Rest and Resilience – report from European Youth Chess Championships

Going into round 6, at the foremost of Zoe Varney’s mind was the fact that she was the only one in the England team yet to win a game. Consequently she played a little rashly when her opponent was passive with the White pieces. In most tournaments, the rest day would come nearer to the half-way point rather than two thirds of the way through. So tiredness and lack of morale took their toll and she ended up losing.

On Sunday, Zoe was at least a lot more refreshed after a relaxing day away from chess. We avoided the blitz games on Sunday night; instead Zoe enjoyed some friendly games against a much higher rated team-mate, which were quite close and restored some of Zoe’s confidence.

Zoe and Akshaya playing a friendly game
Zoe and Akshaya playing a friendly game

It was just as well that Zoe was rested, because her round 7 game turned out to be the longest yet, lasting close to five hours. Playing White, she had a very small edge out of the opening, but after one inaccuracy suddenly Zoe found herself in a lost position. This time it was Zoe fighting for the draw!

Fortunately she played very well from this point on, looking for counter-threats and being prepared to sacrifice material to maintain rook activity and cut off her opponent’s king. It is true that her opponent made some errors which let Zoe off the hook, but the game showed great resilience in the face of difficulties over the board. Another life lesson and another draw, but this time a great relief rather than a disappointment!

Pavel enjoying a blitz game against Theo
Pavel enjoying a blitz game against Theo

Pavel Asenov’s experience in round 6 was a lot more positive. In fact it was possibly one of those critical moments for him, as he had never had a losing run of four out five games before. Recovering from this took some mental strength. But he managed to pull himself together with clear preparation and a very well executed game plan in which he outplayed his opponent in the middle game.

Consequently Pavel was in a relaxed frame of mind for the rest day, enjoyed the blitz tournament in the evening, and was back in good shape for his round 7 game which he won confidently and convincingly.

Critical moments – report from the European Youth Chess Championships

In life there are many critical moments when everything seems to turn on one decision at that particular instant in time. At other times the critical moment may not turn out to have such far-reaching consequences, but the wrong decision may still lead to some discomfort.

Yesterday (Saturday) was the rest day at the European Youth Chess Championships. Zoe and I spent the afternoon, with some of the other English girls and their parents, watching a spectacular show at the dolphinarium, visiting the decidedly unspectacular aquarium and wandering around an interesting small zoo.

Batumi Dolphinarium
Batumi Dolphinarium

We decided to walk back to the hotel via the beach and ended up getting completely drenched in a 15-minute downpour. The consequences were that we got back to the hotel dripping wet, so had to dry off and change clothes. Probably not life-changing, but a little uncomfortable for a while.

If we had more experience of this region, we may have noticed the indications in the colour of the sky and changes in the wind pattern. Based on this, we may have made a different decision and not faced the discomfort of getting soaked in the rain.

Many chess games can be much like that. A position may appear where some tactic could change the course of the game or at least allow one to avoid some discomfort. It may appear for one instant and then be gone again the next move. That is why practising regularly with tactics puzzles is so important, as it allows one an increased chance of recognising the signs over the board at the critical moment.

Below are positions from Zoe’s fifth and sixth round games. In each position there is a game-changing tactic which was only possible on that one move. Can you spot them?

Z. Varney (1741) vs F. Vangsgaard (1842), EYCC round 5 (Batumi, 23/10/14).


A drawish looking queen and pawn end game, but White to play at this one point (move 49) has a neat tactic which could have changed the course of the game.

M. Volha (1988) vs Z. Varney (1741), EYCC round 6 (Batumi, 24/10/14).


Black was induced into an ill-advised early attack by White’s passive opening play, and White has a raging counter-attack. But now is a critical moment, with Black to move, where a tactical defence could have saved the game.

Castles kingside – report from European Youth Chess Championships

D4Zoe Varney’s round 3 game at the European Youth Chess Championships had resulted in a draw when she unveiled her surprise weapon, 1. d4!?

This was her d4 debut in a competitive over-the-board game, so she was pleased with the result against a higher-rated player. Pavel Asenov had faced a player rated over 2200 and he lost his game.

Round 4 was the first time that both Zoe and Pav lost – i.e. the result was 0-0.

Wiesner vs Varney

Zoe was up against Paula Wiesner, a very experienced German girl who plays 1. e4 and 1. d4 equally well. Zoe decided to play a Queen’s Gambit Accepted if her opponent should choose 1. d4 but the line that they went down was not one that she had prepared in depth with her coach.

She found the best moves for a while, some of them not so obvious (such as 11…Ke7!) but unfortunately blundered with 13…Ba7?? which allowed White a massive attack after 14. b3! and 15. Ba3+. The German girl made very efficient use of her initiative and Zoe suffered her first loss of the tournament.

Karelidze vs Asenov

The opponent Pavel faced as Black in round 4 seemed significantly inferior to him on paper, but he is one of quite a few Georgians in this tournament who are clearly massively under-rated. Pavel had built a significant advantage out of the opening, and skewering his opponent’s rooks won an exchange.

Surprisingly, his opponent chose to make a second exchange sacrifice, at which point Black was objectively winning. If Pavel had activated his rooks quickly and, ideally, cut his opponent’s king off, his superior fire power would have won through. Instead, White ended up with a very active bishop pair and king which were able to support a passed pawn to obtain a superior position.

This game is a very neat lesson on the overriding importance of piece activity in the end game.

A shared experience – report from European Youth Chess Championships

ChessYesterday I said that Pavel Asenov would have “an easier draw for his second round” because he lost in the first round. Of course, “easier” is all relative. There really are no easy games playing at this level.

In fact, I’ve heard the European Youth Chess Championships described as the toughest junior chess tournament of them all, because unlike the World Youth, it does not have a tail of less experienced players from countries where chess is played at not such a high level amongst juniors.

When the results do not go one’s way, it is helpful to celebrate the victories of other players in the team. Although the chess games are played individually, the team work to support each other. I will not be focussing too much on the overall team’s progress in this blog, since you can follow this elsewhere: e.g. on the ECF Juniors web page and via the ECF Juniors Twitter feed.

England team in Batumi
England team in Batumi

In fact, Pavel did win his second round game fairly quickly, having set a few traps for his Russian opponent who eventually missed one of them. Zoe Varney’s game was longer, but she was pleased to draw as Black against her opponent from Belarus. The game finished after 36 moves, very close to the time control. The rules of this tournament specify that no draws may be offered until after Black’s fortieth move. However, a draw by three-fold repetition of a position can still be claimed. This is what Zoe did.

In this case the claim was rejected by the arbiter as incorrect (even though it is clear from Zoe’s score sheet that the claim was legitimate). Unfortunately, the arbiter looked at the wrong initial position, and Zoe was too confused by language barriers to fight her cause. Thus Zoe was penalised with a two minute penalty (added to her opponent’s clock). Fortunately, her opponent’s best move was to repeat the position, and so Zoe was able to claim the draw again the very next move!

Another way in which experiences can be shared at these international tournaments is between coaches and players. We were sat next to John Emms at dinner, and in the context of talking about Zoe’s game, I mentioned an incident in the British this year where Richard Pert made many incorrect draw claims in one game. It turns out that John Emms was his opponent in that game, so we received an interesting first-hand account of what happened, apparently with six separate claims in the one game!

For those who are interested, here is that game:

Small beginnings – report from European Youth Chess Championships

Little could I have imagined, when I started William Fletcher Primary School chess club, that about six years later I would be part of the supporting party for the England junior chess team containing two of the original beginner players at the chess club. But now here I am, sitting in my hotel room in Batumi, Georgia, while they play their second round games at the European Youth Chess Championships.

View from our hotel room

The two players in question are Zoe Varney, playing in the Under 16 Girls section and Pavel Asenov in the Under 14 Open. Since I wrote about Zoe’s experiences in the European Schools Chess Championships in Kavala in June, she has achieved two further chess ambitions, winning the titles of Under 14 “Ultima” at the Delancey UK Chess Challenge Southern Gigafinal in July and Under 15 British Girls Chess Champion at Aberystwyth in August.

Another view from the hotel

Back in 2012, Pavel was a good board 2 player for the William Fletcher Under 11 team, but towards the end of his time at the school he started showing an increased interest in chess. The hard work he has put in during the two years since has enabled his innate talent to shine through, such that he is now in the top five highest rated Under 14 players in England. One recent highlight for Pavel was playing a major part in the Witney second team getting promoted to Division 1 of the Oxfordshire Chess League. He’s now proud to be playing on board 1!

In the first round yesterday, Zoe faced a titled Russian player, who came fourth in the same section in the World Youth Chess Championships last month.

Zoe Varney

Zoe played really well as White, dominating the board for most of the game. After about four hours, as time trouble and tiredness set in, she unfortunately missed some winning chances, then lost her pawn advantage so that the game ended in a draw. Out-rated by more than 300 Elo points, it was not a bad result for Zoe nonetheless!

Meanwhile, Pavel had an even stiffer challenge, against the third seed in his section, an Italian FIDE Master. Pavel started very well against this “Goliath” but eventually, under time pressure, on one of the moves he changed from his original plan and played a slight inaccuracy. Hence in this particular David/Goliath battle it was “Goliath” who won, but this does at least mean that Pavel has an easier draw for his second round.