ESCC: Live chess!

Towards the end of the tournament, Liza could be seen sporting a T-shirt with the words “Eat. Sleep. Chess.” But that does not mean it was a harsh regime. Liza’s view was summed up in the words for the last day’s report for the ECF website: “The routine we got in to – breakfast, preparation, coaching, rest, lunch, preparation, rest, game, dinner, rest and sleep – was so easy to follow and it wasn’t tiring.”

The end of the tournament involved a change to the schedule, since the last round (round 9) was due to start at 10.00am. With round 8 at the usual 4.00pm slot, this meant that by the time the pairings were published there was less time to prepare for the opponents in the final round. As well as potentially less sleep.

Wearing England shirts

Round 8 saw Zoe once again on the live boards against one of the stronger Russian players. The game was fairly level throughout, although interestingly in the post-game analysis it was clear that Zoe had seen much better moves for her opponent than were played!

After a long game, with both players tired, a draw was agreed when Zoe played some accurate moves in the rook and pawn end game to gain a small advantage as White.

Marianne and Liza were out earlier, both unfortunately losing their games. It was fairly late that Zoe got to bed after analysing the game and just getting to the dining room in time for dinner.

The hotel breakfast room was packed on the final morning, with everyone needing to get going earlier in order to make the 10.00am round start. Liza and Zoe shared the same coach (Neil McDonald) and Liza had chosen the earliest slot, 7.00am! Zoe also somehow managed to get up to take over Neil’s time at 7.40am. Marianne’s coach had arranged things a little differently. She had an hour long session, shared with Asha Jina, which made it a fun session as they worked off each other.

In this final round, Zoe was playing for a medal place (i.e. to be one of the top 6 in her section). A win would guarantee a place, a draw probably, but a loss was unlikely to do so, although theoretically possible if one of the other games went against the run of the previous results in the tournament.

Liza was the first out, achieving a longed-for win to finish the tournament with. Marianne had a much longer round, playing against highest seed among the U15 girls. Marianne eventually lost, but she had managed to hold on for another 40 moves after dropping a piece to a clever fork in the early stages of the middle game.

Zoe was out not much later than Liza, before Marianne. She had been playing a tough game on the live boards again. We have a father and daughter agreement that I do not watch Zoe’s games when she is playing “live.”

However, I had an indication of the impending finish just before the 3-hour mark when I received a text message from a friend who was watching. The message stated “In general she has played very well today but … oh no, that b4 move was so rash!”

Indeed, the “that b4 move” did turn out to be the turning point in the game which she lost. In the analysis room afterwards, Zoe’s coach did find a way to get some tricky counter-play at a later critical part of the game a few moves before she finally resigned. However, it took maybe 15 minutes of looking and by that stage of the game, the girls only had a few minutes each left on the clock.

We were still in the analysis room a little later when Zoe suddenly whooped for joy and gave me a big hug. The unthinkable had happened – there was a surprise result from a game between two Turks in the U15 girls section, which meant that Zoe was sixth place.

Zoe collects a medal

Going up to the stage to collect a medal was one of the highlights of the whole experience for Zoe, although the book prize could have been better chosen – “Chess Tactics for Beginners” with mostly one-move mates is hardly appropriate for this level of competition!

ESCC: Not Overdoing It

With their round 6 encounter now behind them, Zoe and Marianne prepared together before the next round. Just as on a chess board, it is often important not to overpush but instead to consolidate. Hence all the families were careful not to overdo it. After lunch Zoe simply relaxed reading, listening to some music and did some tidying up. Marianne spent her time not overdoing it by watching the football, and listening to music.

I will let Liza recount her relaxing experience in her own eloquent words.


“Yesterday after a great coaching session we went up through the old city to get a break and some lovely photos of the sea views. We found a staircase leading through a cluster of beautiful flowering acacia trees down to the sea. The water there was amazingly clear but we were put off the idea of swimming by the colony of sea urchins which dwelled there. (However we are planning to go back there after we’ve bought some water shoes.) We spent a while sitting there in the sun on the slabs of rock trying to catch crabs and shrimps, however sadly all of our attempts failed and we decided to go back to the hotel for lunch and to do some more preparation.”

The games generally went well for the girls, except at the end for Marianne, who was the last out. Marianne found it hard to break through in a tight position, and then blundered because of time pressure, which was a shame as the game was heading towards a draw against an opponent who had previously beaten Zoe.

Zoe’s round 7 game went off the prepared line fairly quickly, but a tactical win of a piece in an already stronger position allowed her to win relatively quickly and easily. Elizaveta had a complicated game, in which she played with accurate judgement of the position bearing in mind her opponent’s playing style, enabling her to generate a strong attack using her central pawns.

I personally enjoyed sitting in on Liza’s after-game analysis with the coach as well as Zoe’s, learning a lot myself in the process. Bearing in mind that the games did not finish very late, it seemed strange that we were a bit later for dinner than the last few days, but that was due to the complications that we were examining in Liza’s game.

After dinner, Zoe and I joined Katherine Shepherd and her dad and most of the younger coaches to explore the old town at night. Quite an experience, with amazing views from the castle, atmospheric narrow winding streets, old ruins and lots of cats including at least one litter of kittens.


Although we got to bed a bit later than intended, that would have been fine. Except for the football.

No-one could be in any doubt that Greece had won a key match in the World Cup at around 1am local time. The cacophony of bibbing horns, over-revved motorbike engines, loud music, drumming, raucous cheers, fireworks, etc, continued for more than half an hour as people paraded up and down the streets around the town.

Hopefully all the players were able to get back to sleep and it will not unduly affect their performance in round 8.

ESCC: Team Spirit at the European Schools Chess Championships

First of all my apologies for the delayed posting after round 5. That is because it was my turn on Saturday to compile the main report for the whole team, and then Sunday was a very busy rest day for me as well as the players!


One of the good things about playing as part of a team is that you can rejoice in other team members’ successes even when you don’t do so well yourself. That was certainly the case for Zoe after round 5.

While Zoe’s opponent had not played as strongly as her WFM title would have suggested, Zoe over-pushed for a win and in doing so got into a difficult position. Her announcement after the game that she blundered a rook was a little misleading, since the loss of the rook simply led to a quick death rather than a torturous one.

Marianne had not been looking at all well at lunch time, but at dinner was back to her normal bright self. The transformation that a good, and well deserved, win can make! Zoe was able to rejoice in Marianne’s victory as well.

It wasn’t so easy for Elizaveta to celebrate the point from her game for England, though, because she was up against one of the other England juniors, Carmel Barwick, and the manner of her loss was very disheartening. Everybody was getting tired after round 5, looking forward to the rest day. This showed in some of the games, including Liza’s where she mistakenly lifted up the wrong piece. That led to the loss of her queen in an otherwise won position.

The round 6 draw includes Zoe versus Marianne, which is not such a happy event for either of them. Drawing lines were considered, but instead they will grit their teeth, play their best and hopefully enjoy the analysis together after the match, whatever the result.

ESCC: Another Magic Day for Zoe at the European Schools Chess Championships

Someone commented to me in an email that the reference to Magic seemed a little incongruous in yesterday’s blog. Read on to the end today and hopefully it will make some sense.

After Zoe’s successes over the first few days, she’d moved up to board 2, and so appeared in the live boards in a game vs the top seed, her highest-rated opponent to date in a serious game. I made an agreement with Zoe not to watch the on-line progress, but I know some of you were following her progress.

Her opponent avoided the main preparation from the morning, but Zoe had a surprise response up her sleeve which seemed to do the trick and so with some solid play Zoe gained a significant advantage in the opening. However, despite Zoe being a pawn up, her opponent played well to ensure that the game was heading for a draw, and as soon as the 40-move limit was up, a draw offer was made and accepted.

Marianne and Liza had already finished. Liza had been able to bounce back from her disappointment in round 3 to move on to 2/4, but unfortunately success was still eluding Marianne. The round start time had been moved forward to 3pm to avoid a potentially distracting air display in the town this weekend, so with the relatively quick games (<4 hours) all the girls were back at the analysis room in time to celebrate (their team mate) Asha Jina’s birthday and watch some of the display.

Ice cream lovers will be aware of the Magnum choc-ice on a stick. Well, in Greece this is known as a Magic and there are many variations of it on sale.


Zoe has been rewarded with one each time she wins (or draws against a high-rated player). Hence the first win earned a Classic Magic, the second (on 2 points) a Double Choc and this draw (playing as White) a White Magic. I wonder how far through the selection she will get by the end of this tournament?

ESCC: A Magic Cure

If someone had told me, before the tournament, that having a heart surgeon among the England entourage would be important for the girls’ performance, I probably would have laughed. But it may have made the difference between a win and a loss today for Zoe. Let me explain.

I mentioned in an earlier blog entry that Zoe and Liza had a late-night swim after round 1. What I did not mention was that Zoe claimed to have stepped on something sharp and that there was something crab-like “grabbing hold of her” when she was in the water. As her dad, I dismissed this simply as Zoe’s very active imagination. When, later, her foot swelled up slightly and became painful, I assumed that this was due to an allergic reaction to a mosquito bite.

Follow the link to see what it really was.

Sea Urchin

Anyone coming to Kavala would be advised to read and heed this advice.

Zoe’s foot was getting increasingly painful to the point where she could not walk on it and it would have distracted her from her chess. So something had to be done about it.

This is where the Magic cure comes in. We were very grateful for the presence of Ping Yang, one of the chess parents, who is a skilled micro-surgeon. Her skills were ideal for extracting the broken piece of spine from Zoe’s foot (and, indeed, from the foot of one of the England coaches who was suffering in the same way).

Zoe was now able to concentrate on the game and produce a solid win as Black. While Marianne and Liza did not face the same physical pain, they had quite painful losses over the board. Hopefully they will both be recovered emotionally for round 4.

ESCC: The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Chess Parent

The tournament received more entrants than was anticipated, so has been split over two venues.

The sections that involve the Cumnor and Witney girls (U13 girls and U15 girls) are held in the more picturesque of the two, the local archaeological museum.

In the first round all 3 girls played in a rather stuffy room on the first floor, but for the second round Zoe was playing in the main area, while the U13s and lower U15 boards were moved to an airier upstairs mezzanine.


The three Oxfordshire chess parents have been running a rota system to wait outside the venue for our children to finish. Today the rota for the first 3 shifts was Andrew, Elena and Bram. The players finished in the same order as in round 1, but the gap between them was quite different.

Liza was first at around 6:15pm, just on the swap over between the second and third shifts. She had unleashed the power of the Grand Prix Attack on her opponent, who spent an hour pondering her response to a key attacking move. A good win!

Next to emerge was Marianne, at some time after 7pm, with her first points of the tournament. She was very pleased to have drawn, although this was tempered a little when she discovered that she could have won.

Marianne was pleased to get away from the venue, however. While the playing conditions were much better, she found the presence of a poster next to her table referencing Nazi war atrocities quite off-putting during the game.

That was the third shift over, and Andrew was left to wait for Zoe in the fourth and final shift.

As the sun went down and the mosquitoes came out, so did many of the players. The first time control came and went. But Zoe and her opponent were still in deep concentration.

Waiting for a further two hours for the game to finish – this is the loneliness of the long-distance chess parent!

To be honest, it was not all alone; David Shepherd, 16-year-old Katherine’s dad is far more used to this than I am and was indeed there even after Zoe and I left in the middle of a thunderstorm to get back before the dinner hall closed at 10pm.

After going through the (unfortunately lost) game with her coach, it was time for Zoe to go straight to bed.

ESCC: Flying the flag at the European Schools Chess Championships

Yes, the Varneys and Sheremetyevas did travel with BA to get here, but that’s not what I’m referring to.

Yesterday (17th June) the girls received their England shirts and badges after the introductory team meeting and it was time to bring the England flags and balloons out.

Here it is appropriate to mention the official ECF website link and England juniors Twitter feed for the tournament. There’s a particularly relevant photo of Zoe, Elizaveta and Marianne getting to grips with a St George (flag, not opening) together with their team mate, Asha Jina.

Zoe had predicted that she would be playing Marianne in the first round because they were the only two unrated players in the U15 girls section and it appeared to be the way things were done previously. Fortunately, however, that was not the case.

When the draw was finally published at around 12:30, we saw that Marianne had Black against the 5th seed while Zoe was White against the 6th seed.

In the U13 girls section, Liza was in the top half of the draw, so facing a lower-rated opponent. With lunch, a team meeting and photos to fit in between getting onto the website with the draw and setting off for the venue for the first time, that left almost no time to prepare against the individual opponents.

Liza was first to finish, and was quite upset to have lost to a lower-rated player, only really cheering up after a late-night trip to the beach with Zoe.

Marianne followed soon after, around the 3 hour mark, having lost due to a miscalculated combination.

It was literally just a few minutes later still that Zoe came out of the venue with a big grin. In the words of her coach, quoted on the ECF website report (see link above) she “generated a sparkling attack that culminated in a win of her opponent’s Queen.”

ESCC: Pre-match preparation for the European Schools Chess Championships

The first round starts today at 4pm local time, which is 2 hours ahead of UK time.

Preparation until today for Zoe has mostly been simply settling in to the new environment and resting.

Zoe and Elizaveta (Liza) travelled together to Kavala on Sunday 15th which has given us all a day to recover and relax.

This was a good idea, since an earlyish flight meant a 3am start and we had to wait over 2 hours for the transfer from the airport (which itself was a 2 hour journey).

Liza and Zoe at the airport
Liza and Zoe at the airport

Meanwhile, Marianne, travelling a day later ‘only’ had a 4:30 am start with an uneventful flight to Thessaloniki Airport. However, there was a mix-up over the arrival time which meant they missed the taxi, but two hours later they were on a bus with a large Russian contingent.

The hotel is close enough to the venue, the food more than palatable (excellent breakfast!) and the sea nice and warm, although a 15-minute walk away to the beach.

Today things stepped up a gear, though, when Zoe met with her coach for the first time. We will not see the first-round draw until 12 noon, so it was simply a time to get introduced and to look a few moves deeper in one of the openings that Zoe already plays. Liza shares the same coach as Zoe, so it is not surprising that the format was the same, but Marianne’s was also similar, just enough to get the “chess brain working”.

ESCC: Zoe in Kavala

Zoe Varney is playing in the U15 girls section of the European Schools Chess Championships over the next two weeks here in Kavala, Greece. It is the first time she has played for England and she is very excited and nervous.

I intend to blog on her progress regularly, and probably also for Marianne Hauer and Elizaveta Sheremetyeva from Witney Chess Club. Having three Oxfordshire girls playing for England in this tournament is a great achievement.