Chess Eruption by Mount Etna (1/2)

by Diana Mihajlova
12/19/2014 – In the summer, a very successful tournament ‘Terre degli Elimi’ took place in Erice. Now, at the beginning of the winter, on the opposite side of the island, another successful tournament has just concluded. The First International Etna Chess Festival took place from 5 – 8 December, in Nicolosi, on the eastern side of Sicily, on the slopes of Etna volcano.

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Sicily is on its way of becoming an important meeting point
for international chess enthusiasts

On the initiative of the main organiser, Agata Campisi Marzaduri, a member of directors of the ‘Chess Centre Aci Castello’ (Centro Scacchi Aci Castello) from Catania, the Erice organiser Alessandro Monaco and the Erice chess club ‘Friends of the Chess Board’ (Amicci della Scacchiera) joint forces and mounted a second successful tournament on the island, within only few months from the first one.

Agata Campisi Marzaduri, Alessandro Monaco and Salvatore Oddo, president of the Erice chess club

It was a short chess event, packed with action. Two Opens with several participating GMs and other titled players, and many excursions - over just 4 days. In addition, two simultaneous exhibitions were given by IM Anastasia Savina, in Nicolosi, the night before the start, and by GM Sergey Tiviakov, in Catania, the night after the closure.  

The organisers wanted to use this short 1st Etna tournament as a tester, to check the ground before they proceed with a bigger, second edition, next year. They should not have fretted: 91 players, from 11 nations, landed in the small village Nicolosi, on the slopes of Etna, for the 7-round tournament.

Hotel Biancaneve

Most of the players stayed at the official four-star hotel Biancaneve which provided excellent facilities at reasonable prices (€45/person in a double room, full board, mineral water and wine included!). The playing hall, within the same hotel, was comfortable, attractive and air-conditioned. The hotel is situated directly on the road towards the volcano, at two kilometres from the town of Nicolosi, nicknamed ‘the gate to Etna’.

The town of Nicolosi on a morning mist horizon

From my hotel’s window, on a clear morning, a panoramic line is discerned of Nicolosi, the nearest town on the south side of Etna, a meeting point for trekkers to the volcano. The name stems from the 1359 Benedictine Monastery of St Nicolo L’Arena; today the monastery serves as headquarters to the ‘Park of Etna’. Being closest to the volcano, Nicolosi suffered its lava flows many times in the past centuries, always stubbornly rebuilding and maintaining a love-hate Town and Volcano bond, which is expressed in Latin on its municipal emblem:  ‘Subridens Ocellus Civitas Fervido Montis Igne Facta’ – ‘Little town transformed into a sparkling jewel by the great mountain fire’.

The 1st International Etna Chess Festival was held under the patronage of the Town Hall of Nicolosi and its Mayor, Antonino Borzì. Still another small neighbouring town, San Giovanni La Punta, was host to a press conference to mark the beginning of chess festivities in the area. 

Participants at the Press Conference, including the Mayor Andrea Messina (middle, back row),
the organiser Agata Campisi, the local councillor for sport, the island’s delegate to the Italian
Chess Federation (FSI), Giuseppe Battaglia, Nando Cacciola, Fabio Finocchiaro (middle, front
row) and ChessBase journalist Diana Mihajlova. (Photo: Gaia Montagna)

On the occasion, Fabio Finocchiaro, the island’s oldest chess player, was awarded a plaque for recognition. When Fabio stopped participating actively in tournaments, he dedicated his time to competing in correspondence chess often finishing among the five top players in world competitions. Two years ago he was a Champion. Few would have known that the World Champion in correspondence chess in 2012 was an octogenarian from a village by the Mount Etna in Sicily.

The World Champion in chess correspondence, Fabio Finocchiaro, on the
main square of his native town and its 13th century church in the background

Fabio told me that for his chess studies he uniquely relies on the ChessBase products, particularly the Database. He proudly added that he has just purchased the newest ChessBase 13.

Russian WGM and IM Anastasia Savina gave a simultaneous on fifteen tables at the Town Hall
of Nicolosi conceding only one draw

The University of Science of Catania makes an important contribution to the chess development in the area and it also had an active role in the preparations of the 1st Etna Tournament. Agata Campisi, the tournament’s organiser, is their member of staff as a professor in biochemical studies. Thanks to her, chess has been given a university treatment.

A lecturing hall, within the university premises, has been allocated for chess lessons conducted by the first titled Sicilian player, FM Giuseppe Fabiano. Also, on Agata’s initiative, chess has been included among the university’s competitive sport activities.

In front of the Uni banner ‘Catania University Sport’ (CUS), Prof Agata Campisi Mazarduri with
her sons, Riccardo (on the right), best U-16 in the A group and Marco who sensibly turned to
chess arbitrating instead of playing, in order to dedicate himself better to his law studies.

The pride of Sicilian women chess: the sisters Gueci, WFM Tea (on the right) and WCM Laura,
from Palermo. Tea is the Italian Woman Champion and a member of the Olympic team; Laura
is trailing very closely behind her.

Fathers and sons: Giulio Balsano, Giovanni Mendola and Igor Migliorisi were among the youngest participants,
all playing in the group B

Chiara Morello from a small inland Sicilian town Gela; the only girl in the B group successfully
battled to win fourth place

Colin Pace from the neighbouring island of Malta

The Belgians: Thomas Biot trying the dark glasses trick and Bertrand Terwagne kibitzing

National arbiters, Giuseppe Cassia and Alexandra Voitenko, at work

The Mendola family in support of their chess hope, Giovanni, the best
U-16 in the B group. The father, Gaetano, the Town Hall representative,
helped the organisation of the Etna tournament and also organised our
trip to the volcano.

Continued in part two

A former university lecturer in Romance philology, she is currently a painter as well as a chess journalist, and reports regularly from the international tournament scene.


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