Erice: Playing chess with your head in the clouds

by ChessBase
8/24/2016 – Each July the Sicilian chess organizers Alessandro Monaco and Salvatore Oddo organize the “Terre ‘degli Elimi di Erice’”, the Erice International Chess Festival. This year saw the seventh edition which again took place in the medieval town of Erice, an idyllic village on a mountain near the coastal town Trapani. Jan Werle sends a large illustrated report with lots of chess.

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View from Erice

Text and photos: Jan Werle

A lot of tourists know how to find this enchanting mountain village. Erice is 800 meters above sea-level and the clouds are literally hanging into the village. On misty summer days the temperatures in the mountains of Erice are in marked contrast to hot Trapani below, where many participants enjoyed the pleasures of sea and beach. If the clouds disappear in Erice the temperature rises instantly about 20 degrees.

Clouds over Erice

The place was founded by the Phoenicians and later ruled by Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians, Arabs and Normans, which led to a wealth of diverse architectural influences which can be seen in ancient buildings such as castles, temples, cathedrals and city walls. Erice also offers a magnificent view over the rolling hillsides of Sicily. (See the video-report from Ilvio Licata: )




Erice is famous for its delicious food and sweets, such as “Pasta alla Ericina”, couscous with fish or the famous ‘cannoli’, “genovesi”, ‘graffe’ and ‘cassata siciliana’. I will not bother you with all the fine ingredients but here’s a picture:

Sicilian sweets

Every December chess organizers Mazaduri and Monaco organize the winter edition of Sicily chess on the other side of island: the Etna Chess festival which is played on the Etna in the ‘vulcano village’ of Nicolosi (see my report of the 2015 edition of the Etna chess festival: Chess is alive in Sicily and only recently Dutch GM Sergey Tiviakov had a one-week training session with young talents from Sicily. Remarkably, though, most of the young Sicilians seem to like the French Opening more than the Sicilian.

Tiviakov with his students

The Erice tournament

135 participants found their way to Erice, among them a talented Italian juniors (such as Francesco Sonis), local Sicilian players such as FM Artem Gilevych and FM Alessandro Santagati, GM Felix Levin and GM Arkadij Rotstein from Germany, FM Tycho Dijkhuis, Mischa Senders and  Thomas Mollema from the Netherlands or IM Sergio Rocha from Portugal. But players from Russia (such as IM Pavel Shkapenko) or Kazakhstan (GM Rustam Khusnutdinov and IM Anton Skurygin) also travelled to Sicily to play chess in Erice. The event also attracted a relatively large number of female players who all – graciously - received a rose from the organizers during the opening ceremony.

TThe arbiters had a close eye on the players to prevent possible cheating. Before entering the tournament hall all players had to stop at a checkpoint. Some of them – who were chosen by random – then were body-scanned with a metal detector to stop players from taking electronic devices to the playing hall.

Security check before the round

IM norm for Artem Gilevych from Italy

GM Rotstein and GM Levin had a good start into the tournament and won the first rounds. But Gilevych kept their pace and scoring a number of victories against strong players he finished in the top and scored a well-deserved IM-norm. Below are two of his games: In the first he manages to trick his opponent, the second is a flawless positional siege in the French Defence.

Artem Gilevych (left) with organizer Salvatore Oddo


The winner

Throughout the tournament GM Levin played solid chess, mixing a number of wins with a number of solid draws to finish first with 6.5/9 and win on tie-break. But champions also have hard times occasionally. In the following example Chiaretti gives Levin plenty to think about.

Tournament winner Felix Levin (right)


The best woman player

The woman prize was won by Maria Kovanova who scored 5.5/9. For ChessBase readers she analyzed the following appealing and aggressive attacking game.


AAnother Maria, Maria Manakova, was just behind Kovanova. She is a famous journalist and model in Russia and has a chess school in Moscow and finished with 5.0/9.

Maria Manakova


In Erice Kovanova was on her honeymoon with Khutnusdinov combining holidays in Sicily with chess. Khutnusdinov was so kind to analyze the following game for us.

Mr. and Ms. Khusnutdinov


The best Italian player

Gilevych the FM Francesco Sonis, Italian U14-Champion won regular prizes and Gaetano Grasso won the prize for the best Italian player – a free stay at the Etna Chess Festival in December. The Italian prodigy Francesco Sonis was not at his best this tournament, but in several rounds he showed good chess, and I am sure we will hear soon – that is in the near future – more about him and about his striking results. Here’s an example of his talents – he spotted a funny way to trap his opponent’s bishop.


CM Gaetano Grasso

Francesco Sonis


In the end three players shared first place with 6.5/9 but GM Levin had the best Buchholz and won the tournament on tie-break. The Dutch players Werle and Dijkhuis won silver and bronze respectively.

The winners and the organisers


Luca Polito, 3rd  place in the C-group.

To finish in style, I would like to conclude this report with some impressions of Sicily and a smooth victory of FM Tycho Dijkhuis against Bulgarian IM Ninov.


The temples of Zeus and Hercules in Agrigento, Sicily

The temples of Zeus and Hercules in Agrigento

Gaining salt in Marsala

Marsala wine


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