A Mega GM in Jamaica

by ChessBase
1/26/2006 – The country is just 150 miles long, home to 2.7 million colorful, convivial islanders. It has brought forth music icons like Bob Marley, world class sprinters like Merlene Ottey and even a Carribbean bobsled team. But no chess grandmasters. So it was with great enthusiasm that the island received the reigning Commonwealth Champion Nigel Short. Big illustrated report.

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Jamaica welcomes Mega GM Nigel Short

By Ian Wilkinson, President of the Jamaica Chess Federation

Jamaica is one of the most beautiful and fascinating countries in the world. Located in the Caribbean sea just ninety miles from Cuba, the population is approximately 2.7 million people. The island is about fifty miles across and one hundred and fifty miles from end to end and its climate can be described as summer all year! The aboriginal Arawak Indians named the place “Xaymaca” (translated “the land of wood and water”) and in 1655 the English settlers gave the island its current name. In the 17th century Port Royal (located close to the Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston) was reputedly the richest town in the world being the place where pirates and privateers often stored their loot. Indeed, Henry Morgan, one of the most fearsome of the pirates, was to become Lt.Governor of the island!

Map of Jamaica from Mapquest

This English-speaking nation has given many great persons to the world in all spheres of life including national hero Marcus Mosiah Garvey (an inspiration for such people as Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and Malcolm X), music icon Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley, the “Reggae Boyz” who qualifed for the 1998 world cup of football (soccer) in France, a bobsled team (!) and Merlene Ottey, arguably the most decorated and durable female sprinter of all time. The island is also famous for its Blue Mountain coffee and for being one of the world’s leading producers of bauxite.

From a chess perspective Jamaicans have been very competitive internationally for approximately the past thirty years and have had some noteworthy accomplishments. In 1976, 16 year-old Sheldon Wong won the national championships and then represented Jamaica in the same year at the 15th world junior chess championships in Groningen, The Netherlands winning a brilliancy price for his second round win against Israel’s Nir Grinberg. Jamaica has also been a regular fixture at the Chess Olympiad since making Her Buenos Aires debut in 1978. In 1984 at the Thessaloniki Chess Olympiad in Greece, national master John Powell won a silver medal on board 4 with a score of 7/9. In 1990 at the Novi Sad Olympiad in Yugoslavia Christine Bennett won a silver medal on board 4 with a 6/7 score in the women’s section.

"Big Up" Nigel Short

Reigning Commonwealth Chess Champion and world championship finalist English Mega Grandmaster Nigel David Short wrote another chapter in his glorious chess history when he recently visited the beautiful West Indian island – his first stop on his Caribbean tour!

Short arrived in Jamaica on a sunny Friday afternoon, landing at the Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston, the nation’s capital, and was greeted by Ian Wilkinson, the president of the Jamaica Chess Federation (“JCF”), leading a delegation which included FM Warren Elliott, defending Jamaican chess champion, a player at three Chess Olympiads and founder of the Five-Star Chess Club in Kingston, NM Shane Matthews, record seven-time Jamaican chess champion and many-time Chess Olympiad veteran, WNM Deborah Richards, four-time defending Jamaican women’s chess champion and NM Geoffrey Byfield the founder of the pioneering Liguanea Chess Club in Kingston.

The former British champion, regarded by many as the greatest British chess player of the 20th century, was escorted to the airport’s VIP lounge where he chatted for close to thirty minutes with his hosts.

GM Short (let the “fancy” white shoes do the talking!) relaxing in the VIP lounge at the Airport. L-R: FM Elliott, NM Matthews, WNM Richards, Wilkinson and NM Byfield (both partially hidden).

The Jamaicans gave Short a really warm welcome as if the prodigal son had returned home! Wilkinson presented a copy of his first book Magnificence In Bled –The 35th Chess Olympiad (launched at the 2004 Calvia Olympiad in Mallorca, Spain) to Short on behalf of the local chess federation.

What is this guy saying to me? Can’t he see that I just want to sleep!? Wilkinson presents a copy of his book “Magnificence In Bled – the 35th Chess Olympiad” to Short in the VIP lounge at the Norman Manley International Airport, Kingston, Jamaica.

After some refreshments and a brief interview by FM Elliott for Richard O’Sullivan’s groundbreaking cable TV chess station www.jamaicachess.com, Short was then chauffeured to the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel, one of the sponsors of his trip, in the heart of uptown (New) Kingston, where the English GM expressed delight as he was ensconced in the fabulous Liguanea suite.

The University of the West Indies

On Saturday 7th January GM Short visited the Norman Manley Law School located on the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies in Kingston. This is one of the premier institutions in the region where lawyers are trained. Again, eager chess lovers, players, parents and curious onlookers greeted the English grandmaster with great enthusiasm. With the print and electronic media present, Short proceeded to enthrall the rapt audience for the next two and a half hours with an anecdotal account of his chess beginnings, career, matches and games. He said that the Bobby Fischer-Boris Spassky match in Reykjavik in 1972 had a tremendous influence on him when he was seven years old and contributed seminally to his decision to be a professional chess player.

He recalled with some nostalgia how his results during a tournament were bad because he had been struck by Cupid’s arrow, fallen in love with a fair damsel from Denmark and could not concentrate on his games! He recovered after she had left! He stressed the need for local players to face international competition and, in giving tips to players on strategy and tactics, he said that some openings were to be used as a surprise weapon and treated like a condom – to be used once and never again!

Short said that his greatest chess accomplishment was to have played against the 13th world champion Garry Kimovich Kasparov for the world championship in 1993. His greatest match victory was against the 12th world champion Anatoly Karpov en route to the Candidates final against Dutch GM Jan Timman which preceded the match against Kasparov. He smilingly recalled how Kasparov had been asked who would be his opponent for the world title and how the match would go. Kasparov epigrammatically predicted “it will be Short and it will be short”!

Titles can be bought!

He spoke further of corruption in world chess including in some instances the manipulation of ratings and titles, stating that a grandmaster title can be bought for a few thousand dollars!! Recently elected as Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Chess Association, he did not hide the fact that he believed in sweeping changes in the FIDE leadership arguing that this was the best thing for chess. After he finished his address, he answered questions from the audience ranging from his personal life to ways in which players can improve their chess. Nigel ended the session by playing a blitz game against FM Elliott, the delighted audience applauding at the end.

At the completion of the press conference he was presented with a compact disc of reggae music by Samuel “Yoga man” Lamount, an entertainer, chess and table tennis player. JCF president Wilkinson, in moving the vote of thanks, had Short laughing when he said that as great chess players (!) they had several things in common – they were born the same year (1965) and some times they played with the white pieces and at other times with the black pieces!

Wilkinson introducing Short at lecture/press conference at the Norman Manley Law School. Also in picture are NM Geoffrey Byfield of the Liguanea Chess Club And Trisha Bell of co-sponsors Avis Rent-A-Car.

Short in his element at the Norman Manley Law School, speaking about his life, chess career, chess politics, corruption in chess and giving tips on how one can improve as a chess player.

After winning a blitz game against FM Warren Elliott, Jamaica’s chess champion (seated right), Nigel explains the nuances of the Sicilian Sveshnikov. Also in picture from left are Daren Wisdom, Byfield, Wilkinson, cadets Tewana Mellace and Stuart James and banker Nathan Richards.

 After having lunch at the popular Star Apples Restaurant, the English GM gave a simultaneous exhibition at the Norman Manley Law School tackling thirty-three players, including eight masters, winning 28 and giving up 5 draws to Elliott, Wilkinson, Peter Myers, a Vice-President of the JCF, Rastafarian NM Malaku Lorne and NM John Powell, a board 4 silver medal winner at the 1984 Thessaloniki Olympiad and a former president of the local federation. After “suffering” for most of the game, Wilkinson survived the onslaught and actually missed a win by not playing 35…Rd1+! before the draw was agreed on the 36th move.

FM Elliott (right) awaits the return of GM Short during the simul. To his right are NMs Lorne, Byfield, Pitterson, Powell, Wheeler and Porter. Elliott, Lorne and Powell obtained creditable draws against the GM.

Man… the president’s Petroff is tough! Short pondering his 37th move before agreeing to a draw with Wilkinson. NM John Powell is at right.

Nigel against Jamaica’s women’s Chess Olympiad team. L-R: Vanessa Thomas, Camille Casserly, Zhu Hui and WNM Deborah Richards. Aaah, these women are not only beautiful, they can play! Hector Diston and Michael Ramsay watch the proceedings.

Chess Federation Vice-President Peter Myers (blue shirt) uncorks the Pirc to gain one of five draws in the simul. Gary Hew and Noel Miller are to his left.

Jamaica’s junior chess champion Christopher Buchanan (left) battles gallantly against Short’s Ruy Lopez. Candidate masters Brandon Wilson (glasses) and Mario Marshall (white shirt) await their fate!

Chess Olympiad Workshop

On Sunday 8th January Short conducted a three-hour workshop at the Shirley Retreat Hotel in Kingston with the Jamaican men and women’s squads selected for the 37th Chess Olympiad to be held in Turin, Italy in May/June, 2006. He then relaxed a bit by visiting Port Royal.

What is wrong with these people? Don’t they know 1.e4 and wins!? Short looks pensive during his workshop with Jamaica’s men and women’s squads at Shirley Retreat Hotel in Kingston. “Do I really have to leave Jamaica?” he must have been thinking!

Ahhh…now we are in business! Nigel conducting a workshop with Jamaica’s men and women’s Chess Olympiad teams.

Visiting the Head of State

Jamaica, a part of the Commonwealth, is a constitutional monarchy with a Governor-General as head of state. On Monday 9th January Short paid a visit to the sitting Governor-General the Most Honourable Sir Howard Cooke at King’s House, his official residence. Both men chatted amiably like old friends after Short had presented Sir Howard with gifts of custom made chess pieces – fittingly a king and a queen!

The lush, verdant grounds of King’s House, the Governor-General’s official residence.

Attention! GM Nigel Short stands guard at the entrance to the Governor-General’s mansion. No rifle needed…the chess pieces are sufficient!

Sir Howard Cooke, Governor-General of Jamaica (L), accepts gifts of chess pieces – a king and a queen – from Nigel. JCF president Wilkinson watches.

Enjoying the Governor-General’s sense of humour.

Bob Marley – here I come!

After leaving King’s House Short paid a short (sorry!) visit to the famous Bob Marley museum located on Hope Road in Kingston. This museum is dedicated to the memory of the reggae music legend and highlights, inter alia, where “the Tuff Gong” used to live and record unforgettable music. It contains numerous photographs, music albums and other memorabilia.

Nigel then visited Independence Park also in Kingston, the site of the national arena and the national stadium, the latter being home to many of the qualifying games the Reggae Boyz played during their 1998 World Cup campaign. At Independence Park there are several famous statues that were officially commissioned by the government of Jamaica including those of Bob Marley and track and field legends Arthur Wint, Herb McKenley, Donald Quarrie and Merlene Ottey.

Although Short planned to visit the Bahamas, Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago, respectively, upon leaving Jamaica, he enjoyed his stay in left Jamaica so much that he extended it by three days and visited several historic sites in the country. Before he left on the 12th January he visited the north coast and such famous tourist havens like Runaway Bay in St. Ann and the second city, Montego Bay. While in Runaway Bay he gave a live radio interview on KLAS FM, a popular local radio station and again spoke about his life as a chessplayer and ways in which chess could be improved in countries such as Jamaica.

GM Nigel Short’s visit to Jamaica was a mutually-rewarding one and hopefully it will serve as a catalyst in giving chess a major boost in the island. Short said that he enjoyed his time in Jamaica immensely and was very sad to leave. He expressed the desire to return as quickly as possible and promised to do whatever he could to assist in the development of chess not only in Jamaica but in the region as a whole. Nigel, we in Jamaica say thank you for the experience, “big up”, “nuff respect” and “more time!"

Nigel establishes a friendship at the Bob Marley Museum. Is my friend hungry? Hmmm…

Nigel strikes a pose beside a statue of the legendary Bob Marley at the Bob Marley Museum. A picture of Bob Marley’s back-up singers, the “ I-Three” (Judy Mowatt, Rita Marley and Marcia Griffiths) adorns the base of the statue.

“I wanna hold your hand..”…Hey Nigel, this is Bob not the Beatles! GM Short (right) gets close to another Bob Marley statue outside the national stadium at Independence Park in Kingston.

“Gi dem ah run”…outside the national stadium, the athletic Short stays one step ahead, just barely, of the statue of Jamaica’s Merlene Ottey, arguably the most durable and decorated female track sprinter in history.

Nigel (centre) stands strategically in front of a great piece of sculptre outside of Emancipation Park in New Kingston, so named in recognition of the abolition of slavery. This sculptre is called "Redemption Song" (after one of Bob Marley's most popular songs) and was created by Laura Facey. It generated a some controversy in 2003 when it was unveiled because of its very candid depiction of the male and female bodies!

Photos by Richard O’Sullivan of www.jamaicachess.com

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