|U.S. Shines at 24th NATO Chess Champs|
|By Colonel David A. Hater, U.S. Army|
|August 21, 2013|
Poland hosted the 24th edition of the NATO Chess Championship at the military resort of Rynia, about 30 miles outside of Warsaw. The organizing committee headed by Colonel Thomasz Malinowski of the Polish Army did a magnificent job in running the tournament. The resort is located on Zegrzyński Reservoir and while chess occupied most of our time, there was still a little bit of time to enjoy the beautiful scenery and stroll along the beach.
Additionally, the organizers set up a beautiful opening and closing ceremony and activities in conjunction with Polish Independence Day on August 15th. The opening ceremony was headlined by the Polish Minister of Defense and the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Polish Armed Forces. After, speeches and introductions, we were treated to a tour of the Polish Armed Forces Military Museum.
The players were invited to VIP access to the Polish Independence Day celebration. From the reviewing stand near the presidential palace, we treated to impressive military displays and a parade while also listening to remarks by the Minister of Defense. The closing ceremony was also extremely well done as players enjoyed a banquet, a musical performance by The Polish Military Ensemble and a Canadian popular singer.
A five-day seven round Swiss, the event is open to all NATO member nations. Players must be employed by their Armed Forces in order to participate. Retired service members are allowed to play in for one year beyond their retirement. Countries may send six player teams with the top four scores from a country determining the team champion. This year’s tournament had 13 countries and 82 players headed by one IM, four FMs and seven players rated over 2200 FIDE. The tournament was also quite balanced as over half the tournament was over 2000 and three quarters of the tournament are all within several hundred rating points of each other.
IM Lorenz Drabke (above) from Germany won the tournament a score of 6/7. Three FMs and one expert scored 5 ½ out of 7. Defending champion FM Fabrice Wantiez from Belgium took silver on tiebreaks while FM Finn Pedersen from Denmark took bronze. FM Mark Helbig from Germany and Michal Bielawski from Poland tied for second, but were not favored by tiebreaks. IM Drabke counts his round 3 encounter as one of his best games of the tournament. In this game he is able to advance with 9. … f5 and the tactical calculations brought him the win.
Germany once again won the team competition. Their 21 points is quite impressive since 28 points would represent all four players positing perfect scores. Germany’s top four players average 5.5 points – the same score as second place! Germany has dominated the championship since its inception winning 19 times. Of the five years, they didn’t win, they were the runner up three times and did not participate once due to budgets. Only once did Germany play and not come away with medals – and in that year (1994) they missed by ½ point! Over the years, they have sent a total of 22 different titled players who have represented Germany a combined 47 times.
By comparison, the U.S. has only sent two titled players in the last 24 years. Emory Tate was a fixture on Air Force teams in the 1980s and FM Pietta Garrett played one year as an Army member. Denmark was the silver medal team with18 ½; points while host country Poland took bronze with 18 points. There was a four way tie for 4th with the U.S., Netherlands France and, all scoring 16 ½. The U.S. was in sight of medals the entire tournament and had we won all are games in round four, we would have tied for the bronze medal. All the players fought hard but having a “perfect” score in the final round was just too big a hurdle.
On an individual level, Master Sergeant (retired) Dan Ranario had the best U.S. score. His score 5 points was only one half point out of the medals and was good to land him in a tie for 6th place. He ended the tournament on a hot streak with 3 ½ out of the last 4 games. The following last round win was his best game of the tournament.
Close behind Dan was Captain Arthur Macaspac (above) tying for 8th place. The highest rated on the team at 2197 USCF, Arthur led the U.S. team for most of the tournament. Only a last round draw kept Arthur from joining Dan at 5-2. Arthur was playing on high boards and contending for medals throughout the tournament.
His 5th round loss was his only loss of the tournament. In a winning position, but in time pressure he lost a piece to a simple tactical trick. The time control of the NATO Championships is 40/2 followed by sudden death 30 with no delay or increment. In sudden death with no increment many players have fallen into traps and unfortunately Arthur was the victim in this instance. Still, he had an impressive tournament scoring 4 ½ with a near 2200 FIDE performance rating. His best game was his round 6 encounter.
Master Sergeant Robert Keough and Chief Petty Officer (select) Albertryan Hernandez both posted even scores of 3 ½ out of 7. Robert lost a tough game against eventual silver medalist FM Finn Pedersen. In a winning position, up a pawn with a better position, Robert erred in forcing a simplification that ultimately benefitted his opponent. Albertryan also played some good chess enroute to an even score. Your writer brought up the rear of the team with 3 out of 7. In 10 NATO Championships, this was my first minus score. I wish I could attribute my mediocre performance to team captain duties, but alas I think I must blame my inferior moves.
In past years, the Department of Defense fully funded the NATO Championships and fully funded service and inter-service Championships to determine the U.S. team. Unfortunately this year, due to the U.S. Government’s budgetary woes, chess was no longer funded. This year’s NATO team came at their own expense on their own time to participate in this tournament. The team was organized with less than 30 days notice and really was a “coalition of the willing.” While we certainly wish we could have placed in the medals (something the U.S. has only done twice in the 24 years), the fact that our last minute “pickup” team was so successful is a testament to my team mates and their willingness to display a fighting spirit over the board.
The tournament was superbly directed by IA Luc Cornet who ensured all things ran smoothly and all rounds start on time. His job was made easier by the mutual respect and camaraderie that all participants showed. There was not a single dispute or appeal in the tournament.