Written by Sandra Jones
The Gomoku A-Tournament (GAT) started two days ago, and I beg my pardon for not having had enough time to do my duty on time. My duty was to write an article criticizing every GAT participant for his weaknesses and wishing every GAT participant no fluff and no feather, just as I did for the GQT participants in a previous article of mine (https://renjunews.com/no-fluff-and-no-feather-for-you-gqt-participants). Such a ritual, as explained in that article, is based on an old good Russian tradition and is intended to help players by reminding them about their weaknesses and motivating them. Following that article, quite a few players, including some GAT participants, asked me to do the same thing for the GAT players.
Better late than never, so I am writing such an article now.
The article is strictly about weaknesses, so praises and mentions of strengths are deliberately avoided. Praises are reserved for a future article, which I will write after the world championship. In that future article I will praise players based on their performance in this GAT.
That’s the way – criticize before an important event and praise thereafter.
And I have no hesitation as to who to start with: Zoltán László, who seems to consider himself to be the best, but let his national team down in the last world team championship, where he was only third among the players who played at the first board, and was unable to win even the national championship title, losing the famous Hungarian Meijin match played in March 2018.
Let us have a closer look at Zoltán’s performance in the last world team championship. He was the captain of the Hungarian team and should have led it by example in an inspirational way, similar to how Denis Osipov led the Russian team to winning the gold, and what did Zoltán actually do? Already in Round 2 he blundered and lost to Oleg Bulatovsky (http://gomokuworld.com/tournaments/218/14520), and this must have impacted the morale of the entire team. In the match against Czechia A, Zoltán lost to Martin Muzika basically in a few moves (http://gomokuworld.com/tournaments/218/14615). And in the decisive match against Russia A, Zoltán missed a VCT and thereby lost a precious half-point (http://gomokuworld.com/tournaments/218/14649). The loss of that half-point would have left the Hungarian team without any medals at all if Márk Horváth had not sensationally earned a half-point against Mikhail Kozhin in the same match. That was a miracle by Márk, as his rating never exceeded 1566, whilst Mikhail had twice won the bronze of the world championship and was 200+ rating points above Márk at the start of the game.
Half a year before that team championship, Zoltán played the Hungarian Meijin match and lost 2-3 after leading 2-0 (http://gomokuworld.com/site/tournaments/219), which raises questions about Zoltán’s qualities as a fighter.
During that match, Dmitry Epifanov, who is a famous Russian renju trainer and is now playing in the Renju A-Tournament, publicly commented (as translated by me from Russian), “And Zoltán is being lazy at the board, not working hard. Moves playable in one-minutes games are not so good for a long time control.” Roman Berezin, a famous Russian renju player, voiced the same opinion.
In the last world championship, Zoltán got beaten twice by Petr Žižka (http://gomokuworld.com/tournaments/189/12541, http://gomokuworld.com/tournaments/191/12647), once in the GQT and once in the GAT. In the second of these games, Zoltán managed to miss a bunch of relatively simple wins, totally messing up.
To summarize all of the above, Zoltán appears to be a player whose overconfidence often leads to careless play. He seems to not always work hard at the board, possibly lacking the ability to motivate himself to do his best and utmost in games he thinks he will most likely win anyway. His quick loss due to a blunder against Pavel Laube in the GAT 2017 (http://gomokuworld.com/tournaments/191/12670) and a quick loss to Jan Purkrabek in the Hungarian championship 2017 (http://gomokuworld.com/tournaments/185/11958) only complete that picture.
Gergő Tóth is another Hungarian and has his own weaknesses. First, he is focused on gradually building a win and sometimes misses more direct opportunities to win the game. Here are a couple of examples: he missed a VCF on move 49 in his game against Zoltán László in the Hungarian Autumn Tournament 2017 (http://gomokuworld.com/tournaments/206/13264) and missed a simple VCT on move 51 in the game against the same player in the Polish championship 2018 (http://gomokuworld.com/tournaments/217/14452). Second, Gergő’s play itself might not be of the highest quality, as he got outplayed by Denis Osipov both in the GAT 2017 and in the world team championship 2018 (http://gomokuworld.com/tournaments/191/12671, http://gomokuworld.com/tournaments/218/14650), although Gergő won one of these two games as a result Denis’ blunder made in a position in which Denis had a simple win. In an interview taken by me from Gergő in April 2018, he said, “Sometimes I succeed, but mostly I am lame and not so creative.” Third, Gergő seems to be a very busy man who does not have much time for gomoku, and his shape varies depending on factors known only to him. His performance in the Czech Open 2019, in which he lost both to Laube and Tesařík, was not commensurate with Gergő’s rating and illustrates the point.
Márk Horváth is the third Hungarian in this GAT, and his rating never exceeded 1566 despite that he played 50+ games. Nuff said.
I will only add that Márk proved to be unable to handle girls. For example, he built a massive advantage in his game against Pavlína Brdková in the last world team championship and had a bunch of wins in that game, but totally messed up, even missing a two-moves-long VCF on move 67, and achieved only a draw (http://gomokuworld.com/tournaments/218/14594). Márk also started the Hungarian Autumn Tournament 2018 with a loss to Andrea Nagy (http://gomokuworld.com/tournaments/235/14852), a female amateur who had a provisional rating of 1340 and had played only 8 games before. In May 2017 Márk challenged me to a duel on Kurnik, which consisted of one 20 min game, and had a VCT in that game, but needlessly played a four like a newbie and lost the game to me as a result. Being unable to handle girls is a clear sign of weakness, because girls tend to be much less motivated to achieve highest results in gomoku than guys are.
Concerning Ilya Muratov, I have heard an opinion of a strong player that for some unknown reasons Ilya plays much weaker in international tournaments than in domestic ones. In particular, he played in the GAT 2013 and the GAT 2017 and finished there last and last but one, respectively, but won the Russian championship more times than anyone else. He was put on the third board in the last world team championship, and this apparently reflects what his teammates thought about his abilities to fight world-class players in international tournaments.
What could be the reasons be? Ilya positions himself as an unofficial leader of the Russian gomoku world, so it may be important for him to be the best in Russia, whilst he may subconsciously care less about international tournaments, especially when he does not see a realistic chance of winning the gold or at least a medal. Another possible reason could be related to his playing style. Ilya is a positional player, whilst Russian players tend to be more focused on gaining the initiative, so Ilya may have found an optimal style to beat them, but may find it hard to create much trouble to Europeans by playing in the same style. To put it simply, Ilya may have adapted to play specifically against Russian players. Also, Ilya seems to be regarded as a player who is very stable and accurate against average players, whilst successfully fighting world-class players requires something more than mere accuracy.
Alexey Lebedev is a typical average Russian player and occupied a national seat thanks to peculiarities of the organization of the Russian championship. The Russian championship is ignored by many Russian players and has a very complicated qualification system that consists of a series of qualification tournaments and gives advantage to those players who can frequently travel or live in cities where tournaments are organized. Many strong Russian players who are above Alexey on the rating list did not participate in the Russian final (e.g., Kachaev, Karasev, Kozhin, Tarannikov, and Litvinenko). Alexey won the second place in the Russian final, finishing a half-point above the players who took the third and fourth places. He is the 14th Russian on the world rating list. In a conversation with me, a strong player characterized Alexey as an average player who has nothing special in his game and does not calculate far. In the GAT 2015 Alexey took the last place.
Ilya Katsev occupied a national seat by exploiting the Russian qualification system, which was designed largely by himself. The regulations were such that the winner of the Cup of Russia, which was to be held in Saint-Petersburg, would get a national place in the GAT. Many strong Russian players elected not to travel to Saint-Petersburg and thus did not play in the Cup of Russia (e.g., Muratov, Rizvanov, Karasev, Litvinenko, Tarannikov), so the only tournament participant with a rating above 1700 was Denis Kachaev. As an inhabitant of Saint-Petersburg, Ilya enjoyed the convenience of not having to travel. And he won the tournament simply by beating Denis in the direct encounter and avoiding messing up in the other rounds (http://gomokuworld.com/tournaments/247/15250). The overall score between Denis and Ilya before the tournament was 21.5-1.5 in favor of Denis, who is also above Ilya by about 250 rating points, but everything can happen in a single game. Denis won all other games in that tournament, but finished below Ilya because of a worse Berger coefficient.
Ilya Muratov and Ilya Katsev never earned a national place for Russia themselves, but occupied in 2017 and 2019 national Russian places, which had been earned for Russia by others. This is a result of internal Russian regulations designed largely by Ilya Katsev and Ilya Muratov themselves.
Speaking about specific weaknesses of Ilya Katsev as a player, I can say that I was told that his main weakness is his inability to really focus in a game. In other words, Ilya is always somewhat relaxed in his games.
Moreover, Ilya Katsev’s approach to gomoku seems to be somewhat simplistic. He apparently tends to think in terms of learned variants and reducing positions to known ones. For instance, he often adds two stones in such a way so as to convert the opening to a position similar to a position known to him. This seems to reflect Ilya’s nature as a mathematician. Mathematicians are used to reducing a problem to a solved one.
On top of that, Ilya is an unstable player and sometimes miserably fails in an inexplicable manner. An example is his game against Soňa Turečková in the last Czech Open (http://gomokuworld.com/tournaments/246/15361). Ilya is about 400 ratings points above her, but managed to achieve only a draw, avoiding a defeat by the skin of his teeth. Soňa had a two-moves-long VCT on move 37 and a one-move-long VCF on move 51, but missed them both. Another example is the Cup of Russia 2018, where Ilya lost to everyone except for players rated below 1300 (http://gomokuworld.com/site/tournaments/222).
In the GAT 2017 Ilya finished last. After the tournament, he made a public post in which he said (as translated by me from Russian), “I earned as many points as I deserved by my play.”
Oleg Bulatovsky is on the 29th position on the rating list and made it to the GAT thanks to his Swiss gambit in the GQT. He seems to have stopped to progress long ago, with his highest rating dating back to 2014, and, like Ilya Katsev, is an unstable player. For example, Oleg utterly failed in the Polish championship 2018, where he finished 15th out of 18 participants (http://gomokuworld.com/site/tournaments/217). He likes to put his favorite openings, and at least once he was caught in a trap made of two stones added to his opening (http://gomokuworld.com/tournaments/185/11942).
Martin Höbemägi is primarily a renju player, and his renju habits may serve him not well in decisive moments. He performed pretty poorly in the last world team gomoku championship, earning only 4 points in 9 rounds. Failing to qualify to the Renju A-Tournament from the Renju Qualification Tournament, he occupied the Estonian national place in the GAT.
Maxim Karasev, Martin Muzika, Štěpán Tesařík, and Michał Żukowski have already been criticized in my article about the GQT participants.
That’s it, guys. It seems I have not forgotten anyone. To complete the ritual, I wish you no fluff and no feather in the remaining rounds of the GAT 😉