Pictured: Bogdan Panchenkov and Tatyana Zaytseva
The second day of the European Youth Championship in Russian draughts saw tournament participants demonstrate their skills in rapid draughts and affirmed the status of several recent champions while also revealing new ones who did not play their best during the blitz round. The undisputed leaders feel confident and the new stars are making it clear that they will put up a fight. This makes the intrigue surrounding the rest of the tournament even more interesting.
The first champion in the rapid draughts competition was a ‘newcomer’: eight-year-old Yulia Nikanorova from Yakutsk, who despite her young age has been training with a coach for three years now. She was introduced to draughts by her older brother. He has basically given up the sport himself, but at least now we know that he was right to turn his sister on to the game. In contrast, Yulia has been devoting more and more time to training: over the last few months she has only taken a break from draughts on the weekends. On her rare free days she likes to go to the Yakutsk zoo. Thanks to draughts, though, she has already done a fair amount of travelling with trips to competitions in Bulgaria and around Russia, including Yaroslavl, Kostroma and now Saint Petersburg. Her parents promised to give her a laptop if she wins the championship, meaning she will have even more opportunities to train.
The first two-time gold medallist on rapid draughts day was Sandaara Aprosimova from Yakutsk with whom we spoke yesterday. Just like yesterday, she was smiling again and talking about how easy the game was for her. One might think that she herself has no idea how she is able to pull it off until you see what the young girl does during the breaks between games. We asked Sandaara what she was jotting down in her notebook as she made her way among the different rows where other contestants were playing. It turned out that she was recording the first five moves of her opponents! Nobody told her to do this; it was her own idea, which helps down the road. Sandaara modestly mentions that she had been taught to properly record moves using letters and numbers.
Other two-time champions on the day included eight-year-old Artyom Tikhonov and fourteen-year-old Daniil Leonidov, who travelled together to the tournament from Cheboksary and train with the same coach, Vyacheslav Sukhovich. Needless to say, he has experienced double the joy from their success on two occasions now. Artyom was particularly brilliant this time with victories in every single game. It’s starting to seem like there is nothing that can faze this young athlete. In response to our questions, he modestly and quietly confirmed that he has excellent marks in all subjects at school and that he is just as good at physical education as he is at science. The two draughts players spend their free time away from the game together: the night before the tournament they watched the movie Tsunami and after their latest victories they went out in the hallway together to kick around a ball. Unfortunately, there won’t be a chance to congratulate Artyom and Daniil on a third victory at the championship as they are leaving to train for August competitions in Bulgaria.
Among the new champions, we congratulated thirteen-year-old Olga Balukova from the Moscow Region city of Elektrostal. Like many others, Olga started out with chess, but once she saw draughts for the first time at the club where she played chess, she realised that she liked the former much more. In the rapid draughts competitions, Olga beat out twelve-year-old blitz draughts champion Kristina Vatolina on points even though they had the same result. The two champions had obviously become friends though and were happy for one another.
Nine-year-old Marat Lev from the Belarusian city of Slonim was another new champion with impressive results: victories in seven of eight games and one draw. Marat says he likes blitz draughts more than rapid draughts because you don’t have a long time to think. The rapid draughts results demonstrate that Marat does an excellent job of thinking. He says studying for a year with world blitz draughts champion Igor Mikhalchenko played a major role in developing his game. Marat has only been playing draughts for a little over three years, and he also manages to perform well in track and in the classroom, particularly in maths. For now, he is the only draughts player at his school, but other kids have recently started showing an interest in the sport after seeing his success. As for the probability of victory in classic draughts, Marat cryptically says, ‘Anything can happen’.
For fifteen-year-old Polina Petruseva from Belarus, this was her first victory at the 2016 European Youth Championship, but far from her first victory over the last nine years that she has been involved in sports. It all began back in kindergarten, and by age thirteen Polina was already a world champion after which other awards followed. Polina says she really enjoys winning. She trains a lot, roughly two hours a day with almost no days off, in a group, on special websites and with draughts programmes. Despite her serious approach, for now she views draughts as a hobby that she enjoys.
Once again we spoke with thirteen-year-old Nikita Volkov from Oryol, who won his second gold medal, and this time the conversation was purely about his play.
‘Today I won seven times and drew once. Yesterday I also had seven victories and two draws. I enjoy blitz draughts more because knowledge plays the main role there instead of calculation. And I have more knowledge than my opponents. I’m best at classic draughts because the emphasis is also on knowledge and not calculation. I always have the best results in classic draughts. Observing my opponents, whose style of play I know from previous competitions, I noted that a few of them have changed their repertoire and not for the better. It’s most likely because they’ve started training less. Sometimes I don’t have enough time to train either because I have prioritised my studies as I prepare to enter Moscow State University’, Nikita says.
Ukraine also secured its first two victories in the rapid draughts round: 23-year-old Bogdan Panchenkov from Zaporizhia and 19-year-old Tatyana Zaytseva from Kiev. Both of them have been playing draughts for more than half their lives – Tatyana since age ten and Bogdan since age thirteen. They also got off to a similar start: Bogdan won the district championship among eleventh-graders at age nine and then followed that up with a victory at the world championship at age ten. Tatyana also experienced the thrill of competition at a young age and couldn’t stop. In 2011, she won the world championship in the Under 13 category and then secured several bronze medals. Both athletes find the battle interesting, are continuously surprised by their opponents and strive to play with the very best so that they themselves can get better. But both nevertheless have a different approach to the game of draughts. Bogdan, who works in a technical profession with automated control systems, views draughts as a systematic type of sport. In contrast, Tatyana, a future youth counsellor, sees it as a very psychological game in which much is determined by eye.
Eighteen-year-old Damir Rysayev brought Saint Petersburg its second victory as he followed his credo of ‘more work – more results’. Damir could be described as a valuable acquisition for Saint Petersburg since the champion used to live in Sterlitamak. In a sense, Saint Petersburg has provided Damir with new opportunities to showcase his talents.
It’s no wonder that 20-year-old Vera Khvashchinskaya kept silent about her playing strategy during our previous interview as she once again defeated all her opponents. The only secret that she shared is that she tries to put aside her worries and emotions during the game. Not everyone is capable of doing this and it’s one of those things that can lead to a championship. Incidentally, there is even a Wikipedia page devoted to humble Vera that lists all her titles – master of the World Draughts Federation in international draughts and an international master in Draughts-64.
The second day of the competitions proved to be an intensive won: there was joy for the well-known champions who became two-time champions, and we also met some new interesting athletes of all ages. The classic draughts competitions offer some intrigue and just like you we can’t wait for them to start.
Text: Ulyana Ryzhova
Photos: Sergey Nikolayev