2015 World Youth Chess Championship in Greece

The 2015 World Youth Chess Championship (WYCC) took place between October 25 and November 5, in the Halkidiki region of Greece, at the beautiful Porto Carras resort. For our kids, Lance and Andrea, this would be the second world chess championship in which they would participate as representatives of Spain, with the first being in 2013 in the United Arab Emirates.

Travel and getting settled

We left in the early morning of October 23 from Malaga, on a flight to Barcelona. After a layover of a few hours, we caught a connecting flight to Athens, and another to Thessaloniki, from where we took a one-hour bus trip to Porto Carras.

Porto Carras is actually a large resort area, on the coast of Greece. Normally closed during this time of year, the 5,000 tournament participants and accompanying family members had exclusive use of the resort’s three hotels, playing hall, port and surrounding facilities. As we would come to learn, Porto Carras is an ideal location to host an event like the WYCC.

We were assigned to the four-star Sithonia hotel, situated about 10 minutes walking to the playing hall, and right next to the coast.

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After getting settled into our rooms on the evening of the 23rd, we rushed off to catch a buffet dinner just before the dining room closed. Whereas the food at the university in the UAE was awful, as was the food at the last European championship in Georgia, the food in Porto Carras, Greece—and as we expected from Greece!—was absolutely fantastic. After that first dinner, I just resigned myself to having a two-week “cheat holiday”, where I was sure I’d put on a few kilos!

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Hooking up with Team Spain

Having arrived a full day early, we had time to just chill out on the 24th, kicking back and watching all the other teams and participants arrive. I also took the opportunity to spread lots of ChessDrop flyers around!

Spain sent 30 kids, six coaches and a psychologist. The team from the United States was also assigned to our hotel, which let us re-connect with some friends we’d met in 2013 in the UAE. Also present in our hotel were the teams from Canada, Britain, China, Korea, and, I think, India.

On the evening of the 24th, the Spanish delegates and trainers held a meeting with all the participants, to organizer which trainers would be with which players, agree on pre-game preparation times and other event protocols.

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Let the games begin!

October 25th finally arrived, the first day of play! In each age group, the tournament would consist of 11 rounds of chess, played one round per day, beginning at 3PM. The game time control was 90 minutes, with a 40 minute extension after reaching move 40. In addition, 30 seconds are added after each move. As you can probably calculate, a single round of chess can last three, four and sometimes even five hours!

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The tournament took place in the large facilities next to the beautiful port. Whenever the players took a bathroom break, they could pause to look out at the yachts and stunning seaside view.

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We also had the opportunity to catch up with our former neighbors who moved to Sweden—GM Juan Manuel Bellon and his daughter Anna Cramling.

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…as well as some familiar faces from around Spain, who we only get to see from time to time at tournaments.

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Walking along the coastline

To pass the time during play—since parents aren’t allowed in the playing hall—my wife and I would take the opportunity to go for long walks along the resort’s numerous nature trails. There were options ranging from 2km, to 10km, up to 32km. (The 32km was really intended for mountain biking.) Normally, we would walk between 10km and 12km, which would get us back to the playing hall a couple hours into the round.

As we discovered during our walks, the Porto Carras coastline is absolutely stunning. The crystal clear, turquoise water caused my wife and I to think, “Who needs the Carribean!” And the views across of the Aegean sea was dotted with the varied landscapes of a multitude of Greek islands.

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On a couple of our walks, we were joined by Kerrie Utsumi, the mother of promising American player Cameron Wheeler, and the time just flew by in great conversation about chess in the United States and Spain, raising kids, and, being roughly my age, even reminiscing about the glory days of David Lee Roth in Van Halen!

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We also had a chance to spend some quality time with Nico Checa and his father Nicolas, from New York. In addition to being one of the top youth chess players in the United States, what impressed me most about Nico was what a friendly, smart, humble and well-grounded guy he is. I’m confident we’re going to continue to see great things from Nico in the future, and not only in chess.

Another enjoyable aspect of the trip was getting to know the friendly Greek couple who ran the coffee shop next to the playing hall. Let me tell you, you can get a great cappuccino in Porto Carras!

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During the entire two weeks, there was a little train that circulated daily, offering a one-hour tour of the resort. After passing by the Sithonia and Meliton hotels, and then by the playing hall, the train would ascend the hills, and stop at a local vineyard where Greek wines are produced, for a half-hour tasting.

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Internet access

Being able to work a bit while at these events is important to me, and for that I need internet access. I called the hotel a few weeks before, mentioning that wifi is critical, and I really need to know if I’m going to be able to depend on the service. (Reports from the same hotel a few years earlier were dismal.)

The hotel staff reported that wifi access in the room might be spotty, but service in the reception area (which is huge) was generally good. What I discovered later, is that the hotel staff didn’t understand the difference between “being able to connect to the wifi” and “getting access to the internet”. Sure, everyone in the reception area could get a wifi connection; the problem was there was zero throughput.

When I complained about this, though, the friendly Sithonia staff arranged to have a wifi access point (router) installed directly in my room! After they did that, I had reliable internet access for the remainder of the trip.

Morning routines

Each morning my wife and daughter would get up around 7am, and go for a short run around the resort. Just like in the Forrest Gump movie, it didn’t take long to attract others, and within a couple days they were joined daily by Spaniards Iñigo Lopez and Pere Garriga (whose name, by the way, is properly pronounced “pera”!)

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Exploring nearby Neos Marmaras

The only downside to the Porto Carras resort that we noticed was the lack of an accessible nearby town that was within walking distance.

Or at least we thought.

Walking along the coastline from the Sithonia hotel, you can see the nearby fishing village of Neos Marmaras, which visually looks like it’d be within a 10 minute walk.

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But unfortunately, the beach is cut by a small stream, and roadside access requires (long story) a 15 minute taxi ride. Well, turns out, some industrious individual solved the problem!

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So one afternoon Pino and I took the opportunity to brave the iron-gate bridge, explore the cute town of Neos Marmaras, and, of course, enjoy another great cappuccino.

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The results

As for the tournament itself, Lance played in the U12 category, starting the competition ranked 18th. He had a great tournament, moving up 11 places to finish in 7th place overall, the final results of which can be found here: Chess-Results.com U12 results.

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He had one particular game, in which he sacrificed a pawn in the opening in exchange for a decisive lead in initiative. This game caught the attention of Spanish chess journalist, Leontxo Garcia, who published it in the national newspaper El Pais. Here’s the game at ChessDrop:

Lance Henderson vs Sasha Brozel

There was an important difference between the 2015 World Championship and 2013 played in the Unitied Arab Emirates. In 2013, in which Lance finished around 35, he didn’t see himself competitive with the best. This year, however, he felt himself to be competitive with any of the top 10.

Andrea played in the U14 Girls category, starting ranked 38th. Although finished lower than her starting rank, 58th overall, she was happy with how she played; for example, drawing in two games due to time pressure, but in which she’d managed to build a winning position. Her final results can be found here: Chess-Results.com U14 Girls results.

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Notable at this year’s tournament was the dominance of India and China, and the decline in performance of the traditionally-strong Russian team.

Another fabulous experience

Once again, the experience at the 2015 World Youth Chess Championship was fabulous. The event was well organized, and the venue was near perfect. We got to see friends from around the world, and, of course, spend 11 days in top-level chess competition!

Photos, photos, photos

If you’ve enjoyed the photos in this article, and would like to see more, I uploaded an entire set to Flickr.

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