My first ever national youth championship
By Armin Mušović
I will never forget the moment when our chess club secretary told us that we would be going to the youth chess championship of Montenegro. Even just days before the championship, it was not clear if we were going to participate. Our financial situation was such that we could only go with the help of our parents, so I sat and hoped that everything would work out. Finally, somehow, we pooled together enough money, and we were ready to go. About 10 of us, boys and girls, were ready to go by mini-bus to the neighboring city, Pljevlja.
This was my second time traveling because of chess, and I felt a huge positive energy. It is a little bit funny to say that chess players are athletes, but only chess players know what it means to fight on 64 squares. Only they know what the fight between two minds is, what great effort is needed, combined with muscle tone when you really want to defend yourself, your club and your city! That was how I felt that day – like an athlete, and I still do! In the mini-bus, the atmosphere was just very positive, since school was finished, and we were going to another city for the first time as a team.
First couple of hours after arriving we relaxed with our coach outside in good weather (who can stay inside when it’s a sunny day?). After some time, we had a list of participants, for each category. I realized one thing – the player who won the youth festival months before wasn’t playing in my category anymore. He was in older age category (between 16 and 18 years; actually, in this championship we had only two categories – from 0 to 16 years, and between 16 and 18). I thought that this was my chance. But still, I remember what was in my mind – I was just hoping to be in ‘’top 10 players’’, out of about 50 participants. I thought this was more serious competition, because of bigger number of players.
First two games I won without any big fight. Simply, my opponents were not that hard. Then, in the third round I had opponent from my club. I remember his words before the match: ‘’No draw.’’ That was little bit funny for me. He was somewhere close with my strength in chess, and of course, he simply wanted to fight for the first place. But he said that before anything else. He was convinced that he will win. It has always been uncertain in our mutual matches. So this was my first, and maybe the biggest fight on this championship. The game was pretty equal. Anything I tried to do, he was able to block or stop. It was like that till the endgame. I had queen, knight and pawns, and he had queen, bishop and same number of the pawns. I was on the move. Position started to look better for him, because bishop was attacking too many squares, while my knight attacked some of the squares near his king, but there weren’t any big threats. Because I couldn’t find the plan for some real attack (that was my chess style, nowadays it’s little bit modified), I looked away on chess clock. I was much better with time. He had only a few minutes, while I had about twenty. In normal conditions, I would ask him for a draw, but I knew that he still wanted to play for a win (like before the match). I took my knight, and I captured the pawn next to his king! He was very, very confused after this move… He really didn’t expect it! He started to think, and his time was ticking away… That was my point – the only way to possibly win the game! After some time, he took my knight, and then I started with checks. I was attacking with my queen, even though in just couple of moves he could save his king. That’s what exactly happened – he placed his king to safe area, and then he pressed the clock. He was convinced that I blundered, and only then he wanted to see how much time he had left on the clock. He saw that he has only little bit above one minute! In that period, we didn’t have time increment in our championships (we actually had mechanical clocks). He started to play faster, but I always practiced velocity in chess. I could do the same. When he had about 20-30 seconds, he asked me for a draw. At that moment, I just remember what he said to me before the game, and then I said that I want to continue the game. After couple of moves, he lost on time! I had 3/3!
After the game, we got together with our coach. The player from my club couldn’t accept the fact that he lost the game on time. He was little bit angry towards me. Then our coach explained, like he did before the championship – time is also a factor in chess. Position is very important, and we are learning chess theory because of that, but time is not less important. We must use our time properly. After this, in fourth game I had one much younger opponent. But he played very well. In the queen endgame, he stayed better. His pawn structure was very good that was impossible to break. At one moment, my opponent blundered a whole queen! I needed to take it immediately, because I couldn’t believe what just happened. Slowly, his face changed, and he started to cry. Then I asked him: ‘’Do you want to return your move?’’ This was my last try to ask someone for something similar (but not the first – once I had same situation, and after my opponent returned the move, later I lost the game). This is simply not in the spirit of chess, but I couldn’t watch him crying. He said: ‘’No!’’ He wanted to continue the game. After couple of moves, he resigned, and then he started to cry even more. His coach came and he started to comfort him. That was very unpleasant situation for me that day. I felt like I was guilty for something. After that passed, I realized I have very good chances for winning first place.
In the next game, I had my other friend from the same club. He was not just a player, but my best friend. Our matches were always hard for me – I didn’t want to win, because I was slightly better with playing, but at the same time, it was hard for me to stop with going for first place. Anyhow, I offered him a draw, without any bigger thinking. He accepted. He was also very good with points. After that, we realized that we could have a great time (couple of hours) while everyone else was thinking over the chess board! We enjoyed very beautiful weather, and also watching on other games as well!
In the sixth game I fought against the player from the city where championship was held. I heard that he is very strong, but I thought that I’m stronger. He played very fast. I thought that he will make some mistakes because of that, but actually he played with original style. We drew. I couldn’t create any big threat, and he was able to hold a draw.
The last game was coming, and I had 5/6 points! Only I and the player from previous match had the same number of points. Everyone else was half point or more than that below. I needed to win, to be sure that I cannot have less points than my said rival. In the last round I had opponent from my hometown, but another club. I played for a win, and that is what happened! I was so happy after that game, but my rival won as well! I was confused after that – what is going to happen? We have the same number of points! My coach explained to me: ‘’We must wait till everyone finishes playing. After that, if your opponents played well, it will bring you more points for additional criterion. If opposite thing happens, then maybe you will be second.’’ He also explained to me that I had better (stronger) opponents than he has, so even before the last round I had better points because of my opponents. That was the moment when I better understood the ‘’Buchholz’’ rating system in chess. In English it is known as “strength of schedule.”
After everything finished, I was so impatient for the final rankings! Once again, I will be first or second, which is of course not a bad result in one championship, but I didn’t want to be second for the second time. This time, luck was on my side, and finally, moment came when my coach started with hugging: ‘’Congratulations, you won this championship! You’re the champion of Montenegro!’’ I couldn’t believe it! I had the same number of the points like my rival, but I had better Buchholz (strength of schedule)! My friend was also very happy, but unfortunately, our match didn’t help him much – he wasn’t in the first three places…
Moments after this, I called my father to tell him great news. He was so happy when he heard that I was first. ‘’Your favorite food is waiting for you when you get back, you’re my champion’’, he said. My rival also told me that I played good, and that it was his pleasure to meet me. When it was time for announcement, I was little bit afraid of that event – so many people were waiting for the winner of championship to speak. Finally I appeared on small stage, and everyone was clapping while I was receiving the medal and winning trophy! I wanted to go, but some of the photographers said: ‘’Wait wait, just one more picture. Stay there… Come on, big smile!’’ I will never forget emotions of that day. I wanted to be in the first 10 players, and I finished first! I wanted to help my friend, and because of that, first place was a question, but still I made it! Unbelievable experience!
When I came back to my hometown, the home phone was just ringing. It started to be boring, because I was just repeating the same story and same words ‘’Thank you, thank you…’’ In the club, the secretary said to me: ‘’Congratulations. You are our champion now. You are our pride, and the pride of this city. You need to work harder now. Other championships and tournaments are coming…You are the biggest hope of this city for chess now!’’