Indonesia's red hot chili peppers

by Alina l'Ami
6/23/2018 – Surakarta, also known as Solo or Sala, a city in Central Java, Indonesia, hosted two round-robin tournaments earlier this year — one for GMs and one for WGMs. Alina l'Ami was there and prepared a long article filled with anecdotes, chess games and some extra spicy dishes. | Photos: Alina l'Ami

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You're playing a tournament and everything seems to be going fine. Then one thing goes wrong. And then another. And another... You try to fight back, prepare more, dare more, be more constrained. But the harder you fight, the deeper you sink in the quicksand of draws and losses.

Being in over your head tastes like red chili: hot, bitter, acrid.

Many chess players here would search for a Scar Tissue or anything they can find for a quick fix. Some would stop preparing, others would hit the bar and some others would binge-watch their favourite series. Something to break the pattern, because you can't keep doing the same things and expect different results, right?

After a spiny start in the traditional JAPFA closed GM & WGM Indonesian events, Timur Gareyev and Keti Tsatsalashvili defied the general consensus and adhered to Alekhine's school of thought:

"During a chess tournament a master must envisage himself as a cross between an ascetic monk and a beast of prey."

Routine disruption can prove even more disruptive in this case. Hence, Timur and Keti did not alter their daily program algorithm. Pool-prepare-play, six hours of sleep, yoga, shopping and cultural assimilation – that's all it took to uphold them to a lighthearted state. Points were still not pouring in, but the routine simplified the busy double-round schedule and gave them structure. And let's be honest, the only way to make it through eleven games in less than a week is to switch on autopilot whenever possible, thus giving yourself a few daily doses of R&R.

Rest and relaxation

Money doesn't buy happiness, but it doesn't hurt to check those Indonesian stores

The bottom line, however, is that at the end of the week Keti and Timur achieved staggering triumphs. She collected a world-class 6/6 in the final rounds, while he closed with a powerful 5/5 in the decisive sprint!

The winners

Both of them are anything but dull or banal, yet I still suspect they used some external aid: Red Hot Chili Peppers :). To avoid constant decision-making, Keti stopped choosing and started testing all those spicy Indonesian dishes, which eventually set her on fire at the board.

Timur immersed in the Indonesian culture even deeper. Learning Bahasa or eating raw chilies was part of his daily rituals. Just check these games, they are not medium hot but extra spicy!


The Sambals or the little Cabe Rawit devils cannot take full credit for the spice hounds' happiness. Responsible for our overall excitement and well being are the organizers, who once again surpassed all expectations.

The smile of Chelsie Sihite can speak for us all

I have been playing in the JAPFA events for a couple of years already and I don't know what else is there to say apart from what I've already mentioned in my previous write-ups. The excellent organizational aspects, the generous sponsor, the tireless officials, the beautiful culture and the heart melting gestures of the Indonesian people are subjects I depicted several times and I will no longer insist.

Did I also mention the vivid colors? Probably...

I am not trying to paint a perfect fairytale-like image of the JAPFA events. Convinced myself, I seek not to convince. But I have to press "repeat" when it comes to the respect they show for chess and for professional chess players.

We loved these traditional outfits!

We are not treated like mercenaries, contracted to perform our services in return for exquisite conditions. They touch the ethos in us. No matter the cultural background and preferences, you just feel good in this cocoon that nurtures your intellect and bonds you with those around you. Small wonder: we were beating our brains out and then smiling at the dinner table. It became an enticing pattern which none of us was willing to break.

Perhaps Janelle Mae Frayna from the Philippines gives one of the most expressive illustration of this feeling:

A shark in the tournament hall, she becomes a dolphin when she leaves

As much as I appreciate dynamic play, mastering quieter techniques is crucial. Take a look at these examples and see if you can find the best way to play:


Very often, things do not go according to plan, but what can we do except keep trying? I also started with two zeroes and the overall impression of my play was pretty grim. Yet, the damage-control technique worked wonders, as I kept doing what I always do.

Street photography is for me one of the best therapies

So routines are great! Until they are not. They are comforting, but every now and then it is a good idea to jog our minds with some creative disruption before these otherwise fine routines become confining ones. 

Every edition of the JAPFA Chess Festival was held in the country's beating heart and consisted of one or two invitational groups, joined by a large open. And every single time it was a success. If it ain't broken, why fix it?!


Excellence: the gradual result of always striving to do better

This year, we began in Jakarta with a press conference and an eye-catching simultaneous exhibition by the king of blindfold chess. We then moved on to Central Java where the tournament was held, to a city called “Solo” by the nationals and “Surakarta” by Google Maps.

Solo welcomes solo travelers too

An inspired Timur couldn't resist taking a 7 h train ride from Jakarta to Surakarta (the rest of us, the 'boring' ones, took an airplane, obviously). The walking personification of "it has never been a better moment than right now" is not careless but caring and carefree. To give you a small example: while the rest checked their watches and rushed to the airport, Timur's only concern was how to reach a regional tournament for blind players...

Local carefree spirit

No matter how your scoreboard looks like, being in Indonesia helps

As exciting as a new location might sound, it does bring with it at least a dozen concerns. The logistics and the unknown were some of the challenges the organizing team had to solve on the go. That's what I am assuming at least, as I personally didn't witness any issues whatsoever, besides the typical:

9 a.m. rounds...

To start at 09.30 sounded more human, but we've been outvoted by the Red-Bulled Indonesians.

I can only wish to have such energy, passion and willingness to play non-stop, virtues that I deeply respect. Their dynamic hallmark is something to be scared of:


This was, in fact, the reason why we found ourselves suddenly in Solo, besides the additional spice of a new setup. Indonesians:

  • Love chess, fact number 1.
  • Love to share, fact number 2.

One way to eat the cake and have it too was to bring the tournament to a different audience, thus broadening the...

...hands-on experience for the local chess aficionados

Also, the cultural heritage is so rich that the organizers felt we needed to sample as much as possible, despite the short time frame.

Special moments with special people

JAPFA on tour is in fact a matter of transformation, not a change, which can only be achieved through practice. And they have so much experience that by now, when an invitation comes, I know it is an offer I cannot refuse. How, when, where, what, who are to me redundant questions. The trust they raised is more solid than the Gibraltar rock. 

Routines per se cannot be called good nor bad. It is also not really about knowing when to hold them or when to fold them. It is about you, or me, and what we need in our lives at a certain point in time: an anchor or a renewed sense of self from opening up to new experiences. When in doubt, try the JAPFA events. You might receive something you didn't even know you needed. 

Final standings

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Gareyev Timur 8,5 0,0
2 Ma Qun 8,0 0,0
3 Demchenko Anton 7,5 0,0
4 Priasmoro Novendra 6,0 1,0
5 Goh Wei Ming Kevin 6,0 0,0
6 Taher Yoseph Theolifus 5,5 0,0
7 Cuhendi Sean Winshand 5,0 1,0
8 Megaranto Susanto 5,0 1,0
9 Nguyen Anh Dung 5,0 1,0
10 Gonzales Jayson 3,5 0,5
11 Ali Muhammad Lutfi 3,5 0,5
12 Aulia Medina Warda 2,5 0,0

Tiebreak: Direct encounter


Alina is an International Master and a very enthusiastic person in everything she does. She loves travelling to the world's most remote places in order to play chess tournaments and report about them here on ChessBase! As chance would have it Alina is also an excellent photographer.


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