Author: Sanan NADIROGHLU
Indeed, this year was the best one in the history of Azerbaijani chess. After a series of successful performances at various prestigious competitions, our grandmasters proved the high level of chess in Azerbaijan.
Only a month ago Teymur Rajabov won the World Cup and the 14-year-old child prodigy Aydin Suleymanov became a world champion. Now, after 27 years, our women's team consisting of Gunay Mammadzadeh, Khanym Balajayeva, Ulviyya Fataliyeva, Gulnar Mammadova and Turkan Mammadyarova won the bronze medals of the continental championship and wrote another glorious page in the history of Azerbaijan's chess. That's how our women chess players sort of balanced the situation with the unsuccessful performance of the men's team, three-time European champions.
In fact, the bronze medals of the European championship didn't come as a surprise. For those who closely monitor chess, this is a completely normal and decent result. The consistent success of our chess players in recent years and their advancement in the FIDE ranking have created a favourable ground for the success. It is no coincidence that for the first time in history, our team entered the top five of the European championship.
However, the start of the championship was not successful for Azerbaijan. Although our chess players defeated the outsider, the Lithuanian team (4:0) in the first game, then they lost to the Spanish team (3.5:0.5). Such a big difference in the score with the Spanish chess players (12th strongest team of the world) raised serious doubts about the fate of Azerbaijani team. But the team recovered quickly won a landslide victory over Austria (4:0) and secured a win with a minimal advantage over the Romanian team (2.5:1.5). Then came another victory with a single point margin over the Italian team, followed by a draw in a dynamic struggle with the favourite of the championship, Russia. This result played an important role in terms of the standings. Our next rival, the host team of the championship, Georgia, was no less dangerous. Having endured the struggle against the second favourite of the championship, our chess players also won in a duello with the French team (2.5:1.5).
In the last round, the national team of Azerbaijan could be satisfied with a draw to be the third strongest team of Europe but the Armenian team had to win the game. However, the determination of our girls did not allow the rivals to achieve their goal. With a guaranteed advantage on all the boards, three of our players decided to agree to a draw. Gunay Mammadzadeh, however, brought the final victory for the national team of Azerbaijan by winning on the first board against Lilit Mkrtchyan from Armenia.
Gunay Mammadzadeh (19) admitted that she was very worried before the last game: "Winning medals by defeating the Armenian team was as honourable as losing and returning home empty-handed could be. Thoughts about it involuntarily intensified my excitement. Speaking specifically about the meeting, during the game, the opponent straightened out a bit, there was a chance for a draw. She consulted with the captain, but since they needed victory as air, she refused a draw. The risk cost them dearly. I am very happy that I took third place with the team and achieved a decisive result in this important duel. ”
Two Azerbaijani chess players, who made the main contribution to the victory of 27 years, ultimately entered the top three players of the competition. Gulnar Mammadova (6.5 points) became the second, and Gunay scored 5.5 points in eight games and became the third on the first board. In addition, Mammadzadeh rose to the 30th position in the FIDE rating with 14.7 points. She updated her previous highest achievement in the republic (32nd place in June 2018).
Although the results of Khanym Balajayeva and Ulviyya Fataliyeva can hardly be called satisfactory, the return of Turkan Mammadyarova to the team after a long absence was a success. She had two victories, two draws and lost only in one.
As expected, the Russian team became the strongest team of the championship (16 points). Georgians became the second (15 points for 7 wins, 1 draw and 1 loss).
Unfortunately, our men's team left without awards and was without Teymur Rajabov.
FIDE and ACF Vice President Mahir Mammadov called the success of our chess players historical. He recalled the bronze medals of the 27-year-old duo of Firuza Valikhanli and Ilaha Gadimova: "This is a truly historical achievement in the modern history of Azerbaijan. No one expected this. After all, we were not among the favourites of the championship. Before the competitions, the highest rated chess player from Azerbaijan was Gunay Mammadzadeh with 2427 points; the rest of our team was below 2400. In women's chess, those with more than 2500 points are considered super rated. We have eye-witnessed the development and ascent of our team over these years. I can confirm that the women's chess in Azerbaijan is on the rise. It is a great and glorious victory in the history of our team. Back in 1992 we won bronze medals too. However, it was the time when the European championships had just begun; women's teams had just started developing. We had only two players in the team. I spoke with a member of that team, Ilaha Gadimova. Remembering those years, Ilaha suggested that in addition to Firuza Velikhanly another chess player could be included in the team. But since there was no one, they went to the European Championship together and took the 3rd place. This victory has a completely different significance. Now the European championships are held periodically."
Azerbaijani chess players continue their victorious march. Just three days after the victory of our women's national team at the European championship, we achieved another success. The Azerbaijani team of 16-year-old chess players became the winner of the Olympiad held at Chorum, Turkey. Ahmed Ahmedzadeh, Vugar Manafov, Muhammed Muradly, Aydin Suleymanly and Govhar Beydullayeva left behind the representatives of Russia, China and Ukraine, known as the strong chess countries.
The World Chess Olympiad among juniors may be held in Azerbaijan the next year. The Azerbaijan Chess Federation (ACF) sent a letter to the International Chess Federation (FIDE) with this regard. The joint appeal of the ACF and the Nakhchivan Chess Federation expressed a desire to host the competition.