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)

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

A Russian Story- Part 1

Don’t cry for me, Romania!

Photo by Maria Emelianova
To go, not to go, to go?

Moscow... World Rapid and Blitz Championships. I had promised myself to play this time. Watching the live transmission from St. Petersburg 2018 I cursed myself at least a dozen times for not being there; promised myself to play after finishing 8th at the European Blitz Championship in Monaco once again...

 „I must go then.”

„Dear Irina,/ Unfortunately...”- a great start of the answer I got from the Federation about my upcoming trip to Moscow... „They don’t believe in me, maybe I should not go after all...”. It is a bit funny how being young, one doesn’t believe in himself even though people keep telling him how capable and talented he is. A few years later though, things tend to change- no one seems to believe you’re capable of any progress, while your belief in yourself grows exponentially day by day... „F*** everyone, I will go!”.

A few clicks later, I was registered in the tournament and had a ticket.

There’s a sort of going back to my childhood every time I come to Russia. Why? Well, even though I was born in an independent Moldova, the Soviet reminiscences were still there. People had a hard time forgetting the horrors of War but also the little guilty pleasures borrowed from Russia stayed in Moldova until nowadays. Eating „sirniki” , „borodinski” bread and „borshi” are to this day my biggest pleasures. That’s why I always have mixed feelings coming here, it’s like being able to have all I wanted as a kid without the need of any adult consent!

Any guesses on what I did on my first evening after landing in Moscow? Had some „borshi” of course! With a full stomach and a warmed heart, I went to bed. Sleeping proved to be a difficult task though- uneasy thoughts were assaulting my brain „I will show them it was a mistake not to support my coming here!” , „What if I play badly?”, „Why do I always have to prove something?”, „Will there be a Romanian flag next to me tomorrow?”,  „Maybe it was better never to leave home...”

A little tear made it’s way to the pillow... 

They say Moscow does not believe in tears... Romania, do you?

(To be continued)

Thursday, 21 November 2019

The IOM Chronicles- Part 3

   Manly Smiles

   The free day proved to be a very enjoyable one- it was the last sunny day on the island… Visited two castles, bought some souvenirs, took a lot of photos and also had some time to think about what was going wrong and how to make things get better in the second half of the tournament. 

   As a small incursion into the story- I really like travelling, no matter of the means of transport, airplane, train, bus- as long as I have a cozy sit by the window and some headphones, I really don’t mind. During these trips I usually get a lot of ideas, some of them later coming to life here…

   I felt like giving this explanation because for the most of the ‘serious’ chess players, a rest day spent on buses from a town to another and from a castle to another is just a big waste of valuable energy. It was not the case for me… I came back to Douglas with a big dose of inspiration and an even bigger appetite (for both chess & food)! So, a dinner with some teammates and friends came very handy. When the waiter asked for our orders I couldn’t resist the temptation of ordering duck, not well cooked- rare! A teammate asked if I was sure, suggesting I’d take it medium, but no- I wasn’t ‘chicken’ anymore, I was in mood for some blood!

   Went to bed in good spirits, looking forward to my next day’s game with white.

   Sitting at the board confidently I knew it was just the right time to improve my tournament’s position. Went all in and got winning chances quite quickly, but- ‘chicken’ or ‘duck’- it just wasn’t meant to be… Sacrificed a piece incorrectly, played on for like 4 hours, but just to resign at the end… My opponent shook my hand giving me an almost guilty smile. I turned tomato red, felt some tears coming to my eyes, but quickly remembered I was not 10, not even 20 anymore, pulled myself together and smiled back, gathering my belongings from the table one by one… Chocolate, nuts, juice, cola and a heavy sigh…

The evening wasn’t the nicest one- my roommate lost as well and even the jokes we tried to pull off were not triggering even a smile… The toughest was the feeling that everyone felt sorry for you. But as a friend told me- I am vaccinated- after last Olympiad's 5 losses in a row, it is very difficult to take me down, I have learned to draw my energy from despair, though it’s definitely not a skill I’d like to use too often…

Four more games. While the ‘mating’ hope never dies, I decided to put on the ugliest dress for the next round- in a sign of protest- against the winning manly smiles and the forced ambitions adjustments…

A woman in a state of despair is a dangerous thing, even in chess… Won two games in a row, felt a shy flame of hope again…

The first castle we visited on the free day was one mostly used as a prison and as a place of torture. Well, my play in the Grand Swiss can be described also as a "prisoner’s" one- when I’d just see a ship out of my cell’s window, a black flag would be risen…

Another 2 losses followed- the last two… in that tournament… this year…

It was time to go back to my cell, until I’d see another ship which would maybe set me free or maybe not…

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

The IOM Chronicles- Part 2

‘Chicken’ who Dreams

The island is asleep, am I too? Is it a bad dream or is it the end of a chapter and the beginning of another?

While players are either celebrating or drowning their sorrows I’m trying to look back on how it was when it’s not even really over…

It was most certainly a very tough tournament but one where there were so many lessons to be learned!

Lesson 1- never make experiments in the first rounds! It is very important to have a good start, as it boosts your confidence! A dull draw with the white pieces vs a 200p higher rated player is not a shame- it is a strategy! I started with be black pieces in round 1 and decided to go for a complex and interesting position rather than trying to exchange one piece after another… Was it correct, was it not? The standings are probably the best judge…

Another black in the 2nd round came as unexpected as it only could. Have tried to prove myself that the lesson was learned and played some very solid chess in order to keep the position equal up to around move 35 but just to spoil it with 2 blunders in a row in the time trouble…

“Irina, pull yourself together! All will be fine!”

A very much awaited white in the 3rd round against yet another 2600+. “And what should I do know?” Any sane professional would tell you to go for a draw after 2 loses in a row, but… I am a player- it is written in my DNA to believe in myself and in my chess- why else would I come here? A big advantage after the opening- doubted myself, made a few slow moves- a bad evaluation and… another loss- the 3rd one in a row. That hurt a bit, or maybe even more, though I made sure that the makeup would not show it to the World and to myself either…

Not an easy win against a lower rated player followed, but a win is a win.

(Photo by Maria Emelianova)
White in round 4 vs an opponent I lost to earlier this year- another 2600+. Played some inspiring chess up to some point, when I lost my advantage and had to be very resourceful in order to maintain the balance. Fought hard, he made a mistake and I got again a big advantage- a totally risk free endgame. He offered a draw. I believe that was the critical moment of the whole tournament. I had reached the time control, got the 50 minutes- calculated, evaluated, realized that I can play for 2 results… but again- I doubted myself… Thought about the lunch I had skipped, the diner I would miss, the caffeine trembling hands, the temptation of the first positive result vs a higher rated opponent and I just couldn’t make myself continue. I was chicken- took the draw.

Lesson 2- A bad plan is better than no plan at all! If you’ve got a strategy- follow it, don’t change it, as it only creates confusion and eventually bad decisions will arise… If you decide you’re in for big fights- fight until the end! If you want to be chicken- be so from move 1 to 151, from round 1 to 11… You can not be Jeanne d’Arc up until move 20 and then suddenly decide you’re afraid of fire… The chicken who dreams is ought to be punished - another loss followed…

At least 6 rounds had already passed and a rest day was scheduled.

‘Chicken’ wanted to be Jeanne d’Arc so badly, still… 

(To be continued)

Thursday, 17 October 2019

The IOM Chronicles- Part 1

A Cabin Bag of Hopes

(photo credits: John Saunders)
To start with the beginning, I have a special place in my heart for the Isle of Man- came here last year for the first time and it also happened to be my first participation in a super tournament. I started with 2 draws vs 2700+ players and had an overall successful event, which was definitely very pleasing… Having had such a great time here last year, I expected nothing less from the 2019 edition.

It is actually an honor to be a part of this great chess celebration and these are no big words! Yes, it is a celebration- of chess, of brilliant games, of great fights and inspiring personalities!

While preparing openings and new ideas for the tournament I was both very optimistic and enthusiastic! What to say? My mind was in IOM much before I myself got carried here by a plane full of grandmasters.

Dreamy window view...
The first worrying bell rang just after the plane landed and everyone was waiting for their baggage to be fetched… I had none and it was not because it got lost- I got so carried away by my whole being enthusiastic about the chess I’m going to play here that I did not bother to take too many things for the 2 weeks on the island- just packed my cabin bag, thinking that I’m coming here to impress with my chess rather than looks and there the second bell rang- "Is my cabin bag too small for the high hopes?".

A taxi drive along the promenade and a diner in the favorite Italian restaurant later I forgot about any bells at all…

Walked around Douglas with my roommate on the next day, telling her "This is the best place for coffee, that one for lunch…" and so on. I must say that I really enjoyed the role of the guide- it made me feel like I belong here, at this tournament… Did the 3rd bell ring here? No, it didn’t… Or did I maybe miss it?

Unpacked my cabin bag later, taking my time while thoroughly sorting out all my hopes… "I will win against 'a' 2650 player in the 1st round, Magnus will make a draw and then I’ll play him in the 2nd round…", yeah- I was very thorough.

The day ended with me lying in the bed with my headphones rhythmic whisper

"Whatever it takes 
Ya take me to the top, I’m ready for 
Whatever it takes
‘Cause I love the adrenaline in my veins
I do what it takes
Always had…”

(To be continued)