Chess, Beach and Controversy!

by Alejandro Ramirez
2/27/2014 – Mexico has many tourist destinations and is famous for having beautiful beaches. It is not often that international events are held in these areas, but last weekend in Mazatlan was certainly the exception. The beaches were breathtakingly beautiful, the chess was hard fought and full of controversy. During the event, in the same city, the most wanted man in the world was captured!

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The National Valladolid Chess Championship was held in Mazatlan, Sinaloa, Mexico from the 20th of February to the 23rd of February, 2014. I had planned on playing this tournament some months ago for several reasons. The first and foremost was that the tournament is relatively strong, with rather decent prizes. $30,000 pesos (around USD$2250) isn't anything to scoff at, and the proximity to Cuba always attracts some of the top players from that country to the event. Since I will be participating in the very strong Reykjavik Open starting next week, I thought I could use a warm up tournament to kick things off.

The other reasons will probably attract more players than the first: the location. Only on very few occasions can I recall going to a tournament that was situated in a more beautiful place. Don't believe me? See it for yourself:

The not too shabby view from my hotel room

A little to the left was the restaurant and the pool

Paragliding was common around the beach and you would often see boats and yachts just enjoying the pretty view

Conch hunting was also a common activity

The hotel had enough capacity for most people, but the prices were a little high - especially for Mexico. Many of the players decided to stay in adjacent hotels down the beach.

The Palms Resort, the main hotel of the event, definitely did not disappoint. With friendly staff, a beautiful beach and basically anything you could ask for it was a perfect place to hold the tournament. The only difficulty was in remembering that there was a tournament that had to be played, instead of spending all day tanning by the beach!

Many young players participated in the youth categories

The lobby was a perfect place for skittles.
You could sip a margarita, discuss your chess and hear the waves crashing in the background.

Chess is very passionately played in Mexico, no matter what the skill level.
Personalities really shine through in their games!

The room where the tournament was played was part of the Palms Resort. The organization did its best to start all the rounds in time, but inevitably the first one was delayed by a few minutes with the unavoidable last minute sign ups. Everyone was eager to know their first round pairing!

It was very common for players to travel in groups, and to travel by land. Most of the participants came in buses and many of the delegations from other states around Mexico took many, many hours to arrive in Mazatlan. The Chihuahua delegation took a ten hour bus, while the Monterrey one took an eight hour bus - just to give examples!

The chess store had incredible business. Unlike Europe and America where it is easy to buy the latest chess books with a click of your mouse, shipping costs in Mexico makes this a difficult task. Many booksellers are celebrities in Mexico and travel to all of the important tournaments providing the important study materials for all the players.

The tournament itself had a few issues, which definitely will need to be fixed before this international event can attract more players than the Cubans and the Mexicans. First and foremost the sets and clocks are not provided, and although this might be acceptable in the lower sections it is definitely not in the top boards. Many times boards one, two and three would not start on time because there was nothing to play with. In the picture above Isan Ortis Suarez (left) laughs as the round has been going on for over 15 minutes, but he doesn't have a set to play with while board one is just setting up.

The hall that the event was played in wasn't exactly crowded, there was plenty of room near the back, but for some reason the top boards were all squished in. This might sound as "equal treatment" but the truth is that some boards attract more spectators than others, which is why they need more room. It would sometimes be difficult just to push your way through to your own board!

Lastly there were many issues with the specific prize giving regulations. The tiebreak system determined the prizes (which were not shared), but incredibly they used "most games won" as the second tiebreak (after direct encounter), a system which should absolutely only be used in Round Robin tournaments! As it was it benefited players who did badly early on and bounced back with wins rather than people who stayed on the top boards and drew up there. By some mathematical miracle this did not become an issue this year, but last year it apparently caused some controversies.

Capo Uriel Vidal is one of Mexico's top players and one of its most popular figures

Diana Ornelas (right) travelled from Aguascalientes to this tournament - quite a journey on land! Deyanira Parra Lugo, next to her, demonstrates that fashion is important everywhere.

The tournament was a little crowded, but it was fixable

Isan Ortiz Suarez is Cuba's number four player. Last year he knocked out Judit Polgar in the Tromso World Cup, here he was the second seed.

Carmen Melissa Rosas Rodiguez played the top section and scored 3.0/7

Another big controversy was caused by the top female prize in the tournament. Miriam Parkhurst Casas (pictured) above scored 4.5/7, beating the top female chess player in Mexico, Ivette Alejandra Garcia Morales in the last round. However Miriam didn't win the top female player because... she didn't play in her section! At only 1810, she was eligible to play the second section, but she chose to play with the top dogs of the event and was punished for it. The prizes for best and second-best female were moved down to the third and second finishers.

The tournament was full of little dubious rules like this one, and they should be removed immediately. Mexico is famous for having tournaments in which little rules benefit one player over another instead of trying to promote fighting chess. Grandmasters are warned to read the rules very carefully before going to any tournament in Mexico, or a small surprise might cost them big. For example, it states in the rules that draws could not be agreed during or before move 20 (why not just say before move 21?) which meant that if you did draw with exactly 20 moves on the scoresheet, your game would be automatically forfeited. Playing the tournament for prize money felt more like a minefield with ruthless arbiters that simply did not care about competition and rewarding the best players but to a strict adhesion to the rule book.

Juan Carlos Gonzalez just passed Manuel Leon Hoyos to become Mexico's number one player.
He finished in the fifth position.

Roberto Martin del Campo is one of the nicest players in all of Mexico

Cuban GM Lazaro Bruzon Batista started as the first seed and never let go of the throttle, winning the event half a point ahead of competition

Some players couldn't handle the two games a day format

The event was certainly colorful; unique pens were seen everywhere!

This young player from Nuevo Leon almost held the second seed to a draw in an instructive endgame:

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "2014.02.20"] [Round "1"] [White "Carlos Arriaga, Jesus Roberto"] [Black "Oriz Suarez, Isan Reynaldo"] [Result "0-1"] [WhiteElo "2092"] [BlackElo "2601"] [Annotator "Ramirez Alvarez,Alejandro"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "8/5p1R/4p3/4P3/4kP2/3r4/4K3/8 b - - 0 1"] [PlyCount "7"] 1... Rd7 $1 {Keeping chances alive, anything else allows White to draw easily.} 2. Rh4 Ra7 3. Rg4 $4 {Too passive!} (3. Kf2 $1 {It is important not to have your king cut off on the first rank in most rook endgames. This one is not exception.} Ra2+ (3... Ra3 4. Kg2 $1 {Again the only move.} Rf3 5. f5+ $1 { This is the pretty point that equalizes the game.} Rf4 6. Rxf4+ Kxf4 7. fxe6 fxe6 8. Kf2 Kf5 9. Kf3 $1 Kxe5 10. Ke3 {and White wins the opposition and draws.}) 4. Kg3 $11) 3... Ra2+ 4. Ke1 Ke3 $1 {And now nothing can prevent Rf2. Black won the pawns and the game.} 0-1

The tournament had a huge scare for most of the players. One of the World's most wanted criminals was captured in Mazatlan while the event took place! The arrest occurred only a couple of kilometers away from the playing site. Most of the city continued as normal, but the fear that there would be an attempt to rescue "El Chapo" from the authorities had almost everyone on their toes.

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera is a drug lord and the head of the Sinaloa Cartel. The Chicago Crime Commission named Guzman "public enemy number one", the last person to receive such title was Al Capone in 1930.

Chess-wise things went relatively smoothly for the top seeds. Bruzon, Ortiz and myself won our first few games and entered the last round leading by half a point. I drew Ortiz while Bruzon was able to best his colleague from Cuba, Elier Miranda, who had a good tournament with 4.5/7 because of his strong rivals but not good enough for any sort of prize.

Overall the tournament was very pleasant to play in. The beach, the friendly people clearly overshadowed some of the amateur mistakes by the organizers, who in all honesty made the trip very pleasant for everyone involved and have to only change a few details to make Mazatlan a top destination for tourist chess in Latinamerica.

Final Standings

Rank Name Score Fed. Rating TPR W-We
1 GM Bruzon Batista, Lazaro 6.0 CUB 2676 2735 +0.46
2 GM Ramirez, Alejandro 5.5 USA 2593 2631 +0.38
3 GM Ortiz Suarez, Isan Reynald 5.5 CUB 2601 2644 +0.50
4 FM Quesada Perez, Yasser 5.5 CUB 2486 2447 -0.09
5 GM Gonzalez Zamora, Juan Carl 5.0 MEX 2535 2546 +0.29
6 FM Sanchez Enriquez, Oscar Ge 5.0 MEX 2398 2454 +0.70
7 FM Espinosa Veloz, Ermes 5.0 CUB 2459 2424 -0.08
8 GM De La Paz Perdomo, Frank 5.0 CUB 2437 2510 +0.88
9 IM Obregon Rivero, Juan Carlo 5.0 CUB 2508 2496 +0.10
10 IM Perez Garcia, Rodney Oscar 5.0 CUB 2367 2321 -0.12

Topics Mexico

Grandmaster Alejandro Ramirez has been playing tournament chess since 1998. His accomplishments include qualifying for the 2004 and 2013 World Cups as well as playing for Costa Rica in the 2002, 2004 and 2008 Olympiads. He currently has a rating of 2583 and is author of a number of popular and critically acclaimed ChessBase-DVDs.
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