Chess in Guadeloupe: the butterfly effect (part one)

by Alina l'Ami
7/29/2017 – Being the Elo favorite in an event is one thing, but having your name and photo as part of a tournament's main promotional material and poster is another. At least for most common mortals. This was what IM Alina l'Ami faced as she arrived in the gorgeous Caribbean island, Guadeloupe, which lived up to its postcard reputation. Enjoy this lovely high-resolution pictorial.

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It feels really good to start a competition as favorite, but when your face is part of the headline on the tournament poster, it can feel like a millstone too.

The pressure is on

The solution? Keep your nose to the grindstone. It worked wonders against the usual double-round angst when those frantic butterflies of mine were forced to fly in organized fashion.

And that brought me the 1st place

Chessing in Guadeloupe, known as the Caribbean butterfly (check its shape on Google Maps), was a poetic experience for your author. True, winning the tournament played a major role, but so did the:

Tropical scenery

The outstanding conditions and...

...the people I met.

I was higher rated than anyone else in the field but I know that this alone will never give you the trophy automatically. So yes, I did have my share of spooky moments:

Alina l'Ami – Lionel Buisson

[Event "Guadeloupe"] [Site "?"] [Date "2017.07.08"] [Round "?"] [White "Alina l'Ami"] [Black "Lionel Buisson"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D61"] [WhiteElo "2304"] [BlackElo "1988"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "6k1/p4pp1/5b1p/1bp5/8/2p4P/P3RPP1/5RK1 w - - 0 29"] [PlyCount "25"] [SourceDate "2017.07.17"] [SourceVersionDate "2017.07.17"] {After a roller-coaster journey, I landed in the following position: White to play. How would you assess it? Is it better, worse or equal for White?} 29. Rfe1 {is what I played but it was not correct.} (29. Rc2 {Is the precise way, literally forcing Black to take one exchange back.} Bd3 30. Rfc1 $16 {since the c3-pawn is sort of hanging, Black must make a decision between the devil and the deep blue sea: which bishop should he give away? It doesn't matter, as White should be winning anyway.}) 29... Bxe2 {played without thought, which is not surprising giving the clock times.} ({However,} 29... Bd3 $1 30. Re3 c4 31. Rc1 c2 $13 {would have given Black just as many hopes as White could have. The resulting position is rather complicated, with a very unusual material imbalance. Personally, I would take Black since White's rooks are lacking freedom of speech.}) 30. Rxe2 Bg5 31. Kf1 Bd2 32. Re8+ Kh7 33. Ke2 {and White's win becomes a matter of mathematics.} Bg5 34. Kd1 Kg6 35. Ra8 Bf6 36. Rxa7 Bd4 37. f3 f5 38. a4 Kg5 39. a5 g6 40. a6 c4 41. Rd7 1-0

All's well that ends well. I was not punished, not this time. Perhaps the stars were perfectly aligned to receive the generosity of both my opponent and the environment as well.


Physically, Guadeloupe is stunning and offers way more than the holy Three Ss (sun, sand and sea). Beyond the shoreside screen of coconut oil and palms, the insular region of France is packed with:

Variety (right, why not talk about museums?!) while retaining...

... its rich culture and...

... identity.

Spiritually, Guadeloupe – and I know I will be using a meta-cliché – does feel a bit as if descending from a Caribbean brochure. It is indeed laid-back and relaxed but without the condescending part.

The image of a 'lazy island dweller' is a limiting stereotype and couldn't be more far from the truth

And I should give you a clear chess example for that.

“Chess is a conversation”

I loved this quote mentioned by one of my opponents. Even more than that, I enjoyed having the final word in it… 1-0

Black and White dialogues

Since every participant was anxiously waiting for the over-the-board-discussions to start, one might imagine that postponing this highly anticipated moment would be less than ideal. Hardly.  

Though not one round started on time, not one single player was disturbed by that.

Celebrating the tournament's 2nd edition does say that yes, on paper, it was indeed a young organization; young in its energy, enthusiasm and passion injected by the tournament queen, Cynthia Dinane, and...

…  fueled over and over again by the locals' love for the game

But it was not the youth, the lack of experience or :

...the laissez-faire responsible for the delays, as some would abruptly imagine.

I never encountered this anywhere else and I am grateful I experienced it in Guadeloupe. It was special and it will remain special for years to come: before each round, the tournament director, Cynthia Dinane, would make the usual small announcements regarding practical matters such as lectures, starting times, no phone policy etc. But completely new to me was to applaud my own opponent right before our encounter?!

As 'weird' as that might sound, the whole tournament was elevated by the friendly yet motivating atmosphere. Before each game the upsets of the previous round were announced, the greatest achievements and leaders were congratulated, as well as encouraging words were uttered to show support for the less inspired players.

Whatever the result, the buoyancy was there

I am personally not used to such heartening speeches, with such an open approach in an Open. Maybe elsewhere the Guadeloupean model would seem odd but on the island it made perfect sense. And it did help me come back to my senses after what I considered to be just as bad as a defeat.

It is not a smart idea to believe that showing up is sufficient for a point. Your opponent is there to mercilessly punish any error.

Excerpt from a horror chess movie: being lost with White against someone rated more than 500 points lower...the scenario on how could this could happen is typical and actually not so unusual. Since a draw would be considered by the stronger player as awful as a loss, why not keep on pushing till the point of no return?! Bad idea…

Alina l'Ami – Lionel Douglas

[Event "Guadeloupe"] [Site "?"] [Date "2017.07.07"] [Round "?"] [White "Alina l'Ami"] [Black "Lionel Douglas"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A52"] [WhiteElo "2304"] [BlackElo "1767"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "8/5p2/2k1b3/1pp5/p3PK1p/P6P/1P4P1/3B4 b - - 0 32"] [PlyCount "22"] [SourceDate "2017.07.17"] [SourceVersionDate "2017.07.17"] {How would you continue with Black?} 32... Bb3 {was played and with seconds on the clock, I realized I was lost. Still, what should I do to get some sort of practical chances for a draw? Exchange the bishops or not?} 33. Bxb3 {is what I opted for} (33. Bf3 {doesn't look brighter either} b4 34. Ke3 c4 35. Kd2 c3+ 36. bxc3 (36. Kc1 bxa3 37. bxa3 Kd6 $19) 36... bxa3 37. Kc1 Kc5 $19) 33... axb3 34. Ke5 f6+ {my opponent was also under time pressure - making critical decisions when your clock is ticking is hard} (34... c4 {would have won on the spot, almost.} 35. Kd4 Kd6 36. a4 Kc6 $1 ({from afar I thought Black should play} 36... bxa4 37. Kxc4 Ke5 38. Kb4 {and with the seconds disappearing, when I exchanged the bishops on b3, I concluded I will sort of survive, I should have enough tempi. It wouldn't have been the case had he played those precise moves.} Kxe4 39. Kxa4 Kf4 40. Kxb3 f5 41. Kc3 Kg3 42. b4 Kxg2 43. b5 f4 44. b6 f3 45. b7 f2 46. b8=Q f1=Q {I should survive this but you never know. However, why would Black go into such a line when he had better?}) 37. e5 Kb6 38. Kc3 Ka5 39. axb5 Kxb5 40. Kd4 Kb4 $19 {White ran out of moves.}) 35. Kxf6 c4 36. e5 c3 37. e6 cxb2 38. e7 b1=Q {the most natural continuation but this allowed me to breath again} (38... Kd7 {is the precise route, forcing White to play} 39. Kf7 b1=Q 40. e8=Q+ Kd6 41. Qe7+ Kd5 42. Qd8+ Kc5 $19 {and now White is unable to deliver perpetual. I believe Black should be winning as its king can hide on the long run somewhere on the a-file.}) 39. e8=Q+ Kc5 40. Qe7+ {draw offer accepted. Had Black continued} Kd4 41. Qe5+ Kc4 42. Qc7+ Kd4 (42... Kd3 $4 43. Qh7+) 43. Qe5+ {a draw by repetition would have been anyway the final outcome.} 1/2-1/2

What can you do after such games?! Clearing up your thoughts with the beautiful scenery.

Continued in part two...

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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