On Nov. 30, five World Champions were crowned. Most people’s attention was focused on New York, where Magnus Carlsen retained the undisputed title by beating Sergey Karjakin after nearly three intense weeks of competition.
But thousands of miles away, and a few hours earlier, in Mariánské Lázně in the Czech Republic, four other players had wrapped up World Championships in senior divisions. Giorgi Bagaturov of Georgia won the over-50 title; Anatoly Vaisser of France won the over-65 division on tiebreaks (his fourth World Senior Championship); Tatiana Bogumil of Russia won the over-50 title for women; and Nona Gaprindashvili of Georgia (who was the overall Women’s World Champion from 1962 to 1978) easily won the over-65 division for women (for the third time in a row and fifth overall).
There were a record 470 entries from 50 countries in the competition, including 22 grandmasters, 44 international masters and many masters. Though there were also many lower-rated players, that was a bit misleading. Many of the untitled players had once been rated over 2200 and had even represented their countries in Olympiads, so on any given day they can still play very strongly.
Age is the only qualification to enter and many of the competitors, particularly those in the over-65 groups, had come partly for a holiday and to meet old friends. One player was born in 1929 and a special presentation was made to Mihail Davydov of Germany (born 1933) who was competing in his 22nd successive World Seniors.
Each tournament was 11 rounds, with the exception of the women’s over-65, which with only 18 entries, was cut to nine rounds. (Andrzej Filipowicz of Poland, the chief arbiter, explained that with only 18 participants it was not possible to have eleven rounds “in good shape.”) In 2014 the two women’s tournaments had been combined to prevent this happening. This year, some women preferred to play in the open tournaments and there is certainly a case that in future the women’s championships should not be separate tournaments – though the norms for women and separate prizes should of course be kept.
The most closely contested section ended up being the over-65 open, in which five players tied for first with 8.5 points apiece. With more than 250 players in the section, such a result was not really a surprise. Aside from Vaisser, the other four tying for first were, in order of finish based on their tiebreakers, Vlastimil Jansa of the Czech Republic; Evgeny Sveshnikov of Russia; Vladimir Zhelnin of Russia; and Clemens Werner of Germany.
Four players finished with 8 points, including, in order of finish, Boris Maryasin, of Israel, Craig Pritchett of Scotland, Nils-Gustaf Renman of Sweden, and Vladimir Okhotnik of France.
Okhotnik, the 2015 World Senior Champion over 65, was fortunate to do so well as he should have lost a game that he ultimately won in Round 3 against Philip Giulian of Scotland. The game had an extraordinary finish.
A clever escape by Okhotnik but he later lost two games and fell out of contention.
In the women’s over-65 division, Gaprindashvili’s only serious rival was Elena Fatalibekova, a Russian women’s grandmaster, who had won the women’s senior title three times in the previous decade (when it was an over-50 tournament). In Round 4, they played each other, with Fatalibekova having White. She was unable to obtain any advantage against Gaprindashvili’s Owen’s Defense (1. e4 b6) and agreed to a draw after 17 moves. After that, Gaprindashvili outscored Fatalibekova the rest of the way and Fatalibekova had to settle for second place.
Bogumil was the surprising winner in the women’s over-50 division as she was the ninth seed at the start and only a woman FIDE master. That is no longer true as one bonus for winning the championship is that she earned the women’s grandmaster title.
The following win by Bogumil in Round 8 against Elvira Berend, the top seed from Luxembourg, turned out to be critical as they ended up tied for first, with the first tiebreaker being their head-to-head record.
In the over-50 championship, Bagaturov trailed the first week after a loss to Henrik Danielsen of Iceland in Round 4 and a draw against an untitled Frenchman rated 2245. But Bagaturov won his last six games, finishing with a score of 9.5 points, a point clear of Alexander Reprintsev of Ukraine and Zurab Sturua of Georgia, who placed second and third respectively. Bagaturov, with Black, eliminated England’s Keith Arkell from contention in Round 9, before decisive wins in the last two rounds against Nikolai Vlassov of Russia in Round 10 and then Reprintsev.
The following really was the crunch game of the tournament. A draw would probably have meant first place and the grandmaster title for Reprintsev, so Bagaturov needed to win with Black.
Though Vlassov came up a bit short, finishing fifth on tiebreak, he did beat Danielsen with an opportunistic attack in Round 5. This game was Vlassov’s fifth consecutive win to start the tournament:
My own tournament was much more satisfying than in 2015 when I had nine draws. Though I was disappointed not to equal my 2014 score, I faced more titled opponents this time and had the better of a draw with an Israeli international master. In the game below I obtained revenge against a FIDE Master who had beaten me in the World Team Championship in July, in a game with some interesting points and a nice finish.
At the closing ceremony, Vaisser said the championships were “fantastically well organized, particularly by comparison with last year in Italy.” Regular competitors in these competitions fully agreed with him and the Italians, who are due to host next year’s championships in the same venue as 2015, will now have to raise their game to a whole new level if they want to match this year’s event.
Dr. Timothy Harding, who has a PhD in history from Trinity College Dublin, is a senior international master of correspondence chess who has written many books on the game. His most recent, “Joseph Henry Blackburne: A Chess Biography,” published by McFarland, has received favorable critical reviews.
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