Awake in Arica

by Alina l'Ami
1/3/2018 – Awaken in the dream: Is failing to plan planning to fail? Chess in the desert – does it exist? An extensive inquiry (with footnotes) on why you should make your chess trip to the ends of the Earth a reality. | Pictured: Arica's landmark: El Morro, a massive cliff of compressed sand and rock looming 110m over the city | Photos: Alina l'Ami

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Three weeks earlier

Few parts of this world come shrouded in mystique quite like Chile does. This ludicrously thin and unreasonably long country is nature on a colossal scale and, for me, the Holy Grail — I'd been dreaming about it for the past 20+ years thanks to the evergreen Jules Verne.

But when your flight ticket is issued at the eleventh hour, discerning between happiness and panic becomes a serious test. A perennial bucket list favourite requires more than just a couple of hours of preparation and research!

Arica square

Easter Island, Atacama, the Andes, Valparaiso...? Here we are, in Arica, with no serious prior knowledge to rely on

The quick google search, however, was very promising and yet, no source had mentioned:

hipster vibe

The energy, the colors, the hipster vibes of this city

something to see

There is something to see at every turn [1]

A tacit rhetorical assumption here is that you have probably never heard of Arica, Chile's northernmost city. Nor of Jacque 64 nor of Antonio Perez nor of Adrian Perez – all beads on the same chess string. Nor of the International Tournament held for the fourth time in the driest place on the planet.

driest place on earth

In your face, Sahara! [2]

The Perez brothers

Difficult is done at once, the impossible takes a little longer — could be, perhaps, the most descriptive phrase for the tournament organization. After many years of local experience and three years of going international, the fourth edition of the chess event organized by the siblings and their Jacque 64 club exceeded their initial hopes (and ours).

girl with Ahmed Adly

Master and novice: 2nd seed, the Egyptian GM Ahmed Adly, having a tête-à-tête with a 3 y.o. rising Chilean chess star

mission accomplished

Mission accomplished — the chess bug has been spread

Thanks to all the financial support, for which the organizers remain grateful, four continents were present at the starting list through 13 representative countries and more than 100 players. The luckiest ones could be considered the players from the nearby countries; Peru is a stone's throw away while Bolivia is not too far either.

Carlos Saavedra

Bolivian FM Carlos Saavedra

Placing things in perspective, that was an achievement the Chilean community can be proud of. Moreover, the bombastic numbers that many tournaments are bragging about would be put to shame by this friendly tournament. All the statistics in the world can't measure the warmth of a smile, which the organizers never run short of.

Women players

Smarter, prettier, younger, there was no shortage of women players either

The only downside of the brothers' altruism is that there comes a time in which they must accept they cannot help everyone and must consider their own tournament needs. The event could have been held in a special location:

San Marcos Cathedral

The Gothic San Marcos Cathedral, designed by none other than Gustave Eiffel (yes, that one), which was a five minutes walking distance from our hotel

Instead, since a larger number of players brings a larger palette of cultures and beliefs, Antonio and Adrian thought they will be better off in a neutral environment. Everything and anything for the players' comfort. [3]

El Debs Felipe De Cresce

Worked out well for the Brazilian GM El Debs Felipe De Cresce (left), who was leading the pack before the final 10th round with 7½/9

El Debs' countryman, IM Renato Quintiliano (a regular ChessBase Magazine contributor), was very kind to provide us with valuable analysis over three crucial games:


Click or tap a game in the game list to switch

An ambitious setup against the Benoni

The topic of this 60 minute video clip is the major idea of the 8.h3 0-0 9.Bd3 line. It has not won much love among defenders of the Benoni - White players are coming dangerously close to realising the dream of squeezing the opponent.

live footage dinners radio shows

Live footage, dinners, radio shows – it all brings the chess family together [4]

The winners

Deep respect for Anton, the top seed who succeeded returning to a shared first place after being forfeited in round three due to his more than 15 minutes delay for the game, which was the official default time. 

Anton Demchenko

8/10, which practically meant a 8/9!

Only Sandro Mareco, the Argentine GM surpassed him by a better tiebreak, which is an outstanding performance given the schedule and, must be added, his personal life story.

It is inspiring and motivating to find out that Sandro, after flirting a bit with chess during his school years, actually started giving it a thought only later on, at the age of 13!

There is lately an 'inflation' of young GMs but we rarely hear or see a model worth following who took up chess at a 'centenarian' age.

Sandro Mereco

Sandro is now a renowned player, coach and a catalyst to many of us


Exchange on d5 in the Slav and Queen's Gambit

On this DVD, we will look at a simple-to-learn yet surprisingly effective system that White can play after 1 d4 d5. In all cases White will play 2 c4 - and if given the chance, 3 cxd5!

ChessBase prizes

The winners were not the only ones going home with a big smile: ChessBase brought its contribution for a successful chess career's start

boy with medal

The DVD's are real but...could this be gold?!

colourful umbrellas

If the black & white game gave you the blues, the city's colors will reverse the effect [5]

The unlearner

Every now and then, it is not a bad idea to forget the things you knew and start anew.

girl highlighted

What you learn when young can stick forever, but what if that's no longer valid?

To my embarrassment, Arica's nickname,“the city of eternal spring”, came as a total surprise. Wait, what? Desert, no rain and you call that spring?! [6]

The adjacent Azapa valley proved I knew no more about history than a frog knows about bed sheets. Sorry Egypt, the oldest mummies ever discovered are from here. [7]

But the most striking part was that this trip turned into one of the best ever, without seeing much of Chile, at least in terms of touristic brochures, and without winning the tournament either. [8]

walk in an open-air art museum

How about a walk in an open-air art museum with...

colourful murals

…all those colorful murals?

Arica desert

Aaaah, that's more deserty, the water is only a mirage...
(about Arica as an ocean lover's playground — beaches, surfing etc. — in another novel) 

"Love is not about property, diamonds and gifts. It is about sharing your very self with the world around you." —Pablo Neruda

I don't know if it is a Chilean 'malady' or if it is the desert talking. But this is what the organizers and the locals did through chess and a bit of Spanglish. They gave us the best they possessed:



Final standings (top 10)

Rk. Name  TB1 
1 Mareco Sandro 8,0
2 Demchenko Anton 8,0
3 El Debs Felipe De Cresce 7,5
4 Martinez Alcantara Jose Eduardo 7,5
5 Adly Ahmed 7,5
6 Garcia Cardenas Pablo 7,0
7 Salinas Herrera Pablo 7,0
8 Di Berardino Diego Rafael 7,0
9 Hernandez Guerrero Gilberto 7,0
10 Santiago Yago De Moura 7,0

All available games



[1] Local (and personal) obsessions – graffiti, lots of graffiti. Upon further examination you'll notice this isn't the usual tagging or randomly scrawled swear word. It is art.

[2] The complete title is “the driest inhabited place on earth”. The truth is (even though hard to believe) that the Earth’s driest place is in one of its poles, in Antarctica: the McMurdo Dry Valleys – a row of snow-free valleys, forming the world’s most extreme desert, which haven’t seen water in 14 million years.

[3] Not playing within close range to your place of residence brought a new challenge: logistics. Since a great tournament wouldn't be real without at least one problem to be fixed, this time two players, the Russian GMs Anton Demchenko and Petr Kiriakov, lost after exceeding the 15 min default time. Needless to say it was a delicate situation for all sides involved. Paradox, however, is not only a word in the dictionary but it is also playing a big role in our lives. After crossing the initial and inevitable weirdness, this episode brought the chess people closer than a happy event would have been able to.

It shows that chess and travel do make us all more tolerant and understanding. 

[4] The warmhearted and humble Perez brothers don't want nor need public recognition, which made it all the more difficult to capture them on camera. But the fruits of their joint efforts will remain visible, even in the desert. And you can still spot Antonio near Sandro Mareco.

[5] On a humorous note, try to solve the following puzzle, an excerpt from your author's games. You have no more than one second:

White to play


It should be mentioned that White was completely lost throughout the entire game but kept being on the lookout for a Christmas miracle. One for the books appeared with Black's last move:

39...Kh7?? but instead of looking on the board, my hand went for:

40.Ng5+?? Yayks! When I touched the knight, I physically felt the black and red colors of a bullfight in all its tragedy.

40...Kg7 (40... Kg8 can be played and game over) 41.Ne6+ here comes an even more shocking moment:

41...Kh7?? Mutual blindness at its best. But this time I graciously accepted the gift. (obviously, 41...Kg8 can be played again, with 0-1 as the likely outcome)

42.Rxh6 Kg8 (42... Kxh6 runs into mate in one) 43.Rxg6+ Kf7 44.Rg7+ and Black resigned.

Probably the most generous chess present I have ever received.

[6] Despite its lack of rainfall, humidity and cloud cover are high in Arica thanks to its Pacific vicinity. With humidity levels similar to those of equatorial climates, the sunshine intensity is, however, similar to the Sahara desert regions in the Northern Hemisphere. Thus, the city features the rare mild desert climate, with seldom extreme temperatures throughout the course of the year.

[7] The Chinchorro mummies are the oldest examples of mummified human remains, dating to thousands of years before the Egyptian ones.

[8] Concrete examples:

Small things do make a big difference:

  • Day of arrival, 1 am: when others are deep in their dreams, the chef of a family hotel sacrificed his time, in order to serve us dinner
  • 3 am: after a 50+ hours journey your author was rather easily inflammable. Unable to sleep, a thorough rooms' inspection seemed like a more fun activity. Why not find and relocate into the best available four walls?! During the entire procedure, the hotel manager didn't frown once and kept carrying my suitcase while... apologizing. If you ever plan to visit Arica, let me know. I can make a very good hotel recommendation
  • Somewhere around midday: although blending in is usually advisable, looking like a tourist is a great idea when in Arica – the locals will guide or even walk with you to the places you shouldn't miss
  • In general, you wouldn't expect a taxi driver to offer his services on his own time and costs; but in Arica, sharing their native grounds and culture was a bigger incentive. A truly special society, indeed.


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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