World Junior Chess Championships in Nakhchivan

6/27/2003 – Where?? Nakhchivan is one of the oldest towns of Azerbaijan. Today it is an exclave and extremely difficult to reach. That is where the U20 championships are being held. Dorian Rogozenko made the adventurous trip without a digital camera. So you we will have to make do with something quite unusual: a vivid verbal description.

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The World Junior Championships for playes 20 or younger are being held in Nakhchivan (or Nakhichevan), Azerbaijantake from June 21 to July 3, 2003. There are 78 participants from 29 countries, 50 in the boys section, 28 in the girls wection.

A mysterious, nice country with chess tradition

By Dorian Rogozenko

In the former Soviet Union many important tournaments were organized in Azerbaijan, a place with big chess traditions. For western people Azerbaijan might sound like an exotic and mysterious country, so I guess some general information is required.

Azerbaijan is a former Soviet Republic, which just like other Republics became an independent country. Baku, its capital, is a very big city, with over 2.000.000 inhabitants.

The World Junior Championship is held in Nakhchivan, a city with more than 300.000 inhabitants, located in a separate area from the main Azerbaijan territory, about 650 km from Baku. This separated area has boarders with Turkey (west), Iran (south) and Armenia (north-east). People here compare this part of the country with an island, since to reach this territory has became quite difficult lately. They even use the word "blockade". The railway via Armenia is not functional anymore (political tensions between these two countries are well-known and it makes little sense to discuss this subject here); coming by bus from Turkey or Iran is quite an adventure, so the only reasonable possibility remains the air trip from Baku. But as we'll see, even this proved to be not a trivial thing. By the way, for foreigners is quite a difficult task to reach Azerbaijan, there are very few companies flying to Baku.

Back to the connection Baku-Nakhchivan. The organizers had to book a charter flight exclusively for chess players. In the invitation addressed to all Chess Federations it was written that a wire transfer for the air-ticket Baku-Nakhchivan must be made. Some Federations ignored this aspect and were forced to make phone calls to organizers after the deadline, assuring them that the transfer will be made and that their players are coming.

However, a real problem appeared in contacts between organizers and the Ukrainian Chess Federation. Having received no money and no confirmation from the Ukraine that their players would come, the organizers informed the Ukrainian Chess Federation on 17th June that because of extreme difficulty of getting additional places for the charter flight Baku-Nakhchivan, the players from Ukraine would not be able to participate in the Championship, even if they will decide to send any players at the very last moment.

As a result, the organizers sent a fax to Ukrainian Chess Federation, saying that its players shouldn't come to Baku, since they could not fly to Nakhchivan anyway. The problem went to higher political levels, the Ukrainian side contacted the Azerbaijan Minister of Sports, but as mentioned above, to get additional places for the flight Baku-Nakhchivan after the end of booking period proved to be a too difficult task even on that level. No guarantees were made from Azerbaijan side. However, the Ukraine sent two players to Baku in spite of reaching no clear agreement with organizers. When they arrived at Baku airport the players were told about the problem. In the end just one player could get on to the plane. The girl, Katerina Rohonyan had no choice but going back home.

This incident was of course very sad for everybody, some people even started to speculate about the Armenian name of Ukrainian girl. However, the fact is that the Ukrainian Chess Federation failed to perform the required actions in time, and even after that they didn't contact the organizers until the very last moment. The situation could hardly be prevented by the organizers, given the extreme difficulty to book places for this specific internal charter flight.

Leaving this unpleasant story aside, everything else is above expectations. The tournament is organized very well, with the local people trying to do everything in order to make all participants feel comfortable. For instance it happens that taxi-drivers wouldn't accept money from players for the reason that "you are our guests". And that in spite of the fact that the economical level of Azerbaijan is below any European country, with many people living in poverty here comparing to European standards. Or another example. During the night if it happens that one uses the Internet room at the hotel, the bartender can come and offer you coffee or tee for free, for the same reason – we are guests here and must be treated very well. This is just local's people way of thinking. Such high respect towards chess players is very pleasant, of course.

Talking about the meals here. Asian food is always a problem for some people, and this tournament is no exception. The food is good, but some of the players complain about stomach problems from time to time. But this is something that had to be expected for certain people from other parts of the world.

Azerbaijan (or rather I should talk only about Nakhchivan, since I've seen little of other places) is in a way a country of contradictions. Broken old buildings, small, old and simple houses neighborly to luxurious buildings (such as the Grand Hotel, where most of the participants stay); national pride prevail over poverty – it seems that people here are much less affected by their poverty than in Europe, where money is one of the main subjects in everyday life. Here people seem to be content with their lives (or at least accept the situation without any visible sign of unhappiness).

The temperature here up to this moment has an average of 25-30 degrees Celsius, much less than everyone has told me before I came to Nakhchivan.

The Championship is well supported by Olympic Committee, whose President is Ilham Aliev, the son of the President of Azerbaijan Haidar Aliev. They are backing the organization of the tournament and this fact is easy to notice – players are almost all the time protected by local security forces, (though this wouldn't be necessary at all). Cars with some policemen and even local political figures escort the buses that transfer the players from hotels to the playing hall and/or to the restaurants. As a consequence at the crossroads the buses with players have priority...

Another thing worth mentioning is that when players reached Nakhchivan and went out of the plane, local girls dressed in national costumes offering flowers to players met them. Generally, the national traditions are highly respected too. For instance at the opening ceremony, which lasted for about two hours, lots of national songs and dancing was performed. This was nicer for spectators than for players themselves, who were staying on the stage for a long period of time and obviously felt quite tired after that.

The comfortable playing hall is in Olympic Center, a brand new huge building, which was finished just few months ago. In the past few years the National Olympic Committee built such Olympic Centers in several cities of Azerbaijan.

The comfortable playing hall is in Olympic Center, a brand new huge building, which was finished just few months ago. In the past few years the National Olympic Committee built such Olympic Centers in several cities of Azerbaijan.

The tournaments

Now it's time to speak about chess. In the boys section there are 50 participants from 29 countries. The most numerous players are from Azerbaijan (11 players) and India (six players). Altogether there are seven GMs and 12 IMs.

The Girls Championship is represented by 28 participants from 14 countries. Most numerous are from Azerbaijan (10) and India (5).

The small number of participating countries is in my opinion first of all explained by difficulty to reach Nakhchivan. I myself when agreed to come here as a coach couldn't guess that finding a way to reach Baku will take me several days of checking all possibilities in Travel Agencies. If I had known it, I suspect that I would have thought twice before deciding to come. However, now that I am here I don't regret my decision – the country itself, the temperature (one of most important topics) and the organization of the tournament are better than I have expected.

The Boys Championship is a quite a strong tournament, main favorites being in my opinion the German Leonig Kritz, the Ukrainian Alexander Zubov, Indians Ganguly and Harikrishna.

Standings on June 26

Seven rounds boys: 1. Guseinov, Kadir g AZE 2505 5.5; 2. Izoria, Zviad g GEO 2569 5.0; 3. Mamedyarov, Shakhriyaz g AZE 2607 5.0; 4. Zubov, Oleksander UKR 2329 5.0; 5. Ganguly, Surya Shekhar g IND 2542 5.0; 6. Gashimov, Vugar g AZE 2579 5.0; 7. Kritz, Leonid m GER 2468 4.5; 8. Werle, Jan m NED 2404 4.5; 9. Kuparadze, Giga GEO 2227 4.5; 10. Dziuba, Marcin m POL 2450 4.5; 11. Mamedov, Rauf AZE 2330 4.5; 12. Schneider, Dmitry m USA 2424 4.5; 13. Azarov, Sergei g BLR 2530 4.5; 14. Bachin, Vitaly m RUS 2443 4.5; 15. Kanep, Meelis m EST 2446 4.5. Total 50 players.

Five rounds girls: 1. Dzagnidze, Nana wm GEO 2376 5.0; 2. Harika, Dronavalli wf IND 2294 3.5; 3. Mamedjarova, Zeinab wg AZE 2298 3.5; 4. Sachdev, Tania wm IND 2245 3.5; 5. Karavade, Eesha IND 2199 3.5; 6. Ismailova, Aytaj AZE 2168 3.5; 7. Khudaverdieva, Afag AZE 2063 3.5; Total 28 players.


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