Chess on the volcano

by ChessBase
12/24/2015 – From 4th to 8th December the Hotel Bicancaneve in the small, picturesque town of Nicolosi, Sicily, hosted the 2nd edition of the Etna chess festival. The field was good and four GMs took part: P. Prohaszka, J. Werle, B Gundavaa, and ‘the still going strong’ O. Romanishin. And to play in the shadow of the still active Etna volcano was a unique experience.

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Chess on the volcano

Text and fotos: GM Jan Werle

In summer Nicolosi is a popular tourist resort where the Sicilians like to go to escape the rising temperatures further downhill. However, during the winter months Nicolosi is pretty quiet – which makes some traffic lights look rather forlorn.

Traffic light in Nicolosi

Poster announcing the 2nd Etna Chess festival

On the day of arrival the volcano greeted the participants with a giant eruption and spectacular sights. The eruption caused a rare “dirty thunderstorm”, where ashes are thrown into the sky and lit by volcanic lightning. This phenomenon occurs when tiny fragments of rock, ash and ice rub create static electricity. One participant of the tournament had the chance to fly close to the eruption and captured the eruption on a photo.

The Etna erupts

The eruption seen from a plane

Seeing such pictures from a safe distance is thrilling, but playing chess on the volcano that you just saw erupting might cause some concern – even if the active craters of the volcano are 2000 and 3000 meters away. We were wondering what to do should the lava reach the hotel. On the walls of the hotel bathroom we could see old pictures showing how the hotel was set on fire by a previous eruption. Better to keep your fingers crossed.

However, the authorities did not come up with an evacuation program or seemed to be particularly worried. And tournament organizer Alessandro Monaco tried to calm us by informing us that the Vesuvius is a dangerous volcano, while the Etna is not.

One side event of the tournament was an excursion to one of the non-active (of course!) craters. They impressively resembled a lunar landscape and offered the participants an outstanding experience.

The group which dared the excursion to the Etna (from left to right): Auci, Darmanin,
Zerafa, Sammut, Oddo, Werle, Paulet, Gundavaa, Bertino, Said, organizer Monaco, Richards.

Werle, organizer Monaco and Gundavaa on the Etna.

Perhaps the volcanic atmosphere inspired some of the young players to play with fire on the chessboard and to play razor-sharp lines –here’s one example from the Dutch Defense!


This line of the Dutch might look odd but in this tournament FM Santagati had it twice on the board. It is remarkable that Black is only one inch away from being mated on h5 on move five! Computers might cause some harm because they allow us to analyze a lot of variations to death but they also give us a lot of joy because they show us amazing new possibilities in the opening. Who would have thought 50 years ago that this line with Rh8-h7-f7 Dutch would ever occur in a serious tournament game? If anyone had predicted that neither Petrosian nor Botvinnik would have believed him!


During the following game I had a sudden attack of self-doubt, asking myself “Am I the grandmaster here, or is he?” I was not certain and had to take a look at the sign next to the board with my name and title on it to reassure myself!


The young Sicilians had a pretty good tournament and Favaloro, Varriale and Guccioni all managed to get FIDE-Master norms.

‘Dangerous players from Sicily (from left to right): Favaloro, Varriale,
the city council member of sport and Guccione.’

The Mongolian Grandmaster Gundavaa brought a lot of self-confidence to the 2nd Etna tournament. He had just won the open in Malta, where Gundavaa lives at the moment). Gunavaa’s game against top seed GM Prohaszka turned into a real thriller. Gundavaa was close to winning and with a victory in this game he probably would have secured (shared?) first prize. Here’s the game with his own annotations.


Another top-encounter was the following game:


Before the seventh and last round the four participating GMs led the field with 4.5/6 each. One of the leaders was Romanishin but he failed to win against Signorelli in the last round and could not keep the pace of Prohaszka and Werle who both won their games in the final round.

Oleg Romanishin

GM Gundavaa had to play against Favaloro in the final round but also failed to win. But maybe it is more appropriate to say that Favaloro could not win against Gundavaa. After all, in a sharp line of the Sicilian Najdord Favaloro grabbed the initiative and after a mistake by Gundavaa could have won on the spot!


In the end Prohaszka and Werle shared first place with 5.5/7 each while Gundavaa won bronze.

On behalf of the organization and the participants I would like to thank all sponsors, especially CUS Catania (University of Sports), and the municipality of Sicily for supporting this this event. I would also like to thank the organization for the good conditions and the many and interesting side events – here are some pictures of the beauty of Sicily which we could enjoy during some excursions.

 Bayarsaikhan Gundavaa, Jan Werle, Peter Prohaszka.


Final standings

1 5.5 GM Werle Jan 2542 29.00
2 5.5 GM Prohaszka Peter 2607 28.00
3 5 GM Gundavaa Bayarsaikhan 2506 29.00
4 5 GM Romanishin Oleg M 2462 28.00
5 5 FM Gilevych Artem 2408 25.50
6 4.5 -- Santagati Alessandro 2262 25.00
7 4.5 -- Favaloro Andrea 2138 24.50
8 4.5 CM Pace Colin 2169 23.00
9 4.5 -- Signorelli Gaetano 2169 22.50
10 4.5 -- Grasso Gaetano 1991 20.00
11 4 WGM Paulet Iozefina 2194 25.50
12 4 -- Guccione Cristoforo 1934 25.00
13 4 -- Marzaduri Riccardo 2137 24.00
14 4 -- Varriale Luca 2099 24.00
15 4 FM Amato Andrea 2331 20.00
16 4 -- Valguarnera Girolamo 2110 18.50
17 3.5 -- Bifulco Michel 2187 25.00
18 3.5 -- Darmanin Jake 1995 20.00
19 3.5 -- Amberger Dieter 2093 19.50
20 3 -- Pisacane Pietro 2165 24.00


Organizers and prize-winners


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Catania – Il Duomo

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