Grandmasters in Hawai'i

by Alejandro Ramirez
3/20/2015 – The main events in Hawaii are just kicking off, but the visiting masters to the fabulous Hawaii Chess Festival have not wasted a minute in exploring the island of O'ahu. So far there has been hiking with the World Women's Champion, banquets, hula dancing, snorkeling with turtles, bughouse, simultaneous exhibitions, just to name a few things! We bring you a pictorial from Hawaii.

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Hawaiʻi Chess Festival

The festivities have started in Hawaiʻi. Even though the main event, the GM Challenge, is starting today, the visiting grandmasters and visiting players have been busy exploring the Island. The tournament and events are being held in the Hilton Waikiki Beach hotel, in the heart of the Waikiki Beach in Honolulu. Oʻahu is Hawaiʻi's most populated island.

Even though the Grandmaster Challenge started today, many activities have already taken place. The festival is not only a showcase of some of the top players in the World battling out in a double round robin rapid, it is also a way for the grandmasters to reach out to the Hawaiʻian chess community and support the Hawaiʻian Chess Federation.

My own trip to Hawaiʻi started on Sunday. Even though Hawaiʻi is part of America, it is very, very far from my hometown of Dallas, Texas. There are no direct flights to Honolulu, so I was forced to have a layover in San Francisco. Unfortunately my flight was delayed, and I had to wait an extra few hours. Normally this is quite acceptable, but I was already anxious to be on the beach! A five and a half hour flight from SFO put me safely in Honolulu.

I missed most of the first event, the welcoming VIP reception, but was able to catch the tail end. After a quick sip of a spirit to recover from the journey I did the most logical thing to do at a VIP reception in Hawaiʻi: play bughouse!

Photo Credit: Heather Flewelling

My partner was Olympic medalist Sam Shankland, and we were playing against World Women's Champion Hou Yifan and her partner Maurice Ashley. To me this was a slightly frightening testament of how quickly Hou Yifan learns anything: we had to explain to her the rules of the game for our first encounter, then she tried playing the Sicilian (about as dubious of an opening as there is in bughouse) against me in her second game, but by the fifth she was strong enough to have checkmated Sam. We quit while we were ahead!

A good night's sleep and I had the day off, which I spent mainly recovering from my trip, adjusting to to the hour difference (five hours!) and watching my friends play in the Women's World Championship in Sochi. A quick stroll on the beach and I was ready for Magic Island.

Magic Island is a small manmade peninsula in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi, adjacent to Ala Moana Beach Park and the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor. It was created in 1964 as the site of a resort complex, but was subsequently converted to a park. The name was changed to "Aina Moana," but the new name is used infrequently.

It was our venue for the first chess exhibitions. I was bright and early to play a simultaneous exhibition.

Maurice Ashley giving time odds. One minute to five, but the kids were more often losing by the clock than on the board!

A little soccer while waiting for the players to be ready

Sam Shankland and I had our simuls at 9 a.m. Each had about 20 players, ranging from novices to a couple of expert (2000+) rated players. Sam annihilated his opponents in less than an hour, while I took a lot longer! However we managed to win all of our games.

Sometimes it was hard to concentrate on the games with the beach being a quick walk away

They tried hard, but no one got even half a point

Oh, but they did make me suffer at times..


Organizer and expert Beau Mueller was also unable to cope with Sam Shankland

The festivities continued with a four round rapid game. Sammy Shoker and I tied with 4.0/4 and had to play an Armageddon in the giant chess set...

The place of my demise. Much like some of the games in Sochi, I was flagged up a queen!

Timur Gareev gave his traditionally spectacular blindfold simultaneous exhibition.
Only ten boards this time, but it was still impressive.

The locals all seem to be incredibly healthy and fit. Maybe it's the local yoga culture?

After returning from Magic Island, doing some shopping in the amazing Ala Moana shopping center, I turned in relatively early. 10 p.m. was still 1 a.m. according to my body!

From wikipedia: Diamond Head is the name of a volcanic tuff cone on the Hawaiʻian island of Oʻahu and known to Hawaiʻians as Lēʻahi, most likely from lae 'browridge, promontory' plus ʻahi 'tuna' because the shape of the ridgeline resembles the shape of a tuna's dorsal fin. Its English name was given by British sailors in the 19th century, who mistook calcite crystals on the adjacent beach for diamonds.

To me: a big mountain that seemed bigger considering it was seven in the morning...

The view, of course, was spectacular

Hawaiʻi doesn't only have beautiful beaches, the hikes, trails and caves are abundant and equally breathtaking

The World Champion found a nice place to pose

Magic Island, where the simul was held!

The hike was about two hours total, but she didn't have any problems with it

I returned to the hotel around ten in the morning, ready for my next adventure. I wanted to revisit Hanauma Bay, one of my favorite spots in the World. I went with a local chess player (local, but from another island, which means a 28 hour boat ride!), Damian Nash, along with grandmasters Alexander Shabalov and Sammy Shoker.

We quickly stopped at a beautiful scenic point along the road

Alex Shabalov going down a slippery and rocky road

The viewpoint was crazy. The waves crashed into the rocks and splashed us with seawater. It was a bit slippery and a little thrilling. Damian warned us never to turn our back on the waves: some rogue waves came up and swallowed tourists down into the sea a couple of times a year.

A delicious local

Grandmasters by the sea!

A few local girls saw the grandmasters and wanted a picture taken

Then we were off to Hanauma Bay, one of the World's best places for snorkeling.

We were able to see more fish than we could eat in our lifetimes, and by some miracle even two sea turtles! It was exciting and a unique experience. I will try to be back at least one more time this trip.

Finally the busy day finished with the Opening Banquet

Myself, Sabrina Chevannes and Nicholas Huschenbeth

The banquet was a way of honoring the visiting players, but it was also a fundraiser

A silent auction was held with items as valuable and rare as Hawaiʻi-made chess boards, autographed magazines and even autographed stamps of the World Women's Champion's limited edition stamps from Niger. So limited and rare, in fact, that Hou Yifan did not know of their existence!

Keahi V. Renaud, professor of Hawaiʻian Religion, Language and Polynesian leadership, with beautiful opening words on the warrior spirit in Hawaiʻi.

Legendary Tucson chess arbiter Karen Pennock and WIM Sabrina Chevannes

A traditional dance performance...

Front row seats for me!

The main item up for auction, however, was the most unique. A chance to play in a tandem game!

Maurice Ashley brought hilarious and accurate commentary of the tandem game

The tandem! Hou Yifan playing with the Mayor of Maui, Alan Arakawa, playing against Sam Shankland and the winner of the auction, the master level player Paul Iinuma.

Unfortunately for the mayor, Hou Yifan made too many mistakes
and they found themselves in this hopeless position

The players and the man that made it all happen, Beau Mueller.

The Open section has started with most grandmasters winning their first round. Today the first three games of the Grandmaster challenge will be played. Stay tuned for more reports from Hawaiʻi!


Grandmaster Alejandro Ramirez has been playing tournament chess since 1998. His accomplishments include qualifying for the 2004 and 2013 World Cups as well as playing for Costa Rica in the 2002, 2004 and 2008 Olympiads. He currently has a rating of 2583 and is author of a number of popular and critically acclaimed ChessBase-DVDs.


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