GM Josh Friedel on the World Cup: A Long Road to Siberia
By GM Josh Friedel   
November 20, 2009
Josh Friedel, Photo Betsy Dynako
After another mediocre result in Germany (6.5/9), I traveled by train to Switzerland.  I had ten days before the World Cup, and I decided to stay with a family friend in Europe rather than trek back to the States in between.  It was certainly the right decision.  He lives in the tiny village of Sonzier, right off of lake Geneva, and I can honestly say it is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited.  I’m not usually one taken in by the beauty of nature, but when you look out the kitchen window to see the sun setting on snow-capped mountains right over a glistening lake, it is hard to think of anything besides “Wow.” 

Unfortunately, with the World Cup fast approaching, I didn’t have much time to take in the sites.  I spent most of my time prepping in my room, occasionally taking time out to cook or take a short walk.  The cooking was fun, as both my host and I are amateur chefs, though you might say I’m quite a bit more amateurish than he is.  His kitchen had enough pots, pans, and utensils to fill about ten average homes.  I spent as much time deciding on which spatula to use as I did on which openings I’d play.  In any case, it was an excellent way to spend the time between events, and I was even a bit sad when the 18th arrived, and I was off to Russia.

Traveling to a desolate village in the middle of Siberia may sound like a hassle, but in fact it is… well OK it sucks.  The first leg of my journey went easily enough.  I travelled from Zurich to Moscow via Vienna.  After arriving in Moscow is where the fun began.  A couple days previous, I was notified that my flight from Moscow to Khanty-Mansiysk was cancelled.  Luckily, I managed to book a new flight.  Unfortunately, this flight was from a  different airport in Moscow (there are three), so I had four hours to go from Domodedovo Airport to Vnukovo airport.  Sound like enough time?  The bus between airports I thought existed turned out hadn’t been running for two years, but this was unsurprising, as that would have been too easy.  Cabs in Russia are a known hazard, so I took a train to the city, went on the metro for four stops, then waited for another train to take me to Vnukovo.  I managed not to get lost during this process, which was in my mind nothing short of miraculous, but sadly I was still going to be too late!  The woman at the train station told me the next airport train didn’t leave for almost an hour, so I’d only arrive thirty minutes prior to my flight, which wasn’t enough.  Of course, I think that’s what she said, with my limited Russian and her speaking quickly she might have said the next train to the sheep factory didn’t leave for an hour.  Still, I decided to try my luck at Vnukovo airport, maybe they would let me on.

Not only that, the next day’s flights to Khanty-Mansiysk were completely booked.  I was already drafting an email in my mind.  “Dear Organizer-  Sorry, made it to Moscow, but I can’t make it the rest of the way.  – Amerikanetz”  Then I had a thought.  Luckily, at that point I found a guy who spoke a little English, and in a broken mixture of English and Russian I suggested that perhaps they could reroute me through Tyumen, a small city close to Khanty-Mansiysk.  They searched, and sure enough, they were able to book me on a flight through Tyumen arriving in Khanty-Mansiysk the next night.  After that it was a piece of cake.  I just had to find a hotel in Moscow, figure out some weird thing with the luggage, wait several hours in the Tyumen Airport (which as Alex Onischuk aptly put it, is more like a bus stop), do the weird luggage thing again only it is different this time, squeeze in a plane the size of a Ford Pinto, and hope that the organizer arranged for my transportation from the airport in Khanty-Mansiysk.  Somehow all this was managed, and I arrived in my hotel by 11. 

Since I’ve arrived, however, the surprises have all been pleasant ones.  The hotel is quite nice, with very large rooms by European standards, a decent breakfast buffet, and internet access in the rooms.  I went on an expedition this morning, and I managed to find the playing hall on vague directions from Yury Shulman (“you take a right, go until you see this big square, then ask someone.”).  I didn’t actually go inside the hall, but it looked like a nice establishment, and from there I got directions to the “Oktyabr” Cultural Hall, where I got registered and such.

Tonight is the opening ceremony, and the games start tomorrow at 3 PM local time. I've never played my opponent,  Wang, Hao (2708) but I've played in a few of the same tournaments, and we're pretty friendly.  He's pretty sharp and aggressive, more so than most of the other Chinese players, though he's also gotten quite solid as of late.  He has played many openings with both colors, so even guessing the first move will be a challenge.  Wish me luck!

Check out the official World Cup website, coverage on chessdom and American match-ups.

Josh's latest CLO contribution was on playing in Unive Open in Hoogeveen, Netherlands. Also see his official website,