14 March 2017

Moving to new places and adopting new names

A week of chess in Jurmala in a talk between Vladimir Barsky and Alexei Shirov.

This year a traditional chess festival, held at the popular Baltic resort of Jurmala by Grandmaster Alexei Shirov with the support of a patron Evgeny Ushakov, has adopted a new name and moved to a new location. With the previous tournament dedicated exclusively to the memory of the Latvian grandmaster Vladimir Petrov, this time it was decided to pay tribute to the 8th World Champion Mikhail Tal. Besides, with the city museum of Jurmala, a cozy and nice place, being no longer capable of admitting all participants, the organizers had to look for premises that are more spacious. 

Evgeny Sveshnikov, Nukhim Rashkovsky and Evgeny Ushakov 

According to Alexei Shirov, when accommodating several grandmasters (in particular, Vassily Ivanchuk and Boris Gelfand) at "Jomas Seta" in 2015, he was informed of it being a network hotel, while the network's biggest accommodation facility is "Lielupe Semarah". It was back then that an idea started up with Shirov about moving from the Dzintari to the Lielupe district, which came true two years afterwards. It has own pros and cons, as is the case with any change of location. Dzintari is the heart of Jurmala, known for with its famous pedestrian street Jomas and a host of pleasant cafés and shops; strolling around there is a sheer pleasure. On the other hand, participants used to be scattered over a dozen small hotels, whereas the large hotel allows you to drop in a bar on the ground floor, chat with friends, colleagues, and enjoy some blitz games. Besides, "Lielupe Semarah" features a very decent 25-metre long swimming pool, which comes together with a spa centre (sauna, hammam, Jacuzzi and other life pleasures). 

However, compared to 2015, the hotel is in a much better financial shape nowadays and was less interested in a chess Festival. The owners have invested into a good-quality renovation (which was being finished before our eyes), which has resulted in a marked increase in a number of guests. "Since the hotel had many reservation applications, including those coinciding in time with our Festival, there arose additional problems that had to be addressed separately. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as they say; we ended up on the ninth floor with a spacious terrace that affords a magnificent view of Jurmala. I cannot say I am happy with everything, but the hotel management would accommodate our requests on a number of issues of concern" (A. Shirov). 

Alexei Shirov on the terrace affording a view of the city 

Is there anything else worth adding to the above? The price of accommodation was quite fair; breakfasts and service quality were excellent. Unlike many, not to say the majority of organizers, Alexei Shirov is not after skyrocketing tariffs in a ruthless manner. When the festival was over, the grandmaster was questioning the participants as to whether they preferred the new venue to the old one or vice versa. 

"I am left with the opinion that the participants appreciated the convenience of staying and playing in same location. Moreover, it gives them more time to enjoy the benefits of a spa, pool, etc. The majority of grandmasters have yet to get accustomed to appreciating such aspects. I, for one, have never visited the hotel swimming pool. I should probably rephrase my question from the better or worse assessment to whether one has or has not been to the swimming pool." (A. Shirov). 

To draw more attention to the hotel, the organizers have held a number of other tournaments: one with a GM norm and two with an IM norm, the opens for amateurs, as well as the Shirov Children Cup, which has moved from the sanatorium Jantarny Bereg. 

The Tal Memorial, i.e. mass blitz and rapid tournaments, has justified itself as the only economically rational event. The rest is just a throw-in, which has severely plummeted the organizers into the red. The open for amateurs featured very few players: an idea of spending winter holidays in a good hotel to play chess has not gained popularity yet. However, the Latvian master Nikita Meshkov's having exceeded the GM norm by a whole point tells us that it is not in vain that we have initiated it all. I think Nikita will make his third and last norm within a year's time". (A. Shirov). 

Nikita Meshkov 

The author of these lines arrived in Latvia on Thursday, when Shirov and his longtime pal Loek van Wely were giving a simul for the Shirov Cup participants. Half the simul games had kids playing the white pieces. The grandmasters were after a full-fledged fight in all games, creating themselves as well as giving an opportunity to their young opponents to be creators. Alexei's purpose, however, is not to make money on the Cup bearing his name, but rather to grow up the next generation of players. 

"I'm not completely happy with the old tournament formula and wanted to raise the level of participants by holding a tournament between national teams of different countries. However, I failed to go through with the plan completely. Well, the major performance was delivered by Latvia, Lithuania and Kazakhstan, while other teams' lineups were other than strongest. I do hope that the following Cup is going to be a lot more promising in that respect. 

The sanatorium Jantarny Bereg has for many years had it all set and going, but it is hard to run a Festival in two places simultaneously. In this case, I would have had to transport chess inventory from one place to another after the end of blitz tournament on Friday night and start setting everything up at a new location again. On the other hand, running a festival in Jantarny Bereg is no longer possible due to lack of space. In the end of March Evgeny Ellinovich plans to organize a small chess event in Jantarny Bereg - a match with Nana Gaprindashvili and a tempo tournament. It looks like he is going to make certain amends for my wrongs!" adds Alexei while laughing. 

Shirov keeps a close eye on children's games and studies them. While he talks at length about many kids’ play at the closing ceremony and gives advice, it becomes obvious that this is not a mere formality for him - an outstanding grandmaster is willing to help children by sharing his experience. As for the simul lineup, it has grown in strength: for the first time in many years the grandmasters suffered several defeats, Shirov losing two and Loek van Wely as many as three games. 

Loek van Wely, Natalia Zhukova and Alexei Shirov 

The Shirov Cup closing ceremony is known for its multiple prizes and gifts. All medals bear the following engraving: the Winter Shirov Cup, U10 or U14 group and an indication of prize place - first, second or third. Cups, medals, and gifts are taken care of by Alexei himself, who is known not to spare his time on this aspect. There is no mistaking his being fond of keeping company with children and taking pleasure from it. During our conversation, Shirov thanks the former president of the Latvian Chess Federation, Peters Schmidre, who donated free tickets to children to the aqua park. 

As for the current Chess Federation President Aris Ozolins, even though he came to play in the blitz tournament, he refused to provide any chess equipment this time, unlike what used to be the case in the previous five years. "This is not even an act of sabotage, but rather a petty dirty trick, an absolute disgrace to such an important person," sighs Alexei. This is no big deal, however, since the organizers managed to get chess sets, clocks, and digital boards. Shirov's "misbehavior" resulted in his not receiving one thousand euro, promised to him by one of the Federation sponsors, but Alexei managed to survive this mishap as well. 

The blitz tournament gathered as many as 176 participants - an absolute record for the Jurmala festivals. 

"I was missing from this festival as a chessplayer. As for my winning the blitz tournament, I am completely unaware of how it came about. Here and there, they would blunder a rook or knight to me, which had an unexpected consequence of not only being sufficient to produce a good result, but to take a clear first as well. Day one of the rapid event saw me perform in a more or less satisfactory manner, but rather disgusting on day two. A complete immersion into managerial issues is incompatible with playing chess!  

The rapid event witnesses a very exciting contest for the top place, which I was not a part of, unfortunately. For a long time a brilliant performance was being delivered by the Latvian Grandmaster Arturs Neikšāns, who had shared first in Jurmala last year. Then he lost an important game to Onischuk, but ended up in a clear second nonetheless.  I am happy for Arthur's success since he has had an underwhelming performance as of lately. Meanwhile, I do want to hope that this achievement of his will become an incentive towards further improvements. Arturs is far from having exhausted his potential in chess. 

Mark Glukhovsky and Arturs Neikšāns 

The tournament winner Vladimir Onischuk (the Ukraine) has long since come up big in the rapid chess. He gradually turns into one of the most consistent rapid players. There is no unmentioning of a strong display by Evgeny Sveshnikov: he had a winning position against Neikšāns, and was not bound to go down to Onischuk in round 11. As of lately, Igor Kovalenko's (Latvia) rapid performance has not been overly successful and he owes his good result here only to his powerful finish. I want to mention the Byelorussian grandmaster Aleksej Aleksandrov, who he has noticeably settled in his ways over the past year and, besides exhibiting an exceptionally correct behavior, has demonstrated a strong performance. It will be a pleasure to invite Aleksej for the next year's event, if such is going to take place"(A. Shirov). 

Vladimir Onischuk and Alexei Shirov 

The Festival ended with a handicap tournament, in which grandmasters would give fans a huge head start in time up to 48 seconds vs 11 minutes and 12 seconds. With the thrill of the fight overwhelming everyone, there are no favorites in this situation. However, it was still a grandmaster, Benjamin Bock from Holland, who ended up as a winner. The Festival organization was contributed into by the chess fan Vladimir Shlyakhetsky from Israel by investing a decent amount into the prize fund. 

A. Shirov, 

"My first thoughts in the hot pursuit are such that I am no longer likely to have any normal communication with either the Latvian Chess Federation or the authorities of Jurmala. Therefore, I will largely depend on private sponsors and patrons of art. However, it would be a pity to have such a popular festival cancelled and, therefore, I am ready to look into new ways of getting a financial support and will try to approach new people. I look at this challenge with optimism! 

– What are Shirov's plans as a chess player? 

– This is an interesting topic and I need to give it a serious thinking. Although the recent years have seen me playing with a rating around 2670-2690, it is not really the point. The real point is that I want to demonstrate a good quality chess in those tournaments that I choose to play. I will play in two or even three team championships of different countries in March and in the open tournament in Zürich in April. As far as I see it, Oleg Skvortsov is somewhat upset by my last-moment failure to qualify from the "Nutcracker" into the main event in Zürich and assisted in providing me with reasonable conditions for participating in the open. I will be playing in Reykjavik afterwards. I consider it an important task to somehow restore myself as an athlete. 

Besides, I would like to spend more time in the circumchessic life, writing books and giving lectures. Nowadays I write a book about sacrifice in chess, a kind of remake of the old book by Rudolf Spielmann "The Art of Sacrifice in Chess". I hope to be able to communicate something interesting to both professional and amateur players. 

– Are there going to be many examples from your games? 

– I will, of course, use examples from my practice, but the prime purpose is not to demonstrate my creative achievements. My goal is to show a proper way to evaluate and handle materially unbalanced positions. I will cite whatever example I believe to line up best with the topic at issue. I will, of course, need to take certain examples from own games. 

* * * 

I would like to wrap up by thanking Alexei Shirov and Evgeny Ushakov for a wonderful festival, which gives an opportunity to escape the hustle and bustle of the Moscow city to play chess and relax, get in touch with old acquaintances and enjoy walks along the Baltic seaside. See you next time, Jurmala! 

Pictures by Vladimir Barsky