A chess adventure in Riga

by Holger Blauhut
9/12/2023 – Holger Blauhut is a Norwegian Candidate Master who enjoys playing in tournaments himself and looks after his talented daughter Anna. In mid-August, he took part in the RTU Open in Riga with his daughter, and experienced the typical adventures of chess travellers.

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Two shoes?

The last round of the Norwegian Championship was over and we had a holiday ahead of us, a chess-free holiday! As we were leaving the playing hall we met the multiple Norwegian champion, and he told us that it would be good for my daughter Anna to play at the RTU Open in Riga. He would participate with his students from the competitive sports high school.

I was a bit sceptical because the chess-free part of the vacation was now significantly reduced, and also because my previous trips to Riga always ended with a generous donation of points to the Eastern European youngsters. But when the king calls...

The journey from Fredrikstad to the airport was pleasantly lonely. As long-time immigrants, we know that we should keep our distance from fellow travellers and avoid conversations. The bus driver had a similar view and did not leave the motorway at the stops, so no one could get on, and we got to the airport a quarter of an hour earlier than planned.

On the fully booked plane, we met Agdestein and The Gang, who immediately rushed to the tournament hall in taxis after landing so that they could take part in the blitz tournament. This haste cost them several hundred Elo points.

We slowed down and took bus number 22 from the airport to the Daugavgrivas stop and from there walked to the Hotel Islande, right next to the university. In Riga you can get tickets for local transport in the Narvesen kiosks, but not in all of them, as we learned at the airport. When asked about tickets, the saleswoman mumbled something about down, pointed upwards, crossed her arms over her chest, looked to the side and could not be persuaded to make any further contact. We still found some other kiosk that did sell tickets quite quickly.

After attending an organ concert in St. John’s Church, which is considered Riga’s oldest church, we went looking for something to eat. It wasn’t easy to get some food in Riga’s Old Town on Saturday evening, as the restaurants were crowded. Eventually we found a surprisingly empty Italian restaurant on a side street. We were served extremely courteously, and then the waiter locked the door and didn’t let potential guests rattling the door stop him from reading the newspaper.

The next day, a rapid chess tournament was played, which Baadur Jobava won ahead of Alexei Shirov. The best Norwegians were in sixth to ninth place. For me, there was a surprisingly moderate drop in Elo. After the tournament, many current and future strong grandmasters gathered for dinner on the roof terrace of the Hotel Islande. During the long wait, the air was full of knight sacrifices and other combinations.

The main Open tournament didn’t start until Monday afternoon, so we had time to visit the Riga Central Market, which was rebuilt in the 1920s from parts of airship hangars — and these hangars were closed that particular Monday. But at least the stalls around the halls were open, so we were looking for a pair of shoes for Anna and unfortunately didn’t know that I could use some a few hours later. We actually found what we were looking for. By asking about the second shoe, we clearly aroused the displeasure of a rather voluminous lady. There was a lot to read in her eyes as she looked at us: “Sales so early, it can’t be a good day”, or: “Why do they actually need the shoes?” She could have read the question in our eyes as she looked at us, “Will she find the other shoe?” And then there was disbelief. She disappeared from the doorway and busied herself in the other square meter of the booth. She found it, we paid, and she sank back onto her stool, not entirely dissatisfied.

It was possible to register for the main tournament from 2 p.m. and so I left the hotel at 2 p.m. to walk the 500 meters to the gaming venue. I had noticed it was raining but relied on my waterproof jacket and shoes. Just when I was halfway there, about level with the swimming pool, I was soaked. The jacket kept a few spots dry here and there, while the shoes just kept the water from getting out from the inside. Avoiding puddles was no longer worth it and was not possible as the water was a few centimeters high all over the street. By the first round, the weather had improved, so I was able to switch to my sandals and take a seat on the first board on the stage. I was paired up against Simen Agdestein, but first I had to go through the ceremony of the symbolic first move. The rector of the university played e2-e4 for me,

Simen Agdestein

After the round, many of the chess players tried to get something to eat in the hotel. The rooftop restaurant had moved to the 9th floor due to the storm and was overcrowded. We ended up at a table with 15-year-old grandmaster-to-be Aksel Bu Kvaløy and his father, as well as German grandmaster Leon Mons. Linguistically, I was confused by my own German-Norwegian-English confusion, which was scarcely understood.

On the free Wednesday morning, there was a small reception for the Norwegian chess players at the Norwegian Embassy. My accent gave me away as German after I hadn’t even spoken two words. Anna and I then went to Vermane Park and sat with Misha Tal.

On Friday, I played against 8-year-old Bodhana Sivanandan, who needed a booster seat for the chair, but was at the top of her game at chess. She achieved a performance of 2065 in the tournament. My game, which was my best performance in the tournament, also contributed to her TPR. I shouldn’t have given up when I had a winning position...

For Anna, the tournament slowly faded away in the last round. She was playing against an older lady who stopped playing a few moves before checkmate. She had 60 minutes left on the clock when she started staring into space. An hour later, she wrote down the result and left the playing hall.

The sole winner of the RTU Open was Elham Amar, a student from the Norwegian competitive sports high school. With 7½ points from 9 games and a performance of 2676, the 18-year-old achieved his second GM norm.

Final standings - Open A

Rg. Name Pkt.  Wtg1 
1 ABDRLAUF, Elham 7,5 51
2 BLOMQVIST, Erik 7 51,5
CERES, Dragos 7 51,5
4 JOBAVA, Baadur 7 50,5
5 KVALOY, Aksel Bu 7 47,5
6 SIVUK, Vitaly 7 47,5
7 NITISH, Belurkar 7 45,5
8 PULTINEVICIUS, Paulius 6,5 50,5
9 MITUSOV, Semen 6,5 45
10 AGDESTEIN, Simen 6,5 44,5
11 KEINANEN, Toivo 6,5 44
12 WILLOW, Jonah B 6,5 42,5
13 HEMANTH, Raam 6,5 42
14 DELORME, Axel 6,5 41,5
15 BASSO, Pier Luigi 6,5 41,5
16 AKESSON, Ralf 6,5 41,5
17 REICHMANN, Hendrik 6,5 38
18 GHARIBYAN, Mamikon 6 49,5
19 KAASEN, Tor Fredrik 6 48,5
20 KANTANS, Toms 6 46,5
21 DIERMAIR, Andreas 6 44,5
22 GALOPOULOS, Nikolaos 6 43,5
23 MIEZIS, Normunds 6 43,5
24 STREMAVICIUS, Pijus 6 43
25 KRIVONOSOV, Oleg 6 43
26 MONS, Leon 6 42
27 WADSWORTH, Matthew J 6 41,5
28 HAITIN, Ilja 6 41
29 LAHDELMA, Henri 6 40,5
30 SINITSINA, Anastassia 6 40

...201 players


Author, publisher and office worker. Holger Blauhut lives in Fredrikstad in Norway.