WC Ukraine (2008)

When it was announced the 2008 live WC would be held in Kiev, Ukraine, the question was not about "are we going?" but "how do we get there?" the two main options being by plane or by train. Some went by plane, together with "the group" (consisting of Tim, Ricardo, Erik, George, Julian, Ronald and yours truly we went from Rotterdam (Ronald joined at Deventer) to Kiev but not directly. The plan was as follows:
Rotterdam(NL) --> Deventer(NL)
Deventer(NL) --> Berlin(DE)
Berlin(DE) --> Rivne(UA)
Rivne(UA) --> Kiev(UA)

The journey

If I recall correctly, the train from Rotterdam to Deventer would depart around 9:00 in the morning, everyone (but Ronald of course) was present and we all went on the train. As we got near Deventer, it was then announced that the train would actually not go there, but its final destination would be one major stop in front of Deventer due to unannounced maintenance. As a result, we had to take a bus (from Dutch Railways) to be transported to a near station, from where we could take another train to Deventer (yeah, really...) we were barely on time to catch the train to Berlin.

The trip from Deventer to Berlin took approximately 6 hours, during which several games were played in the train. Some brought a travel Stratego edition

which of course, ultimately, could only result in grabbing mini pieces from the train's floor. Take that, you addicts!

After arriving in Berlin, we had several hours ( I think about 3 and a half ) until our next train would depart to Ukraine. Some time was spent in Berlin and we went on the train. From Berlin to Rivne it took about 17 or so hours to get there. During which more games were played aswell as an attempt to sleep was made (quite a challenge on a bumpy road I can say). After a long trip we finally arrived in Rivne, where we would stay one day to play a "warm up tournament", while the WC juniors and WC women( would be held too. The "other tournament" was won by Ricardo.

Something I had never experienced before, on the Poland/Ukraine border, the train's wheels were switched to support a different kind of rail tracks. In a working place, the train would be taken off its wheels, and new ones would be put underneath

At this point we also had to fill in some forms for some pesky customs. The language barrier came into play here as well, as the Ukrainian customs did not really speak English. I had to fill in the same form twice. My handwriting is not exactly my best quality and the customs official was not able to read my filled in form 😅.

Also, about 90 minutes prior to arriving in Rivne, we accidentally found out that due to time zones, Rivne would only be 30 minutes ahead rather than 90. A lucky discovery!

Exploring the area around the Rivne station a bit

Inside the Rivne station

During the stay at the hotel some decided to practice a bit, while others enjoyed a more relaxing evening. While trying to return to the hotel room, the door refused to open (around 1.00 in the night/morning), leading to quite a bit of hassle as the hotel people didn't speak English and we (Ricardo and I) don't speak sufficient Russian/Ukrainian. After a very challenging time trying to communicate, the hotel people tried to open the door, which also failed, resulting in our stuff being in the room still. As a temporary solution, we were given the presidential suite, later that morning the door was broken open and our stuff was retrieved.

After all this it was time to move to Kiev, where the actual WC would be held. After arriving in Kiev the family that would offer us residence picked us (George, Erik, Ricardo, yours truly and a 5th Dutch person, Herman, who also has close connections to Ukraine) up and rested a bit from long travels and a tournament. When going to the actual WC avenue it was necessary to go by metro/underground/subway, whichever word you prefer :)

Kiev Metro system

Escalators in Kiev metro, going as deep as 100m beneath the surface.

Day 1

Game #1 vs. Roseline de Boer. A quick but not so easy game. An early exchange of a Marshal for my Colonel was enough to set the game on fire. After capturing some more pieces, the game ended quickly. While it might sound easy, there were some opportunities for Roseline to strike back, but I was able to defend in time.

Game #2 vs. Ruben van de Bilt. During every big tournament that was won, there always is that one game that you could, maybe should have lost. This was such a game. Down a captain + major, but having lower pieces at my disposal, this game was very tough to win. Having an open flag that game did also not help. I am still not sure how, but I managed to win this game. This already was a very alarming game for me. I remember thinking for the last 15 minutes "This isn't going to end well, at some point he will just capture my flag when he realizes it's over for him".

Game #3 vs. Kolya Zakharzhevskyy. Definitely not an easy game, but never under the pressure of potentially losing. An early exchange took place, my opponent getting a captain, me getting a major but having to reveal the marshal for it set the game on fire. Kolya was not able to take advantage of the information and thus, ultimately, the major proved to be enough to close this game in the end.

Game #4 vs. Vincent de Boer. Vincent being the current world champ would not be easy to take down. The game, as I recall, had a very tense start with some important pieces being exchanged. Vincent offered his marshal for my general and had a slightly better position and lower pieces. As I was slowly gaining back pieces, Vincent decided to try to capture my open flag which turned out to be a disaster. Having placed the flag on " i1 " square that game was enough to see a colonel and major dissapear on bombs placed on " g1 " and " h1 " square. Even then it was still not a done match. The location of the flag being obvious and my numbers being very low, but just enough to force a crucial exchange on Vincent's last threatening piece was enough to take the victory that game. After winning this game, winning 4 games in a row, one slowly starts to think about WC title chances.

Game #5 vs. Tim Slagboom. A difficult game, at that point not having the best record against Tim, this was an important game however. Both of us having won 4 games so far, neither could really afford a loss. The game started and very early Tim found himself in a 50'50 situation with his known marshal, being trapped between my spy and my unknown marshal. Unfortunately (for me), he did take out the spy and thus a marshal trade was forced. Tim being up a major at that point was the one in command. After a general and one colo trade off something had to be done. I hit, with my last colo, an unmoved piece on D9 square hoping to find a major or a captain, and did find a major, restoring balance in the game. In the end, in a crazy close endgame, the game resulted in a draw. Not ideal, but the dream was still alive.

Day 2

Game #6 vs. Dennis Baas. One of the very few players, yet to date, that in my opinion is rated too low for his knowledge and skills. Definitely not an easy opponent and not to be underestimated. The game was on fire very quickly after Dennis exchanged two of his colonels for two of my majors, and finding my marshal and general in the process. It was very fortunate for me that Dennis ran his general into an unmoved piece at E3, which turned out to be a bomb. Should that not have happened, one of my colonels was in severe danger.

After this unfortunate collision with my bomb, Dennis resigned. Should Dennis have been able to capture my colonel (or other pieces), dealing with an unknown marshal would definitely not have been an easy win for me.

Game #7 vs. Ralf Sandkuhle. At that time one of the few players, despite his ranking, I did not have good results against. The score was 4.5 - 1.5 in his favor. The game itsself was very close, I remember being up the highest piece of the board, but having no idea where to look for Ralf's flag. Ralf wrongly thought he could slip a miner through by sacrificing his highest piece (captain) to my major. His miner did slip through, but an open flag setup took care of his passed miner and the game ended before I had to go on a flag hunt due to Ralf's resignation from the game after losing his miner and captain. Fun fact: After this game I won all following games against Ralf (11). In the meantime, Vincent and Tim drew against each other, both losing 3 points in the process.

Game #8 vs. David Bouten. My results against David were 3-0 in tournament play for me, but never easy games and mainly from the times where David probably felt he was supposed to beat me. This game things were the other way around, I wanted to win this WC and needed to take him out in order to keep the dream alive. The game developed slowly, but then David made a mistake which I was able to capitalize on, gaining pieces and forcing trade offs. After some crushing blows I was able to get enough of an advantage to, without much resistance, close out the game and get one step closer to the final game. Tim yet again played a draw this round.

Standings before round 9:

1. Pim Niemeijer (45)
2. Vincent de Boer (40)
3. Tim Slagboom (39)
4. Ricardo Kik (38)
5. David Bouten (38)

Vincent having higher buch/mbuch than me could, theoretically, still be champion. Should Vincent win his game while I lose my game, we both end on 46 points, giving him the WC title on (m)buch points. A draw would suffice for me to win the title, regardless of Vincent's result.

The trophy at stake

Game #9 vs. Ricardo Kik. After setting up the pieces, I remember looking up in the air a bit (I was feeling relaxed). Approximately a minute prior to the start of the actual game, I closed my eyes for a brief moment, thinking of positive things as a way of getting into the proper zone to play this game. At move #1, I obviously, 😄 , offered a draw, which Ricardo did not accept. After some exchanges, Ricardo was up a major, but I had three captains on him, I knew the location of his marshal and one of his colonels, and our generals had been exchanged. I again offered a draw, which Ricardo did accept. Of course, given the pieces, I could have played for a win, but a draw in this scenario was enough to gain the title. Continuing to play on, only to lose after not being able to defend a major+miner combination, would be unforgivable, so it was better to be safe than sorry. Since Ricardo also knew he wasn't in the best position to keep playing, he did ultimately accept the draw.

Being able to lift up this truly remarkable and beautiful thropy in the air at the awards ceremony was of course a very pleasant experience.

Shortly after the awards ceremony, the first radio stations from the Netherlands started calling for interviews. Not exactly my favorite activity. Calling my parents to inform them about the result was much more enjoyable.😎.

WC Barrage
During the WC in Kiev, the WC barrage was also held which too, of course, was a fun event to participate in. Playing in a park for group stages and later on a knock-out face on a terrace.

The tournament was won by Dennis. Runner-up was David . Unfortunately all the results seem to have been lost. Should I ever get a hold of them, I will surely post them.

Day 3

The open tournament & world teams were held this day. I don't remember much from this day except that the Ukrainian team won the world team title and that I personally did not play well or focussed. Most of my energy had gone into the previous two days and since there was little pressure, things went differently than hoped.

Back home

During the train journey back home we played a "train tournament" , a tournament, in the train, while it was riding, with all risks of pieces tripping over which luckily did not occur. I don't remember the exact results, but I believe I only dropped one game, against Erik, and won all other games which was enough to also win the most prestigious "Train tournament".

After arriving at my home/street, another surprise was waiting for me. When seeing it, I thought to myself "really?.. I just want to be home and rest a bit". Looking back at it, that of course was a weird and ungrateful thought.

(Neighbours, family members aren't on this pic as they were inside already)

Few days later at the Rotterdam radio station studio

Looking back at all of this, it was a weird experience. Winning a huge tournament despite not being the favorite to win it. Overcoming foes I typically didn't score well against, the traveling, visiting Ukraine, a group journey with people who were, in a way, strangers. This will be the kind of things the youngsters will experience, too.


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