A massive match in the Baltics

4/27/2005 – A match on one hundred boards between Estonia and Latvia was held on the 24th of April in the Estonian city of Pärnu. This event has a history of almost 30 years; the first such a match was held back in 1976. Since then nine more matches were fought out, but which nation is the strongest is yet to be determined.

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Estonia beats Latvia 59:41

Matiss Silis of www.latchess.lv sent in this fascinating report on one of the biggest chess matches you will ever see. Estonia versus Latvia over 100 boards! You can see the complete results of this year's match here.

The traditional match between neighbouring countries Estonia and Latvia took place in the Estonian city of Pärnu on the 24th of April. The previous nine matches that took place since 1976 had led to a draw on overall result – 4.5: 4.5. This match was a chance for the Estonians to take the lead in this historical battle as they had the home field advantage.

The match was played on one hundred boards, quite an exceptional event. Both countries fielded three teams – women’s team on 10 boards; junior’s team that consisted of girls and boys from every age group – U18, U16, U14, U12 and U10, ten boards overall; and men’s team on 80 boards.

On the top boards the Estonians had Kaido Kulaots (2572), hot from the Gausdal Tournament where he took second place with 7 out of 9, Kanep Meelis (2474), Alexander Veingold (2465) and Olav Sepp (2461) on the top boards. Latvia answered with 3 time World Senior Champion Janis Klovans (2462) assisted by Jusefs Petkevich (2433), Arturs Neiksans (2439) and Arnolds Luckans (2452).


Estonian top-board Kaido Kulaots was held to a draw by Klovans.

It was obvious that on their home turf the Estonians had a much stronger team, especially it could be observed on the lower boards. Nevertheless the Latvians were determined to hold the home team's attempts to gain an edge in the overall result of the matches. In the beginning these tries seemed to be successful, after the first 60 games Latvians were in the lead with 31:29, but not for long. Soon the Estonians took over the lead and never lost hold of it, bringing the final result to a win for the home team with 59:41. For a while the Estonians can celebrate, but they can be sure that after two years, they will have tough time in Latvia.

These huge matches with long traditions are a real boost for chess in both countries, therefore the tradition is extended. The Estonians have begun playing these kinds of events against their northern neighbours – the Finns, while the Latvians are planning a match against their southern neighbours – the Lithuanians.


The top ten boards in action.


The Latvian women's team.


Estonia's Alexander Orava.


Ilze Berzina and Laura Rogule of Latvia.


The competitive girls under-10 section.


Latvia concedes defeat. Until next time!

Historical background

Long, long ago (almost 30 years) two small chess nations by the Baltic see – Estonia and Latvia, quarrelled over which one was the strongest. Both had great chess traditions and some magnificent players had come from these two countries - Kieseritzky, Nimzowitch, Keres and Tal, to name a few, but it was unclear which was stronger. Can there be a better way to determine the best chessplaying community than a massive match? So it was decided to hold one in the Latvian city of Valka in 1976.

On the 2nd of October the city was full of chess players, there were actually more than a hundred from both sides and it was jokingly offered to play a bigger match next time. The Latvians started well on the first three boards with A. Gipslis defeating V. Heuer, A. Vitolinsh beating R. T. Etruk and J. Petkevich winning against A. Veingold. But Estonians managed to equalise on the lower boards and brought the match to friendly tie – 50:50.


Friendly tie?!

This couldn’t last for long, as the strongest of the nations wasn’t determined, so a new match was held four years later, this time in the Estonian city of Pärnu. The Latvians were led by V. Bagirov, J. Klovans and A. Vitolinsh while the Estonians fielded L. Nei, G. Uusi, H. Kerner. The Estonians proved to be stronger on the first 10 boards and also in the match winning with a decisive 59 to 41.

This required for revenge, for the prestige of Latvia was threatened, therefore a new match had to be held in two years. The Latvian town of Salacgriva held the next match in 1982. The Latvians prepared well and recruited a strong team that was led by Vitolinsh, Kengis and Klovans. The Estonians were prepared for that and brought Nei, Ehlvest and Veingold, but it didn’t help. In a tough struggle, The Latvians got the edge and won the match 52:48. The pride of Latvian chessplayers was restored and the match series was tied – 1.5:1.5. But this was not an end, but just the beginning because a new tradition was born!


Ehlvest and Gipslis in 1985.

Yet again a match was held in Pärnu in 1985. The match proved to be a thriller – Ehlvest beat Gipslis on the first board and it looked grim for the Latvians as the Estonians took the early lead. But the Latvians fought back hard to equalise the score and the match had to be decided in just a handful of remaining games.

Latvian candidate master Janis Vitomskis (now an ICCF Grandmaster) missed the nice finishing blow ..Qe4! in a game against I. Ritov and overstepped on time. (See diagram.) But the match was decided on the 60th board where Latvian candidate master Vladislav Kazachenkov brought the victory for the visitors. For the first time Estonians where defeated at their home with a minimal score 50.5:49.5.

This painful loss couldn’t remain unpunished for long. The Estonians held a big elimination contest to determine the best candidates for the national team in an upcoming match in Valka on the 5th of December 1987. They selected L. Oll, H. Kerner, L. Nei and K. Kiik on their top boards, these players had to meet V. Bagirov, E. Kengis, J. Klovans and A. Shirov.

One can say that the Estonians were well prepared to bring the victory home. But it just wasn’t meant to be – Kengis beat Kerner, Shirov was stronger than Kiik, and the Latvians also proved their superiority on other boards – 52.5:47.5 was the final score. Latvia had taken a commanding lead in the match with 3.5:1.5.

The Estonians didn’t give up and organised a match on their home turf in 1990. The Latvians were well prepared to take a commanding lead in the match, as they brought Mikhail “The magician from Riga” Tal on the first board and Alexei “Fire on Board” Shirov on the second.

But it proved to be not enough, as the match is fought on all 100 boards – the game on board 100 is as important as game on board 1. The Estonians had brought an all-around better team that was stronger than the Latvian stars – 47.5 against 52.5 was the winning score for Estonia, but Latvia still led in the overall result – 3.5 against 2.5.


The baby Shirov in action.

Year 1993 saw the first match between now independent Latvia and Estonia, the match had become international! On their home field in Valka the Latvians certainly were planning to revenge the defeat in Estonia three years earlier. Shirov was now on the first board supported by Kengis, Lanka, Bagirov and Gipslis – a real “Dream Team” which went on to crush Estonian leaders with 6.5 against 3.5 – more than a convincing victory on the first boards. But yet again, like three years earlier, it proved not to be enough. The Estonians had much stronger lower boards, a much more balanced team, that brought them the win – 57 against 43. Thus the result in the matches was equal yet again – 3.5:3.5.

Arbiter Pauls Podnieks at the 1987 match.

The next match was held only seven years later – in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, where it was the easiest to recruit a team that could take the lead in the matches. Jaan Ehlvest was selected as the first board for Estonia, assisted by Sepp, Kulaots, Zitin and Kiik. The Latvians fielded the experienced Klovans and Lanka, and the young talents – R. Berzinsh, A. Neiksans and A. Luckans and again the top Latvians proved to be stronger with 6:4 on the first 10 boards. But again, like in the previous matches, a balanced team proved to be more important – the Estonians smashed the Latvians with a convincing 65.5 against 34.5 with the biggest win coming on the last ten men’s boards – 9.5:0.5 for Estonia. The Estonians took the lead in overall standings in a convincing style: the result now was 4.5:3.5 for Estonia.

Such a devastating loss could not be tolerated and the next match had to be held in the heart of Latvia – the capital Riga, where the best possible team could be organised with ease. This time the Estonians were stronger on the first boards, where they had their best players – Ehlvest, Kulaots, Rytshagov, Sepp and Maidla. 5.5:4.5 for Estonia. But this was insufficient to win the match, because the Latvians had prepared well and their players on the lower boards were much stronger. Latvia demolished Estonia with 60.5:39.5. Now the overall result was a tie 4.5:4.5 and with this result Latvians came to Estonia on the 24th of April, 2005.


Future champs? Ann Narva of Estonia and Diana Kurbanova of Latvia.


Mark Lapidus and Alexander Volodin of Estonia.

Estonia's Andres Kuusk.

Here are all the match results.

Year   Site      Estonia  Latvia

1976   Valka       50       50
1980   Pärnu       59       41
1982   Salacgriva  48       52
1985   Pärnu       49.5     50.5
1987   Valka       47.5     52.5
1990   Pärnu       52.5     47.5
1993   Valka       57       43
2000   Tallin      65.5     34.5
2002   Riga        39.5     60.5
2005   Pärnu       59       41

Overall match score: Estonia 5.5 - 4.5 Latvia
Overall board score: Estonia 527.5 - 472.5 Latvia

Photo credits:

Photos of the players from 24th April match:

Alexander Orava (EST) (source: http://www.maleliit.ee/) Alexander Volodin (EST) (source: http://www.maleliit.ee/) Andres Kuusk (EST) (source: http://www.maleliit.ee/) Ann Narva (EST) (source: http://www.maleliit.ee/) Dana Reizniece (LAT) (source: http://www.maleliit.ee/) Diana Kurbanova (LAT) (source: http://www.maleliit.ee/) First 10 boards (source: http://www.maleliit.ee/) Ilze Berzina and Laura Rogule (LAT) (source: http://www.maleliit.ee/) Kaido Kulaots (EST) (source: http://www.maleliit.ee/) Latvia resigns (source: http://www.maleliit.ee/) Latvian womens team (source: http://www.maleliit.ee/) Mark Lapidus (EST) (source: http://www.maleliit.ee/) GirlsU10 (source: http://www.latchess.lv/) PlayingHall (source: http://www.latchess.lv/) PlayingHall2 (source: http://www.latchess.lv/) WomensBoards (source: http://www.latchess.lv/)

Photos for the historical background:

Alexei Shirov (LAT) (source: http://www.latchess.lv/) Gipslis and Ehlvest (1985) (source: http://www.latchess.lv/) Arbiter Pauls Podnieks (1987) (source: http://www.latchess.lv/) balticmap - map of the Baltic States


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