Croatian Chess Cup 2017
A couple of days after the Croatian Chess Championship 2017 has finished, another prestigious Croatian chess event took place. The final of the Croatian Chess Cup 2017 was a team event in which 25 teams competed for the title of the Croatian Cup Champion... and 18 000 kn first prize (around 2500 euros).
Naturally, the existence of monetary prizes usually leads to participation of the strong players who own an official FIDE title. Croatian Chess Cup 2017 was no exception, as it gathered a total number of 22 Grandmasters, 20 International Masters and 20 Fide Masters.
Of course, apart from a number of titled players, there was also a number of weaker players who don't get the opportunity to participate in such events that often.
The author of these lines had the privilege to belong to this group. In this article, I will take a look at the key chess moments of the tournament, but also try to express my own thoughts and feelings about a chess event of such a calibre.
(All photos are taken from the official website of the Croatian Chess Federation, from the official website of the Lošinj Hotels and from the private collection of Stella Seissel, who very graciously let me use them in this report. Thank you very much, Stella!)
Croatian Chess Cup was held from 9th to 15th May 2017 on the relatively lesser known, but very beautiful Croatian Island, Mali Lošinj.
The venue of play was the four-star Aurora Hotel, located in island's capital city that bears the same name as the whole island (Mali Lošinj city).
It is impossible not to include a little advertising of the Croatian touristic gems at this point.
Hotel Aurora was definitely one of the best hotels I have ever stayed at. This hotel has it all. Comfortable rooms with TVs and minibars, the vicinity of the sea, inner and outer swimming pools, saunas, perfectly polite personnel and last, but not the least, fantastic choice and quality of food.
The surrounding nature is also beautiful. Hotel Aurora is located in the so-called "Sunny" cove and there is a beautiful 25 min walk down the coast to the nearby "Čikat" cove.
Even without the chess tournament, Mali Lošinj is well worth visiting. Although the official tourist season hasn't started yet, there was a significant number of German visitors.
The sea was probably too cold for regular swimming, but their number proved that peace and serenity are sufficient for an enjoyable vacation.
Okay, after this commercial break, it is time to take a look at the chess part of the whole story.
Regulations and participants
Croatian Chess Cup is the elite team event played on four boards. The tournament was held under Swiss regulations and lasted 6 rounds. The tempo of play was 1 hour and 30 minutes + 30 seconds for first 40 moves, with additional 30 minutes added after move 40.
Teams competing in the highest divisions of the Croatian leagues (1A and 1B leagues) gain the right to participate automatically. Most titled players play for these teams and Croatian Chess Cup is the unique opportunity for chess amateurs/enthusiasts to play against Grandmasters and International Masters.
Or to kibitz their games from the close vicinity.
The remainder of the teams not competing in the 1A or 1B league have the opportunity to qualify via several qualification tournaments held over different Croatian geographical regions.
Course of the tournament - key games and moments
The main pre-tournaments favourites were certainly the strongest teams in the 1A league - Zagreb, Zagreb and Liburnija, Rijeka. Both teams have four 2500+ players, a luxury in Croatian Chess these days.
Apart from them, Solin-Cemex, Solin and Mornar, Split also brought very strong lineups, with strong players on all four boards. Not having a "lamb for slaughter" on one of the boards when the match is played on only four is a very important factor.
However, after the expected course of events and wins by favourites in the 1st round of the tournament, already in the 2nd round Solin-Cemex suffered a major setback, drawing against the Stridon, Štrigova.
The outcome of the match was largely determined by the surprising win of the president of the Croatian Chess Federation, Roland Tomašić, against the legendary Croatian Grandmaster Vlatko Kovačević (who even beat Fischer in the past).
Nevertheless, for the remainder of the favourites, the first two rounds represented an easy cruise.
Only in the round three did the heavyweights meet on the high boards and started exchanging blows.
The first seed, Zagreb, Zagreb barely beat Rijeka, Rijeka, 2.5 - 1.5.
True, the final result suggests it was a much closer match than it actually was.
However, this loss turned out to be irrelevant for the final result, especially because this game was played when the result was already 2.5-0.5 in Zagreb's favour.
Hrvoje Stević gained a fantastic victory on the first board against the newly crowned Croatian Champion Marin Bosiočić.
Not a bad revenge for the missed opportunity that cost him the title of the Croatian Champion (cf. Croatian Chess Championship 2017 report).
After three rounds, only Zagreb, Zagreb and Liburnija, Rijeka scored the perfect 100%. Thus, their encounter in the 4th round was excitedly awaited and very important for the final tournament standings.
And what an encounter it was. After relatively quiet draws on boards one and four, Serbian Grandmaster Robert Markus managed to gain a decisive attack after a time trouble blunder by the Grandmaster Mladen Palac.
With the score standing at 2-1 in Liburnija's favour and Zdenko Kozul once again overstepping the mark and remaining a piece down in his game against Grandmaster Ognjen Jovanić, everything seemed gloomy for Zagreb.
However, in chess everything is possible, and Kozul managed to swindle Jovanić, get his piece back, and win on time in equal position.
The peaceful end to this encounter meant that everything will be decided in the last two rounds.
In the 5th round, both teams were pretty convincing. Liburnija won 3-1 against Vinkovci, Vinkovci, and Zagreb 3.5-1.5 against Solin-Cemex, Solin.
Therefore, round six turned out to be crucial for the outcome of the tournament. Zagreb, Zagreb was playing another strong team, Mornar, Split. Mornar (2 GMs, 1 IM and 1 FM) were 4th at that moment and very much wanted to take Zagreb by surprise.
And, boy, they did that in style.
The games on the first and the fourth board were drawn, and everything once again depended on Zdenko Kozul, who was playing Bosnian Grandmaster Šarić Ibro.
However, this time, there was no swindle.
This meant that Liburnija wins the first place if they manage to win their match against Sljeme-Agroproteinka, Sesvete.
With this win, Liburnija, Rijeka ensured the first place. The heroes of the last round, Mornar, Split, were awarded the second place, whereas Zagreb, Zagreb had to be satisfied with only the third place.
Other interesting games and moments
Apart from the games crucial for the outcome of the tournament, there was also a number of fantastic games that weren't as relevant for the final standings.
Ante Brkić also produced a fighting draw together with the aforementioned Croatian Champion, Marin Bosiočić.
His teammate, Fide Master Josip Stočko, played probably the best game of the tournament. In his game against Grandmaster Dejan Pikula he finished the game in style by sacrificing his most valuable piece.
This event also saw the youngest Croatian International Master and my good friend Leon Livaić compete against strong Croatian Grandmasters for the first time since he captured the IM title.
Unfortunately, this time he didn't fare that well, as he lost two games.
Although he is colloquially known as the best-prepared player in Croatia, this time he became a victim of yet another brilliant piece of preparation by the young Grandmaster Saša Martinović (readers might remember his 25 move win with Black against Ivan Šarić from the Croatian Championship).
Still, even when not in his best form, Leon finished on 50 percent and lost only 5 rating points.
A couple of blunders
Naturally, every chess event features some big mistakes. We have already written that even world's best players commit big blunders in the moments of tension.
We have singled two major mistakes, made by 2400+ players.
GM Jovanić wasn't the only one who gave aways his pieces for free. In the game between Boris Golubović and Krešimir Podravec, the International master blundered a rook in a move.
Finally, considering I don't have the pleasure of playing in similar events very often, I would like to talk a bit about my own experience on Mali Lošinj.
My club Polet Buševec earned the right to participate by winning the qualification tournament of the Zagreb - area region.We arrived on Mali Lošinj without any major ambitions and with the intention to fully enjoy ourselves.
The 1st round was a perfect possibility for enjoyment. Since we were 13th seed, we were paired with the main favourites of the tournament, Zagreb, Zagreb, a team consisting of four 2500+ grandmasters.
I got the opportunity to play against former European Champion and World Cup finalist, a 2600 grandmaster Zdenko Kozul.
Since this is only my 2nd serious encounter against a player of such a calibre, I will, of course, include this game in this post as well.
Unfortunately, this turned to be our first and only encounter against such a strong team.
After a convincing win in the 2nd round, we suffered a very disappointing loss in the 3rd round, after an unfortunate loss of our 4th board in time trouble, with the result standing at 1.5-1.5.
All in all, we played within the limits of our capabilities and took 14th place in the end.
The final result could have been even better, but I managed to display some of my amazing technique in my last round game against International Master Branko Vujaković.
The finish to that game was described in the daily chess tactics # 50 post.
As a consequence of that miss, our last round match was drawn. Had we won, we would have probably ended somewhere around 6th or 7th place. But as our president often says, "that would be too much for you guys anyway." 😀
Apart from that small disappointment, everything else was perfect. My teammates, although older by age, were immature enough to keep me laughing during our whole stay in Mali Lošinj.
We also took advantages of the swimming pool, went for occasional walks, and of course, were forced to watch Foxy Videos by our fastest improving player, Bruno Kos.
Naturally, we didn't watch them as much as he'd like because we were quite busy with some primitive time wasting activities like sleeping longer than 6 a.m.
Anyway, I had a great time in Mali Lošinj and I would like to thank everyone who contributed to that fact; especially my teammates who endured my reign as the team captain.