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:

2016 European Youth Chess Championship in Prague

The 2016 European Youth Chess Championship took place in beautiful Prague, capital city of the Czech Republic, about eight kilometers outside the city at the historic Top Hotel. Lance and Andrea participated as part of the 30+ kids playing for the Spanish national team.

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We’ve now had the opportunity to participate in two world championships and three european championships, and found the Top Hotel location to be among our favorites. It was close enough to the city that access via metro was a short 10-minute trip, but far enough away to feel secure in having the kids running around.

The hotel, whose interior was far more classic and majestic than its nondescript exterior, accommodated the 1500 or so participants surprisingly well. For example, the dining rooms at these events usually feel like chaotic stampedes, but that wasn’t the case at all in Prague.

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Each day’s round of chess play began at 3:00 pm. The time control was 90 minutes, plus an additional 30 minutes after move 40, resulting in games lasting up to four or five hours. Here Lance is playing at table 1 against top seed, Andrey Esipenko from Russia (the game ended in a draw).

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Trying to get in some exercise, my daily routine included, just after the round started, walking the 7.5 kilometers from the hotel to the Prague city center. The walk—which I could have never discovered without the help of Apple Maps—took about an hour and fifteen minutes, given that I’d stop every 15 minutes or so to check the games at the Chess24 retransmission site.

(As a side note, I took great advantage of the new laws requiring free data roaming throughout Europe. Combining that with Vodafone’s summer double-data promotion, I had nearly 20 GB of 4G data available for the trip. No more worries about crappy hotel wifi!)

Upon arriving to the outskirts of the city, I’d usually stop at La Bohème Café for a delicious iced raspberry tea or cappuccino, and catch my breath before heading further on into the city center.

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Prague turned out to be one of the most beautiful and fascinating cities I’ve visited. Apparently, it was saved from the bombings of world war II, preserving its centuries-old architecture. The streets were lively, and bustling with summer visitors from around the world.

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After nine rounds of play, Lance finished the tournament 13th overall in the U14 boys category, tied in points (6.5) with the 6th place player Shant Sargsyan, but ending up in a lower position due to the tie-break calculations. He was happy with his play, although admitted to feeling a little tried after having played five tournaments and more than 50 rated games during the months of July and August!

The winner of U14 boys category, with 7.5 points, was Salvador Guerra, who, as it happens, is a friend of Lance’s from the same chess club here in Marbella! Just a few weeks earlier, after Lance won the U14 Spanish National Championship, Salvador won the U16 championship! It’s amazing that two kids playing at this level happen to come not only from the same region of the country, but also from the very same town!

Andrea finished her tournament with five points out of nine, finishing in 40th place overall.

Our flight back to Spain left a bit later than most everyone else, and it was a bit sad to experience the empty hotel on the morning following the awards ceremony and saying goodbye to chess-friends we see only once a year. We had a great time at this event, and the location couldn’t have been better. Lance returned home with a burning desire to start his next phase of chess study, while Andrea plans to dial back on her chess activities as she starts the strenuous two-year International Baccalaureate program at school.

Finally, here are some additional photos from the trip:

Lance is the 2016 Spanish National U14 Chess Champion

Between July 11 and July 16, the 2016 U14 Spanish National Chess Championship was held at the beautiful Best Western hotel in Salobreña, Spain.

Lance won this category in 2015 as a U12 player, and so although it was his first official year in the U14 category, he actually came into the tournament as the defending champion, and was ranked first by ELO rating among the 151 participants.

After nine rounds of classical play, in which each game can last four hours or more, Lance finished with 7.5 points out of a possible nine, tied with Marcos Lianes and Salvador Guerra. Lance had the highest tiebreak—the average performance rating of one’s opponents—and therefore finished first, to become the 2016 National Champ!

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On the weekend after the tournament, as is customary, the rapid-chess championship was also held, with nine rounds played over the Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. Going into the last round, Lance was tied for the lead with Gabriel Quispe. The two played to a draw, and was joined by Marcos Lianes, who won his last game, to finish the tournament tied with 7.5 points out of nine.

In the rapids tournament, however, the tiebreak wasn’t in Lance’s favor, and he finished third behind Lianes and Quispe.

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The final results are posted at Info64:

All in all, a great tournament, and now it’s on to play the U16 championship, which starts this week.

Lance mention in the Böblinger newspaper

This year, rather than playing the usual Spanish Christmas tournament in Lorca, we decided to let Lance travel to Germany, to play the 2015 Internationales Böblinger Open. With a strong field—Lance started in 64th position—we thought it’d be a good opportunity to play against opponents with whom we’re unfamiliar.

He’s been doing really well, having lost only one game over the course of the first eight of nine rounds, and we were happy to see a mention of him this morning in the local newspaper: