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Russian Rapid Chess Championship-2013: Impressions of a Tourist

User Rating: / 13
Written by Administrator   
Saturday, 25 May 2013
Reported by Candidate Master Peter Zhdanov, Editor of

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In the middle of May Natalia Pogonina and I decided to fit into the skin of chess tourists and travel to Russian Rapid Chess Championship in Saint Petersburg. Like one can infer from the pompous title of the tournament, only high-rated chess players (2600+ FIDE for men, 2400+ for women) were invited, as well as "dark horses" - the qualifiers from the regional events.

We took a train from Saratov to Moscow and then an express train from Moscow to Saint Petersburg. I would like to confess right away that I fell in love with the cultural capital of Russia from the very first sight. Every building is a monument that keeps a magical particle of history within itself. The passerbies are more friendly and talkative than in Moscow. For example, we arrived at the city when it was raining heavily. Nevertheless, a smiling lady was kind enough to spend a few minutes explaining to us how to get the hotel. Later on a couple helped us out (we took the wrong turn) and showed us where the building is! Also, there seem to be more tourists in SP than guest workers. The citizens have enough common sense to form two columns on the escalators in the subway instead of standing in just one row during peak hours (like they do in Moscow).


The participants were accommodated in a hotel with a name that speaks for itself - "Saint Petersburg". It is located near the legendary Avrora ship. A seasoned grandmaster rushed out of the elevator and mumbled disappointedly: "I've been here ages ago, everything is still the same". Indeed, the entourage was rather modest. The doors reminded me of cheap wooden panels used as desks in some of the schools. There was just one restaurant in the entire hotel. The Internet worked well only in the lobby, while in the rooms it either kept disconnecting over and over again, or wasn't available at all. Nonetheless, I can't say that we were feeling uncomfortable. Moreover, the head of the hotel charmed us with a welcome speech and mentioned that he is also a chess player and a vice-president of the local chess federation. Later on we saw him at the smorgasbord in the restaurant, which has even increased our sympathies for him.


Natalia has been to Saint Petersburg 8 times or so, while I was a newcomer. Each day we tried to spend as much time as possible sightseeing and generally enjoying the city. There are lots of tourists in SP, especially Germans. Their choice is easy to understand and appreciate. I won't elaborate on the tourist part of our trip, but an extensive photo gallery should compensate for it. Please check it out!


43 players took part in the men's event and 28 in the women's section. The lineup war predictably impressive, while the results turned out to be truly sensational. 5 rounds have been played on Day 1 and 4 - on Day 2. In the "men's" hall one could wander from one board to another and try to guess the moves of the chess legends. Here is a typical Petersburg duel: Khalifman vs. Vitiugov. A tough struggle. The ex-World Chess Champion seems to be on the ropes: it is hard to withstand the attack of the young 2700+ GM. White is hanging on, both rooks are on the second rank, desperately trying to save the monarch. However, after a cold-blooded defense Alexander comes on top and trades into an endgame being a pawn up. He exchanges another pair of rooks in his opponent's severe time trouble and is looking quite confident: a bishop vs. knight, two pawns on different sides of the board against one. Victory? No, the game ended in a draw...


It is interesting to watch players of different leagues collide. Underestimating the opponent is risky: just take a look at the distinguished GM Evgeny Alekseev (who has recently shared 1st place at European Chess Championship) lose to a chess player whose name I have forgotten or even never known (shame on me!). Sometimes one could spot IMs on the top-10 tables, which reminds us that rapid chess is very different from classical. Unfortunately, most of the competitors decided not to write down the moves. Many exciting games have perished as a result - you will never see them. From time to time there was so much action going around that I had a hard time choosing which match-ups to watch!


To address a topic which is quite popular nowadays - dress code - I would have to say that I haven't seen any outright violations of the code. Of course, depending on the age, style and financial status, the players have chosen different outfits. Some of the participants were sporting stylish jeans and elegant coats, while others opted for slippers and t-shirts. The girls were elegant, as always. No criticism for them. However...When we visited the central office of the Russian Chess Federation in Moscow, we were told that a couple of days ago there was a TV show about fashionable women in chess. One of them has allegedly claimed that she "likes to wear sexy outfits during tournaments". I have nothing against it. On the contrary, I support this approach. My experience of communcating with fans of chess and women's beauty from all over the world shows that intellect is a great force. Some female chess players don't need revealing bras, mini-skirts and high heels to look attractive. At one point I have caught myself staring at one of the girls who played in the tournament. I had a cup of coffee in my hand, so it was spilling on the floor smoothly and slowly, Matrix-style...


I decided not to spectate the women's games in order to avoid worrying. On one exception I tried to peek into the hall and check out how Natalia is doing, but the arbiter instantly charged at me and started waving his hands. I am not sure what happened, but I guess both the opponents were in time trouble, so the man decided to prevent me from distracting the players and/or giving an advice to the reigning Russian women's chess champion

During his congratulatory speech at the Closing Ceremony, vice-Head of the Russian Chess Federation Evgeny Bareev made a Freudian slip and didn't even correct himself by saying that the title of a Russian Chess Champion in classical chess doesn't offer any special privileges at the moment. Then he added that he will be lobbying the idea of including the rapid chess champions into the national chess team. In my opinion, rapid and blitz (btw, why was there no blitz event this year?) are great in terms of entertainment value for the players and the spectators, but it's not clear how they relate to the hierarchy in classical chess. Maybe in the future, if rapid chess becomes popular and prestigious, there indeed will be a need to form a national "quickie" chess team?

Left to right: Alexei Dreev (silver), Vladimir Fedoseev (bronze), Mikhail Panarin (gold)

A special remark about the prize fund which, according to Evgeny Bareev, will be increased next year. I strongly believe that professional chess players should participate only in the events where an adequate financial compensation for their work is offered. Hence, I support the decision of the prevailing majority of the top Russian players - they didn't show up for the championship. Like I have mentioned already, we didn't even review the information about the prizes, because our main goal was to visit Saint Petersburg together. Unfortunately, when I checked out the Regulations after the end of the tournament, my darkest forefeelings were fulfilled. In the men's section only 10 players received prizes, while only 7 rewards were allocated for women. The prizes were ridiculously low for a rapid championship of the world's strongest chess country. The first men's prize was about $1,600 and the women's prize - about $1,300.

Left to right: Valentina Gunina (gold), Daria Pustovoitova (silver), Anastacia Bodnaruk (bronze)

I vividly imagined the following picture. A grandmaster is coming home and telling his friends that he became a Russian rapid chess champion. They are not interested in chess itself, so they ask him the evergreen question: "So, you are a champ now, and probably a wealthy person, right?". The GM blushes and says: "I've made 50 000 rubles (about $1,600). This is my largest prize so far". After this confession any rational-minded person will instantly make a mental note: "Never consider chess as a professional occupation for my children".

One of the female participants (rated about 2400), who shared 5th-9th places and didn't receive a reward due to a bad tie-break score, lamented: "Wish they had shared the prizes. I would have at least made about 5000 ($160)". After such words I felt sad and hurt. Talented, intelligent and smart people are dedicating their life to the Game, yet some of them are struggling. I believe that the leading chess players of our country deserve a better fate.

To finish the report on a positive note, I would like to say that the tournament was held in a friendly and merry environment. No foul play, no complaints and appeals, no attempts to intimidate the opponents. The chess players were enjoying their stay in SP and spending the time with their friends and fans. Smiles, support, democracy- these words describe the atmosphere best. I would love to visit Saint Petersburg again one day and stay there for a longer time.

Final standings

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Comments (3)
1. Written by This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it on 09:01 26 2013 .
An excellent journey report. Why no mention at all about your son?
2. Written by Peter on 09:17 26 2013 .
Thank you. He didn't travel with us.
3. Written by This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it on 12:15 27 2013 .
A well written article, makes me want to visit St. Petersberg and glad that you both had a nice, well-deserved vacation.

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Last Updated ( Sunday, 26 May 2013 )
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