Kings Tournament honours its founder

by Macauley Peterson
11/30/2017 – The 11th Kings Tournament was the first edition held in memory of legendary Romanian player, organiser and teacher, Elisabeta Polihroniade, who helmed the event for its first nine years until her death in 2016 at age 80. A large scholastic event including a simul by Anatoly Karpov started the festivities last Friday in Bucharest. This year's tournament — a pair of four-player double round-robins — was won by Ukrainian's Vassily Ivanchuk and Anna Muzychuk, and was broadcast live on ChessBase with grandmaster commentary. | Photo: Macauley Peterson

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11th Kings Tournament

Amândoi in Romanian means “together the two of us”, and that is the title of a new book of poetry by Romgaz Kings Tournament organiser Dan Gabar. This year, he and Grandmaster Dorian Rogozenco, held the 11th edition of the tournament, but the first dedicated to its initator, Elisabeta Polihroniade, who died in 2016 at the age of 80.

Elisabeta was a kind and generous woman who would greet you as an old friend, even when you were only lightly acquainted. I first met her in Wijk an Zee, where she was a regular guest, and where she invited me to the 5th Kings Tournament in 2011. She loved chess, and aside from her professional play as a seven-time Romanian Women's Champion, and ten-time member of the Romanian Olympiad team, she was known for communicating her love for the game for decades on a Saturday TV show.

At the opening day of the 2017 event, held in a conference room at the Marshal Gardens Hotel in Bucharest on Friday, November 24th, Elisabeta’s portrait featured prominantly around the room. She was in a bright red jacket, smiling wryly down on those in attendance. She would have undoubtedly loved the scene, full of children, professionals, and friends, all together.

Liliana Pana, Romanian actress

Liliana Pana, a Romanian actress, reads the poem "Christmas", by Dan Gabar, dedicated to his parents | Photo: Macauley Peterson

The festivities kicked off in the early afternoon with a simultaneous exhibition by the 12th World Champion Anatoly Karpov, who played 16 players on one end of a large conference room, while dozens of school children participated in a tournament throughout the rest of the hall. The best of the scholastic players qualified to play a small four-board simul against Vassily Ivanchuk and Anna Muzychuk.

I arrived about an hour after Karpov had begun his simul, but already he had dispatched most of his opponents. He looked fresh, as he glided around the array of tables, in progressively tighter circles as the black players began falling like dominoes.

Anatoly Karpov simul

Anatoly Karpov won all his games quickly | Photo: Macauley Peterson

I was sorry to have missed much of the action, but it was already a long day. Arriving in time at all, necessitated being up at 5:30 AM, for an early morning flight — but as I learned on the way from the airport, it was longer still for Pia Cramling who was on the same connecting flight from Vienna and started her day in Stockholm at 3:30 AM! It was her first visit to Romania in many years, but she related that she actually played Elisabeta once in an open tournament in France which — we learned later that evening — made her the only participant in the tournament with that distinction.

The conference room on the fifth floor of the hotel was abuzz with children and parents, many of whom began congregating near Karpov in anticipation of the resignation of his last opponent, and the ensuing opportunity for autographs and photos.


Black fought on as the crowds gathered, and this was the last game to finish.

Karpov autographs

No escape for the former World Champion! | Photo: Macauley Peterson

On the other end of the room, the Ukrainian duo’s simul got underway. None of these champions had much difficulty, and scored 24-0 between them. One of Ivanchuk's young opponnents kept score.


The score trailed off here, but Ivanchuk won in a few more moves.

The Sicilian Rossolimo for White

The Rossolimo Variation 3.Bb5 is considered to be one of the strongest replies to 2…Nc6 in the Sicilian Defence. The fact that the move has been played by practically all the top players proves its popularity and strength. But the most interesting aspect of playing 3.Bb5 is that we force sharp, attacking players who love to have the initiative to forget about the Open Sicilian and to adjust themselves to a new world, one full of positional ideas, manoeuvres and nuances.

Ivanchuk - Narca

Marius Narca resigns | Photo: Macauley Peterson

Alessia Mihaela Ciolacu

14-year-old Alessia Mihaela Ciolacu, rated around 1500, was the last opponent to resign to Anna Muzychuk | Photo: Macauley Peterson

Shoes of Ivanchuk and Muzychuk

Contrasting footwear, Ivanchuk and Muzychuk | Photo: Macauley Peterson

Afterwards, it was Anna Muzychuk's turn to be mobbed by the eager youth players, hungry for an autograph on photos, books and even their own t-shirts. And of course a picture alongside the woman's world number two.

Muzychuk fan

Sign here please! | Photo: Macauley Peterson

At 6 pm, the children had gone, and the hall filled up with local chess personalities and media, artists, friends and family and invited international guests. The showcase was the presentation of Gabar's book, with poems inspired by Polihroniade. The back cover blurb is by Karpov, and recounts her varied career in chess:

Back book coverElisabeta Polihroniade was a wonderful person and a remarkable chess player, who started the high-performance sport at the very early age. In those days, female and male chess was separated from each other. The Olympiads stood as an exception and that’s how I came to meet Elisabeta personally for the first time at the Skopje Chess Olympiad, in 1972. That year the women's team of Romania was exceptionally strong and was one oft he main contenders for the title. Elisabeta played chess successfully for many years.

It is wonderful that Elisabeta didn’t just stop at the competitive part of chess. She also dedicated herself to promoting chess: edited the Romanian chess magazine Gambit and had a regular TV program about chess. Thus she had a huge contribution for the present popularity of chess in Romania. Together with Elisabeta we initiated the program "Chess in Schools", which had the purpose to prepare children for the World School Championships.

And last but not least I would like to mention that Elisabeta created the strongest ever tournament in Romania – The Kings Tournament.  Thanks to her personality she succeeded to make The Kings Tournament become a traditional event, which gathers every year top players and thus represents a major chess event in the world chess calender.

GM Anatoly Karpov
Former World Champion 

Among those sitting with Karpov at the opening ceremony were FIDE Executive Director Nigel Freeman, Alexander Kostyev, chess chair at the Russian State Social University, and Valery Kuzmin, the Russian Ambassador to Romania.

Group photo at the opening ceremony

(L-to-R) Nigel Freeman, Sorin Iacoban (Romanian Chess Fed. President), Alexander Kostyev, Valery Kuzmin, Sergei Karjakin, Vassily Ivanchuk, Wei Yi, Bogdan-Daniel Deac, Anatoly Karpov, Ioana Abramiuc (Romgaz), Dorian Rogozenco, Anna Muzychuk, Elisabeth Paehtz, Corina Peptan, Pia Cramling, Faik Gasanov, Dan Gabar | Photo: Macauley Peterson

On to Medias

The next morning all the players (except Deac) piled into a small bus for the five hour drive to Medias, a small city with a population of around 45,000, located in the middle of the country, in the Transylvania region. On the way, we stopped in Râmnicu Vâlcea for a late lunch at an Italian restaurant. Coincidentally, it was Bogdan Deac's home town, although he was not with us.

Players and other passengers passed the time in various ways. Elisabeth Paehtz generously switch on her phone as a mobile hotspot, Sergey Karjakin pulled up videos of his two small children (two boys, the elder about two years old, and the younger almost four months) many passangers napped. Naturally some chess was discussed. Ivanchuk's eyes lit up when he notice the copy of New In Chess in my lap and immediately asked to borrow it. Sergey then passed around a challenging mate-in-three study he'd received on his phone via WhatsApp.


Even a strong engine will take a few seconds to find the quickest mate

High level chess has been held in Romania each year since 2007 as Turneul Regilor or "Kings Tournament". The tournament has taken many forms over the years, as its budget has varied, but it has survived, and now looks to be going strong.

When it started ten years it was held as an elite classical round-robin. More recent formats featured team matches pitting the Romanian national team against China and the following year against Germany. Rogozenco, the national coach of the German Chess Federation, lives in Hamburg, but comes from Romania and the current number one German national team, Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu, switched federations from Romania to Germany in 2014. In 2016, there was a match between Vladimir Kramnik and Hou Yifan.

The original idea for this year was to invite the World Champions in each discipline — classical, rapid and blitz — and with Ivanchuk and Karjakin, they nearly managed. In place of Magnus Carlsen, Wei Yi is the three-time Chinese Champion and increasingly in demand in elite events.

Naturally, featuring a top Romanian in each tournament was de rigeur and Deac got the nod as the youngest ever Romanian Grandmaster (14 years, 7 months and 27 days in June, 2016). Still just 17, Deac has already played in one Kings Tournament — he won the best individual prize in 2015, in the team match against Germany.

Rogozenco also was keen to initiate a dedicated event for women, to help promote more women in the sport. Among the women, Corina Peptan was selected. She won the World Youth Championships among girls under-10, under-12, under-14, and under-18, and has come to dominate the Romanian Women's Championship, winning it eleven times since 1994, including this year.

However, as the lowest ranked players in both categories by a wide margin, it's not surprising that both Romanian players struggled. Between them they scored just 3 points (out of 12) in rapid, and 6½ (out of 24) in blitz.

Rogozenco hopes to preserve the women's tournament in future years.

Rapid tournament

The tournament was a double-round robin with players receiving 15 minutes plus 10 seconds per move for the entire game.

Vassily Ivanchuk was indestructible. He won the mini-matches with Karjakin and Deac 1½ : ½ and split with Wei Yi 1 : 1. In total, 4 out of 6 was enough to win.

Karjakin started strongly with 2½ points on the first day. Afterwards he said of the third round win "I was slightly better after the opening. I should have taken on f3 with the pawn. Instead I took with the queen and it was a very small advantage for me in the endgame."


The position remained level for the next five moves, until Wei collapsed under pressure.


21...Re8? 22.b5 axb5 23.Rxb5

"But of course he blundered when he played Re8, he blundered that I can go b5 now and after takes takes he doesn't have Nd8 any more [because of 24.Bxc7 -Ed.], and if he plays Rb8 I go Rxc6. And so he gave up a a pawn, and then it was basically a technically winning position for me and I won quite easily."

On life with two small children:Sergey Karjakin

Many things changed, because somehow we got used to the one kid, and we already felt it was very easy with one, and now we feel it's very complicated again. With two it's really difficult; I don't have much time and especially for Galiya doesn't have much time because she's always with them — while I'm in the tournament she's with them.

His wife Galiya Karyakina (née Kamalova) gets some help at home in Moscow from her parents, and they also have a nanny.

In the second round-robin Karjakin lost to both Ivanchuk and Wei Yi. His victory over Deac left him in second place.

Ivanchuk played "the best idea of the day" according to Rogozenco, in his black game with Wei Yi:


34...g5! An innocuous looking move, but one that actually threatens to create a mating net! 35.hxg5 hxg5 and now Wei played 36.g4 and ended up down a pawn, although he eventually drew. The point is if 36.axb5 g4! Black is threatening Bf3+ and Rb1, followed by mate! White would have had to give up material.

Wei Yi finished third in the rapid with 2½ points. The young Chinese might have expected more, but he lost to Karjakin on the first day and Deac on the second day. The victory over Karjakin on the second day was small consolation.

Final crosstable


All rapid games (men)


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Wide view of the playing hall

Playing hall at the Romgaz Documentation and Information Centre | Photo: Macauley Peterson

The Ukrainian colors were also victorious on the women's side of the room. Anna Muzychuk won three games and drew three. That left her with 4½ points, one point ahead of Elisabeth Pähtz. Pia Cramling managed to draw all her games. Corina Peptan finished fourth.

All games (women)


Final crosstable

You can get a feel for the action via Rogozenco's live commentary:

Blitz tournament

On the third day the tournament continued with blitz games. The trend of the two days before continued as Ivanchuk and Muzychuk dominated. Ivanchuk ended with 9½ points ahead of Karjakin (7½), including 3 : 1 in their head-to-head games. Karjakin's one win was the only defeat Ivanchuk suffered all day. Wei Yi and Deac emerged with with 4 and 3 points, respectively.

Final crosstable


All games (men)


Muzychuk, like her compatriot Ivanchuk, lost only one game, against Pia Cramling. The reigning rapid and blitz Women's World Champion had five wins, three against Peptan and two against Pähtz. The latter edged out Cramling for second place by half a point, just as she had in the rapid tournament.

It's worth noting that Muzychuk has declined to defend her world titles at the 2017 World Rapid and Blitz Championships next month, due to the tournaments being held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, citing security concerns and the requirement for women to wear an abaya while in the country.

Final crosstable


All games (women)


Dorian Rogozenco also provided live commentary on the blitz games:

Anna Muzychuk and Vassily Ivanchuk Photo by Mircea Hodarnau

The winners: Anna Muzychuk and Vassily Ivanchuk | Photo: Mircea Hodarnau


Macauley served as the Editor in Chief of ChessBase News from July 2017 to March 2020. He is the producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast, and was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.


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