If the first round of the 2023 European Championship can be described as a predictable salad starter, the second as a slightly spicier soup dish, then the third round was a meaty main course. We were treated today both to impressively dominant performances and dazzlingly chaotic games, with an upset or two peppered in. This food metaphor has been stretched too far already, so let’s dive right in to some round highlights:
The headline news is that current European Champion Benjamin Dréan-Guénaïzia 7d was knocked out of the competition by Matias Pankoke 6d in a bloodbath game. After the deaths of many groups on both sides, Matias claimed the victory after 205 moves and with a final lead of some 70 points. This means that we will certainly crown a new European Champion on Sunday, and there are still a number of strong contenders for the title.
On the first board, Artem Kachanovskyi 2p must have been relieved to face an uncomplicated battle in his game against Tanguy le Calvé 1p. Tanguy played something of an innovation in the opening that Artem, in true Artem fashion, calmly ignored. Despite starting the game in stylish sunglasses, Tanguy soon removed them to better see the board. However, Artem was rarely under pressure throughout the entire middlegame, and the game ended by resignation after 151 moves. This grants him two days of rest while games are played out in the loser’s bracket to determine his next challenger.
In the most significant upset of the Championship thus far, Ashe Vázquez 7d employed the same opening with which they had such success in the first two rounds to take down their strongest opponent yet, Ali Jabarin 2p. They once again played two 5-4 points with the black stones, and as in their second-round game, they trailed behind on points for much of the middlegame. Jeff Su 6d, Ashe’s teacher, gave some insight into this approach: Since professional players are so comfortable playing in fuseki, positions and with shapes they are familiar with, one might force them to play in entirely unfamiliar situations. The discrepancy in rating points is, in theory, mitigated by this mutual unfamiliarity. Indeed, even professionals can make mistakes, and after 205 moves Ali blundered. Granted a lead of the slimmest margin, merely 1.5 points, Ashe clung to it through two endgame ko fights to seize victory. This win, in such a complicated game with such a strong player, will surely sow some nerves among Ashe’s competitors.
Two players will surely be disappointed after their third-round games, the first being Fredrik Blomback 7d. Using too much time in the opening meant that in the first struggle of the middlegame, he made a fatal misreading error and had no choice but to resign after only 65 moves. His opponent, Stanisław Frejlak 1p will be glad to have had such a short game, as well as the chance to relax for the next two days and enter the quarter-finals in top form. We can expect Fredrik, however, to give a fierce fight in his next game in the loser’s bracket; his Championship is certainly not over just yet.
Disappointment will also be felt by Valerii Krushelnytskyi 6d who, after preparing an anti-mirror go strategy to keep notoriously mirror-happy Jonas Welticke 6d out of his comfort zone, fell behind by around ten points by the 85th move. A fighter through and through, Valerii then succeeded in re-complicating the position, inducing a ko fight and emerging from it with a lead of five points. Jonas’ only hope was in resurrecting a scattering of stones within Valerii’s territory. Perhaps under time pressure after many hours of play, Valerii couldn’t prevent this and was forced to resign after 248 moves. Jonas is thus guaranteed a place in the quarter-finals, while Valerii must fight through the loser’s bracket to remain in the running.
While the confirmed quarter-finalists can rest up until Friday, we have two more days of exciting games to come courtesy of the loser’s bracket. Its name notwithstanding, there are encounters of guaranteed quality in store. The first pairing to keep an eye on is Lukáš Podpĕra 7d vs Andrii Kravets 1p; since both are experienced players with top-class play, neither will want to be knocked out at this stage of the tournament. Similarly, Jan Šimara 1p will also be keen to prove that he deserves to continue into the next round, as both a previous European Champion and our newest EGF professional. Look out for his battle with Cornel Burzo 6d.
As ever, our excellent broadcasting team will be relaying four of the top boards for us to enjoy from 10am tomorrow. Make sure to check out the live commentary on the EGF Twitch channel and return here for more updates from the EC and other Congress events!