European Blitz and Rapid Championships

After a couple days off desperately writing my Chesspublishing update and annotating a couple of games for Chessbase I headed to Warsaw for the annual European Blitz and Rapid Championships. This year David Howell, Loz Cooper and Malcolm Armstrong also played which made it more of a social event than last year.

The trip started smoothly enough but then there were a couple of glitches including paying for our taxi twice and then getting hopelessly lost trying to find the Polish Chess Office (that turned out to be in a small building next to a big football stadium). However they were successfully navigated and we found ourselves in the Old Town for a very pleasant dinner. I think Malcolm and David were rather jealous of mine and Loz’s soup which came in a hollowed out piece of bread. As a lover of bread this was a great starter for me but I started struggling by the main course and was happy not to join the others for dessert. However Malcolm and David had their main course of a Polish stew in bread too, must be a speciality of the restaurant.

As it wasn’t too cold we decided to try and walk off some of the huge amounts of bread. It was a bit further than we thought and we weren’t even sure of the exact location of our hotel but managed it after just a couple of detours. Then to bed for a very early start to the chess.

The blitz came first and we were roused far too early to get the shuttle to the venue. The venue was definitely a step up from last year and was held in the very grand Palace of Culture and Science . The tournament was 13 double rounds of three minutes plus a two seconds increment per move, an extremely intense tournament!

I was fairly happy with my performance. I lost just one mini-match (1.5-0.5 in the last round to Alexander Riazantsev, a Russian 2710) and played three other 2700s, Judit Polgar, Etienne Bacrot and top seed Ian Nepomniachtchi, drawing each match 1-1. I finished in 18th place, slightly above my seeding of 20th. You can check out the standings here:

After 26 games we needed some relaxation. David decided to go straight back to the hotel and sleep but the rest of us grabbed some Polish beer (at an Italian restaurant!) before eating at Sphinx, a steakhouse type place that was pretty good. We arrived back at the hotel 11ish and I just had to quickly complete one of my annotations, send that off and then sleep before an even earlier start the following day.

For some reason the shuttle insisted on leaving at 8.15am for a 9.30 start, despite the fact it was less than a 10minute drive away. The fact that I was still mostly asleep can be proven by the way I played my first round. After a few moves of Chinese Dragon theory I moved my knight the wrong way. Luckily I managed to salvage my position with a questionable double pawn sacrifice followed up by an exchange sack and finally a couple of knights to mate.

The rest of that day went by around par for me. I managed to avoid losing but ceded three draws to players a couple hundred points and so was on 6.5/8 at the end of the first day. David was up on 7/8. After losing his round three game he’d come right back and even managed to defeat Judit with Black in the last round of the day. This tournament is all about stamina: towards the end of the day I witnessed many horrific blunders by strong players who were obviously simply too exhausted.

Malcolm had been scouting the area and had found the typical Irish bar and so we adjourned there for a couple pints before dinner. A live Polish band were there, playing covers of American songs such as Eye of the Tiger and it was extremely noisy! We found another steakhouse kind of place for dinner, this time a Brazilian themed one. I had their speciality ribs which was delicious but I wonder now if that was the root of my upcoming problems.

The Sunday morning was another very early start. I discovered my body wasn’t in top physical shape when it refused any breakfast. I made myself a sandwich but that simply ended up following me, sitting by my board all day. My stomach was disliking me and after eight toilet breaks within the first three games I was feeling pretty rough. A headache came to join the party and I knew it wasn’t going to be my year.

I lost the first game to a Russian GM but then managed to win a couple in a row. In the penultimate round I was paired with the local GM Robert Kempinski. I quite liked my chances but unfortunately blundered a whole rook. The last round was played in sheer agony but somehow my opponent, a young Armenian GM, failed to beat me from a wonderful position. A dash back to the hotel, where the taxi driver, evidently seeing my pain, ripped me off hugely, and then to sleep and to recover.

I finished on 9/13 and in 37th spot while David managed 9.5 and squeezed into the prizes in25th. Final standings

Despite the unpleasant final day I enjoyed my time in Warsaw and would like to thank the organisers for a well organised tournament and for putting up with lots of questions! Thanks too for the lunches we were invited to during the events, which were held inside the Palace in a rather grand side room. I highly recommend the tournament if you feel you want to get your fill of quick chess. A warning though: it will leave you exhausted!



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