11 September 2020

Record-breaking Lift of Quarantine

Dmitry Kryakvin’s report about the Igor Kurnosov Memorial

In September, dozens of Russian chess players were finally able to play a game over the board! To hold the Igor Kurnosov memorial, Maxim Shusharin and his team needed to comply with all Rospotrebnadzor and FIDE requirements: body temperature checks, mask wearing, bringing COVID-19 test certificates, and a half-hour break between rounds for disinfection procedures. One of the requirements was keeping social distance between tables – which explains only 190 instead of last year’s 260 people. On the other hand, more than 50 GMs is quite a testament to the tournament’s prestige! Among them were fresh Olympic Champions Vladislav Artemiev, Andrey Esipenko, Alexey Sarana, Valentina Gunina, Polina Shuvalova, and the Russian champion Olga Girya; two-time winner of the Grand Prix RAPID finals Pavel Ponkratov; Russian champions for the Medny Vsadnik team Vladimir Fedoseev, Nikita Vitiugov, Maxim Matlakov, Alexander Shimanov, and Alexey Goganov; the Russian Cup winner Sanan Sjugirov; winners of the Russian Championship Higher League Alexander Predke, and Elena Tomilova; the 2014 Russian champion Igor Lysyj; the Gibraltar triumphant David Paravyan, and dozens of other famous chess players – 50 grandmasters all in all! Can you recall anything similar happening in any of the Russian Cup stages?

They put glass partitions between players with small openings in the partition’s lower part to reach the opponent’s part of the board to make moves. The cost of a single partition is 2000 rubles. Maxim Shusharin has purchased as many as 150 such partitions, let alone the reception of players with Arbat and Meridian luxury hotels, and a hefty prize fund. After all, this love and respect for chess and chess players does not come cheap, especially in the pandemic era. Many thanks to Maxim Shusharin for this tournament, which is followed by the Alexander Panchenko Memorials. I hope that many more events will follow suit of this first robin!

Besides well-known players, talented youngsters have flocked to Chelyabinsk as well. Maxim Shusharin managed to let in children and several honored veterans to participate, which, of course, was one of organizers’ paramount achievements.

I met Yuri Balashov at the airport. Do you know that Nikita Mikhalkov’s TRITE studio is shooting the film titled World Champion dedicated to the confrontation between Anatoly Karpov and Viktor Korchnoi? With half a billion budget, the film features a stellar cast. Balashov told me that a young actor visited him who will play the role of Balashov as of the year 1978. He doesn't even remotely look like me, but his approach was professional. He was getting into the character and asked many questions about Baguio. What will come of the film? I would very much like to go to the premiere together with the renowned grandmaster and listen to his opinion. Yuri Balashov is a modest man, and he rarely talks about those epic times when the Cold War was waged on the chessboard. Experts agree on one thing: young chess players will definitely like the movie, and the viewpoint of older players will largely depend on whether Konstantin Khabensky succeeds in the role of Viktor Korchnoi.

The main condition for entering the tournament was the negative COVID-19 test. To pass the test is not so simple as many regions still have the virus raging, and if you come to take the cheapest test that costs 1500 rubles, you would usually hear a suspicious cough in the queue. I took an express test in Sheremetyevo with the results given out within an hour. It is more expensive, but much faster. Gosh, to raise the salary to some doctors it took a nightmare of the pandemic magnitude. What does it take to increase the salary to schoolteachers, I wonder?

The tournament saw many interesting events. Having longed for real wooden chess pieces, players showed creativity and lack of fear. Mikhail Kryukov being the tournament arbiter, everything went smoothly. One episode has branded on my memory, though.

N. Matinian - A. Sarana


In trying to defend the classical position, Nikita has resorted to a variety of defensive stances. However, David Paravyan told me that some time ago, Sarana had thoroughly studied this imbalanced position with Mikhail Kobalia at the FSR training camp (back then RCF). And moreover, he then challenged Kobalia in a match of 20 games, playing 10 for one and 10 for the other side. When Nikita was busy building the Cochrane position, Sarana would recall one of his games forced against Kobalia. When Nikita switched to rearranging his pieces for the opposition method, Sarana's memory would challenge him with something else… And now the Moscow GM managed to box in the opponent's king, and checkmate is inevitable, but... the 50-move rule comes to the forefront! Here Matinian suddenly stopped the clock and shook his opponent's hand. Kryukov came up and asked, "What is the result?” Sarana responds, "My opponent seems to have resigned!” Here Nikita started objecting, "What about the 50-move rule?” Here the opponents and the arbiter started sorting things out as to why Matinian had stopped the clock and had not claimed a draw as per the rules? As Kryukov noted later, the Saratov chess player had recently returned from the army, and the arbiter treated the incident with understanding. As per the rules, this situation is a draw anyway.

Sarana was obviously upset after the game, but then pulled himself together and showed his high class by finishing right behind the winners. Nikita also fought to the last bullet, but went down to Dmitry Kokarev in the last round.

The tournament’s main sensation was the performance of GM Mikhail Demidov of Moscow. 

The tournament favorite and its last year's winner Vladislav Artemiev finished second. The third place is with Alexander Rakhmanov. By the way, it was Rakhmanov that Igor Kurnosov had defeated in what happened to be the last game of his life and thanks to this victory he had finished first in a major open tournament. Andrey Esipenko and Olga Badelko triumphed among junior players. Valentina Gunina was the best among women, and the first prize among local participants is with Yaroslav Remizov. Galina Strutinskaia and the die-hard Evgeny Sveshnikov were second to none among veteran players.

At the closing ceremony, Igor Kurnosov's parents awarded the winner with a commemorative prize, and prize-takers thanked the organizers and honored the late grandmaster's memory with kind words. After the ceremony, a small delegation of chess players went to the cemetery to Igor's grave. It was a pleasure to share the company of Nikita Vitiugov, Boris Savchenko and Igor's friend Alexander Bakin, thanks to whom we recalled many details from junior tournaments and opens in which Kurnosov had participated. Memories fade with time, and here they all came back at once about how Kurnosov had had a clash with cheater while wearing a turban and how he himself was approached at the Aeroflot Open by Shakhriyar Mamedyarov to sort things out, about the post-game verbal contest with Viktor Lvovich Korchnoi, about Igor's sense of humor and his attitude to Pavel Ponkratov's fundamental approach to the opening preparation, about how Savchenko had lectured us about superficial grasp of knight endings, about collaboration with Alexander Panchenko, about how girls kept stealing promising looks at the gifted chess player, about his ability to win decisive games and his friendship with Denis Khismatullin, Alexander Riazantsev, and Igor Lysyj.

Igor Kurnosov tragically perished at the age of 28 at the peak of his rating of nearly 2700. His wedding was to take place soon. It has been seven years, but the pain is still fresh, and tears come welling to my eyes. Igor, you are in our hearts, and we will visit you without fail!

Photos by Natalia Lastochkina