2016 Sunway Sitges International Chess Festival

Over the past four years, we’ve been to chess tournaments around the world, and a common thread has been that tournaments outside Spain are generally better organized and executed than those in Spain. That experience dramatically changed, though, with our recent participation in the Sunway Chess Festival, in Sitges, Spain.

Beginning with the location, the 10-day event was held at the four-star Sunway beachside hotel in Sitges, one of the better-known resort towns near Barcelona.

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We were fortunate to have recently discovered, by chance, that there’s a high-speed “AVE” train from Malaga to Barcelona (for some reason, this route doesn’t appear on the RENFE websites), the existence of which actually made it possible for us to attend, as there weren’t planes that met our date requirements. Plus, I always find traveling by train somehow more relaxing than plane. In fact, with power outlets on each seat, I’m writing this blog article while returning home on the train right now!

Having experienced many tournament-hosting hotels, the Sunway was definitely one of the best. The rooms were large and comfortable, and ours even included a kitchen. The food in the dining room buffet was absolutely amazing. And the hotel staff were exceptionally—and I mean exceptionally—friendly and helpful.

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But what really set this event apart was the attention to detail. For example:

  • In both the A and B tournament groups, the organization printed personal information cards, with photos, for each participant, and which were placed on display each afternoon next to the playing boards.
  • Each evening, as soon as the following day’s pairings were announced, the organization would email each participant a copy of their opponent’s information card, supplemented with their opponent’s tournament results up to that day.
  • At the beautiful playing hall, the organizer provided free pens for game notation, as well as free water, and each player’s notation page was provided on a handy hard-surfaced clipboard.
  • 17 boards were re-transmitted live on the internet.
  • In the main playing hall upstairs, which had spectacular views to the sea, the organization had set aside five special tables—“G1” through “G5”—where each day they would invite random participants from the downstairs tournament to play. (I’ve never seen such a thoughtful detail at a tournament before.)
  • The arbiters were extremely efficient and competent.
  • Supplemental activities were organized daily, including two FIDE-rated evening blitz tournaments, GM master classes and game analysis sessions, as well as paella cooking and cocktail preparation courses.
  • The tournament arbiters frequently updated the results on Chess-Results throughout the games, even during the blitz tournament! In fact, since they did that during the blitz tournament, it was more convenient to look for your next pairing online, than to cluster around the paper-printed pairings hung on the wall.
  • The delivery of the generous money awards after the closing ceremony was organized into several prize-related queues, for fast and efficient processing.
  • Up-to-date information about the day’s activities, including any changes to the nominal planning, were neatly printed in Spanish and English, and posted everywhere within the hotel.
  • The hotel provided passes for free use of the local bus system.
  • The hotel even provided free bicycles to those staying at the hotel, for use traveling into town.
  • On the last day of the event, each participant found a nice brown bag on their playing board, full of high-quality local delicacies as a good-bye present.

I want to emphasize that these kinds of details don’t happen accidentally. A thoughtful group of people took the time to identify each and every one of these details, and then plan the successful execution of each one. Just as it’s easy to overlook all the thinking and design that goes into your easy-to-use Apple product, it would be easy to overlook the care and effort that went into organizing the 2016 Sitges Chess Festival. So I’m here now to publicly recognize and express appreciation for the organizer’s efforts. Bravo!

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(One of the arbiters kicking off the event with a rendition of Sinatra’s, “I did my way!”)

As always, it was also good to see people from around the world that we only get to see from time to time. Lance got to see his American friend and soon-to-be Grand Master, Awonder Liang. I got to see some British friends I met a few years back at a tournament in Sevilla. We got to see GM Damian Lemos, who’s instructional videos we purchased back in the day.

In terms of chess level, this was one of the strongest events we’ve had the opportunity to participate in, comparable to the fabulous Tradewise tournament in Gibraltar. In particular, India sent an unusually large group of strong young players, i.e. kids in their teens with ELOs in the 2200 range who were playing at IM levels, and scoring draws against players with ELOs of 2500 and 2600!

Lance had a good tournament, drawing in the final round with GM Damian Lemos, but coming up short on achieving an IM norm due to one loss against a lower-rated player, and finishing the tournament with 5.5 of 9 possible points.

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(In Lance’s final game, he drew with GM Damian Lemos.)

Andrea played a very high level in all of her games, consolidating her 2000 ELO level, and finishing with 3 points.

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I played the B tournament, scoring 4 points, and finally increased my ELO above the 1600 mark. Personally, the highlight of my tournament was the last round, and getting to play a fellow American, Anthony Ciarlante, who’d traveled with a group from Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania to participate in the European event.

I played white against Anthony, and had the opportunity to play the explosive Evan’s Gambit. Shortly after the opening, I had a powerful attack on Anthony’s king, causing him to weaken his king-side pawns and cramp the development of his queenside pieces. When I missed a winning Qxh6 move—that Anthony later showed me in the analysis!—and ended up trading my attacking bishop for Anthony’s passive rook, he then returned fire with his own explosive counter-attack, and found a brilliant Qb4 move that appeared to win a piece. After thinking forever, and getting down to 15 minutes on the clock, I finally found Qxc7, move that both Anthony and I thought at the time was good, and actually led to me winning the game, but later in the analysis we both realized black had a good response!

Wow, what a game—and one in which it’s a pity anyone had to lose, as both Anthony and I agreed it was the funnest game of our tournaments. In case you’re interested, you can see the game over on ChessDrop.

All in all, we had a wonderful experience at the 2016 Sitges Chess Festival, and can’t wait to return in 2017! And with that, I’ll leave you with some photos from the event:

Agree? Disagree? What do you think?