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Seniors at large

Chess has some benefits and among others it is believed that people who play chess have less risk to Alzheimer’s disease. We cannot prevent aging however and the eternal life is not yet discovered. Older people still continue to play chess. I had the opportunity to represent the US senior team in Dresden in July where the World Senior team Championship took place. Our team which took part on the 50 plus senior group consisted mostly from grandmasters from former Soviet Union.

Only true American in our team was Joel Benjamin. We were the big favorites and finally we won. There was one mishap when we lost in round four to the strong English team. I supposed to have a lot of experience in team championships. First I got a bonus in 1988 when I was a member of the Soviet team in the Thessaloniki Olympiad. I was the second reserve player together with Artur Yussupov and we did not influence our team’s success in any way. Our leaders Kasparov and Karpov showed excellent performance and there was never any doubt that the Soviet team is not winning the Olympiad.

In 1983 I was a member of students team of Soviet Union and we won the World under 26 team Championship in Chicago. I was again reserve player.

Question was, that back then the winning or losing was matter of life and death. Moscow was on your back and any failure was punished by the authorities. During the Chicago event our team won the competition without any big effort. Things however were not going so smoothly few years back. Like for the players who were involved during the World Student’s team Championship in Mexico city in 1978 where Soviet team got the second place. Several players got punished for different reasons. Most ironic was that one reserve player was accused of going to movies instead of staying in the playing hall during the crucial match. All this came to my mind when analyzing our match against England. Especially it was England who took the gold from SU in 1978.

It is true that the pairings might became light surprise as we did not expect to meet so early in the tournament. However all players expect me left to the city. Prior that in our team meeting it was decided that our reserve player Kudrin is going to play. At this moment we did not know that our opponent might be England. I did not go to the city because I was playing on the blitz tournament finishing third which was a big upset for me. Still nobody was worried about the match.

Next day our reserved player Kudrin barely played more than five minutes. Draw with black pieces is usually a good result, but it was not a good sign. Somehow Benjamin had some difficulties to put himself together and lost without a fight to Emms. Shabalov had his usual up and down game against Speelman which finally ended peacefully.  I knew that I need to keep the pressure as long as possible and I managed to do it, but failed to convert my advantage.

It was only round four and nobody in our team took this defeat from England as the end of the World. We managed defeat other teams convincingly and in the final round the strong German team came to our help and stopped the mighty English team. On the closing ceremony their representative promised to improve their team for next year at least with John Nunn, but yes Nigel Short may play as well. The winning US team may return next year as well. As it appeared the first place was important for us, because we did a big favor to people who helped our team to participate in Dresden. Seniors at large is not for everybody and it was important that our team was successful and may have a chance to find sponsors for next year as well. In case of second place our maximum sentence for failure would not be as harsh as it was back in 1978 for Soviet boys who were second behind England and some of them got serious disqualifications. Now we have a chance to defend our title next year, in case of second place we most likely could not have second chance for the title.

When I could not convert my advantage against Plasket I had my moments in the next game.


The tournament took place in nice hall and the German organization was excellent. Only thing which haunted me was the players. Children’s tournament or even Olympiad makes you feel optimistic about the future. Here where a lot of seniors gathered together it does not look very optimistic. During the opening ceremony Sveshnikov took a floor and we remembered Alexander Vasjukov who recently passed away. We all do, but definitely this was the tournament of age group where you do not want to belong. Still it was interesting to meet some old comrades like Yuri Balashov and others. All players seemed happy to enjoy chess and at least they do not have Alzheimer.

Final results


Jaan Ehlvest