Written by Sandra Jones
I am Australian, but was raised in Russia and know a unique Russian way to sincerely wish good luck: “Ни пуха, ни пера!” It literally means, “No fluff and no feather for you!” Fluff denotes animals, feather denotes birds, and the whole phrase originally meant, “May your hunt on animals and birds be unsuccessful,” and was originally used as a superstitious ritual to make the hunt, on the contrary, successful.
Many Russians are afraid that directly wishing someone good luck or praising someone before an upcoming important event such as a hunt, an exam, or a tournament can actually bring him bad luck. This stems from ancient Russian beliefs about evil spirits, but can also be supported by psychological considerations. If you wish someone good luck and are too nice towards him, he is likely to relax and lose his fighting spirit. If you, on the contrary, wish him bad luck, he is likely to become a bit angry, more focused, and more willing to succeed. If you praise someone, he may well overestimate his abilities and fail. If you instead criticize him, he will get reminded about his deficiencies, consider the upcoming event as a big challenge, and do his best and utmost to prove that he is able.
Motivated by the above considerations, I decided to write an article about weaknesses of the participants of the Gomuku Qualification Tournament (GQT). The article is strictly about weaknesses, so praises and mentions of strengths are deliberately avoided.
And I have no hesitation as to who to start with: Martin Muzika, who deprived his national team of the silver in the last world team championship by making a terrible blunder in the decisive round. Here is the link to the game: http://gomokuworld.com/tournaments/218/14653. His opponent was about 300 rating points below him, and Martin dominated during the entire game. At a certain point he needlessly played fours like a newbie and thereby gave the opponent an opportunity to play a tight but simple winning combination. The opponent found it and played it. As a result of Martin’s blunder, the Czech team got no medal at all, with the silver and bronze medal winners earning the same number of points as the Czechs and beating them on the tie-breaking criterion. Following this, Valery Kondratyev made the following public comment on the Russian gomoku discussion forum (as translated by me from Russian): “Crazy Muzika. He plays a different game, which has something in common with gomoku.”
And that blunder is one of the many terrible mistakes made by Martin in his gomoku games. As Martin says himself, he missed wins against Martin Höbemägi (http://gomokuworld.com/tournaments/218/14531) and Valery Kondratyev (http://gomokuworld.com/tournaments/218/14573) in the same team championship and also blundered in the game against Denis Osipov in the world championship 2017 (http://gomokuworld.com/tournaments/191/12702).
Martin’s game against Edvard Rizvanov in the last world team championship deserves special attention (http://gomokuworld.com/tournaments/218/14630). Edvard put a scheme, and Martin chose black and made a losing fifth. Edvard responded by a losing sixth, and then Martin chose a losing seventh. This marvelous taarof-style series of mistakes was completed by Edvard, who played a losing eighth and lost the game. The game was highly important as it was played in the match between Czechia A and Russia A.
What Martin lacks is obviously self-discipline. Gomoku is a cruel game, in which a slight inaccuracy can turn the tables. Real gomoku warriors are highly accurate and check everything.
Since I mentioned Edvard Rizvanov, it is now his turn to be criticized. It is unthinkable how a player can put a scheme he has not properly learned, especially in a highly important game. This is unprofessional. Also, I was told by one of the best Russian players that Edvard has two major flaws: (i) a lack of understanding of what to do in zero positions and (ii) a fragile personality with psychological issues. It is perhaps the latter factor that makes him a pretty unstable player. For instance, he earned 8 out of 9 points in the Russian Final 2017 and 9 out of 9 points in the Moscow Open 2019, but only 4.5 out of 10 points in the Krasnodar Open 2017 and only 2.5 out of 7 points in the Russian Final 2019.
Michał Żukowski seems to lack a professional approach either. During the last world team championship he posted a message on the Russian gomoku discussion forum at 1:27am Polish time, almost one-and-a-half hours after midnight, despite having to play next day. On the day following that night, Michał was unable to beat an opponent who was 300+ rating points below him. Burning the midnight oil during a tournament is unprofessional. A good night’s sleep is essential. Another example is Michał’s game against Denis Osipov in the same championship (http://gomokuworld.com/tournaments/218/14612). Denis put a new scheme, and Michał elected not to add stones and chose a color. In the modern era of powerful gomoku software, such a top player as Denis could not come up with a scheme solvable in the human mind. Previous attempts by various players to play an unknown scheme put against them ended as a disaster (e.g., Dupszki vs Smirnov in 2015, Tarannikov vs Kozhin in 2015, Tarannikov vs Tóth in 2017). Needless to say, Denis confidently beat Michał, not even entering the middlegame. The decision not to add two stones was simply unprofessional.
Pavel Laube’s golden days seem to be over, with his rating having gradually slidden down from 1931 to 1722. In his golden days he won the silver of the world championship, finishing behind only legendary Attila Demján. Years passed, and in 2017 Pavel barely qualified to play in the AT, only to finish there 10th out of 12 players. He seems to be losing his passion, care, and interest and to play rather by inertia, not willing to invest time and effort in order to progress. As his nickname, Kedlub, is the masculinized Czech word for kohlrabi, I can say that the kohlrabi is overripe.
The same thing can be said about Mikhail Kozhin. Having two bronze medals of the world championship in his trophy cabinet, he started frequently making awful mistakes in his games and let his rating sink below 1700. Following a series of inexplicable blunders in the Russian Final 2017, he even made public posts saying he might have a medical condition affecting cognition. Later he clarified that hours of intensive thinking result in his brain being deprived of oxygen to an extent.
Lukáš Souček is somewhat similar to Martin Muzika in terms of impulsiveness. Spoiling a nice game with an impulsive ill-thought move is their way. A good illustration is Lukáš’ game against his Polish namesake, Łukasz Majksner: http://gomokuworld.com/tournaments/218/14547.
Igor Eged is lazy to prepare. An excellent illustration is his game against Ko-Han Chen in the final part of the world team championship 2016 (http://gomokuworld.com/tournaments/197/12163). Igor put a scheme that is an easy white win, and his Taiwanese opponent chose the wrong color. Not knowing how to win in his own scheme, Igor made a wrong sixth and thereby equalized the position. Soon he messed up again and resigned already after move 25.
Another participant who seems to be lazy to prepare is Michał Zajk, as he almost never puts schemes or central openings. By not forcing his opponents to add two stones, Michał misses a chance to quickly get a time advantage or a better position, as choosing a playable addition of two stones is often a difficult and time-consuming task.
Also, it is questionable whether Michał is psychologically strong, as he tends to lose decisive games. For instance, he lost to Štěpán Tesařík in the final round of the last world team championship despite that Štěpán was about 150 rating points below him. If Michał had won that game, his national team would have received the silver instead of the bronze. Furthermore, Michał lost the final round of the Polish championship 2016 to Piotr Małowiejski, who was about 400(!) ratings points below Michał. The loss resulted in Michał landing on the 4th place instead of winning the gold.
Matīss Riherts has a bunch of weaknesses. First, he lacks experience of live games, especially of those with a long time control. He played only in four live tournaments, and the time control exceeded half an hour only in one of them, where it was 40 min + 15 sec. Being not used to playing on a real board, Matīss told me he had found it difficult to beat opponents whom he would easily beat on Kurnik. Second, Matīss is a hardcore night owl who is used to regularly burn the midnight oil on Kurnik and go to bed hours after midnight, so he is likely to find it difficult to do his best and utmost in the early hours of morning rounds. Third, Matīss’ habit to undo his moves on Kurnik cannot serve him well in live tournaments. His current live rating, 1460, seems to reflect the above issues.
Adrian Fitzermann did not play in any official tournaments in the last three years, and his lack of practice may prove to be detrimental. Furthermore, in his last live tournament whose time control exceeded half an hour he managed to earn only the sixth place. And it was just the Polish championship.
Maksim Karasev is a renju player who rarely plays gomoku. His renju habits of assessing positions as well as his lack of experience of adding two stones and playing positionally near an edge may well bring him down in decisive games against strong opponents.
Štěpán Tesařík has long been in the crowd of people who are below 1700 and is yet to prove that his recent rating rise is not just a lucky fluctuation.
I did not mention some other participants, but they can just look at their past results or the absence thereof and easily find reasons to criticize themselves.
And if you think you are strong, remember that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The board and stones are waiting for you.
No fluff and no feather for you, guys 😉