Croatian Chess Cup 2018 – Highlights

THE VENUE, PARTICIPANTS AND REGULATIONS

Less than a month after the finish of the Croatian Chess Championship 2018, from 15th-20th May 2018, another chess tournament involving creme de la creme of the Croatian Chess was held – Croatian Chess Cup 2018.

For the third consecutive year, Croatian Cup Final was held on the island Mali Lošinj, much to the joy of the participants. In the previous edition's report, I have already written about the natural beauties surrounding the venue and about the great number of entertaining possibilities available to the guests off-the-board.

This year, the tournament itself was held in the very same hotel Aurora it was held the year before. The participants were accommodated in the neighboring Vespera hotel, which is also quite glamorous and luxurious four-star hotel. The food, the rooms, the service and the amicability of the staff were on the highest level and I can hardly imagine anyone having any serious complaints regarding the accommodation and the conditions.

Hotels Vespera and Aurora next to each other (Photo Source: https://www.hrvaska.net/large/panorama_5047.jpg)

Hotel Vespera from the outside (Photo Source: http://www.smokvina.hr/common/a6/s/7355/Hotel-VESPERA-Mali-Lo%C5%A1inj.jpg)

The 27th edition of this prestige competition assembled a total of 28 teams. Apart from the „amateur“ teams who gained the right to participate via a number of qualification tournament, the participation of the clubs from the 1A and 1B Croatian Chess League was mandatory – in case of refusal, they would be severely fined.

This obligation toward best Croatian chess teams, combined with the fact first three teams got decent monetary prizes (18 000 kn, 12 000 kn and 6 000 kn, 1 € ~ 7.5 kn) guaranteed that the line-up is going to be incredibly strong. And indeed, the starting list consisted of over 60 titled players, out of which there were 18 Grandmasters.

Out of these mighty 18, one name stood out in particular. The legendary Ukrainian grandmaster Vassily Ivanchuk himself appeared as the first seed of the tournament. Naturally, yours truly didn't miss the opportunity to take a photo with his personal idol:

One of the most brilliant, most talented, lovable, funny, humorous, good looking and slightly socially inept lone chess geniuses ever. And Vassily Ivanchuk!

The tournament itself was held as a 6-round team Swiss. The time control was 90 minutes for 39 moves with additional 30 minutes on move 40 + 30 seconds increment starting from move 1.

In any case, Croatian Chess Cup 2018 turned out to be a true chess holiday. In this highlights report, we will focus on the key games and the most important moments of the tournament, with the customary flavor of subjectivity and our own personal experience.

(Most of the photos are taken from the official website of the Croatian Chess Federation)

BLUNDERS AND UPSETS

Whenever a huge number of games between players with huge disproportions in rating is played in a single event, upsets are inevitable.

Also, whenever a huge number of games between any sort of players is played in a single event, blunders are bound to happen.

Amazingly, quite often, blunders and upsets go hand in hand. In this tournament, there was a number of instances of stronger player blundering a game in one or two moves.

Alas, sometimes the upsets were "more genuine" and the "weaker" player simply went on to outplay his rating superior. We give the overview of the most shocking games/moments below.

(It is curious that the majority of upsets happened in the first few rounds of the tournament).

A first-round upset on the third board - 2100 player beats a strong International Master in fantastic style.

A blunder by strong Bosnian Grandmaster in uncomfortable, but defensible position.

Stylish win against one of the participants of the recently concluded Croatian Chess Championship 2018. 

In the second round, Vassily Ivanchuk joined the action, but even he fell victim to the "first games are difficult" syndrome. Although I am usually quite sad when Chucky blunders, this time I was happy because it meant my good friend Leon Livaić scored the biggest win of his entire life:

A 2400 player fails to spot an incredibly difficult tactic and loses on the spot instead.

A crude oversight by a Serbian Grandmaster Pikula.

Finally, one in reverse. A weaker player "falters" in a completely winning position against a strong opponent and allows him to escape.

THE COURSE OF THE TOURNAMENT

Even before the tournament, two teams distinguished themselves as clear favourites.

The defending champion ŠK Zagreb once again brought heavy artillery. Their line-up consisted of 6 (!) GMs:

  • GM Vassily Ivanchuk
  • GM Zdenko Kožul
  • GM Hrvoje Stević
  • GM Mladen Palac
  • GM Alojzije Janković
  • GM Robert Zelčić

Their main competitors, Šk Liburnija, Rijeka, were no less „scary“ and „impressive“ on paper:

  • GM Ivan Šarić
  • GM Robert Markuš
  • GM Davorin Kuljašević
  • IM Jadranko Plenča
  • GM Ognjen Jovanić

There were other teams who hoped of surprising the leading duo, such as Mornar, Split (two Grandmasters on first two boards),  Sljeme, Agroproteinka (two Grandmasters on first two boards) and Petar Sedlar Pepe (with four 2400 players. Remember this name, it will come up many times later in the course of this article).

Despite all the individual upsets, the favorites managed to get out of the first two rounds unscratched. In the third round, first heavyweight clashes happened on the board. Zagreb managed to prevail over Agroproteinka Sljeme with a minimal score 2.5-1.5 thanks to Ivanchuk's win against Jovanović (analyzed in the next part of the article). Liburnija also scored a narrow win, thanks to GM Davorin Kuljašević's win over IM Julijan Plenča on board three:

After convincing victories in round four, the culmination of the entire tournament happened in round five - the clash of the leaders.

On board one, the game between two top players of the event happened. Vassily Ivanchuk had to face the current European and Croatian Champion with the White pieces:

This game predetermined the outcome of the entire match. In the end, Alojzije Janković also beat Jadranko Plenča on board four, and the fate of the tournament was decided. With a draw "to-order" in the last round, Zagreb won yet another title.

OTHER BEAUTIFUL GAMES

Apart from the games important for the outcome of the tournament mentioned above, there was a number of beautiful games played throughout the tournament whose impact was not that significant in terms of results. Although it is impossible to cover them all, a  couple of beauties deserved to be included in this report.

The runner-up of the recently concluded Croatian Championship 2018, Zoran Jovanović, played the following miniature in the 2nd round:

Alas, in the very next round, Jovanović ran into angry Vassily Ivanchuk, who was searching for a "victim" after his blunder against Leon mentioned above.

And a victim did he find. This game is simply staggering – such a simple and convincing victory against one of Croatia's strongest grandmasters:

In the last round, German grandmaster Michael Jan Sprenger beat the reigning European Champion Ivan Šarić with the Black pieces in a beautiful game:

ŠK POLET BUŠEVEC?

Just like a year before, my team Polet Buševec qualified via a very dramatic qualification tournament, in which the winner was only decided in the very last game of the event. After surviving such a scare, we were naturally all thrilled and excited and couldn't wait to go to Lošinj and battle against the vast choice of food, the sun, overflow of enjoyment and all other difficulties typical for an average vacation.

I hate it when I go to the seaside in May and I can't swim in the Adriatic because it's too cold and raining and I am a girly wuss, so I have to use the inner jacuzzi instead.

The composition of the team was slightly different than in the previous year. Our former top board and the strong FM Marko Makaj isn't part of the team anymore. Also, my former roommate Bruno Kos was unavailable to participate and bother… I mean… entertain me with his Foxy Video early in the morning.

This meant I went from being the youngest one in the team to being the second oldest player. It added some responsibility to my play, responsibility which I gloriously managed to justify (the details will be given below).

The age difference didn't affect the team spirit in any way, though. I don't remember when was the last time I felt so good, so relaxed and when I had so much fun as during my stay on Lošinj. In between chess games we joked, we played a lot of high-quality Bela (card game) and we played some tennis. If it weren't for the catastrophic start to the tournament (0.5/3) which kinda ruined my mood during the first two days, the overall evaluation would have been a straight A.

As for the over-the-board matters, we were the 14th seed (out of 28 teams) which meant this time we got an easy 1st round pairings – New Gradiskain team Strmac, the last seed of the tournament.

After that „easy“ win (not without its ups and downs), our second round encounter against the very strong team Petar Sedlar Pepe, consisting of four 2400 players, virtually turned out to be the critical encounter of the entire tournament.

Before the round, we cherished some hope of surprising our more experienced opponents. Our first board Filip Pavić was first to finish – he drew against GM Bogdan Lalić with ease. Then his brother Jakov on the fourth board, who had a marvelous tournament (5.5/6) crushed famous IM Srdjan Šale with the Black pieces in a beautiful game:

We took the lead in the match and on the remaining two boards we had very good positions. I even missed a clear win in the early stages of my game against Robert Lončar, but I still retained a slightly better position.

Unfortunately, at the critical moment, I started playing too hastily and missed an elementary tactic after which my position collapsed like a house of cards. Still, I wasn't yet desperate, since my colleague Filip Radenić had a winning position in his game against IM Zdenko Plenković:

Naturally, after this dramatic encounter, the paths of the teams involved diverged greatly. Petar Sedlar Pepe team proceeded to have a tournament of their lives and ultimately ended in the third place.

We, on the other hand, lost our third round match as well, with once again both me and Filip losing on the second and the third board.

Alas, that was not the end of the bad run. The fourth round followed a familiar scenario – Jakov crushing the weaker opposition on the fourth board, Filip Pavić holding his ground against a stronger opponent on board one and me and Filip Radenić playing in 1.5-0.5 situation.

Filip played probably the best game of the entire tournament and managed to outwit his opponent in an extremely complicated tactical encounter. Unfortunately, just as he was preparing to transition into a superior endgame, he blundered a piece out of the blue:

In the meantime, I had a winning position in my game against a 2050 player Mladen Kurečić. But, for the umpteenth time in my career, I managed to display my „brilliant“ conversion technique and to only draw this game. With a great feeling of shame and regret, I've decided to include the whole game in his article:

After this setback, our hopes of an outstanding result were completely dashed. Nevertheless, we continued to fight and give our best and amazingly, managed to salvage a tournament in the last two rounds.

First, we scored a minimal victory against Šk Dubrovnik in the fifth round. Surprisingly, Radenić and I amended ourselves with important victories on boards two and three.

Then, in the last round, another dramatic match against Pula followed. Once again we face dan objectively stronger opponent. Nevertheless, Radenić was the first to draw his game against IM Miroslav Žufić with ease. Then Jakov got down to business and won his game. Since I had a winning position against FM Ivan Vihor Cohar Krsnik, it seemed our victory is inevitable.

Alas, once again I managed to spoil the game and even to fight for a draw in the end. Unfortunately, Filip couldn't survive against GM Ferčec on board one and the match ended in a draw, 2-2.

Thus, with the +2-2=2 result, we ended right where we started – in the 14th place. Judging by the positions we obtained during the tournament, there is no doubt we could have placed much higher.

Alas, as dr. Tarrasch once insightfully observed:

It is not enough to be a good player. You must also play well.

In any case, I would like to thank my teammates, but also other people like Sten Boban, Lovro Čupić, Sven Tica, Leon Livaić, among others, for making this Cup so entertaining and memorable.

Hopefully, we'll see each other in the next edition as well.

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