Sunday, 22 January 2023

Make God laugh hard

It is a gloomy day in Bucharest but a sunny one in my heart. Why? For no particular reason, it just feels good to be home and be able to focus on what I choose to.

This year is going to be special and that's not just because I will turn 30, but because I feel ready to move to a new level. I have grown to enjoy chess in a different way than I did before. It's not only a won game or tournament what motivates me and makes me happy these days. It is that twitch of surprise when finding a beautiful move or idea which makes the dopamine rush into the brain! Does it mean I have become addicted to finding beautiful moves? I wish. 

The chess scene is changing fast these days and it is so easy to sort of just go with the flow that I have to constantly remind myself about the things I want for myself even though it sometimes means swimming upstream.

I am happy with where I am now and I have a clear picture in my head with where I want to be in a few years. Will it make the journey easier? It remains to be seen. Do you know how they say that it's not the final destination but the journey towards it which is important? Perhaps I have started to understand a bit better what my journey is about, as about the final destination- people make plans and God laughs, right? 

 I hope that my biggest worry in 2023 will be choosing a resolution from "Make God laugh" and "Make God laugh hard".

I wish you all a peaceful Sunday and a year full of laughs!

Thursday, 30 June 2022

Summer Night Thoughts

Bydgoszcz, Poland
It is late evening in Poland.

Have been playing a women's round robin tournament for the last week in a city I've never heard of before- Bydgoszcz. It's a little but nice, clean and green city. Have been surprised to hear a lot of different languages while walking around the centre.

It has been impossibly hot in the last few days and it's been a challenge to just move around from the hotel to the playing hall and back. The results are fine so far- 1 win, 5 draws. It is a free day tomorrow and then 3 more rounds to go... It is interesting how all the participants here are very friendly with one another, but once the games begin- chess recognizes no friendship, well, at least women's chess...

Perhaps it is the heat's fault that I felt the need to suddenly resurrect my blog. It's not like I felt I had anything smart or important to say, it is perhaps an urge similar to the one Firouzja felt last night when playing bullet until 6 am. 'Bad' habits die hard. 

A lemonade by my side, which I wish was wine gives me a judgmental look, like I'm the most illogical person on earth. "This blog again! What for?". The nice thing about these kind of conversations is that I can end them whenever I please, with another sip- just like that. Not all the questions in life need to be answered. Alireza doesn't need to say why, we know better anyway. I look at the lemonade and I can almost hear it saying "Discipline. DISCIPLINE." 

I have missed listening to my favorite songs on a dangerously high volume (God bless the headphones!) while just typing whatever crosses my mind. It makes me feel free- like chess does. There are no moves I can't make- there might be a price, I might lose, or win or make a draw, but afterall- it's just a game. "A game which your life is about!"- naughty lemonade... Continuing my line of thoughts, I have recently felt that losing a game is nothing compared to losing your house, your loved ones, your freedom, your rights... 

Luckily we don't have to ask anyone's permission when making a move on the board and in this hot summer night I just want to wish you to look at your lives as at a board where nobody restricts you and there are no prices to be paid but your egos.

"Time to sleep?" For once, the lemonade is right, which doesn't mean I will listen to it or spare it because justice and good reasoning dissolves in the heat of late summer nights. The world acts crazy and it's a disease there are no vaccines against. Luckily, I am a philosopher only when I drink lemonades which I wish were wine. On a regular day, I am Irina- chess player, author, daughter, sister, friend and traveler. 

Cheers to resurrections!

Thursday, 3 June 2021

Inside Out

(Photo by David Llada)
Two weeks have passed in no time… Do you know that feeling when it seems that 13 days passed in a heartbeat but, at the same time, it feels that the breath taken to the next heartbeat took years away from you…?

Last month, it seemed that all I could only wish for was coming true! I finally got a so much desired invitation to a Women’s FIDE Grand Prix tournament- it meant I would compete against the strongest ladies in the World! It meant a lot to me- I saw it as sign of recognition for all my efforts of the last years, of my whole life actually… The pandemic was the one to make this happen- some players in the circuit could not make it to Gibraltar and I was asked to replace one of them. The night after I found out about this possibility, I was so excited I could no sleep at all! I remembered reading some months ago that the Gibraltar Festival wouldn’t be taking place because of the pandemic and instead, they would host the last leg of the Women’s Grand Prix and I was thinking to myself “How lucky those players are! How I would wish to be amongst them!”. I didn’t even dare to share this thought with anyone else, so imagine my surprise and excitement when learning I could actually be a part of that!

Even though my participation was under question for quite a long time, I started to prepare for the event. I knew most of the opponents I’d have to play against, with some of them I had played for many times already. I was the 11th rated player in a field of twelve- I knew it would be a tough run, as much was at stake- 2 spots at the Women’s Candidates were to be disputed among the ‘regulars’ of the circuit. That meant that I could expect big, long fights only. I was fine with that, after all- that was all I wished for too…

(Photo by David Llada)

Looking back to those few weeks which preceded the tournament, I can’t help thinking- what did I do wrong? Of course, I didn’t have the experience of competing in such events and one could expect a so-so performance from me after a quite long, forced break from competing, but why that bad? I mean- if checking my games- I had 3 decisive advantages- one +8, one -13 and one mate in 3 out of which I scored just 0,5p…  It was nothing less than a disaster.

There are a few things I think contributed to this result the most.

One- I had some previous engagements I could not postpone, so I had to try finding a balance between preparing for the tournament and completing those other things so I ended up quite busy those weeks before Gibraltar. I didn’t see it as a problem at the time, as it felt really good to have many things to do after a year of ‘hibernation’ but I might have got to that burnout point without being aware of that…

Two- after having lost the first two rounds- both of them in completely winning positions, I was disappointed and I got into a vicious circle of having bad mood thus bad sleep and prepared too much, worrying and questioning myself on every occasion, unnecessarily tiring my brain even more. It wasn’t something I realized then, because maybe I could do something to change that, but looking back at it- I couldn’t even watch a movie during the whole tournament- all I could think was chess. Who would have thought that’d be a bad thing, right?

(Photo by David Llada)

I am not trying to find excuses, I felt physically fine- I enjoyed a lot the venue and the organization but it seems to me that I just completely lacked the experience of how to deal with these kind of tournaments- all the things which could go wrong chess wise and psychologically, all unfortunately did.

I can’t help feeling disappointed but I also think there’s a bright side to this story- I was brutally pointed out to the things I do wrong, I got to experience this kind of tournament which I dreamed of for years and when there’ll be a next time- I will know what to expect. I also hope that this will be the needed wakeup call before a season full of tournaments- a call to remind me what is really important for me in life and what makes me happy- playing chess!


Tuesday, 27 October 2020

The Old Man's Handshake

Inspiration is not an often guest these days, while being stuck at home once again…

The mechanism of my posts coming to life used to be: play a tournament, come home, rest some days, get on a plane again (preferably on a window seat, with my huge and not so pretty looking headphones on). That was the moment I liked to sketch my posts the most- in those few hours in the air! To get at least a taste of that ‘in the air feeling’ I had to find those dusty headphones, pour myself a glass of Merlot and lay back on the chair… With a little exercise of imagination, I can almost hear the stewardess asking if I want a cheese or ham sandwich. “Chess please, oh cheese I mean, a tomato juice and a glass of dry red wine!”. That was exactly how my trip to Spain started last month.

I know, I was meant to write about my ‘German League’ experiences first, but the on ground inspiration had a different plan, so let it be Spain!

To start with the beginning, I was one of those who has taken every occasion to travel and play chess during this ‘pandemic’ period. Call it risky or not, I felt my health was being damaged more if just staying another few months at home, so when the opportunity came to play in the “Division de Honor” in Linares (!), I didn’t think twice and took it!

I’ve been to Spain only 3 or 4 times before and all were either short stays or so long ago that nearly forgotten (except that tapas bar in La Linea- see the “The Life of a Chess Player” posts for details Link to the post ). Being so excited, I even planned my trip so to arrive 2 days early. When landing in Malaga and coming out of the airport to wait for my bus I was already a happy person! Yes, I was happy to have had 2 different 2h flights, to wait for another 2h for the bus and then to travel for another 5h with it to my destination! If you think that’s sarcasm, just ask the stewardess for a wine refill and think it over!

The Malaga airport is like a dear friend to me, as the only times I used it were on the trips to my beloved Gibraltar tournament. The first thing to do after picking up the suitcase was to order a “cortado” and feel like the luckiest person ever while sipping it!

Linares is a small city in the AndalucĂ­a region, but one full of chess tradition. Every chess player knows about it because of the ‘all stars’ tournament used to be held there for many years in a row. My excitement was even higher when realizing I’d be staying at the chess hotel which hosted Kasparov, Karpov, Ivanchuk and all the other ‘legends’! As one of my teammates later noted, “You could be sleeping on the bed Garry did!”. I am not sure this is a thought people usually share, but blame it on the ‘on ground inspiration’…

The tournament started with a surprise. While having lunch with my team, I was told I’d probably face only 2 or 3 women out of the 7 games… I wrongly assumed it was a women’s board I had to play on, but the rules were so that the one lady in the team could actually play on any board. I was not sure if those were good or bad news…

Won the 1st game vs an IM with some inspired play. In the second round I had the black pieces vs a GM. Confused my lines and got a ‘classical’ worse Rauzer position. I remember thinking during the game how could I get into that position, after playing my whole life exactly how my opponent did… But, I was wearing my fuchsia jacket, I was falling in love with Spain more and more every day and I felt there were no problems I could not cope with! My opponent started playing uninspired, I on the other hand was more precise than ever and got to a winning 3 on 3 pawn endgame. Then, in the hit of the battle, I took my jacket off and spoiled it… Draw. I’m not superstitious, these are just perfectly logical facts.

Later, at dinner, everyone was trying to cheer me up- “It was not so easy!”, “You played really well, it happens”, “Don’t worry!”… Finally, they convinced me it was just an accident and I was joking again. I must say that I always knew that Spanish people were friendly and opened, but the first time I experienced it was in Linares! Even though not all my teammates spoke English, the atmosphere was great every day! We were having all the meals together except breakfast (‘Garry’s bed’ was too good of a companion) and no language barrier could stop us from talking! How many interesting life stories I discovered there! Even after I lost 3 games in a row (all long fighting games vs strong opponents, but anyway- ‘long castling’ is never nice) nothing changed. Well, almost nothing. I remember that evening, at dinner, the team’s captain- a man in his 70s came from the bar with a glass of whisky. Nothing strange so far, until he stopped next to me and offered me the glass saying “The best whisky!”. I knew it was time to start winning again.

The team’s goal was to keep our spot in the League (two clubs out of 8 were going down). We were not doing well and with just 2 rounds to go, our only chance was to win both matches, one vs the lowest rated team and the other one vs one of the strongest…

On the next day I finally won and the score was 5,5-0,5. Step 1 completed! During the dinner after, everyone was calculating who and how should play… I would have had black vs a GM I played once before, many years ago. The captain told me “Draw is fine tomorrow”. I said “OK” and on the next day I played the Najdorf. Had a fine game and won in style! The team won 4-2 and we kept our spot in the “Division de Honor” (always liked how it’s called!) !

At the final dinner, everyone was very happy, though if to compare to the other evenings, not much was changed- we were all talking & laughing like we were doing the whole tournament! The captain was a bit late. When he arrived, he approached me, and just shook my hand with a smile looking directly into my eyes.

The feeling was overwhelming; I remember it like it was yesterday… I felt like I was given the handshake for which I longed for so many years when remembering the man who taught me how to play chess- my grandfather.

This experience is priceless to me and all I can add is “Thank you, Spain!”.


Saturday, 17 October 2020

The Leagues Dispute

With the most discussed topic of these days being whether chess players should be able to play in more than one National Team Championship, I thought to begin a new series of posts which are to describe my experiences playing in Leagues all across Europe.

I consider myself a lucky chess professional. Over the last 10 years, I have played for clubs in many countries, among them Germany, UK, France, Turkey, Greece and many others, including my own- Romania. I have met different people with all kind of values and traditions, each unique in their own way. I like to think about it as of a ‘University of Leagues’. Each ‘course’ had its ‘good’ or ‘bad’ professors and they all have taught me valuable lessons!

It is very difficult for me to understand the idea behind the FIDE President’s statement that chess players should be forbidden to play in more than one League…

Photo from The Polish Extra League, Krakow, 2020
It feels strange to even have to explain it, as it seems rather obvious that this idea is totally unfeasible. While it makes sense in sports like football, hockey, handball, where the season is divided in matches to be played all year long, every week or so, in chess- a League has from 7 to 11 rounds usually. These games are being played during the same amount of days. Therefore, the math is very simple- if a League has 9 rounds- there are 9 days of competition. Many professionals play in a few Leagues during a year in order to make a living, as 10 days of work out of 365 are obviously not enough. Let’s say you have 3 or 4 leagues, that would mean 36 days of work- still not enough, right? That’s why there are official tournaments like Individual and Team National, Continental and World Championships where if one’s good enough, he can represent his country and add another 40-50 working days to his calendar. Ok, it makes for 86 pay days. What about the other 280? Well, everyone has his own approach- one plays a commercial tournament per month, where he earns money only if playing well, others prefer to train hard and play less but aim for the ‘jack pot’ in the higher mentioned official events.

If one is lucky enough to be from a country with chess tradition, he might hope for some support from the National Federation, of course, if he’s good enough to be in the Top5 of the country… 95% of the chess players (or even more) do not make this category and the countries which support the chess players seriously can be count on the fingers anyway… This means that if you’re not top 5-10 (best case) in Russia, USA, China and maybe a very few others you have to find a way to make a living with aprox. 86 ‘certain’ pay days per year… While no one has been complaining about it because sport is sport and we all understand that not being an Olympic one, we have to do with less funding than other sports it is absolute non sense to make it even worse for the average professional chess player. 86 pay days per year is very little but if you make it 46 then it will become an amateur and elite sport only… Is this what FIDE wants? I am utterly puzzled by this idea…

But enough with numbers and unnecessary explanations, this series of posts is meant to describe funny, sad, inspiring and disappointing, but all invaluable experiences which I got by playing in Europe’s biggest and smallest Nations Leagues.

Course 1- Germany

To be continued…

Thursday, 8 October 2020

D, My Friend

10 000 feet above the ground, I gaze through the window to only see dark clouds and little lights somewhere far... Everything seems so insignificant from above...

A Russian ballad starts playing in my headphones; it’s a sad but somewhat hopeful one. The lyrics are touching and I feel tears building up slowly in my eyes. The heart starts trembling and no strange faces I make can stop those tears... But it’s dark, the lights are far, I can let it be...


There are so many things I like that’ve started to make me feel this way lately, since...

While at a nice beach, while playing some English Attack variation, while hearing a joke, while having a beer with friends, while reading a nice poem, while thinking what opening to choose late in the night, while feeling the Spanish sun...

I can only give in to this sadness, I don’t even want to fight it. I just try to pick up crumbles from the so many memories and remember every bit of them, trying to relive them again, and again, and...

Some bad turbulences start. It was stormy when the plane took off.

 I am not scared, I haven’t been for a long while now... I have had a good life and death is not something I fear of. I think of it as of an always present companion. Every now and then, when I feel like having a heart full conversation and there are no friends around, we talk. It can be calming, even enlightening sometimes... Maybe we’ve even become friends? Perhaps... I never judge you, we have understanding and respect, I enjoy our conversations- isn’t it the recipe for friendship?

We sometimes briefly touch each other- as a sign of mutual appreciation. There are times I even feel like hugging you, just to let you know all will be fine and you’re not alone, but... There are hugs you only think of... Who knows what “they” would think of it? Not that it matters, not to me at least...

The lights are coming closer and you’re slipping away...

I am so calm, powerful... I am not alone and I feel hope again. And that’s always been how you’ve made me feel...

Until next time dear companion, dear friend, D...

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…