Monday, January 15, 2007

This last weekend...

Egor checking out the tables before the final counts were made at this year's Spartak Brest Region Chess Tournament
Yesterday was New Years here again and of course there was yet another party. The reason there are two New Years in Belarus is that they changed the calendar after the revolution in 1918 and their world moved two weeks backward. This is the reason that they celebrate the October revolution in November and Christmas here is held on January 7th. I guess this could be considered a bit confusing, but here they take their parties where they can get them so two of everything makes people happy. Now that I am thinking of it though, our man Reb Chaim over at the synagogue, a 90-year-old orthodox Russian Jew actually has three birthdays; two from the Russian calendar and one from the Jewish calendar.

So marking the date on Sunday night, we again had carolers and such coming to the door, singing Christian songs and asking for candy and money. Egor actually got into this with his friend Vassa and went around till about 10:00. I didn't even know he knew any of the songs. He says he made about 15,000 for the evening. No, I am not collecting this for his rent. You should have seen his face while he counted out his money.

Speaking of Egor, congratulations are in order. Yesterday he managed a tie for first place with 71/2 of nine in the Spartac Regional Chess tournament. He actually was placed second because the numerical coefficient of the quality of his competition, his number was slightly less than Roman Grib, the current Belarusian State Champion with whom Egor tied on points. Egor's one loss was to Grib as well; this was in the sixth game Saturday morning. Going into that game Egor was actually up by a half point. His loss meant that he had to win the last three in a row to have a chance. He won his next two on Saturday and, going into the last day of the tournament, Egor needed a win and Grib needed to lose for the trophy. Egor won his game but Grib managed a tie which was enough for the cup. Egor got a volleyball along with a certificate and a medal for second place.

But none of these facts really can describe what it felt like for all of us. In addition to the prizes, Egor was also awarded a move up from the second rank to the first. There were six first rank players in the tournament and Egor played four of them (2-1-1), including winning both of his last two games under pressure against them. He also generally comported himself in the manner that his chess instructor Leonid Linderenko described as a strong sportsman. As you can imagine, Sunday was one of our proudest days ever.

Champion of Belarus, the great Roman Grib (right) and admirers
But there were some other subtleties that made this moment even a little sweeter. If you have been reading this blog for a while, you might remember an issue we had with Egor's former teacher, Boris Kostine when he pulled Egor into the coat room to tell him not to win games against players of other commands. That scolding came just before Egor was to play against Kosty Semanuk, then the golden boy of Pinsk chess and Kostine's star pupil. Egor was at that time also in Kostine's care, but a few day's later, we pulled Egor from his class and placed him with Linderenko. You can find all of these stories over in the index for June 28th to July 9th, 2005. Last year Egor didn't qualify for any tournaments, including this one. This year, in addition to getting into the Spartak tournament, he was also invited to Minsk for the national championships for both the 12-and-under and the 14-and-under groups.

But if this year has been an upswing for Egor, it has been a down elevator for Kostine. After getting credit for Grib's winning the Belarus title last year, Semanuk left Belarus for Canada with his family- he has since won the Ontario Junior Chess championship- and now Grib's family wants to take Roman out of Kostin's care as well. Kostine has said that he doesn't like to train Grib very much, claims that the boy is difficult and is looking at the end of his contract according to a number of trainers.

While coming up the street for the ceremonies, I saw Kostine leaving early. He was not interested in even shaking Grib's hand after his win.

Egor getting a vollyball and ribbon from his trainer Leonid Linderenko (left)
I must admit that I felt a lot of pride at Egor's win. I am not saying that I am taking credit for his talents, because this is the farthest thing from the truth. Egor learned to both play and love chess from his grandfather and was put into the local chess system (a fine one no matter how you look at it) by his mother. I even pretty much stopped playing chess with him two years ago after I found I could not beat him any more. This is not to say that I have done nothing for him for his chess, I think I have been there for a few things, but basically my point is that this is his accomplishment and talent.

I am hard on the boy though. This is the truth; I am a tough guy with him. No, I don't charge him rent, the room is his, but I do require that real attention be paid to his school work and other responsibilities. Work is finished before play is my mantra and the difference between a man and a boy is recognition of responsibilities. I try to set a good example for him about this and he knows I am on the bike and riding first thing in the morning and at the desk typing right after breakfast. He has seen me pull many, many all-nighters and knows that I don't ever lie to him. I feel he has learned these lessons and I would like to think that this has become a part of his makeup. If this is so, than I am proud of this even more.

The problem though, is that I don't actually get all that much recognition as being a family type guy. It is really strange for me sometimes trying to convince people who try and tell me I should be in the states that I have a family here and that this colors how I see things. People never really seem to understand that I feel a great responsibility to Tanya, Anya and Egor. I actually got a letter today offering that I was a "defector". I don't know if there is a real difference between that word and the word "expatriate" except that the latter to me is less argumentative. I guess it is like the difference between atheist and agnostic- neither is a believer but the agnostic doesn't kvetch about it too much. I ask how I could be considered a defector when all I do is work for the community, for my being had project and for my family. I would think that this would constitute my being a good American much more than a traitor to the flag.

But I simply don't see where it is such a cut and dried proposition that I am automatically wrong for staying out here rather then heading back to the states. All right, all right, I'll give you money as one reason and yes, the proposition of dealing with it here in the coming years is going to be even harder than ever. But Pinsk is both Tanya's and Egor's home. These streets and the faces and what they do is all from here. This is their home, their language, their home culture. Why can't this count for something?

Grib, Egor, Ura Zoyevski and Masha Koladich, the girls champion in a photo taken for the local press
And even more: Aren't we all looking at a chance to really help this country now with all of the extra pain Russia has heaped upon us? I mean, I have come this far; why stop now? This also applies to the whole beinghad deal itself. This thing is growing now, this .com has the potential to really be something; why stop now?

However, all this having been said, I don't know if I am going to Minsk in March. There are reasons for and against. On the plus side, I would get to see Egor play, but on the minus, if I am there, it will disturb his autonomy. The same goes for his mom; Egor plays for himself and for the thrill of the game. He likes getting praised and presents for success, but basically it's his gig, not mine. This is not to say that the decision is made, but we have to think it through. It also costs money.

So that's the story from here for the last two days. Egor played his heart out and made us all proud as all get out for him. The last of the holidays has finally come and gone. There still has been no snow or frost all winter. And other than this, it looks like Belarus finally got a little something in the oil deal with Russia. As one guy said though, Belarus still has to pay, but at least on one or two points it was not a total butchering. I don't know if any of those latest oil stories gave me any hope, but at least they took the edge off the fiscal worry and allowed us to enjoy our second New Years of 2007 and that great performance by our 11-year-old in this year's Spartak tournament…

How do you like them apples, Kostine? How do you like how our boy plays chess?

More soon…