A journey to Kathmandu

by Alina l'Ami
5/30/2018 – Jet-setting photojournalist and International Master ALINA l'AMI has collected her thoughts and pictures from remote Kathmandu, Nepal, and as far-flung a destination for a chess tournament as you're likely to see. Timeless, strange things, and a travellers Disneyland await.

A Gambit Guide through the Open Game Vol.1 and 2 A Gambit Guide through the Open Game Vol.1 and 2

To avoid them or to play them, you have to know them. In two Volumes we see gambits such as Frankenstein-Dracula Gambit, the Cochrane Gambit, the Belgrade Gambit, the King's Gambit, Marshall Gambit, the Scotch Gambit, the Jänisch Gambit and many more.



Only a page-turn-away and I was there, in my wonderland, experiencing adventures and insights which I treasure up to this day. Until that fateful moment when my parents opened...an atlas, a book with so many pages to be read and travelled! This was when I started to devour the maps, to spin the small globe I'd been given. On rainy days I used to explore other faraway cities bearing magnificent names: Dar es Salaam, Ulaanbaatar or Kathmandu. Later I became a chess player. Still later I visited some of the places I had dreamed of as a child.


In the heart of Nepal — Boudhanath, one of the largest Buddhist stupas in the world

Stepping off the plane into Kathmandu was a pupil-dilating affair, a riot of sights, sounds and smells which quickly led to sensory overload. Incredible place but exhausting too. My guidebook insisted that the very first sighting of the legendary temples would take my breath away, but the dust, noise and temperature had done that already. All I could feel was tiredness, thirst and a tinge of white walls between advertising. This was not what I expected, Shangri-la is more than Adidas, Nike and Coca-Cola!


Time to freak out?

Somehow, in that mayhem (sorry for not picturing it but more important was to survive crossing a street, any street!) I fell for Nepal.

Alice: "How long is forever?"
White Rabbit: "Sometimes, just one second."

IA Dharmendra and GM Kostya

Life is not perfect but it has perfect moments,
like this one shared with IA Dharmendra and GM Kostya

That's what I loved instantly about Kathmandu. The way it reminded me what I value about chess and travel, which isn't just points, dumb parties and beautiful beaches.

garment workers

(Chess) Life is tough, challenging and rewarding

Nepal characters

Nepal reminded me who I was and what I wanted

For starters, I wished for a good place in the 1st Kathmandu International Open. On their side, the organizers did their utmost to make that happen.

playing venue

Excellent playing conditions and even advice, free of charge

Stranger things

Just when I was about to say that's it, I found my heaven in my super classy room, darkness besieged me. One hour later, I was still regretting not having charged my devices properly.

Nepal has a long way to go when it comes to wiring and electrics. I don't want to be offensive here, it is a fact.

Sketchy electrical wiring

You will surely experience a power outage (or eleven) while exploring this otherwise incredible country

NOTE: Sometimes Nepal's WiFi connectivity was better than the one I have at home; besides, I've always used the classic pen and paper to write down my chess moves but in Kathmandu's Open you could do that digitally — check the collage above.

The first 'serious' power outage occurred when we were fighting the ever-vicious time troubles. Seconds later, it started up again. When suddenly — power cut out. Again. During those daily procedures, the Nepalis didn’t raise an eyebrow.

I admire that about the locals. Nothing seems to bother them, not even the power cutting out while they're playing chess or watching Netflix.

Wish I could blame electricity for what happened in my game against (what a coincidence!) a Nepali:


How would you take back on g6? Around here I think the lights went off. Later on, I responded:

29...Bxg6?? trying to avoid at all costs a draw after 29...hxg6 30.Ne6 Bxe6 31.Qxg6+ with perpetual. I was playing against someone rated 300 points lower but that doesn't justify the suicidal decision.

30.Ne6 Qe7 (30...Ne2+ is only a temporary check 31.Kh2+-)
31.Nxf8 Qxf8 32.Qxf8+ Kxf8 33.Ra1 Bxd3 34.Rxa5 and the rest is no longer interesting 1-0 — some electrical brain disturbances happened here, I guess.

If they burn a candle, it means not only giving us light. It represents faith and hope. It means they welcome us in the warmth of their homes.

candle lighting

As a profound symbol of illumination, the candle was lit in the playing hall for what it also became: a great tournament

women in ritual

Restoring harmony with rituals

food stall

A Nepali outlook, pace and (tea) philosophy can prevent you being swamped by your problems. It feels somewhat 'easier' to take life day by day in Nepal.

Today is yesterday's tomorrow

Living in the moment is great but it has quite a few flaws too. After having soaked up the sun, life and culture, I donated 20 rating points, all lost in the morning rounds. Every single point I gained with hard work in Jersey, UK, vanished in the thin air of Kathmandu.

And it turned out I was not the only one to suffer on the chess board. The top seed, the experienced Russian GM Sergey Volkov, failed to win against an opponent more than 600 points lower rated and even endured a defeat against a 2200. That is not only painful but also a clear-cut example of how-you-should-not-play-in-India/Nepal-if-you-care-about-your-Elo.

chess players

The real strength of the players on this side of the globe is legendary, let alone the evil schedule of nine rounds in five days, plus 9 am morning chess pleasures

Three examples to demonstrate how things could go wrong even if the rating gap is pretty serious:


A similar fate but maybe less distressing was experienced by the second seed, Sandipan Chanda. The Indian GM didn't lose any of his games but the last three round's draws against his lower rated compatriots didn't propel him onto the podium either. For the third seed, the GM Deep Sengupta, everything seemed working according to plan until he met his young IM colleague, Harsha Bharathakoti. This loss was surely deeply regretted by Deep but not by the well-deserved tournament winner.

Harsha Bharathakoti

Clear first with an undefeated 7½/9!

It should be mentioned that Harsha gave a glimpse of his talent in the 2017 Isle of Man edition, where he made a GM norm with one round to spare. Now we are vaccinated, we're no longer surprised by his unshared tournament win and we expect much more in the near future.

Three highly dynamic examples for your eye to revel in:


prize giving

The winners, sponsors and organizers. Oh boy...where do I start, without offending anyone?!
(The overall winner is missing though, as he had to catch his flight)

An attempt to organize this chaos — thanks to the Homeland Sports Club (President: Prakash Adhikari, and Secretary: Sanjeev Pudasaini) & Nepal Chess Association (Tournament Director: Bidur Prasad Gautam and IA + looking after us, the foreigners, Umesh KC), a beautiful first edition has been successfully completed. And the main sponsor, KNP Japan, promises us at least two more to come!

Traveller's Disneyland

I may be on the podium but that doesn't mean I deserve being there judging by my tournament rating chart.

However, it is not all lemons and sour grapes and mountains you'll fail to climb. Some players adapted instantly to the local customs and spirit. The Azeri GM with a predestined name, Azer Mirzoev, found his peace once he managed to squeeze in a quick spiritual stroll around centuries-old stupas and finished on a second place with an undefeated 7/9.

Buddhist temple

This is part of what Azer contemplated atop a hill in the Kathmandu Valley: the Buddhist temple Swayambhunath

Monkey Temple

Since that for me is rather difficult to pronounce, I rely on its 2nd name: the Monkey Temple

A shared 2nd position but with an inferior tiebreak was claimed by the unique GM, the Ukrainian Konstantin Tarlev, whose headquarters were around...the swimming pool. Either he was testing the water or practising yoga.

GM Kostya

Kostya didn't fail to blend in

Weirdly enough, Konstantin's approach to life was completely different before playing in Kathmandu. The "choleric" as he described himself, suffered a major transformation in the mythical aura of Nepal — a bit of yoga, five hours of sleep, big smile and lots of sunrises, that's all it takes to be happy.

old man

Learning from the Masters
It is not things but moments that make this life worth living

Back to the future

3 am, 14th April 2075 (!?) — Kathmandu, Nepal

As for your author, just when I was about to roam around my world of dreams and find Shambhala, I was brought back to reality. Abruptly.

Continued in part 2...

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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