Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Plans & Resolutions

     Dear readers,

     The New Year is already here and I have new tournaments coming up, new plans.

(photo by David Llada)  
     I must say that time flies so quickly for me in the last few years... It seems to me that it was only yesterday when I was still competing under 20 yo and here I am, at 25 already. I am not very sure how this 5 years have passed so quickly. I guess that travelling from a chess tournament to another, from one country to another, one just gets sucked in by a kind of routine- make plans, prepare, travel, play, repeat... I am curios, will the next 5 years pass in the same manner?

     I have decided that I will play less this year and try to make time for things other than chess as well. In the end, playing 14 classical tournaments a year has proven to be quite ineffective. That doesn't mean I am becoming less of a professional chess player. It is actually the other way around- I will participate in less tournaments, but in stronger ones.

     My first classical tournament of the year will be in Gibraltar. This will be my first time there and I am quite excited about it- it has bean on my to do list for many years already. I hope to play against many strong opponents and also have a good time.

     Afterwards, I am thinking of participating in the HD Bank Open in Vietnam, in March. The tournament meets my requirements, having a very strong field and attractive prizes. I am not yet 100% sure that I will go there, as it clashes with the Romanian Women's Championship, but given the bad conditions and prizes from the previous years, I have reasonable doubts to believe anything might change this year. The hope never dies, so I am waiting for the regulations to be published and that will be the moment of my final decision.

     The European Individual Women Championship is going be the highlight of the season for me, as usually. It will take place in Antalya, Turkey in April. I don't have many plans afterwards, I just hope to be pleased by my playing by that moment.

     These being said, a little throwback is in place. I was very happy to finish the year on a high note, winning the "Sharjah Cup for Women". It was a strong women's event where inspired decisions and lucky moments met so I could become 1st. Here are a few photos from the event:

With Sopiko Khukhashvili

Karina Szczepkowska, me and Sopiko Khukhashvili- the first 3 places

Despite some double rounds, there was time for relaxing as well
Happy Winner!

    I wish you all a New Year full of accomplishments and don't forget to make time for the things and people whom you love!

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Restless Optimism

Dear readers,

The busiest time of the year is starting for me these days. Many important tournaments are ahead, many interesting trips.

The first stop is at the Batumi Chess Olympiad (24 Sept - 5 Oct). As a team event, one where I represent my country, there is definitely some pressure on me, especially as I will be playing board 1 for Romania. Nothing's as motivating as a good challenge though and I can't wait for some big battles! (Check up my FB pages for updates during the tournament).

It is interesting to notice how years pass and I expect my eagerness to play chess to moderate somehow, but no, it doesn't matter that it's my 6th Olympiad already, I am still very much looking forward to it! Let's see what plans Batumi has on us...

Memory from the Baku Chess Olympiad in 2016, with Luminita Cosma, Cristina Foisor, me,
Ciprian Nanu and Corina Peptan. 

Next to follow is a quite unique tournament in Norway, Harstad (yeah, far North I head from the sunny Batumi). There will be 7 games, 3 rapids and 4 classical ones. I might even give some simul on one of the days, maybe even blindfold. I expect this trip to be very interesting. Anyhow, the Tromso Olympiad (2014) has left only good memories for me so I am quite optimistic about my return to Norway. 10-16 October is reserved for it.

Me, giving a blindfold simul

After no longer than 3 days of rest I will be heading to Isle of Man. It's been my dream to play there for quite some time and I am really excited about finally being able to make it happen! Being one of the strongest chess opens ever, names like Vladimir Kramnik, Vishy Anand, Levon Aronian and Wesley So are on the starting list and I can't be any happier about the chance to play in the same tournament with them and maybe even meet them at the chess board! (My optimism is restless lately...)

Yeah, this is how my end of September and whole October looks like.

It is probably too little to say that I am very grateful for the chance life has given me- to do what I love the most and to call it work!

Wish you all a nice end of week and remember, it is never too late for a dream to come true!

Sunday, 15 July 2018

July Reflections

Playing vs GM Fridman (blitz)
     While being home for a few days between tournaments I was thinking whether I am doing the right thing about choosing my summer tournaments...

     From one point of view, why not play a nice Open in a beautiful location by the sea (Sardinia, Corsica, Crete), trying to combine chess & vacation, from another point of view- is it really the way to prepare for the serious upcoming autumn tournaments?

     In the first scenario (the one I am following atm) it is quite difficult to stay 100% focused on chess as there are a lot of distractions- going to the seaside for 1-2 hours, then feeling sleepy for another 2-3 hours, then the game is coming up with no real desire for any serious preparation... Of course, the opponents might feel the same way, but if it's not the case then I might get into some serious trouble. In the end, the result might be somehow medium or more or less satisfying, but the feeling left is that I could have done more.
    Though, let's not forget about the advantage of the first scenario- not stressing at all, as there's no pressure about the result, getting a nice tan (!) and an all in all improvement of health after the nice swims in the salty water...

While taking a swim , Purtichju, Corsica

     On the other hand, if choosing a tournament in a less compelling location, I would be 100% focused on the games with the probability of my result to be better increasing substantially. Also, let's not forget about the financial part of the story- the better the result, the higher the income. Though, a bad game can ruin it all, increasing the stress level when realizing how much effort you have put into the preparation, how close you were to the desired result and yet how you have missed it...
Surrounded by dangerous kids in the Purtichju Open

     The 2nd scenario, sometimes with a happy end, sometimes not is how my year looks like from September to May, so maybe it is after all a good idea to take a break from it in summertime. On the other hand, what will be my playing form by the end of summer? Will the "vacation-like" tournaments benefit to my brain or send it to a limitless vacation?

     Not having a real answer for all these questions, I'm heading to my next tournament in a few days. It will take place on yet another island- Crete, a place very close to my heart for a lot of various reasons. Let's see how it will go and if any of my questions will get an answer...

Corsican Sky
     On a positive note, may your mood be as serene as the Corsican sky!

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

The Emerald Land

     Dear readers, returning home from one of the most beautiful locations I've ever been to, many thoughts have come into my mind... While being on the plane, I've sketched this post and here it is- getting alive!

     Let's start with the beginning- about one month ago, I was searching for a nice seaside tournament to open the summer season with. I found the Capo d'Orso Open, in the Porto Mannu Residence, Sardinia and wrote an email to the organizer, quite unsure that there would be any conditions left so late. Imagine my thrill when I got an email the next day, saying there were exactly 2 spots left!

     Getting enthusiastic about island trips is totally about me! I have been to Sardinia before and I knew exactly what to expect: fantastic nature, with flowers blooming everywhere; unbelievable landscapes with emerald sea and unusually shaped rocks; yummy food & wine; the perfect espressos to start the day with and the beautiful Italian language- a melodious accompaniment for the already symphony like environment...

     You probably know what they say about the thoughts getting real, that's exactly what happened to me too!
     Moreover, the playing conditions were perfect! It has become the most important factor for me when choosing whether to play a tournament or not. Being a very active player, who spends a lot of time travelling, with not too much time to rest, it is vital for me to have good conditions while at the board, so I can focus only on chess, not spending any amount of precious energy on getting nervous about an uncomfortable table or chair or too little light or too many degrees in the hall.
     This is why I want to say a big "Thank you!" to Yuri Garrett, the organizer of the tournament- who has given class to many bigger and more known (even official) tournaments! All the little details were well thought, so that both the amateur players and the professionals would have nothing to worry about but playing chess and getting regular sunbaths!

     All in all, the atmosphere was great! There was an open air bar, where one could have a coffee or a glass of wine (with the most unbelievable view to enjoy) while analyzing his game at one of the chess boards kindly provided by the organizers!

     I am very happy to have been there, it has definitely charged my batteries for all the tournaments ahead and , hey, the 5th place in an Open while being the 10th in the starting list sounds not bad at all either, right?

     Enjoy a few photos from the event and if you're not sure how to begin your next summer, the Capo d'Orso Chess Open 2019 is already confirmed to take place next June!

Sardinian View

Can you see the shape of a bear? That's why the place is called Capo d'Orso! (c) Laura Santini

The playing hall (C) Laura Santini

Playing Hall (C) Laura Santini

The Organizing Team


     The tournament is over, but chess is still on the tables of Porto Mannu and in our hearts!

Friday, 16 February 2018

Portugal "Obsession"

     After a few days of rest, I've thought it would be a pity not to share some thoughts about my latest chess trip to Lisbon, Portugal.
     I participated in the "Portugal Open", a much stronger open than I had expected it to be. My starting rank was 37, so I was very eager to try to "take some scalps". The schedule of the tournament was very specific- first 2 days- double rounds (2.30 pm/ 7.30 pm), while the other days- only one round- each at 7.30 pm. I must say that I have played a few games which lasted after midnight!
     Otherwise, it was quite enjoyable- to have a late breakfast and to explore the city afterwards. Lisbon has impressed me lots with its architecture, unique style and charm. The narrow streets, the beautiful buildings, the kind people... The "eating experience" was really fantastic! So many tasty dishes! It was the first time in years I came home with 2 extra kg after a chess tournament! (it was usually the other way around)))

     As about the tournament, the balance is: no GM scalps, winning vs lower rated, losing vs higher rated... Not my best performance, but enough for taking 1st place amongst women, both in the classic part of the event and the rapid one. I had some very entertaining games and here are some moments from them:

Cruz-Bulmaga, black to move
 26... Bxf2! 27. Kxf2- Qc5 28. Kf1- f4 29. Nxe4- Bxc4 30. Re2- Qe3! 31. Rb2- f3!

There was a lovely variation here: 32. Qd5+- Kh8! -+ , but not 32... Bxd5?? 33.Rxe3 +-
My opponent preferred to continue with: 32.gxf3- Qxf3 33.Ke1- Qf1+ 34.Kd2- Qxe2+ 35.Kc3- Qd3+ 36. Kb4- Bd5 0:1

Paiva-Bulmaga, black to move
20...Bxg3! 21.fxg3- Rxg3! 22.Kxg3-Qg5+ 23.Qg4- Qxe3+ 24.Kh4- Rf4 25. Rcd1

An esthetic mate followed: 25...Rxg4 26.Kxg4- Nf6+ 27.Kf5- Bc8+ 28.Ke5- Qg5#

As a conclusion: I recommend everyone to take the chance of visiting the beautiful city of Lisbon and (why not) play in the "Portugal Open 2019"!

Have a nice end of week!

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

November Thoughts

Dear readers,

My apologies for writing so rarely. I've had a very tough schedule through this second half of the year- a lot of travelling from one tournament to another. It hasn't been very easy, but that's really nothing to complain about. I am very lucky to do what I love.

The last 4 tournaments I played- the Croatian League, Maria Albulet Memorial, the ETCC and Romanian League went quite well. I won the 1st board in Croatia after which Caissa smiled to me again- won the "Maria Albulet Memorial"...

The European Team Chess Championship came afterwards. It was the 2nd time I had the honor to play for Romania's team on the 1st board. It was very interesting and challenging. Somehow, I didn't play many strong tournaments after the EIWCC in Riga and I was a bit "bored of chess" if I can say so. You know this feeling when you play a lot vs lower rated opponents and at some point you feel like you can't take any more games like this- avoiding too "dry" variations, playing strange openings, having to fight in all the games like it's the last one. It can become a bit too stressful. That is why I was very happy when hearing I'd be on the 1st board- it meant I could finally play some "calm chess" and just enjoy it. I guess this is the main reason why I had a quite good tournament, scoring 6/9p. We had a slow start, but as I've noticed at this kind of tournaments- the finish is the most important. A good finish helped us share 4-5th place which was definitely a success for us!

from right to left: Alina l'Ami, Corina Peptan, Ciprian Nanu, Elena-Luminita Cosma, me and Mihaela Sandu

After barely 2 days of rest we had to go to the Romanian League. The opponents were not as strong as at the ETCC, but my chess got worse- too many blunders and misses, I guess I didn't have enough rest... It was a bit frustrating to know that I can play better and still not to be able to show it. Considering this fact, 6,5/8p was a decent result- good enough to help our team- "CS Politehnica Aqua Carpatica Iasi" to become Champion for the 3rd year in the raw!

from left to right: Bella Khotenashvilli, Alina l'Ami, me and Miruna Lehaci
There is one more classical tournament waiting for me this year- a strong ladies round robin in Wroclaw, Poland. It will start on the 29th of November. I hope to have a good rest until then and to  show some quality chess there!

May you have a wonderful end of the week!

Saturday, 3 June 2017

R4 Impressions

GM Yuriy Kuzubov
     Four rounds are already behind in the EICC in Minsk. Only one player is on 100%- GM Yuriy
Kuzubov of Ukraine, with many players following with 3,5p/4. There were some very interesting games yesterday. I will show some fragments of the games which have impressed me the most.

     Russian GM- Maxim Matlakov showed a really impressive level of preparation vs Pavel Ponkratov. I have the feeling that it was a very well placed opening trap. My engine is going nuts in the following position, giving a big advantage for black. After I play it's first line- it says it's already equality, to finally give an advantage for white after some good minutes of thinking:
Black to move
     The last move was 11.h4. Black answered with 11...gxh4 12. Qg4- Be5 13. Ne4- all first line moves, after which white has a big advantage. What can I say? This is the risk of playing sidelines nowadays- you never know where a novelty is hidden, one that will simply end the life of your sideline. The game continued a few moves, but the fight was basically over already here.
     Another really surprising game was the one won by the Greek GM- Mastrovasilis Dimitrios vs GM Andrei Volokitin- a well known Ukrainian GM who is known to have a deep knowledge in all kind of Sicilians along with a very sharp style of playing. It seems that he either forgot or was unaware of a nice opening trick:
White to move
     At the first glance- it seems that white is in trouble, his knight on "c3" being pinned and the bishop on "b5" seemingly unstable as well. The move that followed solves all white's issues and even puts black in some serious trouble. 7.Rb1! - there are already a few games played in this position with white having an almost 100% score. This "mysterious" move is meant to protect the bishop on "b5" after an eventual capture on "c3". A really aesthetic move! 7...a6 8. Bxd7- Bxd7 9. 0-0 - Nxc3 10. bxc3- e6 11. d5!
Black to move
     White has a decisive attack, which the Greek GM successfully converted into a full point a few moves later.

     I guess it is enough with illustrating opening disasters... My point is that even at the top boards of the ECC, which implies top GMs such things are possible. Remembering some of my recent upsets from the EIWCC, I feel it's not only "women who make these kind of mistakes".

     As about the Romanian players, GM Constantin Lupulescu played a book-like game until the very last moves where, being in time trouble he missed some nice tactics which would win the game immediately, giving away the whole advantage some moves later and having to settle with a draw...

White to move
          White could play  57. Nc6! here, the point is that after 57... bxc6 58. dxc6- black's bishop can not go away because of 59. Rxh7 followed by 60.c7 +-
          Instead, white played 57. Ke2- fxe4 53. Qxe4? (it was important to give an inttermediate check- 54.Rg1+! first, only after that capturing on "e4" with a winning position) 53...Rg7!. Objectively, black is still worse, but being in time trouble, white's king already feels endangered and it's not that easy to understand how is the position after 54. Nxb7, which is engine's first choice.
          White played 54. Kd2? instead- giving away the whole advantage. A draw was agreed because after 54... Qg5+, followed by 55...Qxh5 black is already not worse.
           A big miss for our player who could have made it to +3 if winning this game.

      If we can say he was unlucky, the Romanian IM Mihnea Costachi definitely had Caissa on his side, with his opponent- GM Daniele Vocaturo- blundering a whole exchange in a better position.

Black to play
IM Mihnea Costachi
      The opening stage did not go that well for white, thus black has a pawn up on "c7". After an eventual 22...Re7, protecting it, black is still better, white would have some compensation for the pawn, but it would have to be proved if that was enough. Instead, black played 22...c5, blundering  23. Nb6 which left him an exchange down. Our player played precisely to convert his material advantage into a full point.

     GM Bogdan Deac  won in nice style vs his lower rated opponent, climbing to a solid +2 as well. GM Mircea Parligras has had a slow start, drawing all his games.

     IM Vladimir Hamitevici of Moldova won a nice game with black vs the Russian GM Boris Savchenko. It was a very intstructive game played in the Advance Variation of the Caro-Kann Defence:
Black to move

     In this double-edged position, it seems to me that black is faster in his attack 12...f6! 13. exf6- Ng6 14. c4- Nxf6 15. Rc1- g4, with a dangerous attack with which white was unable to cope.

     GM Dmitry Svetushkin blundered in a totally winning position, having to settle for a draw and remaining on +1.

     Concluding, R IV of the EICC in Minsk was a very interesting one to follow, with many things to learn. 
     I wish all our players the best of luck for the 5th round and to give their best before tomorrow's free day!