Chess tradition continues in Curacao
One of the many summer tournaments on the calendar is the Curacao Chess Festival. The tournament follows a tradition initiated almost five decades ago, when one of the most famous Candidates Tournaments ever played was held on the island. This year GM Joel Benjamin won. IM Robert Ris reports.
By IM Robert Ris
Next week Karpov will continue his campaign for FIDE elections in Curacao. Curacao? I see your eyebrows moving up, suspecting the ex-World Champion rather taking some days off visiting the white sand beaches than convince the Curacao Chess Federation assuring their vote.
The Caribbean island is with its 135.000 inhabitants by population the biggest of the three ABC-islands (Aruba and Bonaire are the other two) and still belongs to the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The colonial era with its cruel slavery is still an important subject in schools, Latin-Americans often immigrate for better financial prospects, while many Dutch pensionados leaving their home country for a more preferable climate. A melt pot of cultures live here together in harmony, which explains a high number of tourists through the year. Not surprisingly, the tourism sector takes a high percentage of the total national income and still creates new jobs for the local population.
Nice words so far, but has this anything to do with chess? Hopefully after reading this report you will understand why Curacao is the perfect location to combine holidays with chess in a relaxed atmosphere.
In fact a tradition was initiated almost five decades ago. One of the most eventful tournaments in world of chess history took here place back in 1962: Candidates Tournament to determine the challenger of Mikhail Botvinnik for the upcoming World Championship match. Eight players competed each other in a quadruple round robin, which turned out not to be everyone's cup of tea on a tropical island.
After the 3rd cycle Tal was shortly taken to the hospital and had to withdraw from the tournament, while some games of Keres even had to be postponed due to stomach problems. However, he and the two other Soviets, Efim Geller and Tigran Petrosian, saved a lot of energy by drawing their games very quickly. In a tournament that lasted almost two months this strategy proved to be extremely effective, since the three ended in the top of the tournament table, with Petrosian emerging as final winner.
However, Fischer's accusations that they agreed to draw their games in advance were later proven right. It's not surprisingly that this was the last time such format was used in the battle for the world crown, and so after Petrosian defeated Botvinnik in the following year, a new era of Candidates Matches came into effect.
For those who would like to get a deeper insight of one of the fiercest battles in chess history, I would like to refer to Jan Timman's outstanding work, Curacao 1962, which contains excellent game annotations and numerous original photos.
In 1993 the Curacao Chess Federation was founded, obviously with the aim to raise the popularity of our royal game among its residents. Moreover, tournament director Jimmy Izijk delivers a great contribution to Curacao Chess Academy, which stimulates young children learning chess. In following years international tournaments were organized and various top players found it an ideal location to cross swords over the board.
The 2010 tournament
In spite of its limited budget this year, the organization managed to give its 10th anniversary extra colour. GM Joel Benjamin gave an insightful 3-hour lecture about pawn structures, while yours truly got the honour to please highly motivated locals in a simul. Their enthusiasm was clearly expressed on their faces and confirmed by the extensive analysis and number of questions they came up with.
This year the tournament was being held in the Veneto Casino Holiday Beach Resort, located a 10-minute walk from the colourful centre of Willemstad. As usual after the first few rounds the tournament table was soon divided by the different strength of players. With the free (I don't think 'rest' isn't the right word when you're hanging hours a day on the beach) day coming up I shared 1st spot with Danish FM Soren Bech Hansen and GM Benjamin, who in fact didn't really wanted to hurt each other in a Classical Sicilian with 6.Be2.
Like every year the organization did a great job by offering a beach trip to the other part of the island. The essence of the tournament was perfectly understood by many as a full bus of players (yeah, you young guys made a lot of noise!) joined the beach day rather than preparing for next's game. The Grote Knip is known for its beautiful beach and offers a great view over the bay. With its rocky and coral environment it offers an excellent sight for snorkelling and diving fans. Don't you admire swimming? No need to worry. Curacao's landscape has plenty of routes for walking in the hills. One of them is Christoffel park where at its highest point (375 m) you will have a wonderful postcard view over the island. It has been said that when the sky is clear Venezuela can be seen. Before returning to the hotel the beach trip was concluded by a barbecue.
I don't think I am the right person to mention the ideal preparation for a game. With so many possible distractions (my favourite cocktail Blue Curacao just to name one) it's not difficult to let your mind go his own way and forget about the next game. In any case, the following day I was sitting behind the black pieces against GM Joel Benjamin. The free day had certainly affected him more positively (at least from a chess point of view!)
White has handled the opening in a very modest way, but due to some small inaccuracy from Black he still has a marginal edge. With my next move, however I totally ruin my chances of surviving. 15... Nd5? Better would have been 15... Rad8 simply protecting the pawn and preparing myself to sit and wait for White's attempt. 16.Bxd6 Rfd8 17.Ba3! This simple retreat I had overlooked. Worse is 17.Bg3?! Nb4. After 17...Nf4 18. Bf1 it became clear obvious Black can't play 18...Rxd2? in view of 19.Bc1. Instead I went for 18...Rd5 but after 19.Re4 White easily converted his plus pawn.
After this rather simple game the former (2-time) US-champion smoothly continued his winning streak. His style of playing might not be that entertaining for the audience, but has proven once more to be deadly effective. With 8.5 out 9 his victory was absolutely beyond doubt. Shared 2nd became last years winner FM Alexander Hernandez (Venezuela) and FM Soren Bech Hansen (7 out 9), who both managed to keep distance with author of these lines. Honestly, I was lucky their favourable tournament situation allowed them to accept draws in clearly better positions.
Besides, a youth tournament was being held. For many kids there are not many possibilities to participate in huge events. Hence a big clan from the neighbouring Aruba makes the trip, while a family from Trinidad & Tobago found it a perfect mix of combining their holidays and letting their children get more experience.
The kids' high level was illustrated by the length of their games. Towards the end of the tournament the tension grew and they spent their time more carefully. After nine days of tough competition most of them were rewarded with a nice trophy or medal.
Preparations for next year have already started, but details are not known yet. I would recommend keeping the end of July free in your own agenda. Who knows Karpov does this as well...
Grote Knip beach
View along the coastline. The red building is the Van der Valk hotel where they played in 1962.
An overview of the playing hall
The brothers Lopez from Aruba analysing - left Jasel (15), right Juste (18)
Fabio Mensing plays an important role in the organisation, but is also a very active player
Father and son at the barbecue
Free day: chess is replaced by domino!
GM Joel Benjamin checking out the food
FM Alexander Hernandez from Venezuela won last year's edition
IA Trevor Griffith from Barbados working hard
Norman Zalm played in 1974 against Karpov at the Nice Olympiad. On move 9 the then World-Champion-to-be sank into think for one hour! On the island the legend goes that Zalm spoiled a promising position when Smyslov joined the group of kibitzers
Alex Roose, every year arbiter of the Corus C group, now playing himself
Isaac (6!) from Trinidad & Tobago; he...
...and his brother Melchizedek (12) are playing chess only for two months now
GM Joel Benjamin receives the cup for winning the 10th edition
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