Chess is rocking among the Tyrrhenian Sea rocks

by Diana Mihajlova
8/13/2019 – As summer begins to wane, fans of southern Italy can look forward to a September holiday destination. DIANA MIHAJLOVA offers a pictoral report with annotated games about the Amantea Chess Festival in Calabria, Italy, which was won last year by GM Pier Luigi Basso. It is meant to introduce a little known but rich chess destination that is Calabria. The actual Amantea Chess Festival will resume its activities, as usual, from the next year, but for now, during its traditional term, 9- 15 September, another Calabrese chess historical town, Cutro, in the Amantea’s vicinity, will celebrate a jubilee 25 year of the International Chess Festival ‘Leonardo di Bona’. | Pictured: The rocky Tyrrhenian coast at a sunset: On the outskirts of Amantea lie the enchanting Isca rocks, supposedly described by Homer in the ‘Odyssey’. All photos: Diana Mihajlova

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Amantea Chess Festival

From early spring and especially throughout the summer, we are met with a difficult choice of selecting an Open tournament that the chess calendar abounds with. Usually held at quite picturesque geographic spots, somewhat pejoratively, Opens are attached to the qualifier ‘chess tourism’, however their role should not be underestimated.

Stars can be born at these ‘insignificant’ tournaments that are overshadowed by the elite events. All big names, at some point in their careers, have passed through an Open with a modest prize fund but with rating and norm making opportunities. It is not a small fit for organizers to mount a yearly event that demands time and financial sacrifices.

On this occasion, I would like to report on a tournament that for sixteen years, without much fanfare, has been taking place in Calabria, Italy: the Amantea Chess Festival. This is rather a recollection on the latest edition of several months ago, September 9th to 16th, 2018, that should serve as a preview for future editions, but more importantly for bringing to the attention the chess history rich region of Calabria. And, hopefully, right on time when considerations are made for a late summer chess stop-over.

Calabria flyer

Next year Calabria will be celebrated as a true cradle of chess history and theory by mounting a big festival in memory of the best known chess player and writer from the renaissance,  Gioachino Greco, also known as il Calabrese ("the Calabrian"). In collaboration between the Amantea Chess Festival’s organizer, Marcello Rametta, and a chess club from Moscow, the event is envisaged for June 2020, location still to be confirmed. Watch this space for further details!

You needn't wait until next year, however; Calabria is calling for another chess feast! This year, during the term that was traditionally reserved for the Amantea Chess Festival, chess festivities are transferred to another Calabrese location: the historical town of Cutro, from September 9th to 15th.  It will be the jubilee 25th edition of the International Chess Festival ‘Leonardo di Bona’ (flyer PDF), dedicated to yet another early chess scholar coming from Calabria — Leonardo di Cutro, also known as Leonardo di Bona.

Mid-September is a perfect time when the hustle and bustle of the full summer season is well behind, however, the warm weather is still on in Calabria, the most southern region, the peninsula known as the “toe” of the “boot” of Italy.

Calabria is separated from Sicily by the Strait of Messina, where the narrowest stretch is only about 3 km

The Amantea Chess Festival provides a very pleasant chess experience thanks in no small measure to the location, the climate and the beach, but also the impeccable organization owed largely to the gentle, friendly but highly professional Mr Marcello Rametta. Over many years, he has been patiently maintaining the tournament and keeping Amantea and Calabria on the chess map.

The festival is organized by the local chess club ‘Giancarlo Crupi’, which carries the name of a well respected local personality who was active in the political and social life of Amantea. Crupi died at an early age of 40; he was also a chess player and founder of the local chess club. Mrs Maria Giuseppina Lo Presti is currently the organizing chess club’s president.

The main hotel, ‘Marechiaro’, which provides the playing venue and where most players stay, has its own private beach with chairs and beds available to players and guests. At just few steps from the hotel, the beach became an obvious place where players would congregate at any possible free moment — either before the game, or afterwards, enjoying a late evening swim and a sunset.


Click or tap any image to expand
(more photos are in the gallery above)


The beach

About ten kilometers long stretch of beach is the main attraction of Amantea

Chess on the beach

A game of chess would be an obvious pastime on the beach

Bocce

A whole empty beach on a disposition provides a convenient terrain for the popular game ‘bocce’ (its French equivalent, perhaps better known internationally: ‘boules’ or ‘pétanque’)

Chess players swimming

Enjoying a dip in the sea are (L-R) FM Deniz Arman from Sweden, GM Eldar Gasanov from Ukraine, IM Vitalijs Samolins from Latvia, Moshe Katzir from Israel and GM Evgeny Vorobiov from Russia

The sea provides a special feel: a mellow sensation in warm, dense and particularly clean waters, as if floating on a soft mattress. That is the Tyrrhenian Sea in mid-September. Starting from the Naples Bay, the Tyrrhenian coast is lined with famous tourist spots like Amalfi, Sorrento, Salerno, Positano, Capri where rich and famous like to be seen. It continues further south into Calabria with its own pearls like Tropea, Paola and Pizzo Calabro, culminating with the mysterious Aeolian Islands. Among them, our chess city, Amantea, lies almost right in the middle of the Tyrrhenian coast.

Amantea panorama

A panorama of Amantea

A gentile, small town, Amantea is split in two sections: the Old Town dominated by the remains of a castle perched on the top of a rock hill, and the lower, modern area along the coast.

Castle

The castle ‘Rocca’ was first built by the Byzantine Empire and later strengthened by the Arabs

Amantea has a unique history. Unlike other Mediterranean towns that are usually marked by Roman influence, in Amantea the Arabs left a more significant stamp as it was one of their most important strong-holds in the wake of the collapse of the Roman Empire. The city's name "Amantea" is of Arabic origin, coming from "Al Mantiah", meaning "strong hold."   

A coblled alley

A typical, narrow, cobbled alley at the historic centre with a view over the sea

Palace

In the newer end, modern part of the town, elegant palaces...

Traditional house

...intermingle with traditional houses with hand-crafted window curtains

Churches

The XVI century church of the Carmine

Participants and guests had the opportunity to explore Amantea on a couple of half-day free excursions, courtesy of the organizers and the town’s municipality. They were treated to delicious ice cream and hand-made chocolate and fig delicacies, compliments of two sponsors: the patisserie and gellateria ‘Sicoli’ (est. 1937), and chocolate makers ‘Colavolpe’ (est. 1910). 

Owner of Sicoli

The proud and generous owner of the patisserie ‘Sicoli’, several times a recipient of an award for ‘best ice-cream and decorative cakes in the world’

Figs are a popular plant in Calabria and are ingredients in many culinary recipes. I learnt that what we think of as the fruit is actually the flower of the fig tree. The Chinese call it ‘fruit without flower’.  

At the ‘Colavolpe’, the chess visitors could sample delicate hand-made chocolates and other fig based specialties as well as liqueurs based on other local produce like liquorice, orange and almond.  

Fig and morette

A fig plant from along the sea and hand-made chocolates called ‘morette’ — fig and almond covered with dark chocolate (75% cocoa min.) made by ‘Colavolpe’.

Another type of fig, ‘Indian fig’, decorates streets and passages throughout Amantea

Group photo

Delighted players and guests on a morning excursion

Gu Xiaobing

WGM and chess commentator and presenter at a chess program for the Chinese TV,  Gu Xiaobing at the Old Town of Amantea

Topolino

The famous ‘topolino’ (little mouse), Fiat 500, the vintage convertible with open roof panel is not only an antiquity in Amantea; here and there it could be seen fully functioning ones, shiny red, in perfect condition  

But…let’s enter the playing hall

Among the participants:

Iniyan, Wang and Bifulco

(L-R) IM Iniyan P (IND), Shanshan Wang (CHN), FM Michel Bifulco (ITA)

Deniz, Gonda, Balsano

(L-R) FM Deniz Arman (SWE), GM Laszlo Gonda (HUN), Giulio Balsano (ITA)

Legky, Pelyushenko, Pisacane

(L-R) GM Nikolay A Legky (FRA), Anton Pelyushenko (ITA), Pietro Pisacane (ITA)

ITA girls power

Italian girls’ power: (L-R) Laura Gueci, Angela Flavia Grimaldi and Elisa Manti

The youngsters

Young players are given a special opportunity in a lower rated C-group: (L-R) Lorenzo Muoio, Flavia Aloe e Andrea Rametta

Sohum Lohia with Jonathan Pein

Sohum Lohia from the UK for some time has been touring international Opens accompanied by his trainer, Jonathan Pein with visibly positive results

Jonasz Baum

Jonasz Baum from Poland with his mother

Lorenzo Pescatore

FM Lorenzo Pescatore (ITA) made a good use of the piano in the lobby to the pleasure of all thanks to his excellent musical skills

Carbone brothers

The Carbone brothers from Calabria, Edoardo and Stefano, both achieved an IM norm

It was obvious that Sicilians would flock to Amantea, but not only because they are just round the corner, but because the greatest number of Italian chess players are reared in Sicily!

Sicilians

(Standing L-R) Piero Pisacane, Davide Gelardi, Luca Varriale, Michel Bifulco, Francesco Miosi, Massimo Tricomi, Giuseppe Caporale;  (Seated L-R) Francesco Furnari, Giulio Balsano, Benedetto Galante, Enrico Bandieramonte, Laura Gueci e Salvatore Cottone

Eldar analysed his game against Edoardo di Benedetto:

 

Eldar Gasanov

Ms Crupi handed the Cup to GM Eldar Gasanov (UKR), the prior year’s winner, who this time had to be content with the second place

GM Pier Luigi Basso

The 2018 winner GM Pier Luigi Basso

Two blitz tournaments were also part of the festival, held in a pleasant evening atmosphere on the beach, under moon light. Main tournament winner, GM Pier Luigi Basso, who had just become the 15th Italian GM, also won the first blitz tournament, followed till the end, neck by neck, by the Latvian IM Vitalijs Samolins.

A mild, calm, friendly individual, Vitalijs has chosen a more sensible path in his chess career. Twice Latvian Champion (2009 and 2012) he played competitively until he reached the title of International Master, but then, he made a break from active chess to dedicate himself entirely to his university studies that took him to England where he earned a masters degree in Statistics at the Warwick University. The Amantea festival was a brief come-back for him before taking another year off, but this time connected directly to chess: soon after the tournament he headed for China where he signed a year-contract as a trainer with a Shanghai chess club.

Annotations by IM Vitalijs Samolins
 

Vitalijs Samolins

IM Vitalijs Samolins

More on Calabria

In Italy, and especially in Calabria where the exquisite culinary delicacies are world-wide famous, the restaurant is an important gathering place not only for the enjoyment of food but also for meeting and making friends.

Orecchiette

‘Orecchiette’’, one on the various starters of a pasta dish

Feast

Twice daily a feast throughout the duration of the festival; the Italian squad in action

Friends toast

Nothing more enjoyable than a toast among friends after a hard day work: (L-R) Diana, Moshe and Deniz

Father and son

Father and son: 12 yrs old Claudio Paduano  is a European silver winner in 2014 and a reigning  Italian Champion in his age category; his father, Gennaro, also a chess player but trailing well behind his son, played in the B group

Mrs Crupi

The organizers with Giancarlo Crupi’s widow and daughter who attended the prize giving ceremony and presented prizes

The book

A chess player, mathematics professor and a dedicated education officer, Mr Rodolfo Attinà, the President of the Regional Chess Committee of Calabria, has introduced chess in schools already in 1987, starting from the school in S. Eufemia d’Aspromonte where he was a director. He has been having a dream, which he has almost made a reality, to make ‘everybody play chess’ in his locality of S. Eufemia d’Aspromonte, following the example of the chess village Ströbeck in the Saxony-Anhalt region of Germany. Since the Middle Ages, Ströbeck has embraced chess as regular pastime of all its residents surpassing the established belief that chess is played only by royalty and noblemen. Since 1823 chess is an obligatory subject at Ströbeck's primary school. Until today, chess has remained Ströbeck’s hallmark, which is seen in its Coat of Arms, and, by virtue of chess, the village has been proclaimed a Cultural Village in Europe and since 2016 its chess tradition belongs to the "Intangible Cultural Heritage of Germany".

An erudite, Mr Attinà has a great pleasure in sharing his knowledge in chess history. He is also a talented wood carver and he is practicing his craft creating, well…chess pieces, finely finished and varnished.

Rodolfo Attina

Rodolfo Attinà and one of his art works

Mr Attinà proudly states that in Calabria chess was cultivated already since the Middle Ages and it was particularly strong during the Renaissance. Some of the first chess theoreticians originated in Calabria, among whom Gioachino Greco (c. 1600 – c. 1634), Leonardo di Cutro (1542–1597), and Horazio Gianutio (1550 - 1610), a native of Amantea.

Orazio Gianutio of Amantea is famous for his book on chess published in Torino, 1597. The title of the book, in an ancient Italian, reads: ‘A book that treats the manner and methods of playing chess’. The subtitle explains that it is an inedited manuscript of the most antique Italian chess book on the theory of the game.

The book

The front page and inside pages with an original color plate of the manuscript

The book has more or less fallen into oblivion over the centuries, until 1998, when Alessandro Sanvito, a renowned chess historian, discovered the original manuscript, dated 1593, at the Royal Library of Vienna. The book contains 12 inedited games and color plates of the original manuscript, which is critically presented by Savino. It is considered a first work on the modern theory of chess.

The Wunderkind of Calabria

In the group C, in which lower rated and youngsters participate, a cheeky boy with glasses was particularly standing out. Not only by eliminating one by one his older and more experienced competitors, but by his general attitude. Serious, in deep thought when playing, fidgeting with fingers over the pieces counting the moves, completely absorbed and oblivious to his opponent. Stanislao Vommaro is a 9 year old boy from a coastal village, Fiumefreddo, in Calabria. He had only started playing chess few months earlier, at school, and this was his first official Open tournament.

He surprised his chess teachers by his quick acquiring of the rules of the game and winning with ease only after few instructions. After a short training, he entered, and won, several school and regional tournaments. 

Stanislao Vommaro

Stanislao Vommaro, the C-tournament winner with a perfect 8/8

He could be seen in the corridors of the hotel where games were being analyzed, explaining moves to his peers with an astounding certainty, pointing resolutely to the important piece and pounding pieces on the board in order to stress the justifying move. His audience would listen to him in owe. (In the video further below, a short section dedicated to Stanislao starts at 14:01.)

Stanislao analyzing

Stanislao analyzing a game to his mesmerized listeners

His family, taken by surprise, are supportive and accompany him at tournaments wherever possible.

Stanislao and famiily

Stanislao and his family

But Stanislao’s special supporter is his maternal grandmother, Elfride.

Stanislao with Elfride

Elfriede and her talented nephew

A German by birth, a refined, gentle lady, Elfriede understands her nephew’s creative and obsessive urges as she is an artist herself. In harmony with nature and the sea that she is surrounded by, she has found an artistic outlet in transforming natural stones and rocks into painted figures of animals, persons or scenes from the art history.

Elfride's stone creations

Some of Elfride’s stone creations

Unprecedented for such a young age, on a proposal by the Amantea Chess Festival’s organizer, Marcello Rametta, the Italian Olympic Sports Committee (CONI) selected Stanislao as the ‘Sportsman of the year’ for 2018, in the chess category.

Stanislao and Marcello

Marcello Rametta and his protégée Stanislao Vommaro, the youngest Sportsman of the Year

Elfriede, who relayed the happy news to me by email, told me of another curiosity: this was not the first time that Stanislao climbed on the podium of CONI; when a small child, six years ago, he unexpectedly jumped to accompany his grandfather — Elfriede’s husband — who was collecting the award for a Best Sportsman in bridge. So, competitive spirit runs in the family; time will show what the future holds for our young sportsman.

Just before sending off this article, I learn that Stanislao made 39 rating points winning 3rd place at the C tournament at the recent Taormina Etna Chess Festival (PDF) in Sicily.

You can have a further taste of the Amantea Chess Festival in the following YouTube movie, which also abounds with popular Calabria folk music.

All games

 

All photos: Diana Mihajlova

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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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