Bulmaga tops a quartet in Sharjah, UAE

by Irina Bulmaga
1/20/2020 – Escaping the cold Romanian winter, IM IRINA BULMAGA returned home recently from a successful jaunt to the UAE where she shared first with fellow IMs Irine Sukandar and IM Olga Zimina, and GM Monika Socko, each scoring 7 out of 9. It was the tenth such tournament for women in Sharjah. | Photos: Official site: shjwomenchess.com

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The 10th Sharjah International Cup for Women

Prologue by Andre Schulz

In the Arab Emirates, the tradition of women's chess has been very important for years: Already the Sharjah Women's Cup has taken place there for a decade. 

Over 100 women from 34 countries took part in the tournament, which was played over nine rounds according to the Swiss system, from January 3rd to 13th, at the Sharjah Chess and Culture Club.

No problem with parking spaces | Image: Google

The Sharjah Chess Club claims to be the largest chess club in the world (presumably referring to the scale of the building) and it may well be. Founded by Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Ahmed Al Qasimi, in March 2013, the main playing hall can accommodate 500 players. In addition to the two main rooms, there are numerous seminar rooms, offices and a library.

The prize fund for the 10th Women's Chess Cup was a very generous USD $16,000, with a first prize of $3000. The ranking list by Elo was led by Irina Bulmaga (Romania), followed by Monika Socko (Poland), Irene Sukander (Indonesia) and Bibisara Assaubayeva (Kazakhstan). Bulmaga didn't disappoint, and after taking home the trophy, she sent us this account of her trip.

A very happy start to 2020

by Irina Bulmaga

What a better way to spend the first day of the year if not on a flight to a chess tournament?

It seems to me that chess has completely invaded my life lately, but it’s not a complaint… Is it a blessing though? All the nights are the same, tournament or not, I think about some game, past or future and sometimes even dream of it as well… When waking up, I either prepare for a game or for a tournament and it is a never ending cycle. It is a bit tiring sometimes but you know what keeps me going? The belief in my dream.

The World Rapid & Blitz Championship finished just two days before, but there I was, on a plane again — Moscow to Dubai — heading to my next tournament: the "10th Sharjah Cup for Women", in the United Arab Emirates.

The last months were quite tough on me, with many strong tournaments one after another and too little time for rest in between… Why did I not go straight home from Moscow then? Well, there are not many (any?) Women's Opens with good prizes and nice conditions, as the one in Sharjah and when you know the great efforts one makes in order to keep the tournament alive, it is hard to say no. I also tend to return to the places where I play well… Don’t we all?

It was my second time in Sharjah, with the first one, last year, being very successful; I won it quite convincingly, with 7½ p out of 9. After my slow finish at the World Rapid in Moscow, I was very motivated to try winning the tournament again!

Consciously or not, chess players are a bit superstitious. When I play well at a tournament, I thoroughly analyse all the factors which contributed to my success. After last year’s win, I decided that the major factor was sharing a room with a super-positive player: IM Sopiko Khukhashvili, from Georgia. Good mood is a key ingredient of playing well, that’s why I was very happy to repeat the “winning move” and share the room again with Sopiko this year.

Win after win and suddenly I was on 5/5, and the sole leader.



Olga Zimina (centre) eventually tied for first | Photo: shjwomenchess.com

All good so far, right?

Unfortunately, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows and I got very sick before the second half of the tournament. My fever was too stubborn to drop below 38 and it seemed that nothing could make me feel better. The worst part of it was that my brain went on strike as well, not ‘wanting’ to focus at all. The best strategy I could come out with was to offer a quick draw and hope that my opponent would agree. Round six thus ended in a draw in about 20 minutes. I went back to my room and prayed that I would feel better on the next day. Unfortunately, not all of our prayers are listened to…Another short draw followed. I knew this strategy couldn’t last for long.

Round eight came. I was playing against GM Monika Socko — a very tough opponent — with the black pieces. I knew there was no point in offering a draw and I just tried to play a decent game, something which I didn’t succeed in, losing in 19 moves. I went back to my room very angry with myself...and the virus which wouldn’t leave me alone.

Frankly, I thought that was it. I was angry with everyone and everything and felt helpless.

On my way to the last round I could scarcely hope to fight for 1st place, but the ways of fate are strange…



WGM Jovana Rapport finished fifth just behind Socko

I won my game in a nice, attacking style, while Monika had to settle for a draw which meant that we were both on 7 points out of 9. However, that was not enough, as the first tiebreak was the direct encounter which was not favourable for me. IM Zimina and IM Sukandar also won their last games, so it was a four-way tie for first. Not everyone played against each over, so they had to calculate the Bucholz. Mine turned to be the highest, so I was first!

Was it luck? Was it fate? I don’t know, but it is probably the most difficult tournament path to a win I ever had.

Funnily enough, the moment I won the last game was also the one when I started to feel better health-wise and my fever finally broke.

Time to go to bed now and dream about the next chess adventure!

Final standings (top 20)

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Bulmaga Irina 7,0 0,0
2 Sukandar Irine Kharisma 7,0 0,0
3 Zimina Olga 7,0 0,0
4 Socko Monika 7,0 0,0
5 Rapport Jovana 6,5 0,0
6 Li Xueyi 6,5 0,0
7 Assaubayeva Bibisara 6,5 0,0
8 Gevorgyan Irina 6,5 0,0
9 Khukhashvili Sopiko 6,5 0,0
10 Smirnova Ekaterina 6,5 0,0
11 Dordzhieva Dinara 6,0 0,0
12 Asatryan Sona 6,0 0,0
13 Michelle Catherina P 6,0 0,0
14 Kubicka Anna 6,0 0,0
15 Heinemann Josefine 6,0 0,0
16 Nguyen Thi Mai Hung 6,0 0,0
17 Abdulla Khayala 6,0 0,0
18 Gong Qianyun 6,0 0,0
19 Drljevic Ljilja 6,0 0,0
20 Pujari Rucha 6,0 0,0

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Irina Bulmaga is a WGM/IM born in Moldova, currently representing Romania. She became the youngest Moldavian Champion among Women at the age of 14 years old. Since 2010, she has been a part of the Romanian Olympic team, successfully representing it at 5 Olympiads, winning an individual bronze medal in 2014.


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