Almira wins Ural Supertournament

8/8/2004 – One of the strongest women's tournaments of all time ended with a resounding victory by Moldavian-French WGM Almira Skripchenko. After returning to Paris Almira spoke to us on the phone, telling us about the tournament and her colleagues. She even annotated her best game for us. Here is an extensive illustrated report.

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The North Urals Cup 2004 is the second international super-tournament for female chess players was held in Krasnoturinsk, the cultural center of Northern Ural. Here is our introductory report on the tournament

The tournament was a round robin with ten very strong female chess players, amongst them the current women's world champion Antoaneta Stefanova (2527, BUL), five times world champion Maia Chiburdanidze (2498, GEO) and Russian women's champion Alisa Galliamova (2490, RUS).

The tournament was won by Almira Skripchenko, the 2001 European champion, half a point ahead of her nearest rival Maia Chiburdanidze. Almira's Elo performance in this tournament was a remarkable 2584.


Press conference to celebrate the winner, with the 12th world chess champion Anatoly Karpov, the general director of BAZ Anatoly Sysoev, the winner of North Urals Cup 2004 Almira Skripchenko, vice-president of FIDE Andrey Selivanov.

Final Standings of the North Urals Cup 2004


Anatoly Selivanov with Almira Skripchenko (in a dress by Ralph Lauren)


Interview with the winner Almira Skripchenko

This interview was conducted by telephone after Almira's return to her flat in Paris. The transcription sticks very close to the original recording, giving us a flavour of a chat with this vivacious and intelligent Women's Grandmaster.

Frederic Friedel: Hello Almira, congratulations for winning such a strong and prestigious tournament.

Almira Skripchenko: Thank you. Actually I was waiting for you to call. You are publishing stories about beautiful women on your web site and ignoring the final results of our tournament (laughs)…

Frederic: Mea culpa, we got carried away. Okay, please tell about the tournament. It was very strong, like a Super-GM…


A bevy of top women grandmasters (at the closing ceremony): Svetlana Matveeva,
Antoaneta Stefanova, Almira Skripchenko and Natalia Zhukova.

Almira: Basically this was the strongest tournament that has ever been organised, sort of like a women’s Linares.

Frederic: So it was the strongest women’s tournament organised in the history of the game?

Almira: Definitely. And the way they did it was really great. They did everything for the chess players. You know, when I was a kid and they were organising tournaments in the Soviet Union, I heard the stories about what it was like to be a grandmaster. How everyone respected you. And it was exactly the same here. Everything was done for the chess players, for the participants. They took enormous care of us. For instance on the city square where all people gather you could see this giant poster with the slogan “We salute the participants of the second Super GM tournament North Urals Cup”. This is incredible. Where else can you see it?

We played in a very beautiful hall with many spectators, with full commentary and huge screens. Unlike many tournaments today this was one that was definitely for the chess players. This is where you do feel you are a grandmaster, you are a chess player and you are appreciated.

You won the tournament! Was it a surprise for you?

Definitely. I couldn’t believe it. You know I didn’t go there expecting to win the tournament. As one of the leaders of the ACP I have to promote women’s chess – it is one of my duties. So I simply went there and played.


Almira in round eight of the tournament

Your performance was something like 2584…

You know, I didn’t realise this at all. If I had won the last game I think there was a possibility I would have made a male GM norm. But at the time I didn’t know this and accepted a draw from Ekaterina [Kovalevskaya]. She is the vice world champion, and I had black, and it guaranteed me the first place. I didn’t really think about a GM norm, who thinks about this in a women's tournament. You can imagine how strong this event was, how much effort the organisers had put into getting such strong players together in one tournament.

Which was the key game, the key moment for you in the tournament?


Legendary world champion Maia Chiburdanidze

Probably I won it because I was the only one who could beat Maia Chiburdanidze. The game was in the third round, so at the time we did not know it. I could not believe that I would beat Maia, because she always had the upper hand in the game. But I defended well, and she did not want to draw. So she tried more and more, and then she blundered.

Maia is still one of the strongest women players in the world, isn’t she?

Yes, and she was so well appreciated in this tournament. Her appearances are becoming quite rare – she plays just two or three tournament per year – but people still remember this legend, Maia Chiburdanidze. When she came on the stage she was applauded like a hero, and they were chanting “Ma-ya! Ma-ya!” It was amazing, just to see and feel it.

What is she like as a person?

She is very, very kind, always smiling. But when she is sitting over the board she will play up to the very last pawn. This is the contrast in her personality, the private person and the chess player. A great fighter. She was sitting there much longer than the other chess players, because she always wanted to get the maximum. Like in our game. When we finished the game there were like three pieces on the board.

But for me one of the most important games was the one against Irina [Krush] because of the forthcoming match in New York.

It was not really a beautiful game in the combinational sense. For me it was a very positional game, which was a good strategy against Irina, because she likes to play actively.

Will you annotate this game for us, please?

Okay, I'll send it to you in the next couple of days. It is really quite interesting.

[We will publish the game
with Almira's annotations
in the coming week.]


Former American champion WGM Irina Krush

Let’s talk about some of the other players. Ekaterina Kovalevskaya.


Women's vice champion of the world Ekaterina Kovalevskaya

Well, she has been basically doing a chess marathon. She played in the world championship, then the super-final of the Russian championship, then this tournament. She had very good results in every tournament – she’s a very good positional chess player.


Youngest Soviet champion ever: Svetlana Matveeva

Svetlana Matveeva.

Svetlana became Soviet champion when she was 15. This record will never be broken. He has had some ups and downs, but she is a very strong player. I mean when I went to this tournament and looked at the participants I could only think: whom am I going to beat, where am I going to win a game?


The "local girl" Maria Kursova

The one to beat was obviously the local girl, Maria Kursova, who does not have so much experience. But even though she scored just one and a half points she was very close to beating the current world champion Antoaneta Stefanova, with the black pieces.

So she was pretty strong. She just doesn’t play as many chess tournaments as she should.


What about your friend Antoaneta Stefanova?


Women's world champion Antoaneta Stefanova at the North Urals Cup

Etti was fighting quite a lot in this tournament, but I believe that after winning the world crown she felt a lot of responsibility. In the press conference she mentioned that this was my first tournament as a world champion, so obviously she wanted to show her best. I talked to her a lot, she has so many responsibilities which don’t have anything to do with chess – meeting important people, lots of interviews – so she has a lot of other things on her mind. But still she was fighting really hard. Irina Krush won a beautiful game against her in the last round, and that prevented her from tying with me for first place. Maybe it was also because the round was at eleven in the morning, which is simply unbearable for any chess player (laughs).

Zhukova…


Former European champion Natalia Zhukova

Natalia is a very strong positional player. She won the previous edition of this tournament. This time she had a very bad start, with minus two, and so even though she won her last three games she finished fourth/fifth. She was simply not battling for the first place, this time.

Does she have a big future? She’s only 25.

Big future? She is already in the middle of her big future. She was European champion. I mean these girls have already achieved so much, so that for all of us the next big future would be to win the world championship like Antoaneta. Unfortunately we only get a chance once every two years. In the meantime we are playing against each other.


Polovnikova...

Ekaterina was one of the most talented players of her generation. When she was fifteen she was considered to be the most talented girl in Russia. But she chose to study, and right now she is finishing university. She has to defend her thesis in October, and then she will start working. Chess is just a hobby for her.


Great Russian talent Ekaterina Polovnikova


Former vice champion of the world Alisa Galliamova

Galliamova...

Well, Alisa. You know, when you say Galliamova it is also a legend, because she is known and has had good results for so many years. For example she played the match against Xie Jun for the world championship, and she won the candidates in Groningen with something like plus eight. She doesn’t play that much now, and only accepts invitations to tournaments that support chess, support the image of chess.

 


Okay, this is certainly one of your best tournaments, probably the best result you have ever achieved.

Well, the European Championship in 2001 [which Almira won] was also very strong. Of course the two tournaments are very different. The European Championship was a Swiss, and it was a qualifier for the world championship. So you were playing more carefully, and trying to do your best in the end. In closed tournaments every win is so rare, you are just fighting and fighting. You can see: with plus three you can already win the tournament. So the specifics of the tournaments are very different. The results are comparable, but from the fighting point of view it is different.

What are your aims in chess, and in life? Are you going to become a big organiser in the ACP, or are you going to become a grandmaster.

You know, it is just like when you grow older, and you start asking yourself, what will be the things which will be left behind after you, the small thing that you have achieved. I don’t have such big aims in chess, I’m playing mainly for my pleasure. You know, at the press conference in the end they were asking me, what are you going to do apart from chess? And I was thinking chess has given me so much in life, that I would like to give something back. I don’t really want to leave the chess scene, so maybe I will become one of those organisers who try to do their best for chess. I could do it for girls, because who knows better than me what it means to be a woman chess player. I would like to help women’s chess, especially when I have stopped playing actively myself. For example even now the ACP is working to establish a women’s Grand Prix, a series of a four tournaments, and a Masters for 2005.

Almira, we wish you every success with this and with your chess career. Thank you for this very interesting conversation.


Closing pageantry in Krasnoturinsk


The winner of the North Urals Super-GM 2004 Almira Skripchenko

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