A visit to Hawaiʻi!

by Alejandro Ramirez
12/7/2014 – In the wake of the upcoming Hawaiʻi Chess Festival, we felt our journalistic duty to investigate the island of Oʻahu before giving our full support to the event. After relaxing at Waikiki Beach, hiking Diamond Head, enjoying its magnificent views, shopping in Kalakua Avenue and eating some of the best food in the world, we can say the Hawaiʻi Chess Festival is something you cannot miss!

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A Visit to Hawaiʻi

When we learned of the Hawaiʻi Chess Festival, which will be held in the island of oʻahu from March 14-22 next year, we knew there was no choice but for us to check out the venue to make sure it was fitting for a chess vacation. We sent grandmaster Alejandro Ramirez on this important mission:

I arrived in Honolulu not really knowing what to expect. I come from a tropical country, Costa Rica, so I'm used to the tropical climate and we have our own nice beaches, but nothing I had seen before prepared me for how beautiful Hawaiʻi really is. My first day I decided to take a tour bus around oʻahu, where the world-famous Waikiki Beach is situated.

The eight islands of Hawaiʻi. oʻahu is only the fourth
largest, but it is the most populous one. Image from the US Government website.

Your dutiful reporter in the southern coast of oʻahu

The island is relatively small. Touring around half the island was not more than a few hours, including some pit stops to take pictures. However what it lacks in size it makes up for in quality: everywhere there were simply spectacular views! The weather, despite being late November, was a lovely 20-23 Celsius (~70 Farenheit). It was a little overcast, but still very pleasant.

Honauma Bay is one of the most popular
tourist destinations because of its snorkeling!

After a day looking at pretty sights it was time to relax at Waikiki Beach. We were at the beach area owned by Hilton Waikiki, where the tournament will take place, and it was as lovely as one can imagine. The Hilton Waikiki Village is truly a village of sorts, the humongous area is comprised of basically a shopping mall with scattered Hotel towers, some lagoons, the beautiful beach, restaurants, bars and even two chapels.

We finished the day by visiting Magic Island, a small manmade peninsula that is now a park with a little lagoon.

Magic Island (above) will be the place of a combination of casual chess played in tents and a mass simultaneous exhibition! Each grandmaster player will take on up to 20 players at the same time, and they hope to attract over 50 participants.

The culture in Hawaiʻi is very interesting. There are many people that are very obviously tourists, but I was surprised to see how many of them were Japanese. Indeed, most tourist destinations have signs in English with translations to Japanese, while others have both Japanese and Chinese. You can see the influence especially in the cuisine!

Poke! A typical Hawaiʻian appetizer. From wikipedia: Modern poke typically consists of cubed raw ahi (yellowfin tuna) marinated with sea salt, a small amount of soy sauce, inamona (roasted crushed candlenut), sesame oil, limu seaweed, and chopped chili pepper. This particular poke was a "spicy poke" from a nearby Cafe in Waikiki Beach. It's simply delectable.

Where else could you find Ahi Tuna Teriyaki Jerky?

This ahi tuna coconut ceviche was more of a sashimi with some latin
roots, and it is among the best things I have ever tasted

The next day I went for a hike at Diamond Head State Monument. Diamond Head is the name of a volcanic tuff cone on the Hawaiʻian island of oʻahu and known to Hawaiʻians as Lē'ahi, most likely from ahi tuna because the shape of the ridgeline resembles the shape of a tuna's dorsal fin. You can tell Hawaiʻians like their fish.

The hike only takes about 70-90 minutes total, but the view at the top is marvelous. Public transportation in oʻahu is excellent, the number two bus picks you up in the heart of Waikiki Beach and basically beelines for Diamond Head after that.

From the top of the mountain you can look west and see
Waikiki Beach in the distance (the right side of the photo)

Hawaiʻi is known for its beaches, but this beautiful crater is not too shabby!

The view south, towards the ocean. It was simply fantastic to stand there.

After a day of hiking I came back to Waikiki Beach and was able to meet up with Beau Mueller, one of the driving forces behind the Hawaiʻi Chess Festival. His idea of combining a vacation hub with a major chess tournament could not be held in a more paradisiacal location. With the added bonus of the participation of World Women's Chess Champion Hou Yifan and several strong American grandmasters, there is no way this tournament can be missed.

Beau and I doing the shaka sign. A Hawaiʻian surfer culture gesture that conveys the "Aloha Spirit": a concept of friendship, understanding, compassion, and solidarity among the various ethnic cultures that reside in Hawaiʻi. Not very necessarily conveying the fierce battles the Genius Lounge Sake & Grill near Waikiki Beach saw that day over the board!

The last full day I spent in oʻahu I went somewhere that cannot be missed: Hanauma Bay. Again, public transportation was quick an efficient: the number seven bus got me there without problems. Hanauma Bay is a famous place for snorkeling.

Entering Hanauma Bay is a little bit of a hassle. The line to get in is about half an hour long, and then there is another line to see a must-watch-video detailing what you can and cannot do to the marine life (basically don't touch anything, don't feed anything). But it's all worth it.

Hanauma Bay! Most people in the water are snorkeling. The fish are not too afraid of people, so you can come rather close to them (I wouldn't be surprised if you could actually grab one). I must have seen thousands of fish, of all shapes, colors and sizes only by floating around with my snorkeling gear that I rented for $10. I also saw eels, sea urchins and many other types of marine life. I heard there was a sea turtle that day, but I couldn't find it.

You pretty much spend all day like this, looking at fish through transparent water. I am not exaggerating. I also did not take this picture, which was taken from the official Hanuma Bay website.

My last day in the island also happened to be the Thursday before Black Friday, so all the shopping centers were open until late at night, if not all night. Kalakaua Avenue has some of the fanciest stores mixed in with very local sellers one next to the other. Randomly walking this avenue, I saw something that is typical for every chess city:

Chess on the street!

The games looked pretty serious, even using digital clocks

Alas, I could not linger. There were discounts to take advantage of and an early flight the next day.

Overall I cannot speak higher of oʻahu. I had a great time and, although I prefer visiting a plethora of places, I simply will have to return in the near future!

Hawaiʻi Chess Festival

Yifan is on her way to oʻahu to participate in the Hawaiʻi Chess Festival (14-22 March 2015), where she will participating by visiting the Hawaiʻi State Scholastic Championships (as Vishy did a couple of years ago), and even hosting a whale watch cruise.

See our previous coverage of this unique Festival here.

In addition, the Woman’s World Champ will be playing in a four player round robin tournament, the “Hawaiʻi Grandmaster Challenge”, where she will be taking on Sam Shankland, Timur Gareev, and a fourth wildcard participant… possibly even YOU:

Perhaps one of the most interesting and compelling prizes for amateur chess players ever, the Hawaiʻi Chess Vacation of a Lifetime fundraising promotion is offering one lucky winner the chance to be the fourth player in the round robin tournament!  If you win, you will be flown to Hawaiʻi, put up at the beautiful Hilton Waikiki Beach, have the chance to go skydiving with Timur or snorkeling with Sam, receive a series of lessons from GM Ronen Har-Zvi and of course play the three GMs in a series of blitz and rapid games, for a minimum prize of $1000!

The organizers of the Hawaiʻi Chess Festival are putting up this prize and running the Hawaiʻi Grandmaster Challenge to generate awareness (and to provide seed money) for a Hawaiʻi Chess Academy. They are offering those who contribute as little as $10 commemorative Hawaiʻi Chess Festival rewards, and of course the aforementioned chance to win the “Chess Vacation of a Lifetime prize”.

You can support their dream of a Hawaiʻi Chess Academy, and be entered to win the “Chess Vacation of a Lifetime” prize at www.ChessVacation.com

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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