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Vasyl Ivanchuk and Boris Gelfand are among the almost 500 participants in the European Individual Chess Championship that kicked off in Vrnjacka Banja, Serbia on Friday. Russian players were still eligible to take part before the switch to Asia comes into effect, but Alexandr Predke represents Serbia after he and Alexandra Kosteniuk were among the first to switch to another European federation.
The 2023 European Championship comes just days after the Russian Chess Federation was allowed to join the Asian Chess Federation, with Russian players still able to take part as long as they have at least temporarily switched their federation to FIDE. 40 players are competing under the FIDE flag, second only to 97 representatives of the home country Serbia.
One of those Serbian players is new, however, with 6th seed Alexandr Predke having taken advantage of the new regulations that allow Russian players to change to a European federation without paying a fee or being required to wait.
Former Women’s World Champion and 2021 Women’s World Cup winner Alexandra Kosteniuk had earlier announced she would play for Switzerland, and was able to bring that move forward by a year.
This year’s European Championship is a strong event, but it’s notable that it has no 2700-rated players, unless you count top seed Gabriel Sargissian, whose first round win put him above 2700 on the live rating list.
The lack of the very best players in the European Championship is something of a tradition, since the tournament is seen mainly as a means of qualifying for the FIDE World Cup — 23 players will qualify to play in Baku later this year — but the top players have other paths to the World Cup, including 13 rating spots.
For chess legends such as Boris Gelfand and Vasyl Ivanchuk, however, the tournament is a chance both to get some over-the-board play and to reach that World Cup. 54-year-old Gelfand opened with a win, while 53-year-old Vasyl Ivanchuk was one of the few top players not to win his opening clash, being held to a draw by Armenian FM Aleks Sahakyan.
Another player not to win was Andrey Esipenko, who missed one big chance against Azerbaijan FM Vugar Manafov.
Andrey went for 32.Bxd5? and the game fizzled out into a draw, but 32.Rxe5! Rxe5 33.Rxd4!, with c4 to follow, was pinning and winning the d5-knight.
The biggest upset of Round 1, however, saw young 2304-rated Hungarian FM Matyas Palczert find a killer blow against the 300 points higher-rated Polish GM Bartosz Socko.
33…Rxc2! was deadly, with 34.Bxc2 running into 34…d3! 35.Bd1 d2! 36.Qf1 Rc7! and White is getting mated. Socko tried 34.Kxc2, but was soon put to the sword after 34…Qxb3+.
Such incidents were the exception, however, with the rating difference telling on almost all the other top boards. That will change, with 10 rounds to go and not long to wait for heavyweight clashes.
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