “It means nothing or almost nothing!” And indeed, many games played on a second day of the World Youth Championships in Khanty-Mansiysk, including those on top boards, proved his point. There is no doubt that many more surprising results will keep arriving every single day.

The playing hall

The playing hall

Do you want facts? Let’s go! Maksim Vavulin, the highest seed of the Open 18 category, lost his first half a point today. Or perhaps gained half a point? He looked sort of happy with the outcome after the game. His Black opening against the Croatian Jadranko Plenca was adventurous, to put it mildly, and in order to create counterplay Maksim sacrificed two pawns. Fortunately, his opponent did not find the best continuation in tactical complications, so the player from Moscow was able to transpose to a rook ending and draw the game by perpetual. Manuel Petrosyan immediately utilized this slip from his main rival, winning a seemingly effortless game. The international master from Yerevan is again prepared to deprive the Russian of the gold medal, just like he did recently at the European Championship. What will be Vavulin’s reply? He also needs to worry about Dmitrij Kollars from Germany, who showed a good technique today, beating a solid opponent from Austria.

Petrosyan Manuel (ARM) and Erenberg Ariel (ISR)

Petrosyan Manuel (ARM) and Erenberg Ariel (ISR)

The Iranian leaders of the Open 16 event also did not have an easy day, but the outcome of their games was different. Parham Maghsoodloo’s opponent was very persistent with his desire of making a draw, and the peaceful agreement was signed after about an hour of play. Unlike his teammate, Amin Tabatabaei was permitted to leave the tournament hall only after six tough hours that included many ups and downs. A blitzkrieg against Paulius Pultinevicius failed, and the players entered a complex endgame. For about twenty moves the evaluation was shaking like a boat  in a stormy sea. However, it was the Lithuanian who committed the final mistake of this game, playing under serious time pressure.

Tabatabaei M.Amin (IRI)

Tabatabaei M.Amin (IRI)

Other favorites of the category did not miss this opportunity. There were very few draws on the top boards, and the perfect score after the first two rounds is shown by as many as 15 players! Among them are three Russians – Olexandr Triapishko, Sergei Lobanov, and Timur Fakhrutdinov. A real brawl is anticipated tomorrow…

The Open 14 event saw such brawl already in the second round! Two players from Moscow, Danila Pavlov and Andrey Esipenko, were paired on the first board. The latter was rated by 333 points higher, but had to spend a whole day and evening proving his superiority in an equal ending reached on the move 7. I suppose Andrey will not enjoy the post-game conversation with the Russian head coach, who was not impressed by his student’s opening choice! One should not slack, as the competitors are never asleep! The Ukrainian Kirill Shevchenko, for instance, won in great style today, sacrificing his queen and creating a spectacular mating net on the half-empty board.

Some upsets were observed in girls championships as well. The lead in the Under 18 group was seized by the Greek Stavroula Tsolakidou, who initially planned to take part in the Under 16 championship. Today she defeated the Russian Irina Drogovoz in a very ruthless manner. (The rating favorite of the group, Nino Khomeriki from Georgia, made a misstep yesterday, barely making a draw against a much lower rated opponent, and is now half a point behind the leaders.) Aleksandra Obolentseva defended the reputation of Russian chess on the second board and also moved to 2/2, while our 12-year-old star Bibisara Assaubayeva was unable to covert her advantage and settled with a draw on the board three.

Tsolakidou Stavroula (GRE)

Tsolakidou Stavroula (GRE)

The top seed of the Under 16 championship, Polina Shuvalova also fell behind in the first round, barely escaping with a draw. Today she won quite easily against the player from Czech Republic, but as many as nine players won both starting games and are on top of the leaderboard. However, grandmaster Sergey Zagrebelny, trainer of Shuvalova, informed us that she really enjoys a challenge. The girl has character!

Only in the youngest category both Russian favorites, Elizaveta Solozhenkina and Aleksandra Maltsevskaya, have a very smooth sailing. The opponents cannot cope with the mistake-free play of our girls, and their victories look very natural and logical. How long will it last?

* * *

Junior events are very exciting. The participants are no kids, but they are not completely developed chess players either. Almost each one of them needs care from family, relatives, or coaches. And watching this army of highly emotional, concerned and often extremely impatient supporters is really curious.

In the morning they all attend breakfast in one of the two restaurants of the Olimplijskaya Hotel,  the home of the participants. Most of the players never show up, preferring to sleep instead, but some of them come as well, half-asleep and looking for coffee, fruits or cornflakes. Then there is preparation for the next game, and after that, shortly before a dinner, the adults bring their wards out for a walk. A quick meal afterwards, and the crowd rushes to the buses that bring both players and their support to the Ugra Tennis Center, the venue of the Championships. A final guidance 10-15 minutes before the game follows by a touching separation. Then the boys and girls enter the playing area, while their parents and coaches start wandering around. Most of them finally settle on the stands next to the chess arena and inevitably begin to worry.

Following all games online has become a habit these days. In Khanty-Mansiysk, however, only 24 games in all six events are relayed live – four top boards in each section. If your player is there – well, lucky you. If not, you better be a psychic! In order to prevent external assistance, the first five rows of the stands are closed for spectators, and one cannot see the situation on the board without powerful optics.  Some coaches wisely brought the equipment, either an opera glass or a field glass. They can look at the players’ faces and exchange opinions, however, the positions are still impossible to grasp…

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Watching the game

When the round is finally over, the happy winners and the sad losers load the buses and return to the Olympijskaya Hotel. Then follows a joint supper, a crowded and very loud meal that includes game analysis and other chess-related discussions. After that the players finally have some time to relax – until the pairings of the next round appear, forcing them to return to their rooms and start over the preparation cycle. The parents usually do not rush back, looking for ways to deal with their stress instead. There is another game tomorrow, and who knows which is harder – playing chess or supporting the players?

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