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:

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.

Continue reading 2015 World Youth Chess Championship in Greece

Lance is the 2015 Spanish National Chess Champion!

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After coming so close last week in the Under-12 category—finishing 2nd due to the thinnest of tie-break computations—Lance (pictured above in the middle) decided to stay an additional week, and play in a superior age category.

After 9 rounds of classical chess play against the big boys in Under-14, Lance finished alone in 1st place, with 8 of 9 points and was declared 2015 Spanish National Chess Champion!

The full results are online at Info64.

Lance is the 2015 Spanish National Chess Championship Runner-Up in U12

It’s quite unusual to score 8 of 9 in a national chess championship, and finish second. But that’s what happened in Salobreña last week, at the 2015 Spanish National Chess Championship, Sub-12 age category.

Continue reading Lance is the 2015 Spanish National Chess Championship Runner-Up in U12

2015 Cádiz Blitz Chess Championship

Yesterday the 2015 Blitz Chess Championship of the Spanish province of Cádiz took place about an hour’s drive down the coast from Marbella. Unlike other provinces, Cadíz allow anyone to participate in their championship, and so a team of us from Marbella traveled down to participate.

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Against a field of 43 participants, the first three finishers were all from Málaga, including my son Lance, who finished second overall, with 6.5 points out of 8—having spent most of the day playing at Table 1.

Andrea also did well, finishing 5 places above her starting rank with 4 points out of 8. For myself, I recovered from last week’s miserable tournament in Marbella (where I got beat by everyone except the bartender, who didn’t play), finishing six places above my starting rank, with 3.5 points out of 8.

All in all, we had a lot of fun, and it great to have the opportunity to see our friends from Cádiz.

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The full photo gallery is available at Flickr and the full results are available at Chess Results.

Is there an optimal method of chess training?

A decade ago, as an amateur competitive cyclist I became interested in the topic of optimal training methods. Through research and personal experience, I learned that while nearly everyone followed the same general approach to training, specific methodologies within that general approach could have profound impact on results. Today, I’m interested in learning whether parallels might exist in the area of chess training.

Continue reading Is there an optimal method of chess training?

Tears & Euphoria — Lance becomes the 2014 Spanish National Champion in Rapid Chess

At the beginning of this month, the 2014 Spanish National Kids Chess Championship kicked off at the Best Western hotel in Salobreña, Spain. For five consecutive weeks, children from all over the country in the Sub-10, Sub-12, Sub-14, Sub-16 and Sub-18 age categories gather to compete for the title of national champion in classical and rapid chess. This past week the Sub-12 event took place, with my 11 year-old son Lance participating for first time in this category.

Continue reading Tears & Euphoria — Lance becomes the 2014 Spanish National Champion in Rapid Chess

Lance finished 2nd overall at the Churriana chess tournament

This morning we traveled to Málaga to participate in the 2014 Churriana chess tournament. The event was actually divided into two tournaments—adults and kids. Both my kids chose to participate with me in the adult division.

After five rounds of six, my 10-year old son Lance was in first place—the only person in the tournament who had won all five games out of five.

While I started round six at table 14 with 2.5 points (two wins and a draw), Lance paired off with his rival at table 1. Half an hour later, when I finished my game (I lost), I looked up to see a huge crowd packed around table 1.

I ran over just in time to see Lance fighting it out, cool as a cucumber, in a fierce “final”—rook versus bishop. As the time on the clocks ran down, you could cut the tension with a knife—every move happening lighting-fast in the span of seconds.

Ultimately, Lance lost that final game (His ELO rating is 1,700 while his opponent’s was 2,100) but the crowd burst into a huge cheer as the little 10 year old finished the adult tournament in 2nd place overall.

Although my 12 year-old daughter hasn’t quite reached the level of my son—Lance finished 3rd overall at the Spanish National Championship last year—she’s been dramatically improving in her own right, finishing the tournament this morning in the equally impressive (for her) position of 7th overall.

The difference between Grand Masters and amateurs

Computer chess engines compute a factor for any given board position, which indicates which player’s in the lead and by how much. “1.5” would indicate that white is winning by about a pawn and a half, while “-3.0” would indicate that black is winning by a full minor piece.

If you plot the evolution of this factor over the course of an amateur’s game (like mine), you’ll usually see fairly dramatic shifts and changes. At one instance in the game, I could be up by two points, while one move later I’m suddenly down by three. (And depressingly, the amateur player usually is hardly aware of who’s ahead in these positions…)

The evolution of Grand Master games are usually characterized by a very tiny advantage attained by one player at the beginning, and then slowly and smoothly grown over the course of the game. For example, after the opening, white may be up by 0.4 points, and then 50 moves later have grown their lead to 2.5 points at which time black might resign. There are rarely the sudden changes you see in amateur games.

Spanish Chess Championship—Day 1

The 2013 Spanish Chess Championship kicked off today just down the road in Salobreña. Of the 140 participants, our son started the event ranked 2nd in the sub-10 category. At the end of the day, he had won his first two games and took over the 1st place position in the rankings. Although they don’t let parents into the room where the kids are playing, the first 30 tables are electronic and broadcast their games live on the internet. The problem is that viewing them requires Java, which is incompatible with most tablets like the iPads.

San Pedro Chess Tournament

Francisco Javier Pareja organized another fun chess tournament today in San Pedro. As usual the kids did better than me — finishing first and second in their categories. The bright side of my own performance was that I managed not to completely give away any pieces. In fact, for the first time, I won a game against a good player in an end-game.

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Enlace a todos las fotos en Flickr.

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2013 Malaga Chess Championship

The Andalucia region of Spain has eight provinces, each of which held their 2013 chess championships this past weekend. We live in Malaga, and its competition was held just down the road in Estepona. The competition consisted of six 90 minute games, held over two days — Saturday and Sunday.

In the end, our two kids won their respective categories — Under 10 Boys, and Under 12 Girls. We’re so proud! This qualifies both to participate in the Andalucia championship next month, in Almeria.

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Malaga Promotion Chess Tournament Day 2

On Saturday we headed to Malaga for the second day of the Malaga Promotion Chess Tournament. All three of us (myself and our two kids) won one of the day’s two games.

In my first game, I played one of the higher-rated players, Sergio Morales. Similar to what happened last weekend, I played well and arrived at an advantage which my computer analysis program deemed to be “decisive”. Unfortunately, also as last week, I ended up making my typical once-per-game tremendous error, losing my advantage and then losing the game. This week, it happened on move 40.

I managed to win the second game, against a nine year-old, who initially had me in some trouble.

Chess tournaments in Marbella and Malaga

Evidently, one chess tournament each weekend just wasn’t enough for my wife, who signed us up for two — on the same day! — this past Saturday.

Kids Circuit in Marbella

The regional kids circuit had its scheduled stop in Marbella on Saturday morning, at the Plaza de Mar commercial center, just next to the beautiful beach paseo.

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Organized by Jesus Roman (yes, “Jesus” is a common name in Spain) and supported by the Malaga Chess Federation, more than 50 kids participated. In parallel, Jesus also ran an adults tournament, so that the “padres” and other local adult enthusiasts would have something do.

Our kids did well. After the six-round tournament, our daughter finished first in the girls category, an our son won his category and finished third overall.

Scroll down to the bottom of the article for lots of great photos of the event.

Promotion Tournament in Malaga

In Andalucia, there’s two categories of chess players — “Preferential” and everybody else. Only preferential players are allowed to compete in certain tournaments, like the Malaga Championship.

Once or twice per year, “promotion” tournaments are organized in which non-preferntials (like me) can try to earn our way into the preferential category. The tournaments include eight rounds of 120 minute games, over four consecutive weekends. You can “pass” by being in the top five in any such tournament, or by having done “well” in any two tournaments. You only have to pass once; then you’re preferential for life.

With the Marbella tournament ending around 3pm and the Promotion tournament in Malaga starting at 4:30pm, we barely had time to get there.

Upon arriving, we popped into a local restaurant for lunch. I tried to insist to my wife that the tournament — like anything else in Spain — would not start on time, but she insisted that I ingest my first plate, second plate, dessert and coffee all within a span of about six minutes. The tournament started half an hour late, with me suffering post-lunch bloat.

In my first of two games, I played the guy ranked fourth in the starting list (I was ranked somewhere in the middle). Playing the French Defense (as black), I built up a good position. Unfortunately, I waited a bit too late, and the opponent moved his bishop into a position that blocked my castling.

At move number 24, I made my typical once-per-game blunder. Having lost the opportunity to castle, I thought I was badly losing, and missed an obvious opportunity to escape check with a rook/bishop capture. Instead, I moved my king and the game went downhill from there, and I eventually ended up getting checkmated.

After the game, I entered the moves into my HIARCS iPad chess app, and it showed that at move 24, I actually had a winning factor of 3.5! I couldn’t believe it; at that point I was decisively winning the game! Grrrr — I’m going to chalk this one up to indigestion (and blame my wife).

For those interested, here’s an embedded version of the game:

I did better in my second game, winning by checkmate as white:

I ended the day with one out of two possible points. So we’ll be returning each Saturday for the next three weekends, to continue the event.

Photos of the Marbella morning kids tournament

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