King's Tournament in Medias starts on Saturday

6/10/2011 – The fifth edition of the Kings Tournament will be held in Medias, Romania, from June 11-22. The event is a category 21 double round robin with six players, all but one over 2700 (Elo average: 2758). Most have arrived in Bazna, their place of residence. Just getting there was an electrifying experience, as Frederic Friedel reports in the first installment of his Medias journal.

ROMGAZ and the Chess Club Society "Elisabeta Polihroniade” of Bucharest are staging a double round robin tournament with six top GMs: the world's second highest ranked player, Magnus Carlsen of Norway, who at the age of 20 has an Elo rating of 2815. Ukrainian GM Vassily Ivanchuk, currently the world's number five, rated 2776; Sergey Karjakin, former child prodigy and youngest GM of all time, now playing for Russia, rated 2776; top US grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura, clear winner of this year's Wijk aan Zee tournament; Teimour Radjabov, at 2744 one of Azerbaijan's top GMs, and Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu, the best Romanian player, currently rated 2659. The competition is taking place from June 11th to 22nd 2011 in Medias, Romania.

5th Kings Tournament 2010 in Medias, Romania

Although evidence of human presence in the area dates back to the middle Neolithic, the city of Medias (pronounced meh-dee-ash) was first mentioned during the Roman occupation as Per Medias (meaning the town at the crossroads). During the Middle Ages, Medias, like most other towns in Transylvania, was strongly fortified. The center of the ancient settlement of Medias has maintained a medieval feel with narrow winding lanes, centuries-old houses and a large pedestrian square surrounded by colorful facades. The population today is just over 50,000. [Source: Romania tourism]


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Getting to Bazna/Medias

By Frederic Friedel

Our trip started with an uneventful flight from Hamburg to Vienna, probably the best way to get to Sibiu, which in turn is probably the best Romanian airport to choose if you are travelling to Bazna.

We spent the somewhat longish stopover in Vienna trying to help this miserable creature, which badly needed to get past the triple-glazed panel to freedom. An Austrian family of seventeen (really, three generations) searched for some place with a direct connection to the outside world, but in vain. Funny how eighteen people can spend an hour trying to help a moth!


The first surprise at Vienna Airport: we were going to travel on a plane with windmills


It's called a "turbo prop", I was told, and would be able to clear the trees, only clipping the tallest ones. Actually it flew well above the clouds. The plane is a de Havilland Bombardier Dash 8, and is much more benign than it sounds.


Austrian Arrows served lunch consisting of one apple and a candy bar. Really.

We used the occasion to compare the radiation on this propeller machine to that we had been subjected to on the regular jet flight from Hamburg to Vienna, using the Geiger-Müller counter shown above.

It should be noted that the sun currently has some kind of a crisis, and we were flying through a solar storm. On June 7, 2011 our star unleashed an M-2 solar flare, an S1-class radiation storm and a spectacular coronal mass ejection. The large cloud of particles mushroomed up and fell back down, covering an area of almost half the solar surface. The above image (courtesy NASA) was taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory.

Well, here are the radiation readings we registered: at Hamburg and Vienna Airports, inside and outside, our Innova Geiger-Müller counter gave us around 10-12 blips per minute – actually fairly normal values. On the flight from Vienna to Sibiu I counted an average of around sixty blips per minute, i.e. five times as much as at ground level. The turbo-prop machine was flying at an altitude of 7,600 metres, the pilot told us. However: on the flight to Hamburg, cruising at well over 10,000 metres, there were over 300 blips per minute, almost thirty times more than at sea level. Makes Fukushima look like a health spa.

However, I must mention that this is what I normally get on flights with commercial airlines. It is the radiation that comes from very fast gamma particles originating mainly from the rest of our galaxy. Correct us if we are wrong, but apparently the charged particles from the sun do not contribute to this base radiation registered by the Geiger-Müller counter.

The above picture contains one of the sources of gamma ray emissions – however from an extra-galactic source. It is the Whirlpool Galaxy (and its companion NGC 5195) about 25 million light years away from our Milky Way system. Recently a supernova was discovered in the Whirlpool, the third in a relatively short period of time. Such giant explosions can outshine the entire galaxy and belong to some of the most cataclysmic events known to science.

There are some very nice images on the Hubble web site on the Whirlpool galaxy, but the one we are using above (with the supernova clearly visible) is not one of them. You may not believe this but the picture credit is Vishy Anand and Alina l'Ami! You don't? Well, it is all part of the GRAS (Global Rent-a-Scope) enterprise, which sees more and more chess players as members. John Nunn, who is a consultant for GRAS, first notified the CEO Christian Sasser of the supernova. Anand, who will never miss a good supernova, was in Spain with some time at his hand, and Alina was testing her GRAS account from the very warm Romania. When Vishy turned his remote telescope (G17 – 17 inch Planewave in Spain) to M51, he found that Alina was already there. So they both took images of the galaxy, which were combined to produce the one we have used, in which the supernova can clearly be seen.

Back to the flight to Romania. We all had a fresh radioactive glow (just kidding) when the flight landed in Sibiu, of which we got a nice view from the low-flying plane. Since we are in general narrative mode (no chess has been played yet) I must mention something that has disturbed me for a long time.

Sitting just a couple of metres away from the landing gear I got a vivid impression of what an aircraft touching down on the tarmac actually means. Usually you know what happens from the dark skid marks you see on runways. Here I caught the moment the stationary wheels hit the ground at the speed of a few hundred kilometres an hour. They are rippped into rotation and leave dark marks, visible all the way to the docking sites. Clearly the rubber has been burnt or melted from the friction of the incredibly violent initial contact with the ground. So my question to the manufacturers of aircraft is (and has been for many years now): why can't you put little vanes on wheels, causing them to spin at approximsately the landing speed from the air flow of the landing.The touchdown would be so much smoother and certainly cause much less wear on the tires. So far no one has taken me up on this proposal – if any of our readers finds a flaw in the reasoning please write to us and explain why this cheap and simple measure has not been implemented.

At Sibiu Airport I was met by Daniel, who was holding up a sign with my name, and I didn't have to break my stride to proceed to the car the tournament organisation had provided. It was a military-looking SUV, the kind a disproportionate number of Romanians seem to drive. The reason becomes clear once you hit the out-of-town roads.

The road from Sibiu to Medias and Bazna. Looks familiar, doesn't it? Right, we saw images in the epic journey Vishy Anand untertook last year for his World Championship match in Sofia. In fact before my trip to Bazna Vishy's wife Aruna kindly offered to arrange a forty-hour bus trip for me, in case the Icelandic volcano went off or the sun's flares grounded all aircraft to Romania. To be fair: the roads are being rebuilt everywhere, and are very scenic to make up for their current poor condition.


This is a "milestone", a precursor to the GPS system you now carry around in your
pocket. Click on the picture to see how modern GPS software handles it. If you
have Google Earth and want to see it in truly spectacular fashion use this link.


On our drive to Bazna we had to stop to make way for the participants of the Romania
Bicycle Tour -- a 120-km lap of a race that took them around the entire country.


These are professional, but biking in Romania is a vacation you might consider


Arriving in Medias my driver Daniel pointed out the RomGAZ headquarters of the sponsor...


... and the Natural Gas Documentation and Information Centre where the event will be staged.


From Medias we drove on to Bazna, just a dozen miles away, where the players will reside


"Is this really it?" was my natural question. Are we in the right town?


The hotel, a very pleasant surprise, located a little outside the town on the hillside


Once I had settled down in my room in the hotel it was clear: we were in the right place

The Expro Spa Hotel in Bazna is excellent, has at least four pools, perfectly adequate rooms, instant free and fast Internet connection (unlike hotels we have stayed in in England, Holland, Germany...) and manned by a very friendly and cooperative staff. We feel we are going to enjoy the stay.

Just an hour after the previous picture was taken, however, the region was hit by a dramatic storm the likes of which I have not seen for a long time. Sheets of rain, thunder, lightning (impossible to catch with a still camera, just to fast for my reflexes). It was all quite terrifying, and Magnus Carlsen was in a car from Sibiu to Bazna at the time. I had already started on his eulogy when he turned up, with his father and sister, safe and sound. "It was worse last year," was his jaded reaction. These kids today have been through everything.

I hope I have not lost too many readers with this very long narrative. Today (Friday), in an hour from now, there will be a 30-minute commute to Medias for the opening ceremony. I will continue my King's Tournament journal with pictures from that event and from the first round tomorrow.


Links

The games are being broadcast live on the official web site and on the chess server Playchess.com. If you are not a member you can download a free Playchess client there and get immediate access. You can also use ChessBase 11 or any of our Fritz compatible chess programs.

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