Thursday, 21 May 2020

The Story inside a Story (III)

Was eagerly waiting for my roommate to finish her game. She had had a technically winning position for about 2 hours already, but it wasn’t that trivial to convert it. Between my trips upstairs- to check her game, contemplating the idea of putting my high heels on and desperately trying to force the shi**y engine on my phone show if my opening idea was good or not- I was lucky enough not to get involved in any other social interactions… Finally, it was a relief when I saw my roommate approaching with a smile, as that meant she won and was in a good enough mood not to try bailing on the party (it required quite an effort to convince her join me). Meanwhile, I decided I didn’t ‘deserve’ to put on my fancy high heels, after all, the brain should know I wasn’t happy with its performance and what better way of doing that than make the looks suffer, right? Perfect logic!

We headed off to dinner, it was just about to begin. The atmosphere was nice- round tables with beautiful arrangements, some cool music playing in the background, nicely dressed Woman Grand Masters, who wouldn’t have any problem passing as models… I suddenly started to regret that high heels decision… The feeling didn’t last for too long though, as I saw some friends making us signs to join their table, which we happily did.

The waiters started to move around us offering wine and bringing the appetizers. Continuing that day’s ‘wise’ series of decisions, I saw myself taking a sip of dry red wine… The thing about this kind of dinners is that you can never know how many glasses you had, as they are constantly filled, without you even noticing… By the time the main dish came, I was already deep buried in my thoughts, completely ignoring everything which was happening around. “Hey, what’s wrong? You’re not hungry?”, my roommate tried to bring me back to reality. “Emm… No, I’m just eating, slowly…”, I said looking around. Another ‘wise choice’. I saw my opponent happily laughing at the nearby table showing his friends something on his phone. Of course, my brain assumed the worse “He’s showing them how he won today…”, and I fell into the thinking about the game abys again…

“Irina, do you want to play in the first game of the ‘Battle of Sexes’?”, the captain of the Women’s Team asked me. She was sitting right next to me at our table. “Well…”, and I had again that twitch and lagged with my answer... “I am a bit underwater, start without me and I’ll join the next game”. Being an experienced lady and a strong player, she said: “Come on, don’t think too much of your game and let’s have some fun, it will distract you!”. “Sorry, I don’t feel like it…”. Apparently, I was on an unconscious mission to completely sabotage that day…

The “Battle of Sexes” started. Everyone was following it with interest except me… The unfortunate neighborhood with my opponent was not letting me think of anything but the game I lost. “Irina, let’s go to our hotel, you’re not enjoying yourself here…”, said my roommate. It came like a saving rope which I happily grabbed. So, we left from the event which I was dreaming to participate at for years…

With the best roommate ever- IM Ekaterina Atalik
After a silent, 15 min walk down to our hotel, we were about to enter it, when I saw that the Italian restaurant on the corner was still opened. “Let’s have a last glass of wine and some dessert maybe- my treat!”, my offer was too tempting, so my roommate didn’t protest. We were the only clients. A handsome, hype waiter came to us in a cheerful mood, asking “So, how are you, ladies tonight? Want to have some drinks?”. Not looking in the menu, I said “2 glasses of Pinot Grigio please, one white and one rose”. “Excellent choice! Anything else?”. “I would also like a dessert, what do you suggest?”. “Let me bring you my favorite dessert, I am sure you will like it!”. “Ok”.

I don’t remember what we were talking about, I suppose I was trying to justify my bad mood, not knowing that it was about to… But let’s not jump ahead. Everything at its time.
The waiter came saying: “This will be the best tiramisu you’ve ever had!”.  I curiously took it- it was looking nice indeed, but how can a tiramisu surprise me? Took the first bight. “Mmmm… It is amazing! There’s some very familiar taste, but I don’t know, what is it with, banana?”, I said. I am not sure how I could still distinguish the ingredients after all the wine I had… “I was sure you’d like it! It’s a banana and Nutella tiramisu!”. It was the best dessert I ever had in my life. I finally started to relax and feel better…

Left the place in great mood. As we decided to take a bye on the next day and to go visit the monkeys, the late hour wasn’t an issue. By the time we got back to our room, it was well after midnight. I threw all my bags on the floor and started to take of my boots, when I suddenly realized that something was missing… “I think one bag is not here…”. “There’s the bag with the heels…”, “Here’s your minibar bag…”, my roommate started to go through them. “Where’s the one with the money and passport?” “It’s missing…” “But you payed at the restaurant, so you had it on you… It’s probably still there!”. We hurried back to the restaurant to only see no lights at all. It closed. “Well, the tiramisu was worth it!”, I said. “But you won’t be able to fly back home without your documents!”. “No worries, I met some Romanians at the tournament’s venue, they work there, one is that ‘wardrobe guy’, remember? I’m sure they’ll find a job for me as well…”. My roommate was shocked by my not caring at all. “Ok, let’s inform the reception, maybe they have the contact of the restaurant’s stuff”.

Back at the reception, I saw some chess players around a chess
The famous, owl bag
board analyzing something, and having some drinks. “Hey, how are you, could I join you?”, I asked. “Sure! Irina, didn’t you lose your bag? Someone from the Italian restaurant brought it, asking if anyone recognized it and I remembered noticing you had a very funny owl bag some days before… He left it at the reception!”, said one of the chess players at the table. Heading to the receptionist’s stand, I saw my roommate already holding my ‘owl bag’… “Fiuf…There are still good people in this World”, she said continuing: “Ok, let’s go to sleep, enough adventures for today!”. But I had another plans, I wanted to see what was there being analyzed on the chess board… Because I have chess in my veins and no lost game, no missed party or lost bag will ever change it! All I needed to remember that was a banana tiramisu at the right time…

Sunday, 17 May 2020

The Story inside a Story (II)

The most awaited Open of the year! Why so? The Gibraltar Festival is a place where professionals meet amateurs, where ‘Elite’ meets ‘the ordinary’. Where else would you see GMs like Hikaru Nakamura or Veselin Topalov hanging around in the lobby’s bar, taking on blitz challenges? There are tournaments for any level there, as well as lectures from Top players, quizzes, parties- and all for the ones who love chess and in such a unique location like the Rock of Gibraltar! It’s nothing less than 11 days of chess paradise!

This year was the 2nd time I participated and I was looking forward to it from the minute the previous edition ended! It was definitely no disappointment- I was playing interesting games vs strong players, I was sharing the room with my best friend, finally got time to see the famous monkeys, as well as the old town… The highlight of it all had to be my first participation in the already traditional “Battle of Sexes” – an event where a team of Top Grandmasters played vs a team of Top Woman Grandmasters, in a relaxed & fun atmosphere, after a fancy dinner. I remember that day as it was yesterday!

I was having a so-so performance until that point, winning against the lower rated opponents and losing against the higher rated ones. My problem was that I felt tired after what had been a very busy Autumn and Winter… I was forcing myself to prepare for the games, even though I had no will for it whatsoever… To describe the extent of my state- in the first day, over dinner, after I won my game vs a lower rated opponent, I told my roommate “I think I am either going crazy or finally having a break through!”, “What do you mean?”, she asked suspiciously. “Well, just don’t laugh-but today I became one with the pieces on the board, I was seeing everything and I think that if to check the game with engines, they will show my calculation to have been perfect!”. “Come on, Irina, don’t make me worry about you!”. “No, you don’t understand, it was like a new Wolrd opened to me and I got such a pleasure from playing, which I can’t compare to anything!”, I proudly added. “And how was it to become one with the pieces, anything in particular I should know about?”, my roommate sarcastically replied.

Back to the “Battle of Sexes” day, somewhere in the middle of the tournament. We went off the bus that was taking us to the round day by day. Had to walk for about 3 more minutes to the venue. There was a round to be played before the so much awaited ‘party’. I started my usual (for that days) talk “I have no wish to play today at all, I am mentally tired, I would rather stay on the terrace and watch the seagulls with…” Twitch! In shock, I realize that I’m lagging, as my face has some kind of involuntary 2 sec. movement… “You see, I start having twitches- even my body is protesting!”. In that moment, I noticed that Vasyl Ivanchuk turned his head back, as he was apparently walking ahead of us and gave what looked to me like and understanding smile…

I came to the round late with what must have been a totally bored
look, placed my 3 cotton bags under the table (yes, one with the heels for the party, one as a ‘minibar’-juice, water, nuts, chocolate, and the other with usual women nonsense stuff) and played 1.e4. My opponent was a young 2650+ GM. He played a very dubious line in the Sicilian, one which I had recently scolded one of my friends about, because “How can you, as a GM, not know that there’s an easy way to get a significant advantage here!”. Having these words in my head, I was taking my time in making the so well-known to me moves “What does my opponent want? Does he think I’m a total patzer?”. When time came for me to make the last important move of the variation, which I knew very well and could blitz it out at any time of day or night, I thought “Well, I’ll play it, then he will suffer for the whole game to make a draw and probably will and that will be it…”, sounded like a convenient scenario for me. Only that I started to feel ‘one with the pieces’ again and a ‘forgotten memory’ came back to me.
“Hm, I think I recently analyzed a very interesting idea here- I play a dubious move, but at the most ‘human like’ reactions, black is totally busted, although the position looks like strategically lost for white at first glance…”. It was like someone on my shoulder was whispering to me “Play it, it’s your chance-take it…”. How could I resist that? For a second or two, I imagined the face of that friend whom I scolded when he’d see my move, but it wasn’t a reason good enough, the temptation was too high… So I played it.
My opponent replied with one of the ‘human like’ moves. I was very happy as I remembered one by one every move I had to make… Only that the thinking process was taking a bit too long and when I finally got to a winning position I had no time at all and blundered some mate in 2.

I was very upset about the outcome and uncertain, was I winning, was I not, did I remember correctly my analyzes, or did I confuse it with another line? Why didn’t I just play the safe move? Uncertainty is the worst a chess player can face after a game, that’s why we usually rush to our rooms the moment the game is over, to check it quickly with the computer. But, I had to stick around the venue for the party… I sat at some table in the lobby, fetching myself a beer and trying to figure out where I missed the win…

I imagine I wasn’t ‘wearing’ my most friendly look when a friend of a friend approached, obviously in very high spirits. “Well, maybe she can cheer me up a bit”, I thought. “Heeey, how are you darling, I saw you lost a bad game…”. “Well, I don’t think…”. “But let’s better not talk about it, tell me your news, are you still with that boyfriend of yours, and by the way, how are things with the federation going on?”, she said, hitting one by one all the sore spots… Our discussion continued in the same manner and at some point, when I felt I could not take it anymore, I asked the question that a 200 points higher rated player usually avoids to ask, so one won’t think he’s arrogant- “And how is the tournament going for you, how many points do you have?”. “Oh, 4,5/6-  I was so winning today vs a GM, but finally missed a perpetual, so I drew…”. Not expecting this answer at all and remembering my own 3/6, I said “Oh, congrats, you’re doing very well!”, “Indeed, considering that I quitted professional chess some years ago…”. That talk could not have gone any worse…

(To be continued...)

Saturday, 16 May 2020

The Story inside a Story (I)

Once, not so long ago, there was a time when planes were flying and I with them- from tournament to tournament, from city to city, from country to country… 

Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Germany, Montenegro, Moldova, Monaco, Isle of Man, Georgia, Poland, Russia, Emirates, Belgium, Spain, Gibraltar- that’s how my last September to March looked like… That’s how my life looked like for the last 10 years or so... I think I have never been stranded home for such a long time- 2 months and counting…

I remember myself complaining during the last tournaments I played that I’m too tired, that I really need a break and that I miss “normal” life. Now I have so much normal life that I don’t know where to run away from it! Where, where? At home! Quarantine!

After more than 2 months of self-isolation, I can make a thorough analysis of how it went by. Went, right! Today- it is the first day of “freedom”! Today I could go anywhere but I’m celebrating it by staying home! Isn’t it original?

Phase 1- Provisions!

As almost every (in)sane person- when the pandemic started, the first thing I did was to buy all kind of carbohydrates- flour, cans, juice, chocolate, alcohol… Although, to be honest, I didn’t need them, I’m from the category which has an extra bottle or box of anything at home, just in case- I still have some cheap bottles of pre quarantine disinfectant…

Phase 2- Chill, darling!

When I found myself ready to survive half a year without getting out of my place, I started to ask myself “Do I really want to survive it?”, “Do I want a life like this?”… To get away from these questions, I started to occupy myself with only the things I liked and missed while at tournaments- read novels, listen to music for hours, watching TV series and cooking shows, sleeping 12h, learning “Deutsch” (yeah, I take great pleasure in learning it for already 10 years or so, but stubbornly not speaking under any circumstances)… 

Phase 3- Sweeten your bitterness!

After exhausting all Netflix’s cooking shows, I felt I was a ‘chef’! Every day, I had a new kind of breakfast: pancakes, avocado toasts, banana & cereal biscuits, endless ways of cooked eggs… Then I started making new and new desserts: banana bread, sweet potato brownie, tiramisu… And here is where the story inside the story begins!

Tiramisu- the easiest and tastiest dessert!

Let’s take a plane and travel back in time- January 2020- Gibraltar.

(To be continued...) 

Friday, 6 March 2020

In(di)visible Dust

Days come and days go... 

We live, work, love, hate and the years pass one by one leaving wrinkles on our faces; noticing them in the mirror, we only become more desperate in making sure to have tried all the pallet of experiences and emotions... We want to look at our reflections and have a likeable explanation for all the small faults... If the explanations are not good enough, one can always ‘erase’ the memory the wrinkle stands for. Right, erasing memories is as easy as that nowadays! Isn’t it funny how we’re so desperate to live, to experience, just to become even more desperate later, trying to make all the signs of it go away!

However, the problem lies in the fact that it’s not the ‘surface’ faults that make us ugly and old...

It’s more and more often that you see someone so beautifully ‘wrapped’- sparkling with beauty and intelligence, even warm hearted and humble and you’re so thrilled to discover that ‘beauty’, thanking the Universe for having sent a ‘bright’ soul into your way for a change!

There are 3 ways the situation can progress...

The ‘shiny’ soul is a true diamond... You bath in its sparkle and beauty and it feels sooo good... There’s no bigger pleasure and sense of fulfilment in this World! You even feel like you borrow some shine yourself, blinding the other people with it, therefore proudly making and wearing new wrinkles...

Another possibility is that you yourself get blinded by the shine and it’s well known that one who can not see with his eyes will ‘see’ in other ways... One might discover the wrinkles of his own soul; what can be more painful than that- to suddenly be aware of all the ‘ugliness’ within when there are ‘diamonds’ shining all around...

What if the ‘diamond’ turns to be a fake though? Do you continue your ‘treasure hunt’? Is it worth seeking light when all it can do is just blind? Isn’t it better to teach yourself that ugliness is actually the true beauty?

I sometimes think that diamonds are also the happiest all black and dirty, happily disguised into a piece of ordinary rock. No one wears a dirty rock, but how many diamonds end up in captivity?

Eternity you might say... Diamonds ‘live’ forever! I would always choose to be a rock, one that could be easily broken into a thousand pieces, but all those little pieces would be free, even if torn into invisible dust!

There’s nothing a diamond can be envied for... To be a prisoner of THIS World forever, to shine and blind the ‘hopeless’ or the ‘hopeful’, is it really a life to choose?

Everyone is free to give his own answer, as long as they haven’t traded shine for freedom... Or was it the other way?

Saturday, 4 January 2020

A Russian Story- Part 4

The ‘F’ Word

A lifetime 'relationship' with chess...
„Why are your hands trembling?”, my roommate asked. It reminded me of a somewhat similar conversation some weeks before.

While being at the European Blitz and Rapid Championships in Monaco, someone asked me how I could be so calm when playing on the top boards. I remember answering with a satisfied smile that there were no reasons to be nervous as long as I was not spending a cent out of my pocket, I could only gain- either experience or both money and experience... Moscow didn’t feel even like a fake smile.

Still, the ‚trembling hands’ managed to win the 1st game of the last day in a really nice style vs Muzychuk Mariya.

Breathing became harder and harder...

The first loss of the tournament followed. Funnily enough, it came while playing against a friend. I made a very difficult to understand move at some point. It was so bad, I had absolutely no chances after... I was very disappointed, very... The only consolation was the fact that I was still on the 3rd place and I would have white in the last 2 games, as they had to level me the colors.
The first white was a quick draw. Thought it was wise to ensure myself a prize and also have some time to rest before the last, decisive round.

In the end, I might have had too much time... It is still difficult to dig in all the „why-s” and „if-s”. I was never before so close to such an outstanding result, but all must happen for the 1st time, right?
Got white indeed against Pogonina, an opponent I have already played against before. She had half point less than me. I played badly, she played well, I lost...

It is difficult to describe how I felt afterwards, when realizing a win would guarantee me a tie for the 1st place and a tie break which even if lost would leave me on the 2nd place, with 30k in my pocket...
I guess it is enough to say that a sleepless night followed, one where every decision was analyzed and doubted.

In the spirit of my trip’s motto, I think I will keep the conclusions to myself this time.

Time to move on now.

Friday, 3 January 2020

A Russian Story- Part 3

The Chinese Wall

Photo by Maria Emelianova, my edit
The 2nd day culminated with me trying to break through the ‘Chinese Wall’, Lei and Tan, against both with the black pieces. The game against Lei was one which I’ll probably have nightmares about for a long time... I played some aggressive line, thought I had a good position, but my opponent was actually the one playing very well. Lost a pawn and went for an endgame with some drawing chances. My opponent couldn’t find a plan to convert her advantage but neither did she want to settle for a draw... It was her time to blunder a pawn, but a very important one this time. I won another pawn a few moves later. Liquidated to a totally winning N vs B endgame, my pawn could just become a queen had I realized my king was to make a sprint to the 2nd rank rather than trying to win all the pawns... Draw.

The Norwegian TV was there, they were probably expecting me to win- to be the sensation of the day... They asked for an interview anyway. Smiling to the camera while planting my nails deep into my palms was not the worst preparation for the next game against yet another Chinese.

Lei - Bulmaga
The game vs Tan was the last one for the day. I was hoping to somehow survive it and just go for dinner. After some 15 moves, I totally disliked my position, it was the result of my making the 2nd move of my calculation instead of the 1st one... I was tired, emotionally and physically. Made quite an effort and outplayed my opponent despite everything. Saw that I could win a pawn and there would be no real threats she could make vs my king, but noticed that I can take the same pawn in a different way and force a draw, she’d have nothing better than to go for a perpetual. Didn’t think about it twice and a draw it was. Unfortunately, I did not realize how big my advantage would be in the other variation...
I was still sharing the lead with Lei, though wasn’t sure how to feel. From one point of view, I was really disappointed I couldn’t bring to the logical end so many games, especially the one vs Lei. From another point, I never played so well in my life anyway...

“The 3rd day will be the decisive one!”.

(To be continued)

Thursday, 2 January 2020

A Russian Story- Part 2

Breathing Exercise

Photo by Maria Emelianova (my edit)
Woke up to a good mood and some bad weather. “Four rounds today- would be nice to start with a win!”. All the non chess thoughts were forgotten.

Won the first game in style, slowly outplaying my opponent in an equal endgame. Won the 2nd game with some uninspired attack which proved to be good enough... The 3rd game was a roller coaster- had a terrible position, but a lot of time, which in the end turned to be the decisive factor- 3/3. In the 4th game I used an old but mighty weapon, my opponent had a hard time in the opening, went for a slightly worse endgame which I slowly but steadily won- 4/4. 
I could not even imagine such a good start! It wasn’t only about the result itself, but about the overall quality of the games as well. I made no blunders, my brain would produce plans quickly, I was very inspired in my opening choices... Those were all good signs.

A dinner at a nice Georgian restaurant followed. “Tomorrow will be more difficult...”.

The next morning, scrolling through the news I was reading “Irina Bulmaga of Romania in the lead with a perfect score...” Some supportive messages started to come as well- most of them written in a very patriotic style- “Hai Irina! Hai Romania!”.

The 2nd day was more difficult indeed.

Made a draw in the 5th round after playing very well with the black pieces. Outplayed my opponent but ran quite low on time and let it slip. Made a move with just one second on the clock, nearly had a heart attack when realising it, but managed to simplify everything and draw.

When looking at the pairings of the 6th round, saw ‘Koneru’ next to my name. “What do you think?”, my roommate asked. “Pff, Petroff...” While sitting at the board I contemplated the possibilities... “You can start the game now!”, the arbiter said bringing me back to reality- 1.e4- e5. “F*** everyone!" was the motto of my coming to Moscow, right? – 2.d4. Got a winning position after barely making 10 moves and went on to convert it successfully. 
I won against the number 3 in the World, and as it would turn out later, the future Champion...

Photo by Maria Emelianova (edited by myself)

What a dream it would be to start competing against all these top players fighting for the crown! I proved I can win against them in rapid, in blitz… Will I get a chance to do so in classical chess?

Breathe Irina, breathe!

(To be continued)