Photos by Harry van der Krogt
Although only four European Championship games were played today, what they lacked in number they made up for in quality. After the double-elimination stage, where 32 of Europe’s best were reduced to the strongest eight, the final stage began: a single-knockout sequence of quarter-finals, semi-finals and final. This Friday, four professionals and four amateurs entered the quarter-finals, two professionals and two amateurs made it through.
On the top board, Jonas Welticke 6d produced a delightfully chaotic game against Ali Jabarin 2p. The score fluctuated back and forth between them at almost every move, such that neither player could hold onto a lead for very long. Befitting a quarter-final, the score was dead even 50 moves before the end and the game ended with a half-point victory for Ali. It is clear from his performance in this EC, and considering his win in the 2022 Grand Slam, that Jonas is right at the top of European go with the ability to challenge any of our best and deliver fantastically entertaining games. And Ali, after emerging from such a wild game with a victory in hand, is in good stead to continue right to the end of this competition.
Artem Kachanovskyi 2p, last year’s runner-up, battled to establish a slim lead in his game with Fredrik Blomback 7d, who placed third in 2022. After a mistake on the 121st move, however, the tables turned in Fredrik’s favour. Artem fought to make the game competitive again until, 119 moves later, he was forced to resign and end his run towards this year’s title. As a three-time runner-up, and with the EC being almost the only trophy missing from his shelf, he will no doubt return in strength. Credit must go to Fredrik, who has proved all through the competition that his incredible run last year was no accident and that he has the ability to play on a par with our strongest players in the toughest tournaments.
Our amateur vs. amateur pairing was a spectacle from the second move: against Thomas Debarre 7d, Ashe Vázquez 7d chose to play two 5-4 points as White after having such success with it in previous rounds with the black stones. Whereas they often trailed in the opening as a result in those games, this time the strategy worked in Ashe’s favour. They led for most of the opening and, a chaotic capturing race in the middlegame notwithstanding, held onto a solid lead for the majority of the game while resisting all of Thomas’ best attempts to fight back. Ashe’s performance in this EC has been exemplary, especially their cool use of unconventional openings to surprise players rated nominally higher than them.
The final game was the least chaotic: facing his fellow professional, Stanisław Frejlak 1p, Andrii Kravets 1p built a very modest lead after a mistake from his opponent worth about six points on the 70th move. He then withstood struggle after struggle all through the middlegame, even augmenting his lead at times, and even Stanisław’s legendarily accurate endgame couldn’t reduce the lead sufficiently. Andrii booked himself a place in the semi-finals with a 7½-point victory. After now beating two professional players in a row, Andrii has excellent momentum going into the semi-finals.
Thus, in the semi-finals Ali Jabarin 2p will face Fredrik Blomback 7d, while Andrii Kravets 1p faces Ashe Vázquez 7d. Neither pairing has occurred already in this tournament, but no doubt each of the four will have kept a close eye on their opponents’ games. Friday evening will have been spent in careful scrutiny, perhaps especially in the revision of 5-4 joseki. Usually it would seem foolish to predict a European Championship final that didn’t feature at least one professional player but, given the strength of the amateur players, this has emerged as a distinct possibility. Rarely has the field of semi-finalists seemed so open, each of them has a tangible chance of seizing the title.
Only two days of play remain before we crown our Champion, you can follow the games live on OGS from 10am with professional commentary on the EGF Twitch channel. Make sure to check back here for a summary of the day’s events, too!