Chess in the Southern Caribbean Sea

11/7/2003 – A bicycle race, a boat trip to the Spanish Lagoon, a beautiful sunset – and lots of chess. That was the Curaçao International Gateway Tournament. Three players, Gulko, Shabalov and Hübner tied for first with 6.5 poite each (Gulko had the best tiebreak). Ger Jan and Lily Meijer sent us a complete, illustrated report.

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Gulko wins Curaçao International Gateway Chess Tournament

An illustrated report by Ger Jan and Lily Meijer

Boris Gulko is the winner of The Curaçao International Gateway Chess Tournament. This open tournament of nine rounds took place from October 24 until November 3, 2003 in the Van der Valk Plaza Hotel in Willemstad, Curaçao. Gulko ended equal with Shabalov, Hübner and Greenfeld with 6.5 points. He received the title because he had met the strongest opposition.

Curaçao The International Gateway

The Curaçao the International Gateway Chess Tournament is a follow-up on the Curaçao 1962 – 2002 tournament of last year. At the time Korchnoi, Benkö and Averbach came back to Curaçao to discuss the secrets and complots behind the Curaçao 1962 Candidates tournament. And the conclusion was that Fischer was right: There was a draw agreement between Petrosian, Keres and Geller, but not with Korchnoi and Tal.

Good old Korchnoi came also to play the open tournament and won it.


2002: Benkö, Awerbach and Korchnoi discussing the complots of the 1962 Candidates tournament

This year the tournament was dedicated to the International Gateway function that Curaçao has for its region. The Caribbean island of Curaçao is part of the Netherlands Antilles and the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Curaçao is just off the coast of Venezuela in the Southern Caribbean Sea. The island is not only a popular Caribbean tourist destination, but also a business and distribution center for Europe, US and South America. The island is the second busiest (Rotterdam first) port in the Kingdom of the Netherlands and has daily scheduled air services to North and Latin America and Europe and is hosting a modern international financial services industry.

Opening and Blitz tournament

This year 42 players came to play the Open tournament. Amongst them were the grandmasters Greenfeld, Ehlvest, Stefanova, Hübner, Timman, Gulko, Shabalov and Granda Zuniga, but also Dutch girls champion Bianca Muhren, Venezuelan girls champion Sarai Sanchez and the promising local youngsters Marvin Dekker and Valentino Martis.

The tournament was held again in the Penthouse of the Van der Valk Plaza Hotel. The Penthouse has a magnificent view over the island and the Caribbean Sea.


One of the beautiful views from the Penthouse: just in Front, Fort Amsterdam, the head quarters of the Government of the Netherlands Antilles.

The event started Friday with a tournament for local high schools, the official opening and, as an appetizer, an Open Blitz tournament. Some players were still too much jetlagged to play the Blitz tournament, but many local scholars were very happy to compete with the international field. The Peruvian Grandmaster Granda Zuniga and Venezuelan Master Rohl made it to the finals of the Blitz. Granda Zuniga won the shoot-out game after their match ended in 1-1.

Round 1-3: Granda Zuniga and Shabalov

Saturday October 25 3.00pm the Open Tournament begins. Most of the players took the opportunity to start the day with typical holiday activities: scuba diving, sailing, fishing, tennis etc. Others took their chessboards to the beach to prepare their games for the afternoon. For Sunday morning the players of the tournament were the personal guests of Jacob Gelt Dekker. Some years ago Gelt Dekker started a project to restore an abandoned part of the downtown. Gelt Dekker invested millions in this project and restored ruins to their old glory. In addition he brought Otrabanda back alive with a museum, hotel, restaurants and bars. Many players took this opportunity to be guided around through this unique project.


All Players at Kura Hulanda. In the middle (standing on one leg) Jacob Gelt Dekker

Granda Zuniga and Shabalov were the only players with still a 100% score after three rounds. Granda Zuniga appeared to be in great shape and was responsible for Timman’s first loss in three years playing in Curaçao.


Round 3: Timman is picking up his first loss after 20 games undefeated in Curaçao

Round 4-5: Shabalov

In round 4 the leaders Alexander Shabalov and Julio Granda Zuniga had to play each other. The opening was the accepted Queens gambit and Shabalov decided to offer two pawns. The position on the board became directly extremely complicated. Black had a pawn on d4 and a bishop on c3, while white entered the black position with a rook on b7. Granda Zuniga used 90 minutes for the first 12 moves. 10 other minutes for the next 3 moves. In the meantime Shabalov started also to invest substantial time in the position. Granda Zuniga came in heavy time trouble and missed the move to stay alive.

In round 5 Shabba had the black pieces against Dr. Robert Hübner. After the Slav opening Hübner could create some initiative and had probably the somewhat better position in the middle game. But the German grandmaster could not keep his advantage when he came in time trouble. He lost a valuable pawn and had to fight for drawn. Hübner tried to find an active, but risky solution. The German grandmaster posted his Queen and Rook on the 8th row with threatening mate in one. But the white King was neither far from safe. Shabalov offered a Rook for a Knight and the big question was if he could find a winning combination (see diagram). Shabba took more than half an hour to calculate all the possible combinations, while Hübner killed the time with nervously walking around.

Huebner,R (2604) - Shabalov,A (2597) [D46]
Curacao International Gateway Willemstad (5), 29.10.2003


Black to play, position after 51.Kf1-e1

Neither did Shabalov, nor afterwards the computer, find a winning combination, and forced a draw by perpetual check: 51.Ke1 Nc4+ 52.Kf1 Ne3+ ½-½. The best you can do is probably 51...Nc4+ 52.Kf1 Nd2+ 53.Kg1 Qe1+ 54.Kh2 Nf1+ 55.Kg1 Ne3+ 56.Kh2 Qxh4+ 57.Kg1 Qe1+ 58.Kh2 and a win for Black is not at all clear.

Excursion, fishing and sunset boat trip

After five rounds it was time for a break. Most of the players joined the excursion that went along the beautiful beaches of the island.

Shabalov, Ehlvest and Ozolins decided for a fishing boat trip. We were informed that the North Europeans are also great fishermen in the Caribbean Sea. They came back with one of the biggest catches of the day. In the late afternoon there was a sunset boat trip on the schedule and most of the players took that opportunity. The trip went to the Spanish lagoon. This lagoon is the place where the local jet-set has built their beautiful villas.


Shabba is enjoying the sunset with Lily Meijer of the tournament organization

Round 6: Gulko

In round 6 the party was over for Shabalov. Gulko was better prepared for the Exchange variation of the Slav defense and brought Shabalov quickly in big problems. Shabalov found no solution to escape and had to resign. Gulko became the sole leader.

Round 7-8: Gulko, Granda Zuniga and Greenfeld

Curaçao is not only a place to be for chess players. In round 7 all the roads to the Van der Valk Plaza Hotel were closed for the Amstel Bright Cycling Race. Amongst the runners, and under supervision of cycling grandmaster Eddy Merkx, were Vinokourov, Boogerd, Pena and van Petegem. Van Petegem won the race over 90km.


Start of the Amstel Bright Cycling Race

At the same time Gulko agreed an early draw with Hübner after 18 moves. That gave some players the possibility to come equal with Gulko. Granda Zuniga (against IM Van der Weide) and Greenfeld (IM Szmetan) took that opportunity and came equal with Gulko.

In round 8 the top of the ranking list scored only draws. However, Hübner and Timman missed excellent opportunities to win.

Van der Weide,K (2427) - Huebner,R (2604) [C18]
Curacao International Gateway Willemstad (8), 02.11.2003


Black to move, position after 34.Qh3-d7

The game ended 34... Rg8 35.Kh2 Qb2 36.Qg4 Kh7 37.h5 Kh8 38.Nf7+ Kh7 39.Ne5 ½-½. But 34...a1Q+! 35.Rxa1 Qb2 was winning.

Round 9: Gulko

At the beginning of round 9 it was pretty unclear how the tournament would end. The most important games for round 9 (final round) were:

Granda Zuniga (6) – Hübner (5.5)
Ehlvest (5.5) – Gulko (6)
Timman (5.5) – Greenfeld (6)
Gallegos (5.5) – Shabalov (5.5)

Shabalov was the first one who completed the job. From the opening he reached quickly a better position. Gallegos tried to stop the black initiative with an exchange sacrifice. It did not really work. Shabalov won easily. The second game that ended was Timman versus Greenfeld. Timman reached some advantage out of the opening and won a pawn in the middle game. The Dutch grandmaster lost the pawn again in time trouble and in the meantime Greenfeld came with dangerous threads against the white King. Timman decided to force draw with perpetual check.

Granda Zuniga – Hübner and Ehlvest – Gulko were now the decisive games. It was already obvious that Granda Zuniga with one pawn down would not win. Ehlvest had some advantage against Gulko, but probably it would not be enough for a win. Both players decided for a draw. Ehlvest and Gulko ended finally in a draw, while Hübner continued to play precisely for a win. The German grandmaster did not make a mistake in the endgame and Granda Zuniga finally had to resign.

Final Standings

  Player
points
rating
perf
W.We
1 GM Gulko (USA)
6.5
2597
2674
+0.92
  GM Shabalov (USA)
6.5
2597
2653
+0.65
  GM Hübner (Ger)
6.5
2604
2592
-0.07
  GM Greenfeld (Isr)
6.5
2527
2600
+0.83
5 GM Granda Zuniga (Per)
6.0
2623
2617
-0.12
  GM Timman (Ned)
6.0
2578
2577
-0.03
  GM Ehlvest (Est)
6.0
2602
2494
-1.11
  IM Szmetan (Arg)
6.0
2404
2395
-0.12
9 GM Stefanova (Bul)
5.5
2497
2441
-0.62
  IM Gallegos (Ven)
5.5
2460
2387
-0.80
  IM Rohl (Ven)
5.5
2390
2360
-0.35
  FM Bick (USA)
5.5
2277
2186
-1.07

Pictures by: Curaçao Tourist Board, Dirk Jan Ten Geuzendam, Ger Jan & Lily Meijer, Alex Roose, Klaas Dekker and Irene Braakman


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