Tuesday 5th July 2022
A report of this year's event by Charles Higgie.
I was honoured to play top board for Wales Cymru in the Over 50s World Team Tournament in the lovely little ancient city of Acqui Terme in Piedmont, North West Italy, June 16-30 2022.
Why Wales you may ask? I gave up competitive team chess from the birth of my daughter in 1992 to her going to university in 2010. On my return, the first club I played for was Pen-y-Ffordd, a Welsh club, and I duly joined the Welsh Chess Union, and have been a member ever since.
And top board, you may well query. Everyone going paid for their own flights and accommodation, so a lot of players simply didn't have the time or the money to go. Even within the Welsh squad I was not the strongest player. But Wales fielded two teams in the tournament. Five of the players always play together in a side called Wales Silures. Some of these players are stronger than me, some are weaker. The rest of us played for Wales Cymru. I was the strongest of these players. Perhaps I should say at this point that players have a rating which shows how strong they are. Mine is currently 1926. I was one of the weakest top boards in the competition.
There were 23 sides in the tournament. One side each round would have to have a bye. As we were the weakest side on paper, we were given a 4-0 bye in the first round. We were then paired against another team which had won 4-0 in round 1. This was Italy 1. I was black against an Italian Grandmaster Alberto David, rated 2520. I thought I put up a good fight, but I made an error in the late middle game, going for a queen exchange which I thought would help me draw, but it didn't and I lost. The next round we were paired with Scotland. I had white against Master Andrew Burnett. I played the Open Variation against his Sicilian Defence. Queens came off safely this time, on moves 11 and 12. We reached a dead level ending. Move 28 I offered a draw. He declined. Move 37 he made a mistake, similar to Bobby Fischer's mistake in his first game with Boris Spassky in the 1972 World Title Match, where he gave up a bishop for two pawns. Like the Fischer game, it didn't actually lose, but accurate play was needed, and like Fischer, he made a further mistake on move 43, after which his position was lost and he resigned on move 60. It was my first win against a master.
I then lost to International Master David H Cummings of Canada (2329), Fredrick Lindgren of Sweden (2263) and International Master Atle Gronn of Oslo (2361). Then my luck changed again. Round 7 my opponent defaulted as he had caught Covid.
Finally in round 8 I was paired to meet someone in theory weaker than me, John E Hickman of England 4 (1806). Even though I had white, I couldn't beat him and we drew in 26 moves. Computer analysis showed that I had been right to offer the draw, in the sense I had a slightly inferior position at the end.
In the last round, round 9 we were paired with Ireland. I was paired to play black against Ireland's only Grandmaster Alexander Baburin (2404). Studying his games before the match I found that he had a very predictable opening repertoire. I sought the opinion of the strongest player in the Welsh squad, Sven Zeidler (2156) who kindly helped. I planned a Grunfeld-Slav, which duly materialised on the board. Queens came off early again. He attempted a stranglehold on the position, but I was alert, breaking open the queen-side before he could roll forward on king side. I offered a draw after my 24th move. It was declined, although the ending was dead drawn. He then offered a draw after his 27th move, which I immediately accepted, although computer analysis showed that I actually had a very slight edge in the final position. So I gained my first draw against a Grandmaster. My draw with Grandmaster Alexander Baburin has been declared best draw by a Welsh player for June 2022.
I ended up with a tournament rating of 2105, and a overall score of 3 wins, (2 by default), 2 draws and 4 losses.
We ended up 22nd, so perhaps we were not the weakest side after all! Wales Silures finished 12, four places above their seeding of 16. England 1 won it, ahead of USA in 2nd place and Italy 1 in third place.
I put my good form in this tournament down to the fact that unlike usually, I was not captain, not organising anything, and was able to solely concentrate on my chess! I was slightly lucky in that the master I beat because he tried too hard to win a drawn ending, and the grandmaster plays very predictable openings, and I was able to prepare an.opening set up which is fairly drawish.