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)

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

No Place for Regrets

     I had the dream to travel the World... I had the dream to win a contest... I wanted to win an Olympic Medal, to become a WGM, an IM... I dreamed of falling in love... I still dream of becoming a GM...

     10 000 meters above the sky, music in the headphones, a glass of wine after a tough weekend, 3 more hours to kill, isn't it the perfect moment for some meditation?

     Looking back, I'm certain that all the dreams come true once you have the courage to believe and follow them! It may sound very cliché like, but how can I not believe in it when all I wished for came true- one way or another...
     Living on the "believe in your dreams & in yourself endlessly" mode has become a lifestyle for me.
     I lost a game to a much lower rated, 62 yo WGM some weeks ago. Lame!!! But to be honest, in a sadistic way, I was even happy... People who dedicate their lives to their passions no matter what inspire me! I dream of surviving the age of 62, still loving chess and playing it competitively! That's why when losing that game I was happy for my opponent- happy for a whole sleepless night...

     People who live their lives for someone else are a mystery to me. Love and things you do out of it are indeed a tricky matter... Once you sacrifice your own happiness for let's say your family's financial situation you don't make them by any means happier. They may not understand it right away, but the price is too high- you burden them with your sacrifice. They have to be happy for 2...
     One can continue this line of thinking or try to work up a theory against it, but still, my position is that there shouldn't be a place for 'unhappily spent years or lifes'...

     I respect people who follow their dreams "because" and "despite" and "no matter what" and I live my life as there's no other! There are only dreams and there's no place for regrets!

Saturday, 10 August 2019

The Struggles of a Chess Player

Do you know that feeling when nothing goes the way you planned, you try to cut on the losses at least but things keep going wrong? I have the feeling that we all know what I’m talking about, especially the chess players.

I was complaining to a friend about this situation yesterday and among other things, I said that with every year and with every other hour spent over the chess board the losses become more and more painful. That feeling of “How is that even possible after so much training or analyzing this f* variation?” or “How could my brain produce this nonsense?” pushes you to the verge. I sometimes feel I might lose my self-control after yet another painful loss… It is also about the lack of a balance- the wins are taken as granted, it’s not the same magnitude of emotions. I won and won, of course it is ‘normal’, why be so happy about it? But the most interesting thing is that I am much more optimistic than ever anyway. It might sound like a contradiction, but despite the immediate desperation I get after a lost game, if I manage to ‘survive’ it, I wake up the next day with a total belief that it was just an accident, I’m awesome and I will totally win the next game.

 It is quite strange that I have developed this philosophical approach to losses- “I will learn from this mistake and become stronger” but only when the first emotions pass. My dream is to overcome these as well. I would probably be very proud of myself if I could manage it. But how? How to fool your brain that you don’t care he’s ‘dumby dumb’ from time to time?

Writing this I have just had a revelation. What if the brain craves for these adrenaline rushes and emotions it gets after a loss? What if this is the reason behind all the unexplainable mistakes? Maybe the problem is that I don’t ‘motivate’ it enough to win? Hm… Will have to come to this thought again.

As for now, I have survived yesterday’s loss, I am as stupidly optimistic as ever and I am ready to take whatever outcome today’s game will bring, though I’m absolutely sure I’m fantastic and I’m going to win))))

Thursday, 11 July 2019

The Chess Terror

This post has been inspired by the current 'War' book I'm reading.

Add a 2h drive on winding roads and the acute necessity to think of something catchy in order not to make the person sitting next to me on the bus never ever want to have a Greek breakfast again and here it is... I will try to bring to life these (I hope) entertaining reflections.

The whole thing started with me deciding I am in need to go for a hike. Where else if not to Agia Irini's Gorge, right? But why walk (or rather crawl through) all those km?

There were about 2 days from the 'deciding' to the 'make it happen' point, days which proved to have a very demanding schedule... Sunbathing sessions were succeeded by the frappe drinking and the sea swims, being only interrupted from time to time by the usual chess player's 'praise yourself' thoughts after gaining 10 Elo points. It has started to develop into a dangerous situation. Wouldn't want to go for a swim and feel I'm Phelps or Poseidon in search of his trident... In order to reset the brain and come back to Earth I thought a physical demanding activity like a hike would be the perfect solution.

When the time came, I woke up at 6,30 am, had a good breakfast and went to catch the bus to Agia Irini's Gorge. 7,30 am- the bus started its engines and took off. My backpack thought it was time for the adventure to begin and flew directly into my neighbor's lap... A very friendly gaze landed on me, no matter of the "Sorry", "My fault" and all the "Signomi" I was trying to cover myself with... What a promising start! Twenty minutes later the bus driver started to show us his Formula 1 skills on mountain roads... Greek Yoghurt, Greek cookies, Greek coffee, Greek.... F***! I remembered instantly all I had for breakfast, cursing myself, the driver, the neighbor and everyone I could only think of! 7,50 am - it meant I had to bare it for one more hour... Well, "I must think of something so interesting that I would forget about my being sick", the brain suggested while trying to understand why it doesn't recall any Greek swearing, just to align it nicely with the yogurt and coffee...

My relationship with 'the brain' is quite tough, but it always throughs me a life vest in time of great need! This time was no exception. 

Aleppo, Sarajevo, Afghanistan, Congo... Will my computer suddenly shut down if I continue this line of thinking? Let's see...

What is it all about? I've been reading a book written by a surgeon who volunteered in war zones for decades. He was describing some of his most memorable experiences. The content is what one would expect it to be, with tears coming to the eyes on too many occasions. What is there to be added?

"Being a professional chess player is not much different than being in a war zone. It's being a soldier, a rebel, a martyr and a surgeon altogether" , the brain threw at me... What could I say to that? Hm... 

The soldier fights for an idea, for a belief. What does a chess player do? Quite the same, trying to prove again and again his idea or even enforce some concept. The sense of duty? We want to prove our families, coaches, friends that all they've done for us wasn't in vain, some willing to take their efforts to great lengths just not to let down 'the others'. The discipline? How else can one be a performer, win games and titles? Weapons? Openings, Endgames, Tactics, Engines, Strategy... The list can go on.

PTSD! Really? We constantly live with it, from tournament to tournament. You lose the last game, lose money, invitations… You go home and think of it over and over again, have nightmares about the winning position you ruined, about that opponent who took 'everything' away from you and think "what if"... Ask a player about his best win. He will name one or two. Ask him of his most painful loss and you'll hear a full list.

"Ok, I get it, I am a chess player, a soldier - a little Formula 1 driving can't take me down!". "Don't interrupt me, I am not done", the brain angrily answers to my bewilderment...

The rebel fights against a system. The Carlsbad, the Nimzo-Indian? He often is poorly armed but compensates with his great belief that he is fighting for the 'right' side. Haven't you ever played a game against a better prepared, higher rated opponent but had 'the feeling' that you're better anyway? How is that any different? The rebel throws self made bombs at his enemies. Novelties! He shoots from AK 47s. The looking straight into your opponent's eyes?

"You plan on taking down the driver or the neighbor perhaps... Whatever, just stop this nonsense!". "You stop the nonsense, and learn smth useful for once!" the brain commended.

The martyr sacrifices himself for a cause. He endures terrible pain or looking from the other side, he wears explosive vests to cause terror. A player continues playing for his team after 3 consecutive loses, after 5... How is that different from wearing the vest?   

"You want to take down the whole bus?"

The surgeon. "How is that any like being a chess player?". You shoot, throw grenades at your enemy. He's done, he surrenders. It's not enough though. The doctor removes the shrapnel from the wound and sews it accurately, he reattaches the limbs... He makes you believe it's all behind and you can move on, perhaps come to war again. After throwing novelties at your opponent, shooting him with your gaze and destroying him, you have to accurately sew his wounds, making him feel it was just a battle he lost and he has a chance in the next one. He must think it was your only weapon, the last novelty, he must fall into the trap again...

"Agia Irini's Gorge!!!!", the driver shout at us.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Save the Ticket

Waking up to a café au lait and a croissant...

Can it get any better than this? Only if the day continues with strolls around a rainy Paris...

When I was asking friends about what to see in the city, they were saying- just walk... Many thought it was too crowded, too expensive, too touristic...

A beatitude of floating ellipses...

Later on, I was able to translate what my friends meant.

Paris is too crowded by beautiful people, each of one deserving a page in a fashion magazine. It is too crowded with art which asks "You think you know what beauty is?", "Are you sure that THIS is beauty?", "Does it shock you?", "Do you want more?", "Are you sure you CAN take more?". The questions just never end.

It is expensive because there's no money that can buy you the feeling you get when in Paris. You may think you can recreate it, but how? You can't pay any money for it to rain so you could enter a café, drink a glass of wine, then go out in the sun, get busted by the rain again, run under 'some' bridge, then walk along the Seine trying to catch the rainbow, then get caught under the rain again so to enter 'some' museum and feel like it's rain, sun, wind and rainbow altogether...

It is too touristic because that's all it is about. We're just passengers on this 'train'. We can keep the ticket, but never the place...

I just ended up feeling like a cactus ripped from a desert and brought to grow roots in an "Orangerie"...

Do you have a ticket?

Friday, 22 March 2019

Chronicles of a Traveler

Almost 3 weeks of traveling are slowly coming to an end.

Sitting at my gate in the Riyadh airport I am remembering details of these 20 days. My phone’s being unable to connect to wifi has perhaps inspired this meditative state…

Saudi Arabian selfie!
What makes one month to be as successful as this one has been for me? What did I make differently? Not so much I believe. I am the same Irina, but still, something is very different. It might be something about me being more at ease with myself… How so? Well, I have been traveling alone to all of my tournaments lately, having company just on rare occasions. It made me ‘talk to myself’ more. I have come to understand my brain, my body and my needs much better. I have been thinking about so many things while avoiding all the ‘social distractions’ that I feel more connected to the World than ever. The word ‘feel’ itself has also got a new meaning to me. I could literally make the joy of life flow through my veins while listening to the drum’s rhythmical bums of a Saudi Arabian traditional song. I could taste the colors of life while sipping from a glass of very sweet mint tea in the desert. I could let the wind clear my head and take away all of my worries while riding a horse. I could let the air come to each and every pore while taking a deep breath of the kindest people’s hospitality… To be honest, the length I’ve let this stuff escalate to is a bit overwhelming.

It is not easy to be left alone with yourself but it is a journey worth to be taken.

It’s a bit funny how I had to go to Gibraltar, then Berlin, then Vietnam, then Saudi Arabia, just to find myself… It sounds very much like a motivational cliché from some book, though it is nothing but probably being a bit too honest.

I have read that in search of wisdom, it is not a teacher one should seek. A teacher is everywhere and everyone, a beggar, a dog, a lake, a match. Wisdom cannot be taught, it can only be discovered by each and every one himself, living the life at fullest, travelling, exploring the World, other people and yourself.

So, is that what I am searching for- wisdom? Maybe, or maybe not.

Photo from the Closing Ceremony of the 1st Hail Rapid Chess Tournament for Women
Mom says that she’s very happy for me, that I have started to win tournaments- that I’ve become a winner. I have always known I am a winner; I just couldn’t understand why I was unable to show it to the World… Now that I have finally started to, I don’t feel different at all, but mom is happy, dad smiles and it is a reason enough for me to be happy as well.

(Photos from the official twitter account of the Saudi Chess Federation- )

Thursday, 21 February 2019

The Life of a Chess Player- Part 3

   The evening proved to be a very enjoyable one. I got distracted from all of my chess thoughts and by the time I got back to my place, I understood that I’d have a good night sleep. Over the years, I have come to the idea that a good sleep is often more important than some super preparation, especially before a morning round. I checked the pairings and decided I would have my chance to fight for a better prize the next day. A draw with black would guarantee me a tie for ‘some’ prize, while a win would mean an extra 2k in my pocket.

   I woke up the next morning feeling quite fresh and motivated. Had some breakfast and prepared a bit. ‘The brain’ was surprisingly silent… I must say that it was nice not to hear voices in my head for a change! I was quite pleased with my preparation and went on to take the last walk towards the rock.

   “He will walk straight into my preparation and he will be busted!” Here it comes again! I was happy that at least it meant that ‘the brain’ was not still sleeping. “Just focus and play well!” “How nice it would be for him to play what I’ve looked at! With 2k extra I can buy that nice purse I’ve seen and order that beautiful dress I liked…” “Sh!!!” I imagine how I would take care of my kids if I can’t control even my thoughts… But, that’s not what this story is about, fortunately enough.

   Got to the game just in time to sit comfy. My opponent was still not there and of course, ‘the brain’ had to start the speculations… “Maybe he partied too hard last night and he’s still sleeping. Maybe he will not come at all!” I was trying not to pay attention to ‘the voice’, adjusting calmly the pieces on the board.

   The game started. My opponent came 5 min late and played ‘1.c4’. My preparation was useless from move 1. “How could you be so naive? Of course he would avoid your preparation!” “All is fine, it’s just a game of chess, let’s enjoy it!” “I would rather enjoy the 2k impact on my shopping list…” “All at its time!” 1…e5.

   The opening didn’t go the way I hoped and I had found myself in a position where I had to play precisely in order to equalize. Luckily, ‘the brain’ didn’t disagree with the fact that I have to work a bit if wanting to win any prize at all. I successfully equalized (or maybe I should say ‘we’?). My opponent (a 2500 GM) started to take more time, feeling that his advantage was gone. He was close to getting into time trouble. I on the other hand had more than enough time and had a clear plan of how to start playing for an advantage. He understood that he might get into trouble and found a strong move which forced the exchange of the queens, entering a totally drawish rook endgame. “That’s it, I have done all I could. A draw is a draw.” “But 2k… Let’s play for a bit longer, maybe he’ll blunder something or lose on time!” “Come on, he’s a GM.” “So what? Did you see what Aronian did today? Play on!”. I played for some extra 30 min making no progress at all and finally offered a draw. A draw it was.

Photo from the Closing Ceremony in Gibraltar, 
together with GM Adhiban Baskaran and WGM Aleksandra Dimitrijevic
   I gained 11,5 Elo points, played against 7 GMs in 10 games scoring +1, won a prize- all reasons to be happy. “This is what you call a prize?” “Come on, just be grateful for what you have and the next time it will be even better.” “I hope that not 20 pounds better.”

   I guess that’s the human nature- to never be happy with what you have and always wish for more.

   “So, dear friend, what situation would you prefer? To have a stable salary as a postdoc or to ‘gamble’ for about 10 days- 7h a day, having the possibility to win 15k, 10k, 2k, ‘some prize’ or nothing?” “Of course I would want to ‘gamble’! That’s what this life is about- it’s about taking chances and going all in, having adrenaline rushes and being happy like a kid when you win!”
     The story will always be the same. One wants what he doesn’t have, always finding his friend’s life more attractive…

Sunday, 17 February 2019

The Life of a Chess Player- Part 2

     The game started with my opponent playing the Sicilian, the Rauzer system to be more precise. I remembered having some bad games played quite recently in this variation, so I told myself “Ha! You want to win- great! I do as well!”. I was quite happy with his choice, as the alternatives would be some super solid Ruy Lopez variations. 

In control
      I succeeded not to mess up the opening and got a very pleasant long term advantage. While walking around, eating nuts and alternating sneezing with coughing (why not catch a cold at one of the strongest events of the year, indeed?), I was telling myself “Look- he’s suffering, he can’t find a good continuation, just keep pressing, keep pressing and +2 will be yours!”. So, I continued pressing, with every move I made he looked more and more unhappy. Having left about 5 moves to the time control to be made, I had smth like 8 min on my clock- quite enough for the “dream Rauzer endgame” I had on the board. He made yet another move and I replied quickly, automatically, making a terrible move which let him escape. I saw the relief on his face on second 1, but it was already too late to even try saying “J’adoube”, following the footsteps of a few famous players…

     “Sh**, Sh**!” That was all my brain could produce at that moment. “Why did you hurry? You have spoiled everything. You can’t win a position with decisive advantage with the white pieces, what will you do tomorrow when playing black?” It was a challenge to make some normal moves, making it to the time control with all the stuff going on in my mind… We agreed to a draw eventually.

Treats from 'the' tapas bar
      I decided it was a good time for pretending I missed the bus and took ‘the 45 min walk’. Big mistake- ‘the brain’ just couldn’t stop talking to me… “Like a woman”-came to my mind the usual reply of a friend and I just started laughing. My lonely laugh attracted some strange looks from the people passing by and I thought that I should better find a roommate for my next tournament, as my ‘brain talks’ have started to become dangerously satisfying…

     Decided to go to the tapas bar right across the corner of my building. A glass of wine had to cheer up the “crying brain” who had already started its ‘prep talk’ for the next day’s game with the black pieces against ‘some’ GM. “You will lose tomorrow, not take a prize and then have a long trip home in my company only!”. “Come on, it was just one unlucky bad move- you played very well today, every day you play better and better, you’ll see- tomorrow will be a good day!”. “Of course, as good as it was today!”. 

    The wine finally came and a text from a friend together with it which said she’d be joining me shortly. “Yas!!!”, I thought, with the brain’s replies drowning little by little with every sip of wine.

To be continued...

Saturday, 16 February 2019

The Life of a Chess Player- Part 1

     The idea of this post came to my mind on yet another day when walking to the round from La Linea to Gibraltar.

     I had my headphones on, pretending they were a good alternative to the cap, though the wind didn't necessarily agree with me...
Ready for the game?
     I was staying on the Spanish part, at about 15 min walk from the border. It was possible to take a bus after another 6-7 min of walking or walk the whole way up to the Caleta. I tried it on the first day and it was a 45 min walk all together. Had to repeat it quite a few times on the way back, as some of my games finished too late for catching any bus. The music in the headphones was undoubtedly a good companion. Having this whole time for meditation I was contemplating my life as if it wasn't mine.

     Some people have told me that they envy my lifestyle in a quite recent conversation. I asked "What is there to envy, you're a postdoc at one of the best Universities in the World, having great perspectives, while I basically live a life of a 'gypsy'? " He told me "You make a living out of your passion- the thing you love the most and you're best at in your country, while the most of the people are ok with just being "mediocre" at a few things...".

     How exactly does this life look like?

     Well, back to Gibraltar while walking to the round... There were 2 more rounds to go, I was on +1, which was my goal before the tournament. While actually playing the games I felt I could do better than that, I missed some incredible opportunities, being quite frustrated immediately after. When you're at a tournament, you can't afford negative thinking, as you still have some games left and you must make the best out of them, so I had to trick my brain into being satisfied. "You see how well you can play? You can outplay anyone, it's just a matter of experience you're missing". "Sh**, 'missing'... After so many years I know very well that I can outplay anyone, the 'missing' IS actually the problem." Ok, corky brain... Let's try a different way.
 "You play so well, you were just a bit unlucky, tomorrow will be better!". "'Unlucky' you say- the story of my life."
      I would manage to come to an agreement with 'the brain' eventually...
Still a bit of walking left towards the rock.

     So, 2 more rounds to go, +1. I was playing against a young guy with about 2495, having the white pieces. Being at a tournament like Gibraltar I thought "2495... Pf, what is that, I should 'beat' him!", making abstraction of the fact that this 'Pf' and a few years younger than me is actually better than my 2407. The wind was the only one keeping it real- pulling out my headphones from time to time. "I will win today making it to +2, then I get 'some' 2550+ with black, he'll want to win- risk it all and I will suddenly be on +3". "Shh, keep it real, brain, just play well today, please."

     I got to the playing hall 30 min early. Decided to go for a tea on the terrace. Met a friend there and finally got to talk to someone else but my brain! Felt quite confident when sitting at the board afterwards.

To be continued...

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!