U.S. Military/DoD Clutches Team Bronze, Blitz Gold at 33rd NATO Chess Championship

Though the NATO Championship was  suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has now returned stronger than ever!  The 33rd NATO Chess Championship (Portoroz, Slovenia) features military personnel and civilians from members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). This year the U.S. was represented by Airman First Class FM Patrick Aizpurua (FIDE 2304, USAF), Captain FM Eigen Wang (FIDE 2192, USAF), Lieutenant NM Chase Watters (FIDE 2138, USN), Technical Sergeant Andrew Duren (FIDE 2007, USAF), Petty Officer Andrew Peraino (FIDE 1957, USN) and Senior Airman Charles Unruh (FIDE 1830, USAF).


Image Caption
The U.S. Delegation (photo courtesy of the subjects)


After five days of competition, the U.S. chess team clutched the team bronze medal in a very dramatic last round (a repeat from last edition) with Germany and Greece winning gold and silver, respectively. In the individual section, FM Robert Stein from Germany won the gold medal, IM Anastasios Pavlidis from Greece the silver and IM Ege Koksal from Turkey the bronze.

Next, I would like to showcase one of my highlights from round four. See if you can find White's best move, then play through the full game below.



Here's the game in full:



Last Round Report

Before the start of the last round, seven teams were still in contention for the gold: Germany (19 pts.), Greece and Turkey (17½ pts.), Italy (16½ pts.) and USA, Poland, and Denmark (16 pts.) so the U.S. needed a strong performance and some luck to climb from fifth (on current tiebreaks) into the medaling podium. Fortunately, the U.S. team showed they were up to the challenge.

Aizpurua, playing with the black pieces,  won a somewhat tense game in a London system setup against his opponent, J.B. Pedersen from Denmark. Pedersen soon found himself in time trouble in the critical moments of the middlegame, and Aizpurua could have finished the game on move 28. Can you find how?



We leave the diagram as an exercise for the reader. The full game can be seen here.

Wang also won with the white pieces in a Slav defense against FM Finn Pedersen (also from Denmark). He claimed the bishop pair early on with 10. h3 and eventually managed to break the Slav defense’s famed d5-blockade. What resulted was a slow, maneuvering game in which both sides shifted their pieces within their own camp. Ultimately, the bishop pair enforced its value in the endgame.

Watters and Unruh also won comfortable games with the black pieces against lower rated opponents.

Despite four Americans winning their games convincingly, it was still not enough to catch up with Greece and Turkey, who both managed to make it to 20 points as a team in a somewhat lackluster round for both (each team’s best four players scores were added to get the final score).


The Deciding Moment

This meant that the United States’ fourth player, Andrew Duren, had to win his game against Aleksander Tenin from England to replace Unruh as the fourth best U.S. score. Unfortunately, he found himself on the losing side of a Phillidor position gone wrong for the defending side.



When all was said and done, the U.S. claimed the bronze medal by having a better MBucholz score than Turkey and only slightly worse than Greece’s. This means that it is the second year in a row in which the U.S. claims bronze and cements itself as a powerhouse at the NATO chess scene. Greece could not repeat their last year’s team gold but showed a strong performance, with their best player IM Anastasios Pavlidis not losing a single game and claiming individual silver. Germany dominated the scene with team gold and individual gold by FM Robert Stein. Despite not claiming a team medal Turkey still had a rather successful tournament, with the tournament’s third seed IM Ege Koksal winning individual bronze.


Time to blitz

Once the main event concluded, it was time for the blitz. This was held as an open tournament with local Slovenian players having the opportunity to play against the NATO alliance at a 3+2 time control, not requiring blitz enthusiasts to be a part of the uniformed services to do so.

After eleven rounds, FM Patrick Aizpurua claimed the gold medal with 9½/11, only losing one game and a draw. Turkish GM Burak Firat placed silver with 9/11 and his teammate IM Ege Koksal claimed the bronze with 8½/11. This marks the first time an American has claimed a gold medal at the NATO Chess Championship. Also, the blitz results put Turkey’s performance at a silver medal and two bronzes.


Closing remarks

What can the reader expect for future installments of this tournament? The 33rd NATO CC was broadcasted live through ChessBase, Chess24 and Chess.com. We can expect that this will continue to be a tournament feature going forward.

In terms of logistics, the organization in this year’s edition was phenomenal by treating the players to a beautiful playing scene located in the Slovene-Italian coasts. Next year, Greece will be up to the challenge to meet the expectations, and they will surely accomplish it.

If you are a  military chess player interested in being invited to play on the 2024 team, please contact Colonel (retired) David Hater at Click here to show email address or Staff Sergeant (retired) John Farrell at Click here to show email address.