64 squares in a kaleidoscope

by Alina l'Ami
7/27/2019 – “If it ain't broke, don't fix it” is a false statement in Indonesia. Improvement is always possible for the JAPFA GM & WGM round robin tournaments, traditionally held in Jakarta. The wind of change began to breeze last year in Solo City, where the chess events were relocated, and carried on whiffing towards the latest edition organized this June in Yogyakarta (or Jogja for short) where, IM ALINA L'AMI witnessed some interesting methods to get to the game on time...

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“If it ain't broke, it's obsolete” could be a more up to date version of the old slogan, embodied swimmingly by the Indonesians. Far from being complacent or scared by the unknown, the intrepid organizing team introduced a new element in their tournament formula: variety. Even though the chess recipe stood the test of time in the country's capital, that wasn't taken as an excuse for inaction and the players were invited to pit their wits against each other in the heartland of Central Java.

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JAPFA banner

Arts and culture are too important not to share

Players collage

Mistakes are proof that we are trying

Three examples from the women section to test the readers' calculation skills:


Click or tap a game in the list to switch

Luong Phuong Hanh

The happy winner of the JAPFA women tournament, Luong Phuong Hanh

The great thing about chess on tour through the world's fourth most populous country is that chess players can sink their teeth into a sheer range of experiences on offer. It is hard to beat Indonesia, which looks like 100+ countries melded into one kaleidoscopic nation defying homogenization.

Colour explosion

Colour explosion

Perhaps the diversity of cultures, customs, sights, foods and people as radically different from each other as the variety of landscapes, is the origin of the happy-go-lucky Indonesian. 

A friendly local

Who wouldn't fall for humbleness, especially when it comes with unconditional friendliness?

When the hosts are in the business of creating memories for their guests, it is a certainty they'll part as friends. But the greatest thing about chess adventure in Indonesia is that it happens when one least expects it. Chess aficionados playing at 1 AM on the pavement of Malioboro street? Invited for a basketball sized meatball of 5 kg? Yes and yes.

chess shirts

To diversify a bit — the same chess theme presented differently

Child with meatballs

The XXL meatball

Rising by lifting others

It is not uncommon for a chess event to have in focus the technical, factual or promotional aspects of the competition, or for an organizer to look after the grandmaster, neglecting to a certain degree the person hidden beneath. Marketing and branding are pivotal in the sponsorship chemistry but the Indonesians discovered the magic formula to go beyond the knowable, likeable and trustable compounds. To not push the players where 'the tournament requires' and rather meet them where they are is the silent ambassador of JAPFA's unique events.

Indonesian joy ride

It would be rather odd to not have fun together in Indonesia

However trite and uneconomic happiness may sound, it is not exactly rocket science that happy chess players make for a great tournament. Just how exactly to achieve that is a more complex question than Najdorf, King's Indian and Gruenfeld altogether. What remains unseen backstage is what really controls the show and the author of these lines can only offer a few pointers towards understanding the quantum of the Indonesian chess world.

Nothing succeeds like success

A sound body and a sound soul is not a guarantee for a sound mind and better play but it does increase one's chances. After years of thriving tournaments, the sponsors and organizers did their tricks again and nourished the three major units everyone is talking about:


From the airport pick-up to the coffee & tea facilities in the tournament venue, from the hotel arrangements to the playing conditions, everything has been prepared beforehand. If testing the myriad obscure looking dishes available on sight doesn't help sustain a joyful body, there is always the option of going for the in-room-service alternative: good life only one call away! For the more adventurous ones willing to get out of the organized premises and plunge into the street culture, ten thousand rupiahs (less than 1$!) would suffice.

Food collage

It would take a determined person to starve to death in Yogyakarta when much of Indonesian social life revolves around food and the city is packed with eateries.


When an army of journalists, famous Indonesians and officials are flying in from different parts of the country especially for the event, it becomes impossible to not feel the respect this nation has for chess and for the invited players.

Closing ceremony collage

Such an effort and preparation...
It does strike someone's ego but it also stimulates the mind
to give its best on the chess board

Two small notes:

  1. They say “if you want to make your dreams come true, the first thing to do is to wake up”. To translate theory into practice, being ready for the 09.30 AM morning game is no longer an issue, as around 04.30 AM the muezzin's calls for Fajr, the first of the five daily prayers, will give the awakening signal. It takes time to adjust, which was the case of Sophie Milliet who had a rough start with 0.5/4. And yet she won all the remaining games and finished on the 3rd position!

Alina and friends

The art of being happy is to put on a smile

  1. The 30 moves draw rule: a tournament where double rounds is the norm and the games pretty intense since there is no move 40 time control, can robotize one's head. The option of playing 20 moves, see where the position is going and perhaps offer a strategic draw is no longer available... Whoever said chess is not a sport should buy new glasses.

Comfort zones are dangerous territories where dreams go to die. Pushing limits is more efficient than pushing excuses and for those who don't mind a challenged mind – this tournament is a hard, intricate and beautiful test.

Rustam Khusnutdinov with a hawk

Knowledge is knowing what to play, wisdom is knowing when to play
First place for Rustam Khusnutdinov in the GM section!

Five examples from the GM section with a must read highlight (the winner's analysis of his most critical game) and a few riddles too:



“Where are you from? Are you here for holidays or for work?” are the two main questions a foreigner will get when wandering on Jogja's streets. That, plus tonnes of photos and even pop-up interviews is the norm since the Indonesian is open by nature and warmer than the tropical weather.

ambient scene

The unknown, the mystery will never get out of fashion


Indonesians: an endless source of cheerfulness
Ummi and Chelsie ready for Vogue

If in a different environment and with different people, the demographic questions would sound intrusive or irritating, the tone and smiling eyes in Indonesia would make a grumpy person at least less cranky. To give a more concrete example for an abstract theme: the players' birthdays are not forgotten either, so one must be ready for cake and candles, as it was the case of Ivan Sokolov.

There is a big risk of running into derision or pathetic-ism when speaking about the very hyped harmony between body, mind and soul. PERCASI (Indonesian Chess Federation) and JAPFA, the generous sponsor sustaining Indonesian chess since 2000, didn't apply any gimmicks or transcendental tricks. What they did was to free the players from physical nuisances and mental distractions, in order to open the gates of their chess souls.

Group photo

In high spirits*

“Are you here for holidays or for work?” query remains. But why would one have to exclude the other? It is “working holidays” in Indonesia!

*Special thanks to Yovie for capturing those shots which (for obvious reasons) I was unable to.

Alina is an International Master and a very enthusiastic person in everything she does. She loves travelling to the world's most remote places in order to play chess tournaments and report about them here on ChessBase! As chance would have it Alina is also an excellent photographer.


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