Jet-lagged in Japfa (part one)

by Alina l'Ami
4/26/2013 – Many things come to mind when speaking of Indonesia, from its enormous Muslim population to its breathtaking cultural diversity, but chess is usually not one. The JAPFA Chess Festival, held in Jakarta, organized a Women Tournament calling it the highlight, and treated the players like superstars, but Alina L'Ami explains this is no surprise when you see how rampant chess is there.

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Jet-lagged in Japfa (part one)

Jet lagged, with a horrendous headache and a stringent feeling that my entire anatomy obeys forces other than my own brain’s commands, the wandering zombie (alias myself) made up her mind. A march along the crowded streets of Indonesia’s capital will bring me back into the world of living I thought. So here I am, a small ant in a mammoth city, trying to blend in…

As I was creeping through Jakarta’s urban jungle, caressed by a 40 degrees sun, I got irremediably caught up in its palpable energy. Tiredness, irritation and physical distress were soon forgotten, melted in the sprawling, smoggy pot of the city. Beyond redress, the multifaceted Jakarta seduced me with its warmth, contrasts and flavors.

Endless variety of food!

A street seller with yet more of the great variety of food

Balinese rituals

Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim-majority country, with 87 percent
of its citizens identifying themselves as Muslim

In the first two days I had no rush, no other duty besides gazing at the street vendors, at the buzzing cars and motorcycles, at the gleaming new glass and steal skyscrapers…one layer, then another and soon I found myself trapped, in love with the vibrant, beating heart of Indonesia. Because this is what Jakarta is for me: an enticing and beguiling eye-opener, a busy-busy-busy capital, an astonishing mix of cultures, religions, food and design.

Normally, wherever I go I skip the malls or any place mall
like since these things I can find anywhere on the planet.
However, Indonesian ones allured me.

Indonesians love rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner, so no worries:
the 'mountain' will vanish soon

Super interesting and efficient, more than in any other place I visited in Asia, is the street trading. Everything, but absolutely everything is ambulant here: food, drinks, shoes and clothing repair services, cigarettes etc. The streets are over crowded with people pushing their strollers, most of them containing food. Outside mealtimes, you can spot the chefs sleeping next to their mobile restaurants or even…playing chess! What an interesting coincidence, right?

Chess can be found everywhere and under such a ruthless sun, what can you do...?
Hide in the shade and play chess of course! I just wonder if 2.h4 is the best move
 after 1.e4 e5...

Even casual drink sellers will take time off for a game of chess

In the evening, massive pedestrian zones metamorphose in pop up drive-in eateries, with a lot of animation and world of all kinds. This was the moment when my eyes laid upon another familiar scene: two chess boards carefully set on the ground and three people sitting there, waiting. What for? As I soon found out, this is actually a new form of entertainment, an intellectual one!

An ingenious new method of making money

The curious passers can try to decipher the puzzles by paying first a fee and being rewarded later on, if the problem is solved, with a…cigarette!:) Never ever have I seen such an ingenious method of making money out of chess! Was this another coincidence? Somehow the history seemed to be repeating over and over again, until I finally got the message: Indonesian people love chess!

The press conference

Mystery been solved, no wonder the JAPFA chess festival took cosmic proportions: more than 500 chess lovers gathered under the same roof for various competitions, to which I should add an endless number of parents, trainers, journalists, friends and so forth. But somehow, their attention was dragged by what they called ‘the highlight’ of the entire festival: the closed double round robin women tournament.

Banners were spread to announce the festival's highlight: the round-robin women tournament

Narcissistic feelings are not in the least part of my character and yet, I have to admit, I kind of experienced them this time. What to do if people keep on asking for pictures, photos, autographs, your poster is hanging in the playing hall and even on the streets, photographers keep on pressing the shutter release button, while hundreds of eyes are fixed upon you in fascination?!…and this was happening with every single player, not only with myself. All six participants in the women grand master tournament: Sophie Milliet, Iulia Kochetkova, Medina Warda Aulia, Chelsie Sihite Monica, Natacha Benmesbah and the undersigned felt the thrills of being…chess superstars!

The opening ceremony wearing the sponsors insignias

From left to right: WGM Yulia Kochetkova from Slovakia, your reporter Alina L'Ami, top seed IM Sophie Milliet from France - very popular amongst Jakartians! Wherever we went with Sophie, we couldn't pass unnoticed. WIM Chelsie Sihite Monica from Indonesia: she recovered very well after losing the first two games, finishing on an honorable 3rd place. Medina Warda Aulia, a talented 15 year-old Indonesian WIM. She didn't succeed in getting her third WGM norm but I am sure loads of opportunities will appear soon, and finally WIM Natacha Benmesbah from France. Don't be fooled by her fragile looks! Natacha is an inveterate rugby fan and she plays it herself!


The most surprising part is that not even for one second was this constant attention aggressive, disturbing or annoying! On the contrary, it motivated us to fight every game until the very end, to try to give our best chess for the public and for ourselves.

Notice the banner behind: superstars!

We didn’t always succeed but don’t be fooled either by the rather high number of draws (a peaceful end was not allowed until move 30 by the way!). Especially three players were directly interested in having a good score, six and a half points out of ten games to be precise, in order to reach the so desired WGM norm. In the end…not even the winner accomplished that; both Sophie and myself finished with six points, but the better tiebreak secured the trophy for the one who’s currently writing. This is to show you how balanced the tournament was, what a fighting spirit we all had and…to sort of find a good excuse for the sometimes unfortunate moves.

The pavillion surrounded by greenery is the playing hall where the tournament was held

The schedule was very tough for us, two rounds a day, with the number of hours spent for chess escalating all the way up to twelve hours (including preparation). And yet, I am sure all the ladies would subscribe to this: we truly enjoyed it, if only for the room service alone!

Continued in part two

Copyright ChessBase/Alina L'Ami

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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