Italian Club Championships 2012

Hello dear readers,

Don’t worry the game of the month is on its way, but for now I’ll give a brief recap of my most recent tournament – the Italian Club Championships in Arvier, Val d’Aosta. This was my first time playing in the top division, Serie Master, and I made my debut for Chieti. The rules allow each team one foreigner and so the rest of the team was composed of Italians: Carlo d’Amore, Carlos Garcia Palermo (half Italian and half Argentine) Roberto Mograzini, Andrea Stella and Giulio Borgo, who was also our captain. Chieti also had two female teams competing in the Women’s Championships, while Andrea Rebeggiani was captain of one of the female teams and general manager of the whole squad and organised the players in the first place.

View from my hotel window of Arvier

Apparently the schedule had improved this year, last time they squeezed 7 games into 4 days but an extra day still made it a tiring event and not much time for sightseeing, not that that was so much of an issue; Arvier is a pretty place but very small. We were seeded third, behind the mighty Padova with two of the top ten players in the world: Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana and Scavolini, a team with many of Italy’s top young players and spearheaded by Emil Sutovsky.

The first round we played the team from Genova (Genoa in English I believe). Unfortunately for them their top player had not yet arrived and so they had to forfeit the bottom board. I won a wild game against FM Raffaele di Paolo on top board and we ran out comfortable 3-1 winners. The second game was played at an unpleasant 8:45am. With the time control of 90 minutes for 40 moves followed by 15 minutes +30 seconds a move the organisers felt that such an early start was necessary. We played the Trieste team and again managed a comfortable 3-1 victory despite me being ground down on top board by Luka Lenic.

The view into a valley about 200metres from the hotel. In the foreground you can see the vineyards.

The double round day didn’t go well for me. After a long game in the morning I had White against Alberto David playing for a Milan team. I think I had a pleasant position out of the opening but couldn’t really find a way to make progress and ended up blundering a pawn and with it the game. While both my opponents were strong GMs, getting 0/2 from the day was a bit depressing. The team made up somewhat for my poor result again and we drew 2-2.

Thankfully the next day we had only one afternoon round and so I rested as much as I could. We needed it as we were on top board and Padova had brought out their strongest team: Nakamura, Caruana, Michele Godena and Bellini. After my two losses I didn’t want to castle queenside (notated as 0-0-0 if you’re not a chess player) and so vowed just to play my normal stuff. Hikaru surprised me with the O’Kelly Sicilian (1.e4 c5 2..Nf3 a6) and the position soon resembled either a c3 Sicilian or a French Tarrasch. I felt I was in danger of being worse if I let him get his knight to a great outpost in the centre of the board so sacrificed a pawn to cripple his structure and we soon agreed a draw as it was clear neither of us could make any progress. Carlo and Andrea both did well drawing with their higher rated opponents but unfortunately Carlos blundered early in a Berlin against Caruana and so we lost the match 2.5-1.5.

We expected to lose that match and had at least put up a good fight and now the focus was on getting second and an automatic qualification spot – Scavolini had also lost to the top seeds but had won the rest of their games and so we were going to have to beat them. The next day was another double round day and I had Black against Mladen Palac, another 2600 Grandmaster. As we outrated the rest of their team very comfortably I was under team orders to try and get a quick draw – and therefore accepted his draw offer after ten moves when queens were already off the board. We were right to trust my teammates who all won for a 3.5-0.5 victory.

The “sala multiuso” playing hall.

The afternoon round was the crunch match against Scavolini. They had two foreigners in their squad, Mihail Marin (of the Grandmaster 1.c4 repertoire series) and the very strong Israeli GM and President of the ACP (Association of Chess Professionals) Emil Sutovsky. The fact they had two foreigners meant Sutovsky got a rest in the morning and was fresh for the afternoon. The game was a bit of a nightmare, I missed something basic and already after a dozen moves I was completely lost. I felt obliged to sacrifice my queen and a pawn for rook and bishop and managed to get some activity and was close to holding but Emil converted. The final score of 3.5-0.5 wasn’t really fair – on board two Carlos had an extra rook against Sabino Brunello but Brunello kept it tricky and Carlos blundered into mate.

My score of 0.5/4 on the double round days was a bit of a concern but my teammates reassured me that it wasn’t my fault – it was fate. Despite their team always doing well the top board always suffers, they cited Judit Polgar, Fabiano Caruana and Vallejo-Pons, all of whom had scored badly for them which made me feel a bit better! Our job in the final round was to wrap up third place and this we managed with a 3-1 win, me managing to improve my score a little with a win over GM Petar Genov.

According to the regulations the top two teams automatically qualify for Europe with the third being given a place should there be a total of 20GMs playing in the division.  This year there were 19 and so we’re unsure if we’ll be allowed to go but it’s possible that one of the others won’t take up their place in which case it will automatically be deferred to us. The location of the event is also a bit of a cause of concern to our players: at the moment it’s scheduled to be played in Eliat in Israel where there have been some problems recently. We shall see.

The women’s tournament was composed of six teams playing an all-play-all. Our top team won every game and ran out winners for the third time in a row. Congratulations to them! Our other team was an U16 team and they gained valuable experience and got off the scoreboard with a draw in the last round, quite impressive against the other adult teams.

Our female players and Andrea holding the trophy

To conclude I’d like to thank the coordinator and manager Andrea for inviting me to play for the team and making my stay very comfortable. I really enjoyed myself with all my teammates being very friendly and welcoming and the tournament gave me a good chance to practice my Italian, which has been a bit neglected of late. I hope that next time I can get Chieti a few more wins though!