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Tense last round as Italy crash out of the medals

For more information about chess for over-50s, please see our Seniors calendar, and Seniors introduction page.

The ninth and final round decided the 2023 FIDE World Senior Team Championships, which were played in Struga on Lake Ohrid, North Macedonia during October.

You can now download all the games in one PGN file from this website. (TWIC only included the games on live boards.) The organisers are to be congratulated for making available even those games that are being played on non-electronic boards, which is often not the case.

You can find Nigel Povah and Stewart Reuben's report on the British teams (including photographs) on the ECF website.

In this, our final report, we concentrate chiefly on the dramatic events in the 50+ championship which was won by the USA with 15 match points out of a possible 18 with England-1, Iceland and Italy all finishing on 14. A won match was worth two MP and a tied match scored one each.

The 65+ championship finished, much as expected, with the Lasker Club taking gold with 17MP, although their compatriots Germany held them to a 2-2 draw. England won comfortably against the Swiss to secure silver while Slovakia took bronze with a drawn match. Latvia edged out Germany to win the women's title. For more details on the 65+ tournament, see further on.

At least some of the medals in the 50+ championship were always likely to be decided on tiebreak. The important rule was that in the event of equal match points, the greater number of game points took priority over the result of direct play between the teams involved.

This can be seen from Regulation 4 in the tournament conditions and was potentially very important because, going into the last round, Italy and USA were level on match points but Italy were behind by one game point. The Americans therefore knew that if they won their last match (against Poland) by 4-0 the gold was assured, but otherwise the Italians, if they won, needed to score half a point better than USA to be placed first. (If MP and GP were both level then Italy's win over USA in round 7 would be the decider.)

Italy had been leading after beating the Americans but on Thursday they had only drawn their match and the Americans had retaken the lead. The Italians decided to rest their board 4, IM Fabrizio Bellia, who had lost on Thursday and played their reserve, IM Giulio Borgo, in the last round. The other top teams also played their unbeaten reserves.

Going into the last round, Iceland and England probably expected to be fighting for the bronze medal. They were level on match points (one behind the leaders) but Iceland had one game point more than England. The matches England-Iceland and Italy-Iceland had been drawn but England had beaten the Italians.

Most significant, though, was that while Italy faced Montenegro (rating average 2348), and Iceland needed to defeat England-2 (average 2269), England-1 were playing the Chinese women (average 2236).

The USA whitewashed Poland and England matched that against the Chinese, but the other two top matches were much closer. Iceland's Throstur Thorhallsson won by direct mating attack against FM Tony Stebbings of England-2 on board 4 but on top board GM Johann Hjartason was soon close to lost against FM Stephen Dishman while solid play by the English boards 2 and 3 (FMs Andrew P. Lewis and Gary Clark) secured draws.

Though Dishman missed a difficult winning line and ultimately drew his game, this meant Iceland had "only" won by 2.5-1.5 and so England-1 had the higher game point total. It looked likely for a time that this would mean England-1 were third and Iceland fourth.

Ultimately the story of the day was the collapse of Italy whose grandmasters Alberto David and Michele Godena both won fairly comfortably. Italy only needed a draw from boards 3 and 4 and around move 20 they seemed to be winning both games.

Perhaps crucial here was the new competition regulation introduced after last year's Chennai olympiad which states: "The Captain is not entitled to advise the players of his team to make or accept an offer of a draw." (See the October 2022 arbiter manual, page 145). Or maybe draws were offered but the opponents declined?

GM Lexy Ortega, on board 3, missed sveeral opportunities to press his kingside attack until at move 26 he played the disastrous preparatory move on the other wing, 26 a2-a3??, which (accoridng to the engines) immediately turned a winning position to a losing one as it gave Black time to consolidate his position.

Borgo, on board 4, was still a pawn up which was perhaps why he continued to play for a win when it was no longer justified or necessary. Ultimately he landed in a rook and pawn endgame where he immediately went wrong and became very short of time. The Montenegro player missed the simplest winning line but eventually forced mate to tie the match 2-2.

This left three countries tied on 14 match points. England took silver on game point tiebreak, Iceland won bronze and Italy in a disastrous hour went from second to fourth.

The English teams impressively helped each other. While the fact that England-2 took three draws off Iceland enabled England-1 to leapfrog Iceland on game points, the first team's 4-0 in turn opened the door for England Women to retain the female world title. This they managed to do by beating Finland 2.5-1.5 thanks to wins by Natasha Regan and, in a long ending, Ingrid Lauterbach. Her win was needed to take England ahead on game points.

So the Americans have regained the 50+ title they had won twice before. The English teams may be a bit disappointed not to retain the three titles they won last year but to go home with two silvers and a gold is not a bad result. Moreover they had the outstanding individual player of the Congress, Michael Adams finishing on 8/9 for a 2761 performance. He beat four grandmasters with Black.

The best result on board 2 in the 50+ was by American GM Gregory Kaidanov (6.5/8, TPR 2590); second best was GM Trajko Nedev of North Macedonia Alkaloid who scored 5.5/7 including won a brilliant game with Black against GM Jaan Ehlvest.

Best on board 3 by TPR, nevertheless, was Ehlvest (5/7). Igor Novikov on board 4 for USA (6/8) won that board prize and Throstur Thorhallsson had the best result among the reserves (6/8 unbeaten).

The final match points totals for all the 22 teams in the 50+ championship were (in final ranking order) as follows: 15 MP: USA. 14 MP: England-1, Iceland, and Italy. 12 MP: North Macedonia Alkaloid. 10 MP: Canada and Montenegro. 9 MP: England-2, Poland, Slovakia, Uruguay, Wales Silures, England Women, and China ShenZhen Women. 8 MP: Sweden. 7MP: Austria, USA 5 Brothers, and England-3. 6MP: North Macedonia Blind. 5 MP: Finland and Scotland. 1MP: North Macedonia Women.

The 65+ Championship

The Germany Lasker Schachstiftung GK squad were the only team to have three grandmasters and seemed unstoppable until yesterday. Their compatriots Germany held them to a 2-2 draw, thanks to the win on board 2 by FM Clemens Werner against GM Jakob Meister, which was only the second game lost by the team in the whole tournament. GM Knaak won on top board for the Laskers while the other two boards were drawn. This was also only the second game that GM Sergey Kalinitschew had failed to win. (He went wrong on move 38.)

Nevertheless a draw was all the Laskers needed to secure gold because they had beaten England-1 in what was always likely to be the crucial match, back in round 4. Likewise the English were secure in the knowledge that they could not win the event but only needed a draw to secure silver. They duly won 4-0 against SG Riehen of Switzerland.

The fight for the bronze medal was always going to be the main issue in the final round. Slovakia were ahead by 2MP but if they lost to France then they might be overtaken on game points. For a long time the match stood at 1-2 but GM Lubomir Ftacnik was a pawn up in the ending against GM Nikolai Legky and finally brought home the necessary point in 104 moves.

Germany Women had started the round 2MP ahead of Latvia Women (the only other all-female team in this section) but they lost 0-4 to Belgium while the Latvians won against Sweden Skane, the weakest team in the competition, so Latvia finished ahead.

Here are the final match point totals of all the 26 teams in ranking order: 17 MP: Germany Lasker Schachstiftung GK. 16 MP: England-1. 13 MP: Slovakia. 11 MP: Italy, Germany, France, and Israel. 10 MP: Belgium, Netherlands Orange, and Switzerland SG Riehen. 9 MP: Finland-1, North Macedonia, and England-2. 8 MP: Austria-1, Kosovo, Switzerland, Austria Steiermark, Latvia Women, and Germany Women. 7MP: Austria-2, Wales Silures, and Finland-2. 6 MP: Finland Turku. 5 MP: Sweden and Ireland. 2 MP: Sweden Skane.

The highest individual points total in this tournament was by Sergey Kalinitschew with 8/9 which was also the best TPR on board 3 but his top board GM Knaak (with 7/9) had the best TPR of all. Best on board 2 was GM Tony Kosten of England who scored 6/5/8. FM Terry Chapman of England was second best on board 3, also with 6.5/8 with a 2409 result. By comparison the highest TPR on board 4 was only 2217 by Peter Petran of Slovakia (6/9 unbeaten) and that was bettered by the top reserve Sabahudin Koliari (4/5) of Kosovo and England's reserve IM Nigel Povah (4.5/6 unbeaten).

Other matters

We reported separately in this page to leave the main Seniors news page free for other matters.

The venue, Struga, was on Lake Ohrid which is a World Heritage site (for both history and nature) in North Macedonia. As you may like some impression of what that place is like, I refer you to Beau Chess, the blog of Tim Spanton who is playing for England-2 in the 65+ tournament. Interspersed with his games are accounts of his exploration of the neighbourhood on foot, including historical notes and many photographs.

As we know a lot of our readership is in the UK and Ireland, we shall also note a few good individual performances. In the 50+, the best result for Wales was 2094-rated FM Sven Zeidler who after losing to a GM in round one scored 6/7 in his other games. Unfortunately no Scottish player scored 50% but Raj Bhopal with 3.5.8 on top board was their highest scorer.

Gary Clark scored 6/9 for England-2 including that crucial steady draw against Iceland. Natasha Regan only arrived mid-way in the event but scored 4/5 for England Women and Ingrid Lauterbach also made a plus score (4.5/8).

In the 65+, super-veteran Stewart Reuben scored 4/6 as reserve for England-2. Two Welsh players made plus scores: John Fletcher 5/8 on board 2 and Anthony Hughes, who although nominally the reserve, actually played board 4 in every match and also scored 5 points. The Irish, who were severely under-strength, found it harder but Jim Murray had the consolation of winning a last round miniature which you can find on our Irish news page. We hope to be back in strength for at least one of next year's team tournaments.

Here is the link for round 9 to watch back the excellent commentary in English on Youtube by GM Aleksandar Colovic.

Other information can also be found on the official website including the links to the Youtube files for the earlier rounds.

Finally, we hope that all players returned home safely.

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