By Elina Kazaryan and David Kerans

YEREVAN (VR)— While it is no secret that mercurial super GM Baadur Jobava is among the favorites to win the European Individual Chess Championship (EICC) that got underway Monday in Yerevan, Armenia, defining the keys to his prowess is not easy even for experienced observers of elite chess.

Jobava represents Georgia, but is Mingrelian himself, originally from Abkhazia (Mingrelian language is not very close to Georgian). His family fled the civil war in Abkhazia in 1994, when he was 9 years old, and he grew up from then in Kharkov. He was not a world-famous wunderkind, but it was obvious to those who saw him before he reached master strength that he had extraordinary talent. As Tbilisi-raised GM Zviad Izoria told VR at last year’s World Open, “I remember him when he was young, and it was amazing what he was doing. He’s definitely the most talented player I have ever been around.”

Beyond raw talent, however, Jobava has created sensational opening novelties, and managed at least two entirely home-scripted victories over top GMs—his 2005 demolition of then-4th ranked Evgeny Bareev was certainly one of the most famous games of the decade. Moreover, as some specialists have noticed, Jobava has often refined our understanding of the positional resources available in opening lines long considered tame.

Jobava is definitely not a computer-loaded theory drone, nor does he rely on tactical fireworks to compensate for relative weaknesses in his armor elsewhere. It takes a complete player—and more—to build a positive score against Magnus Carlsen, after all. A thorough treatment of the many dimensions of Jobava’s chess (and off-board) persona would require much more space than we can devote here. We can, however, bring chess fans closer to Jobava’s place in elite chess via discussion with his peers and with Baadur himself. Radio VR’s Elina Kazaryan is on the scene at the EICC in Yerevan, where she secured an animated interview with Jobava, plus some extra impressions from fellow super GM Anton Korobov, who knows Jobava well.

Kazaryan spoke to Korobov while Jobava was taking charge of his 3rd round game with GM Michael Roiz, a game he would win. {complete game here}

Kazaryan: Have you had a look at Jobava’s current game?

Korobov: Yes.

Kazaryan: What is your analysis, how is it playing out?

Korobov: Well, he has a position from which one could torture one’s opponent for a long time. We should bear in mind the mental energy Jobava has. People start to break up under that sort of pressure, they want to bring the game to an end, it’s like a horror film, and they defend imperfectly and lose. So I’d bet on Jobava.

Kazaryan: Do you know his opponent, from Israel?

Korobov: Mike? Yes, I know him.

Kazaryan: What’s his style?

Korobov: I can’t say I know his style, but I know he’s a pretty strong player, for sure, a positional player. But Baadur has managed to get something going, even though the position was fairly dry, the defender couldn’t clinch it down. And now Roiz is confined just to defending himself against concrete threat, very unpleasant ones. It seems to me Baadur has a big advantage here.



After move 31; White’s space advantage is apparent

Kazaryan: If I ask you to make a prediction concerning the whole tournament now, whom would you single out?

Korobov: It’s hard to predict here, the tournament is chaotic and you can’t say for sure how it will turn out. Quite possibly one of the Armenian players will rise to the occasion here in their own country. I don’t know, which of them are among the leaders? Zaven Andriesan has two points out of two. Or one of the young Russian players maybe, there are some really strong and promising ones. {Vladislav} Artemiev has two out of two, and it looks like he’ll have three out of three…

Kazaryan: And what about you? Do you have your sights set on placing in the top 23, to ensure yourself a spot in the World Cup?

Korobov: Right now I’m not setting that goal for myself, no {at this moment Korobov had just 1-1/2 points from the first three rounds}. I’ll have to just enjoy the process of playing my games.

Kazaryan: Thanks Anton.

Korobov: You’re welcome.

Jobava duly dispatched Roiz, and then joined Elina for a substantial chat.

Super GM 1-on-1: Baadur Jobava

Kazaryan: I take it you are in a good mood? You won, my congratulations.

Jobava: Thank you.

Kazaryan: How would you assess your play?

Jobava: Today’s game, you mean? The opening was a success for me, because I’ve had a few games in that line before this one, so I had a good sense of how to play the position. Michael wasn’t catching all of the nuances of that opening, and that allowed me to do what I wanted to do, and at one point he ended up short on space. It was a position that is difficult to defend in practice, and then at one point he made a pretty big error, which gave up a pawn, and he lost, yeah. I think it was an interesting game. We’ll have to analyze it to understand all the details. But let me just say it was an interesting game.

The error he made was a logical outcome, actually. If you’re pressuring your opponent all game, and he gets into time trouble, at some point errors are likely. We aren’t computers that see the best move every time. Some weaker moves creep in, and you have to see that. This time I managed to do that. I’m satisfied with the result.

Kazaryan: And how about the first two games?

Jobava: In the first round I played a pretty interesting player {Vilka Sipila}, from Finland. He was a very resolute guy. At one moment I got an advantage with White out of the opening, and then when we went to an ending I sacrificed a pawn which I thought led to a forced win. But he started to find best moves, and at one point late he was in time trouble and I had a trick he fell into, and I won. If he had navigated it just right I might have lost. Fortune was on my side. Fortune favors the brave, as we say!

Yesterday, with Black against Iordachescu, we played a complex opening line in the Caro-Kann defense {advance variation; Nigel Short system}. Coming out of it Black couldn’t really look to win, but it would be difficult to lose, too. We both figured that out, traded down, and agreed to a draw. Not the most interesting game. But the tournament is still just beginning, it’s too early to say how it is going.

Kazaryan: Since the top 23 here advance to the World Cup, have you set yourself a goal of finishing in the top 23?

Jobava: I want to qualify for the World Cup at a minimum. But beyond that, we’ll see how it unfolds. I feel like I am in good form. Before coming here I played in an open tournament in Minsk {the Bronstein Memorial, which he won}, and I came into form there. I don’t know what would have to happen for me to miss the top 23. I don’t know {laughing} it would be a nightmare! I’ll try, yeah. The top 23 is my minimum goal.

Kazaryan: By the way, some of your opponents, and people who know you, sense an unusual mental energy which sometimes affects them adversely. Do you know about that, and do you have any comment on it?

Jobava: I’ve never heard that, no one has ever told me so, to be honest, that I have some strong mental energy field. Usually they said that sort of thing about Kasparov. {laughing} I don’t know. Maybe it’s not any mental energy field, it’s just that I’m trying to play strongly and at some moments it gets hard for them when their opponent is playing strongly, when he is in top form—their mental energy field shrinks! {laughing} I don’t know. Of course it’s pleasant to hear that about yourself, but I can’t really believe it.

Kazaryan: Is this your first time in Armenia?

Jobava: Oh no, not at all. I’ve been here many times, have lots of friends. My first time here was in year 2000, if not earlier, if my memory isn’t playing tricks on me. I have plenty of connections with Armenia, friends and colleagues. No relatives, unfortunately. It’s always a pleasure to come to Yerevan, especially, to Armenia. And I should add that Armenia has been good for me. However many times I’ve come to play here, I’ve always done very well. This time too, I hope. {chuckling} We’ll see!

Kazaryan: And what about this current trip to Armenia? Have you had any new impressions apart from the chess?

Jobava: Well, yeah, it’s too early. So far I’ve only seen the hotel and the tournament hall. But the off day {March 9} will give me a chance. Of course I know Yerevan like the back of my hand, so it won’t be as new to me as it will be to others.

Kazaryan: There was a time when you served as a second to Grandmaster Topalov…

Jobava: Whoa! You’re remembering that from eight years ago…

Kazaryan: Topalov will be taking part in the upcoming Candidates Tournament {from March 13} in Khanty-Mansiisk. If it’s not a secret, have you had any proposals from Topalov or any of the other participants to help out as a second?

Jobava: No, I haven’t. It’s not a secret, I can say straight out that no one has asked me. I worked with Topalov once, it was in 2006, when there was a super tournament in Sofia. At that moment GM Cheparinov was working with Topalov, but he had to be away for a few days to play in a league match in Holland, if I remember right. His friend Silvio Danailov recommended me. It was just before the Chess Olympiad in Torino that year, by the way, in 2006. He said “Go there, do some work, get some experience, and then head to the Olympiad.” And I said to myself “Yeah, why not?” {chuckling}. It was always nice—how old was I then, eight years ago, 22 or 21? It was an interesting experience, to spend time with such a strong person, and all the more so to work with him. Thank God I didn’t cast a bad aura. He took first place in the tournament. So I was satisfied. My first time as a second and I didn’t jinx him! {laughing}

Kazaryan: Is there any opponent with whom you’d really want to play here?

Jobava: {laughing} I don’t think much about whom I’ll face. Each day depends on how you’ve prepared, if you’ve slept well. Of course there are some players whom I find uncomfortable to face, and the opposite. Some of them are here in Yerevan. {smiling}

Kazaryan: But I understand you won’t say who they are…

Jobava: No, it wouldn’t be right.

Kazaryan: Especially before you play.

Jobava: Exactly.

Kazaryan: Thanks for joining us.

Jobava: Oh sure, you’re welcome.


Chess Daily News from Susan Polgar
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