Photos by Harry van der Krogt

The 2023 European Championship is drawing to a close and our finalists have emerged: on Sunday, Ali Jabarin 2p and Andrii Kravets 1p will play a single game to determine who will be crowned Champion. Neither had an easy path towards the final, neither has won this title before; both have battled through a week of gruelling five-hour games to make it. Let’s take a closer look at how they made it past the final hurdle:

Ali Jabarin 2p faced the fearsome Fredrik Blomback 7d on board 1 and, while Fredrik played a marginally better opening, neither player could establish more than a three-point lead for almost 150 moves. With very few inaccuracies from either player, the score remained on a razor’s edge until, as our commentators pointed out, Fredrik missed a first-line hane that would have eliminated some dangerous aji in sente. Ali looked poised to claim victory by the smallest of margins, and a dazzling tesuji that would have handed Fredrik the win went unnoticed by both players. In-seong Hwang 8d along with our other commentators said that it was likely the best tesuji they had seen in a European game. Fredrik’s last chance passed, however, and Ali reached the final with a win by 3⅕ points.

The second board featured Andrii Kravets 1p and Ashe Vázquez 7d, the latter of which once again played a double 5-4 opening as Black. In previous rounds, against similarly strong players, Ashe’s strategy seemed to be to allow their opponent to enjoy a slim lead in the opening, only to complicate things in a middlegame struggle and win that way. Here, however, Andrii gave no opportunities for such chaos. As has been the case in most of his EC games, the balance was in his favour almost the entire time. After playing a remarkably accurate opening, Andrii was not drawn into a risky fight and emerged from the most significant struggle of the middlegame with a modest lead. For the last 70 moves, the score barely changed at all; Ashe resigned with all but the simplest endgame already played out while Andrii was up by around 4½ points. Andrii became our second finalist, for the first time in his career.

The stage is set, the 32 players that started this competition have been reduced to just two. Although the final will be pro vs. pro, this fact does not diminish the incredible performance of our amateur players; Fredrik, Ashe, Jonas Welticke 6d and others have inspired us with first-class examples of what is possible as an amateur go player. Fredrik and Ashe will face each other on Sunday in the small final, to determine the third and fourth places.

Let’s consider our finalists’ routes to the final: Ali beat Denis Dobranis 5d, beat Cornel Burzo 6d, lost against Ashe Vázquez 7d, beat Rémi Campagnie 6d, beat Jonas Welticke 6d and finally beat Fredrik Blomback 7d. Across these six games, a few were incredibly closely-fought battles. He proved, however, that he has the extraordinary skill and valuable experience to make it through the toughest of them. Ali has been runner-up in the European Championship three times, in 2015, 2016 and 2020. He has also placed third twice, in 2018 and 2021. To place so consistently near the top of this competition is no mean feat; if he were victorious on Sunday, it would be no fluke.

Andrii had a slightly more arduous path towards the final, playing seven games: he beat Davide Bernardis 5d, lost to Jonas Welticke 6d, beat Dmytro Bogatskyy 6d, beat Lukáš Podpĕra 7d, beat Tanguy le Calvé 1p, beat Stanisław Frejlak 1p and finally beat Ashe Vázquez 7d. Conversely, Andrii’s games were mostly less chaotic: he emerged from the opening with a slight lead and held onto it to the end. Andrii also bested Ali in their previous two encounters, both in the 2020 Grand Prix finale; coupled with his incredible momentum that has been irrepressibly mounting over his previous four games, it’s possible that this could counterbalance Ali’s experience in the final of this competition.

A packed commentary room. From left to right: Roman Gerloff 1d, Tanguy le Calvé 1p, Lukas Krämer 6d, Ali Jabarin 2p, In-seong Hwang 8d, Fredrik Blomback 7d, Stephen Hu 5d.

All of go-playing Europe holds its breath, both of our finalists are seasoned players who know how to perform under pressure and who have made it this far with both the right set of skills and the right mindset. They became strong players together; they will have prepared similarly; they will enter the playing room with the same goal. One will be crowned European Champion.

Find out which one by following the final and small final broadcast live on OGS and commentated on the EGF Twitch channel. Make sure to check back here for coverage of both games, and an interview with our new 2023 European Champion!

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