Curacao 2008 – above and below the water

by ChessBase
8/7/2008 – Until the last round Spanish IM Luis Javier Bernal Moro led by a full point, with a GM norm in his pocket. Then came disaster in the final game and the first place was taken on tiebreak by GM Larry Christiansen. But not all the action was above the water. In Curacao people are preparing for underwater chess. During the test the players found the kibitzing stingrays quite disconcerting.

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Curacao 2008 – above and under the water

Report by Ger Jan Meijer

The 16th annual Curacao International Chess Festival had a surprising ending. The Spanish International Master Luis Javier Bernal Moro had played the best tournament of his life. He had the sole lead with one point ahead of the field before the last round and his first grandmaster norm already in his pocket. He went down in the final game and left the championship open to a win by US grandmaster Larry Christiansen.

Another surprise this year was that the Festival took place not just above the water;  during the weekend was the first known experiment with chess matches at the bottom of the sea.

Kibitzing fish – have you ever seen anything like it before?

The Curacao International Chess Festival took place from July 25 through August 4. On the agenda were the traditional Open tournament and a Youth tournament. The Open tournament is always an interesting mix with chess players from the Caribbean region, Europe, the United States and South America. Curacao is a perfect location for such a tournament, because there are direct airline connections with Europe, the United States and the region. In addition, it has become a popular destination for enjoying a Caribbean vacation.

Curacao is the main island of the Netherlands Antilles. The Netherlands Antilles is an autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Above the water

The Spanish International Master Luis Javier Bernal Moro was set to achieve his dream tournament. After eight rounds he was leading the field with seven points. With that, he had his first grandmaster norm already in his pocket. A simple draw with the Dutch IM Thomas Willemse would also have given him the championship. Unfortunately, Willemse was not amenable to this scenario. Unhappy with his five points he wanted a full point out of Bernal Moro. Bernal Moro was overwhelmed by this severe test just before the finish line and collapsed after a long fight.

US grandmasters Larry Christiansen and Joel Benjamin did not miss this unexpected opportunity to draw equal with Bernal Moro. Larry Christiansen eventually claimed the championship, because he had the highest Buchoz score. Bernal Moro ended in second and Benjamin in third.

Winners of the tournament: Larry Christiansen, Bermal Moro and Joel Benjamin

Standings Open Group 

Place Player Nat. Rtng.
Buch. MBuch Progr.
 1-3 CHRISTIANSEN, Larry USA 2577
 52.5 41.0  37.5
  BERNAL MORO, Luis Javier  ESP 2424
 51.0 41.5  40.5
  BENJAMIN, Joel  USA 2577
 51.0 39.5  34.5
 4-9 WERLE, Jan  NED 2591
 53.5 42.5  36.0
  FRIDMAN, Daniel GER 2637
 51.5 41.0  35.0
  SWINKELS, Robin NED 2459
 51.0 39.5  32.5
  CARLSSON, Pontus  SWE 2514
 47.5 37.0  33.0
  WILLEMZE, Thomas  NED 2398
 46.5 36.0  30.0
  BOHM, Hans  NED 2323
 38.5 31.0  30.0
10-12 ZATONSKIH, Anna USA 2446
 47.5 37.5  30.0
  MENSING, Fabio  AHO 2112
 40.5 31.5  27.0
  IZIJK, Jimmy  AHO  
 36.0 28.0  20.5
13-18 ROOSE, Alex AHO 2131
 44.0 35.0  27.0
  GABALDON GOMEZ, Miguel  ESP 2204
 44.0 35.0  26.0
  LOPEZ, Jasel  ARU  
 43.0 33.0  24.5
  FERNANDEZ, Juan ESP 2065
 42.5 33.5  24.0
  SWINKELS, Maurice NED 1949
 38.5 29.5  20.0
  MADURO, Sherman AHO 2045
 35.5 27.5  22.0
19-21 BETANCOURT, Pedro VEN 2123
 45.5 35.0  23.5
  RAPHAEL, Christopher  TRI 1910
 40.0 30.5  21.0
  LOPEZ, Juste  ARU 1941
 38.5 30.5  19.5
22-28 RAMOS, Cesar  VEN 2158
 46.5 36.5  24.0
  SALLOUM, Justin TRI 1951
 41.0 34.0  22.5
  PARICHARAK, Shardul AHO 2011
 38.5 31.5  24.5
  ARENDS, Andre ARU  
 34.0 27.0  15.0
 32.5 25.0  13.0
  MATHEU, Edwald  ARU  
 32.0 25.5  12.5
  SAGREDO, Claudio  AHO 1926
 29.5 22.5  15.0
29-32 SWINKELS, Jos NED 2074
 40.0 32.0  22.5
  CHRISTIANSEN, Natasha USA 1963
 39.5 32.5  16.5
  RUIZ, Gregory AHO  
 33.0 25.5  17.0
  OLSEN, Steffan  SWE  
 31.5 20.5  13.5
33-36 HODGSON, Norman AHO  
 38.0 29.0  14.0
  ZALM, Norman  AHO 1875
 37.5 30.5  16.5
  PICUS, Marlon AHO  
 32.5 25.5  15.0
  VAN BEEK, Ard NED 2049
 21.5 14.0 9.0
 37 RICHARDSON, Quirino AHO 1831
 34.0 25.5  10.5
38-39 MAHMOOD, Georgio  AHO  
 38.5 29.5  15.0
 32.0 25.0  10.0
 35.0 28.5  11.5

Aruba is the smaller neighbour island of Curacao. It is not part of the Netherlands Antilles anymore, but it is also an autonomous country that is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Over the past several years it has become obvious that Aruba does a great job training young players. This year Junior Carrero of Aruba won the Youth section of the Curacao Chess Festival, while local players Kiran Kanhai and Clifford Felipa took possession of second and third place, respectively. Shresh Nayak (Curacao) was the best player in the under thirteen category while Paulo Meijer (Curacao) was the best  in the under ten category. Jasel Lopez (Aruba) won the youth tournament last year and this year he tried his luck in the Open Tournament. The 13 year old youngster had a great performance with 5 out of 9.

Under the water

Curacao is popular destination for scuba diving and as such is a perfect spot for a new experiment: playing chess at the bottom of sea. That involves some technical complications, but is under water and surrounded by marine life a more relaxing environment for playing a chess game? International chess arbiter Alex Roose decided to do some further investigation and a few weeks before the tournament he started with a first tryout at Animal Encounters at the Curacao Sea Aquarium. Animal Encounters is a popular tourist attraction and has a direct connection with the open sea. During the first session the underwater chess pieces and clock were tested to determine whether they could resist the water pressure and the current. The experiment was successful and Alex Roose decided to go for the real challenge.

The Dutch International Masters Hans Böhm and Robin Swinkels had to play an underwater match on Saturday to decide which of them would challenge US Woman Champion Anna Zatonskih. All players received some diving lessons before the big event.

On Saturday the public followed the first match from a glass bottom boat.  They saw that Böhm got a winning position, but also that he gave it away quite easily again. Probably Böhm had a difficult time concentrating, once a large stingray began hovering around the chess board (was he watching the game?)  The game ended in a draw and Böhm decided that Swinkels would be the better challenger for Zatonskih.

With stingrays watching Hans Böhm (right) spoils a winning position against Robin Swinkels

Sunday Swinkels and Zatonskih played an exciting underwater game with a large chess board and pieces. The game finally ended in a draw. All together the experiment was successful and the question now is whether the Curacao Chess Festival of 2009 will also have an underwater tournament. Arbiter Alex Roose is already developing a set of special rules for underwater chess.

US Woman champion Anna Zantonskih with her husband German National champion Daniel Fridman

...and during her game against Swinkels – how can I play with all these kibitzers?

Larry Christiansen celebrated his championship with the dolphins


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