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)