Playing Hall. Photo Dujiu Yang
It has to be some sort of mastery for FIDE to once again choose an odd site for such an important event. Odd I say, because the Georgian resort town of Batumi was a pretty and welcoming on one hand, but has no nearby airport, which makes traveling there quite an adventure – especially if you come from far!
The US team (save for yours truly and 2 others) chose the 'lesser evil detour' that involved getting to JFK airport in NY city, flying 10 hours to Istanbul, Turkey and taking a domestic flight to Trabzon (still in Turkey!) for an overnight stay. Then the next day a brisk bus ride of 4+ hours to the tournament venue - Quite a trip indeed! But wait, before you say wow, here is how us 3 poor souls made it back home: Coach Armen Ambartsoumian and under 18 rep Tatev Abrahamyan (who were in the World Junior in Yerevan, Armenia just before this event) and this writer who visited them, took an amazingly slow 16 hour bus ride back from Batumi to Yerevan. Then, the next morning we flew to London (5.5 hours) and then back to the US – 7.5 hour to NY for me, 10 to LA for Tatev and Armen. Beat that! The things we do for chess…
Anyways, back to the event: our delegation stayed at the fancy 5 star Intourist Palace hotel in Batumi, which was quite nice as far as rooms and service. Again, before you start thinking how those events are so luxurious allow me to tell you the following, which will come as a complete surprise even to many kids and parents who were on our delegation: One the second day to our stay, I had a visitor in my room. That may not seem like a news item except that the visitor was a real live, full size scorpion! After 'checkmating' it I knew no one would believe this, so I brought it to the reception as evidence. Needless to say t hat this was spared from our players, for obvious reasons.
On we go to the chess: I must say that the tournament was organized and run in professional fashion. The tournament staff, headed by former women's world candidate WGM Nana Alexandria did a fantastic job. Pairings were always on time, round times were adhered to, and any and all disputes were resolved in exemplary manner. The playing venue itself, 3 separate buildings in a basketball arena that looked somewhat disheveled from the outside, was quite spacious and well lit. Every delegation was allowed a number of passes to the balcony bleachers above to watch the games. Sadly, the usual (justified?) paranoia of coaches and parents offering illegal help to their players, further limited the access to the entire balcony, and so many games could be seen only from some distance.
Our team performed well, with almost everyone scoring above 50%. This result is even better when one takes into consideration that for most this has been their first visit to this distinguished event. The combination of a remote and hard to get to venue, with the political tensions between Russia and the Georgian republic, meant quite a few cancellations for our team and many of our top youngsters staying home. In youth competitions one never really knows, but realistically we thought that the 3 kids with the best chance for a medal were Pan American medallists Tatev Abrahamyan, Ray Robson and Alisa Melekhina. Tatev started with by now her usual 4/4 but then disaster struck: in a better position (and after declining a draw) against one of her biggest rivals in round 5, she went wrong in time trouble and lost. That loss affected her play in round 6 and she lost this one too. Perhaps fatigue from the very demanding schedule and opposition of the World Junior she played in just before Batumi was just too much. Ray, similarly to last year was playing on top boards all through the event, and was again playing for a medal in the last round got a better position after the opening, but a few bad decisions left him in an inferior ending. He might have held it but realizing that a loss or a draw would leave him without a medal he decided to take the risk to play for more, but lost at the end.
Alisa started with a win, but only score 1.5 more points in the next five rounds. Just when this event looked like something to forget she went on a winning frenzy, winning all of her last games! I actually told her after round 6 that she will finish with at least 7 points, and she didn't believe me! Then after winning 2 games the topic came up again and when I reminded her of my prediction, she asked me 'why not 7.5?'! We agreed that this was a fair score, considering the start.
There were other surprising results. Eve Zhurbinsky had 6/8 and was winning in round 9 (which could have meant very realistic chances to place), but missing her chances in round 10 too kept her out of contention. Two other mention worthy scores were Christian Tanaka's 7/11 at the always fierce Boys under 14 and Atuylla Shetty's fine début with 6.5/11 in boys under 10. Michael Khodarkovsky headed the delegation, with Armen Ambartsoumian, John Fedorowicz and myself as the other coaches. As usual, each of us took up some of the kids for personal preparation before the games (or solving some opening problems if the opponent did not have any games in the database). As the playing site was 5-10 minutes drive from the hotel, one or more of us went to the hall, just in case any problems arise while the others held up post game analysis session in the lobby. The atmosphere and team spirit were quite high with everyone getting along well.
Two quick logistical issues worth mentioning: the transportation to and from the hotel was well organized and prompt (much contrary to last year's Belfort fiasco), but it took some heavy duty complaining to get the food to decent standards. Michael and I were quite displeased to find an empty buffet one night when we returned from the site, but that was remedied quickly the next day. I guess the hotel general manager thought that being dragged by the owner from his home once was convincing enough…
Photo Gallery by Dujiu Yang
Searching for seashells by the Black Sea.
Hotel in Batumi
The event was a very good experience for our young talents. Many are expected to play again next year (some in the same age section as this year), and the combination of the expected progress along with experience gained this time should mean good news for our team. Our thanks go to the USCF and the chess trust for their continuous support. Special thanks go to Jerry Nash, our scholastic director for his help coordinating the trip.