Chess on the high seas: The Panama Canal

by Michael Dombrowsky
5/23/2018 – The chess tournament aboard the "Norwegian Bliss" continues, as the players travel from Miami to Los Angeles. On the way the chess tourists have now made the transition from the Atlantic to the Pacific passing the "eighth wonder of the world": MICHAEL DOMBROWSKY sends his latest dispatch. | Photo: Andreas Back

A Classical Guide to the French Defence A Classical Guide to the French Defence

This DVD gives you the key to start out with the French Defence. GM Yannick Pelletier is a specialist of this opening, and believes that the most efficient way to understand its ideas, plans, and typical structures is to study classical lines.


...Continued from part 1

An unforgettable experience

Many regard it as the eighth wonder of the world, others admire it as a masterpiece of engineering technology; but everyone enjoys crossing the Panama Canal, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean in just under a day! This impresses even the die-hard chess players in the "tournament at sea". For all participants on the trip with Grandmaster Jörg Hickl it was a — if not the — highlight of the journey.

Panama Canal

Mind the gap: A bridge traversing the Panama Canal is nearing completion | Photo: Michael Dombrowsky

For almost two years, a newly built part of the Panama Canal is in operation. Judging by the first attempts to build a canal from the Atlantic to the Pacific, there is unanimous praise for the new construction. The Spaniards dreamed in the 16th century of a waterway that should connect the Atlantic and Pacific. At the end of the 17th century, the Prussian scholar Alexander von Humboldt contributed to dreams with his research in Central and South America, and the German poet-prince Johann Wolfgang von Goethe prophesied in the 19th century: "The United States of America will build such a canal".

However, the realization of that dream took almost a hundred years. First, the French tried, but their effort ended in financial catastrophe. Worse than the lost money was the fact that more than 22,000 workers died during the nine-year construction period. Since the pathogens of malaria and yellow fever were unknown, the workers were at the mercy of these diseases. When the Americans made another attempt over 20 years later, there was better medical treatment. But other epidemics and the downright hellish climate still meant thousands of more deaths. Nevertheless, the Panama Canal was opened in 1914.

Cruise through canal

It looks odd: a ship in the jungle, yet ship is not stranded, just navigating — in the opposite direction — the old channel | Photo: Michael Dombrowsky

In 2007, the construction of the new canal was started and opened to shipping on June 26th, 2016. The new lock chambers have a length of 427 meters, a width of 49 meters, the maximum load of the ships has increased by 150 percent. Because of the larger locks you need more water. But with a system of water catchment basins, 60 percent of the water is reused, thereby protecting the groundwater system. Larger ships, including the "Norwegian Bliss", can now use the Panama Canal. From the Atlantic, the ships are hoisted 26 meters high by a three-stage lock. Then you traverse 72 kilometers over the Gatun Lake on the high plateau, before it goes down again near Panama City.

Canal view

Almost like on the highway, cargo ships line up on Gatun lake | Photo: Michael Dombrowsky

Balboa harbor

Having reached the exit lock at Balboa harbor, a glance at the skyline of Panama City behind the mountains | Photo: Michael Dombrowsky

On to the chess tournament...

Like the canal itself, rounds three and four — the "Panama Canal Championship" — were an up and down affair. The quartet of leaders after two rounds dwindled to just one after the third game. Gregory Henry, the Pennsylvania attorney, was the sole perfect score. However, in the fourth round, Henry lost to the Viennese player Michael Ernst. Ernst was also joined by the Swiss Peter Erismann and the pair lead the field with 3½ points.

"Games of the day" from Rounds 3 and 4



The tug seems to pause the floodgate. Otherwise, the heavy door opens and closes at the push of a button | Photo: Andreas Back

Translation from German: Macauley Peterson


Michael had been working for almost 40 years as editor and journalist for various newspapers and magazines before he started to write chessbooks. His first chess book was "Berliner Schachlegenden", in which he tells about the lives of a number of famous chess players in Berlin which gives insights into the history of Berlin and a chess culture of the past.


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