First Jamaica International Festival

by Qiyu Zhou
10/19/2017 – The first Jamaican International Chess Festival brought four strong youngsters to promote chess on the beautiful island of Jamaica: Awonder Liang, Akshat Chandra, Akshita Gorti and Qiyu Zhou — all up-and-coming players with notable achievements. They gave speeches, played simuls, blitz and rapid chess for the purpose of inspiring youth in Jamaica. Qiyu Zhou gives a first-hand account. | Photo: Changrong Yu

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Inspring young Jamaicans

“Chess is a catalyst for social development in communities that are underserved", said Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness at the launch of the inaugural Jamaican International Chess Festival. "We need to give these alternative pathways to the youngsters in our communities so that they know there are other ways to success.”

Thanks to support from Ambassador Dr. Nigel Clarkehe, the festival saw organizer and Grandmaster Maurice Ashley, renowned U.S. chess coach David MacEnulty, and some of the most prodigious young chess talents in the world, all travel to Jamaica for a three-day celebration of chess aimed to increase the reach and appeal of chess in Jamaica, while exposing Jamaican youth to international talents. The hope is to catalyse interest in chess among Jamaicans, while inspiring existing players to reach even higher levels of achievement.

The invited players were GM Akshat Chandra, GM Awonder Liang, WIM Akshita Gorti, and me, WGM Qiyu Zhou.

Jaimacan chess festival logo

Click or tap any image to expand

Day 1: Experiencing Beautiful Jamaica

Upon landing in Jamaica, my first thought was, “Wow, this place is hot.” With friendly locals, and a daily high temperature of at least 30 Celsius, Jamaica is, quite literally, paradise. Our stay at the Jewel Runaway Bay could not have been more perfect. The resort arranged for us had five restaurants, a waterpark, tennis courts, swimming pools, and of course, the white sand beach. The beach offered quality snorkelling, with the bluest waters and a colourful reef to gaze at. Water activities were aplenty, ranging from windsurfing (which I tried!) to kayaking.

Qiyu Zhou windsurfing

Canada’s WGM Qiyu Zhou catching the wind | Photo: Changrong Yu

Awonder Liang Kayaking

Awonder Liang, the youngest GM in the world enjoying some waves | Photo: Changrong Yu

The food offered in each of the restaurants was delicious, from the Caribbean cuisine, to the buffets offered on the veranda at the beach. An no visit to Jamaica is complete without a hike up the picturesque Dunn’s Waterfalls, which are terraced like a giant staircase.

Dunn's Waterfalls

The 55 meter high and 180 meter long waterfalls empty into the Caribbean Sea | Photo: Changrong Yu

Day 2: Time for (fun) Business!

After our brief stay at Runaway Bay, the organizers drove Awonder and me to Wolmer’s Boys’ School in Kingston for a short chess exhibition, while Akshat Chandra and Akshita Gorti visited St. Catherine’s, in rural central Jamaica. There, we played a tandem simul, while Maurice Ashley provided live commentary.

Tandem simul

Awonder Liang and Qiyu Zhou at Wolmer’s Boys’ School, with Maurice Ashly on the mic | Photo: Changrong Yu

Mating Patterns

On this DVD, Grandmaster and worldrenowned commentator Maurice Ashley reviews some of the most interesting patterns with examples meant to educate and entertain.

Hosted at the Pegasus Jamaican, the night was eventful with a press conference leading to the launch. The Honourable Prime Minister of Jamaica, Andrew Holness, and JCF President Ian Wilkinson both gave speeches encouraging the development of chess, especially in underserved communities and among youth, with the central message that the sport of chess is to be used as a new means of social intervention. 

The group meets the Prime Minister

All smiles while meeting with the Prime Minister of Jamaica, the honourable Andrew Holness (centre) | Photo: Changrong Yu

Day 3: Highlights

What is a visit to Jamaica without paying homage to one of the greatest artists of all time? Bob Marley has new fans!

Akshat Chandra and his father

GM Akshat Chandra and his father at the Bob Marley Statue | Photo: Changrong Yu

David MacEnulty, Akshat Chandra and I conducted a seminar in the afternoon. There were various subjects, from MacEnulty’s presentation on how chess helps kids in all aspects of life, to Chandra’s talk on how to improve as a chess player.

My favourite part of the Jamaican International Chess Festival was surely the night at Emancipation Park. From human chess, and continuous blitz, to the simul, the crowd (and us) were in for a treat.

Chess Festival Drone Image

Human chess and lots of confusion! | Photo: Jamaica Chess Festival Facebook page

The crowds were so excited that they had to be held back by metal barriers for the 3-min blitz event. More than 44 games in total were played, but only one Jamaican succeeded in beating one of the invited guests. The final event of the night was the 76 people simultaneous exhibition, where each of the four players went up against 15 (Awonder had 16). There were a couple of draws, but only one loss!

So, at the end of the day, the Jamaicans had two wins and a pair of draws: 15-year old NM Joshua Christie won against WIM Akshita Gorti in blitz, while the world’s youngest GM regrettably blundered mate in one to Geoffrey Byfield, who happens to be hailed as the “godfather of Jamaican chess”. Don’t forget, all of this happened with Jamaica’s FM Warren Elliott asking trivia questions (loudly!) in the background.

Geoffrey Byfield

A well deserved win for Geoffrey Byfield, the man who started chess in Jamaica, 25 years ago | Photo: Changrong Yu

Scavenger hunt for children

No event is complete without an activity for the kids! The second place winners of the chess-themed scavenger hunt and Dr. Nigel Clarke smile for the cameras | Photo: Changrong Yu

Day 4: Rapid Finale

And for the grand finale of the Jamaican International Chess Festival, a rapid match was played between two teams for the "Maurice Ashley Trophy". The teams, named the Raging Rooks and Dark Knights after two teams Ashley coached back in New York, had 11 members each consisting of players with varying strength and ages.

The four-game rapid match between a player from the Raging Rooks (yellow team) and the Dark Knights (red team) saw a lot of close encounters. The audience in the commentary room cheered for their favourite team, almost as if they were watching a basketball game! In fact, I could hear the crowd even with my (supposedly) sound-proof earplugs.

On board one, Awonder Liang from the Raging Rooks prevailed over Akshat Chandra 3 : 1, while I also won my match 3 : 1, against Akshita Gorti.

Rapid team match

Awonder Liang (right) facing Akshat Chandra, flanked by Qiyu Zhou | Photo: Changrong Yu

Thanks to the fast time control of 25 minutes + 5 seconds increment, and young players, we got a lot of interesting games. Here are two of them, one played between Liang and Chandra, and the other between Shreyas Smith and Joshua Christie. In the end, the raging Rooks won by a small margin of 1 point, 22½ – 21½.


The English Opening Vol. 1

Williams main teaching method behind this set of two DVDs is to teach you some simple yet effective set ups, without the need to rely on memorising numerous complicated variations.

Final Results

  1. Raging Rooks (RtgAvg:1666, TB1: 22,5 / TB2: 0)
Bo.   Name Rtg FED FideID 1 2 3 4 Pts. Games RtgAvg
1 GM LIANG Awonder 2554 USA 2056437 ½ 1 ½ 1 3,0 4 2483
2 FM GORTI Akshita 2217 USA 2072505 ½ ½ 0 0 1,0 4 2240
3   SMITH Shreyas 2173 JAM 7400713 0 1 0 0 1,0 4 2162
4   BROWN Akeem 1915 JAM 7402023 1 ½ 1 0 2,5 4 1968
5   MCDONALD Angelus-Seren 1625 JAM 7402597 1 0 0 1 2,0 4 1638
6   LYN Nicholas 1548 JAM 7402350 0 1 0 0 1,0 4 1763
7   GARDNER Sheanel 1549 JAM 7401760 0 1 0 1 2,0 4 1481
8   BROWN Raehanna 1352 JAM 7402740 0 1 ½ 1 2,5 4 1358
9 ACM CLARKE Kishan 1389 JAM 7402104 1 0 1 ½ 2,5 4 1224
10   GRIFFITHS Laila 0 JAM 7404212 0 0 0 1 1,0 4 1210
11   OCONNOR Zaina 0 JAM 7403909 1 1 1 1 4,0 4 1000
  2. Dark Knights (RtgAvg:1684, TB1: 21,5 / TB2: 0)
Bo.   Name Rtg FED FideID 1 2 3 4 Pts. Games RtgAvg
1 GM CHANDRA Akshat 2483 USA 25006711 ½ 0 ½ 0 1,0 4 2554
2 FM ZHOU Qiyu 2240 CAN 505161 ½ ½ 1 1 3,0 4 2217
3   CHRISTIE Joshua 2162 JAM 7402074 1 0 1 1 3,0 4 2173
4   CURRIAH Malik 1968 JAM 7402236 0 ½ 0 1 1,5 4 1915
5 WCM CLARKE Adani 1638 JAM 7402082 0 1 1 0 2,0 4 1625
6   WALKER Lontae 1763 JAM 7402058 1 0 1 1 3,0 4 1548
7   BLACKWOOD Ashanti 1481 JAM 7402996 1 0 1 0 2,0 4 1549
8   CURWIN Nickaylah 1358 JAM 7402627 1 0 ½ 0 1,5 4 1352
9   BLAKE Johmoi 1224 JAM 7402228 0 1 0 ½ 1,5 4 1389
10   COE Cameron 1210 JAM 7403046 1 1 1 0 3,0 4 1000
11   RAMPAIR Christian 0 JAM 7403232 0 0 0 0 0,0 4 1000


WGM Qiyu Zhou [pronounced Chee-you Jo], born in 2000, is a Canadian chess player who has competed for team Canada at the Women's Chess Olympiad since 2014 and who won the Canadian women's championship in 2016.


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