Chess – and a new electronic chess system – in Bolivia

by ChessBase
1/2/2007 – The game is popular in Bolivia, but not properly encouraged. The country has produced just one grandmaster, who is 200 Elo points above everyone else in the region. But now it can boast its own digital chess system, a clock and sensor board used to display games and broadcast them on the Internet. Hitech made in Bolivia.

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Chess in Bolivia and the ValMar project

By Alexandro Valenzuela Martinic

According to statistics, chess in Bolivia is poorly encouraged, say by local authorities, individuals or private enterprises. This statistics can be confirmed by the number of GMs, IMs and FMs that Bolivia has. The only Bolivian grandmaster is Oswaldo Zambrana – he obtained his title this year and stands more than 200 Elo points above the rest of the Bolivian chess players. That is an incredible achievement by Oswaldo. Among his short-term objectives is to be in the list of the top 100 best chess players in the World.

Bolivia's grandmaster: Oswaldo Zambrana

What about the rest of the Bolivian chess players? Here are some pictures so you can take a look at chess activities and enthusiasm in Bolivia.

More than seventy participants in an open chess tournament in La Paz…chess is there for everyone, adults and kids alike

Kids and adults mixed in this open chess tournament

Chess fever at the University UMSA of La Paz: a team match between engineer students

Bolivian chess talent Gabriela Solís from Samaipata. She participated in some international events like the chess Olympiads in Calvia, Spain in 2004.

A local transportation bus in La Paz with chess adornment

A chess enthusiast in downtown La Paz…he built the chess pieces he is playing with.

Chess for everyone downtown La Paz every Sunday

Chess talents in the “Palace of Chess” club of Samaipata

Chess fever downtown Santa Cruz, largest city of Bolivia

From chess tournaments to chess games in universities and in streets, anything goes in Bolivia, for chess. But even then chess is difficult here, because there are not enough innovations in this sector. And technology seems so far away that many still study chess with books or reading very old magazines and newspapers to analyze games. Digital chess clocks are rare and expensive to many.

The chess work that Wolfgang Paulin and Ronaldo Luna Illanes do in Samaipata is impressive; Mr. Paulin, as the owner and visionary of a chess club in such a little town as Samaipata, and Professor Luna as the principal coach of these young talents. As a result of this work three girls (Gabriela Solís, Maria Barrenechea and Raisa Luna) from Samaipata went to compete in the Calvia chess Olympiad in Spain in 2004, representing Bolivia of course.

Visiting an island in Lake Titicaca…made entirely with “totora” by the natives.

Bolivia has a rich culture, many things transpire in Bolivia and in the region (South America). Maybe that’s why chess passes by hidden to many. But, as shown in the previous pictures, chess is very much present. It just needs a little push so it can grow faster and with more efficiency. This requires innovation and determination. In a country that has always been considered poor and with many political and social problems, but nothing is taken for granted. Even high technology can be made here.

ValMar chess system, ready to work and fully operational

A good example is the ValMar project. It consists of a system of four components build by me: a digital chess board, a digital chess clock, the visual program and the Internet program. This system is capable of broadcasting chess games, say in a chess tournament or through the Internet. This system additionally creates a pgn file that can be downloaded by anyone, or that can be read by any commercial chess program like Fritz.

For me chess started as a child when I was seven and learned how to move the pieces. Since then, from time to time, I tried to be an active aficionado player. Although many liked chess, a very few had the time to play a game. Mainly because there are not enough chess clocks in the market, analog or digital. And that was true in Bolivia and Brazil, country where I lived for six years.

My first notes (in Portuguese) of a digital chess clock, Santa Catarina, Brazil, 1999

I followed chess games with great interest thrrough the Internet from 1996 until 1999, and the only web page I visited was I sketched a project to build a digital chess clock so I could use it to play with my Brazilian friends. But I abandoned the project because I had to leave Brazil suddenly.

Back in Bolivia I saw the interest of the community for chess but the lack of technology in that area. The main reason: high prices of digital chess clocks and digital chess boards. What to do then? I started to build one all by myself at the end of 2005, finishing it in July of 2006, proving that it’s possible to build one at a much lower price, that could reach more people, specially in a region of individual low income like Bolivia or Brazil. The chess ValMar project was born and I was very excited of the results it could bring.

A closer look to the “ugly” ValMar digital clock, but with complete functions

Screenshot of the ValMar visual program. To the right is the game written in long algebraic format (pgn compatible). The pieces where drawn using the Freehand program. The position is from a game between Kramnik and Kasparov, can you guess witch game is it?

The digital chess board displays the moves on a computer screen that can be broadcast through the Internet, and it also writes the game in a pgn format. The digital chess clock has five different programmable time modes, Fischer, Bronstein, sand clock, among others; and a fixed blitz time of eight minutes plus five seconds per move increment. The Fischer mode can be programmed for up to three periods of time with a move counter. Describing it shortly, it’s a complete chess system that has nothing to envy from any commercial product in the market.

The starting position of a public demonstration: “…and this is how it’s used.”

... and in action in the chess club, with the pictures of past champions

Playing with the ValMar chess system, with the audience following the game on the big screen

I officially presented the system on November 30th to the public in La Paz. After that I went to local television channels, showing to the public the new product that was now available to use by anyone. After this new experience I’m convinced that any type of technological problem can be solved, if you have the right elements handy. That is why this is not the end of a nice project, but the beginning of newer and challenging horizons.

Alexandro Valenzuela Martinic and his ValMar chess system

A Happy New Year to everyone at! I wish you health, freedom, strength, and above all, love. If you want to contact me feel free to write me to alexandrovm1 (at) or alexandrovm1 (at)

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