A Hammer in Bavaria

I’m sure everyone remembers Christof’s debut article for Hammer – an account from the East Devon Congress – his first over the board chess tournament for nearly half a century!

Since then Christof has established himself as a Hammer legend – junior coach, Sledgehammer leader, and general top guy.

At the end of October he entered his second tournament – this time overseas at the 23rd Open International Bavarian Championship. Read on for Christof’s account of the topsy-turvy week.

I would like to whet the appetite to participate in these kind of international week-long open tournaments. And especially for this specific great festival in which the UK was underrepresented to put it mildly. While the 505 participants came from 29 nations, with 68 players from non-German Europe, 13 players from India, 11 from Russia, none came from Scotland, Wales, NI and only one from England (not me, but a junior against whom I had played this year, what a coincidence). Why this absence??? Was it Brexit day 31 October in the middle of the tourney? Well, everyone should have known that Halloween was not to be the last Brexit date. The rugby world cup?? Can this really be, rugby more important than chess??? But then, what do I understand about rugby, or about the English… So, only one UK chess club showing up in the players list, Hammersmith!

The great location needs mentioning. This one stands for an ideal holiday week at a mountain lake in Southern Germany, combined with highly competitive chess – the games start at 4pm, so there is ample time in the mornings to go to the mountains or around the lake, and my great city Munich is just one hour away.

And imagine, every fifth player is a title holder, with 31 GMs, 31 IMs and 49 FMs. The average ELO rating at 1965 (ECF 169), the top 10 average at 2608 (ECF 254) the top 50 still at 2477 (237). And everyone plays in one Open group. If you score well enough in the first rounds, chances are you will play against a giant! Wow, what a challenge. My starting rank with ELO 1846 was 353rd of 505, my stretch target was to get 50% and earn a few ELO points. Well, Hammers like challenges…

In the first round, I had to overcome formidable determined opposition (as shown in the photo) which compensated for the ELO difference. Other greats lost their first points against juniors. Top-seeded GM Gata Kamsky drew against a 12-year old Indian more than 500 points below his 2685.

photo of my first round opposition by Thomas Müller

The second round saw me clawing to a draw by repetition against an opponent some 200 points higher.

Me as White to play: Rd7 – bxc4 – e6 – fxe6 – Rg7+ and the Black king cannot escape the checks. Could I have aimed for a win with cxb5 and Rd1? I decided not, with 5 minutes left for 7 moves.

I noted as well that the “English opening” guru GM Mihail Marin lost his game. Maybe he had been distracted after our unrelated discussion just before the round about the exhibited paintings of his wife and FM Mariya Yugina? Sorry mate.

In the third round I achieved a lucky draw after difficult defence. The computer later told me that I had not only followed my opening preparation unknowingly for the first 14 moves but then had 100% accuracy of the remaining 10 follow-up moves. Now, is that good or bad to play like a computer?

The fourth round set me against the local matador, a junior who surprisingly had beaten a Polish FM in the first round. I was soundly beaten as well. Now I was back to where I had started, at zero balance. In my tristesse, I was contemplating to buy one of the colourful paintings of Mariya Yugina on display, which shows a brighter side of life and chess.

photo courtesy of Mariya Yugina

Another loss in the fifth round against a formal full-time chess teacher. We skipped the post mortem in favour of a discussion on the Munich Chess Academy which provides chess lessons in various Munich public schools, very interesting and encouraging. In my time as a junior, these were exceptions, nowadays that seems to be more the rule and the distinction of a good school.

The sixth round generated mixed feelings after I broke my own principles to calculate seriously in endgames. I drew finally, but only after I could have won quickly and subsequently could as quickly have lost. Pawn endgames require accurate calculation and rarely draw.

Ke5 would have easily won the pawn race (White´s g vs Black´s b) respectively the subsequent queen endgame because White queens with check after having drawn the Black king to a8 and can exchange queens; my Kd5??? draws with difficulties.

As a punishment for my stupidity, in the 7th round I was paired against a 300 points higher opponent and lost, though only after I had given him a fright in the fifth hour of our game. Alas, loss is loss. The only consolation for now being at minus 2 was that my chances for easier opponents in the last 2 rounds had improved considerably.

Thus, in the penultimate round I was paired against a lower-rated lady from Austria. In the opening, the lady saved her queen with a pawn sacrifice as is demanded in real life at the royal court, though in chess the opposite is sometimes better:

My 14.Ncb5! axb5 15. Nxb5 Qc6 16.Bxd6 won the a-pawn and finally the game. But wait, later at home the computer surprised me with Black´s alternative of a queen sacrifice for 3 minor pieces, starting with 15….Bxg3 16.Nxc7 Bxc7 (computers don´t value old court rules anymore). The engine evaluated this with total equality 0.00, meaning it does not know what to make of the situation, and I might have struggled as well over the board, never having had this material distribution on board.

Dear me, the win catapulted me back into the higher pairing section and I again got an opponent 250 points above me, and this with Black, not a good basis for the last round. But the young player was apparently tired after 8 days of chess, or because the last round started in the morning, and he early on made a mistake which I was able to exploit to get a lasting structural advantage and finally bring a full point home.

So, with a little luck in the end, I had achieved my target of a 50% score, and thanks to the strong opponents an increase by 37 ELO points. First price was shared by 2 Ukrainian GMs with 7.5 points, Vitaliy Bernadskiy and Pavel Eljanov, half a point above Gata Kamsky and 10 other GMs. Of the other players mentioned in my text, best was the chess artist with 5.5 points, half a point above her husband GM. The chess teacher was at 4.5, my young tiger-supported opponent of the first round at 3.5 and the sole English player at 3. By the way, no German in the top-ten which shows the strength of the international participation.

Appetite? Mark it in your calendar: The 24th OIBM will take place 31.10.-8.11.2020: www.schach-tegernsee.de

Or already in spring next year a similar 9-day Open International tournament with GM participation close to Munich: Bad Wörishofen 6.-14.3.2020: www.chessorg.de

If you want to start sooner, on a smaller scale over a weekend and closer to London, there is the Bunratty International Chess Festival (Ireland) where sound Hammer representation is guaranteed, 21.-23.2.2020: www.bunrattychess.com

And if you like to see or buy paintings of FM Maria Yugina: go to www.yugina.com or instagram: mariya_yugina, or contact her PR manager on facebook: mihail marin or email: mihailmarin21@gmail.com

Christof

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