Made in Taiwan

by Alina l'Ami
8/24/2019 – The second edition of the CTCA International Open took place in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, where modern technology and ancient traditions meet. Not only did ALINA L'AMI manage to take some remarkable photographs for this report, but she also finished the tournament in second place. Let us get to know this unique culture through the eyes of a chess explorer.

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Colourful, relaxed

Most people will be familiar with the well-known tag "Made in Taiwan". Whether stamped on electronics, clothing, shoes or toys, the label has been nested in the worldwide collective memory since the 60s. Nowadays, the island is a major centre within the technological innovations sector, crafting goods designed with the highest quality standards. The leading position in the hi-tech field makes this place a Disneyland for the fans of artificial intelligence (AI) and, by extrapolation, for those using Leela.

Click or tap any image to enlarge!

CTCA International Chess Open, Alina l'Ami

Heavy metal love

Is heaven also Made in Taiwan? After one week of playing chess in the 5-stars International Open organized by the Chinese Taipei Chess Association (CTCA), there is only one logical answer: heaven on earth is not a place to find but a decision to make. In this case, the decision to play at the limited-edition tournament organized for the second time in Kaohsiung, the largest port and second-largest city on the island.

CTCA International Chess Tournament, Taiwan

The official hotel and tournament venue can be seen on the left (the terra cotta building)

Asian values on Taiwanese terms

Famed for centuries as Ilha Formosa (Beautiful Isle), this is a land with more facets than the 11-headed Guanyin (the one who hears the cries of the world). Legend has it that the  strenuous efforts of the Goddess of Compassion to save all sentient beings caused her head to split into 11 pieces. Now, with 11 heads, she can hear and see all those who need her help more clearly — perhaps a recognizable scenario for a tournament director dealing with the chess-player breed. Considering the welcoming, helpful and friendly nature, as well as the manners of the Taiwanese, it is no accident that the visitors' wishes are fulfilled before even getting a chance to be formulated.

CTCA International Chess Open

AI is important but emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of holding an event

Living technology

The synthetic brains threaten to outsmart the real ones in Kaohsiung. A true Gordian knot for a foreign chess player is not the Frankenstein-Dracula variation, but how to use the hotel's bathroom. As an excuse, the toilet seat had more buttons than a remote control of any TV I've ever encountered in the past — nothing extraordinary in a country where machines can do what the SF movies show.

Used by now to the fact that Apple & Blackberry are not just fruits, the author was faced with another puzzle: how to get out of a supermarket? The obvious answer was: through the door. After being conditioned like Pavlov's dog to automatic solutions, when the door refused to open the immediate thought was that there must be a different exit. Since there were no buttons to press, no knobs to turn and no multi-sensor detectors, who would have thought that one needs to...push the door like in medieval times?! However amusing that was, it did feel a bit as if I was living in the era of smart-phones and brainless people.

CTCA International Chess Open, Taiwan

Mirrors don't lie — luckily, they cannot laugh (at you) either

The daily life brain teasers were probably the reason why the foreigners could adapt to the typical double-round business and 8 AM morning games. When a professional chess player hears about the starting time and the zero tolerance rule, survival mode kicks in. Keeping alert, playing decent chess and still enjoying life given the schedule, is not a utopia when...

CTCA International Chess Open

...the national enthusiasm for chess abounds

Taiwan streets

...the warmth of the locals overflows

CTCA International Chess Open

...and the posh conditions gratify

The compressed schedule has opened up a hornets' nest of tactical, psychological and technical concerns — three examples to cover them all:


To infinity and beyond

Buzz Lightyear's famous catchphrase in the Toy Story films is illustrative of the ambitions and skills of the organizing team. If in the first edition around 70 participants gathered at the starting list, the second one doubled that number, and there are no logical reasons to believe that the third one will not follow the same tendency of exponential growth.

CTCA International Chess Open

Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still

It is striking that a young tournament which can already be considered exemplary to many was brought to life in a country that had no chess federation a few years back. "Made in Taiwan" is not just a label stamped on the wristband of the animated Disney•Pixar character, but also a sign of excellence. 

CTCA International Chess Open

Learning from the best — Courtney's energy is bottomless!

Republic of China / Chinese Taipei / Taiwan 

Due to Taiwan's unique political status, representation in international organizations and events is quite slippery. Although Taiwan's official name is "Republic of China" (ROC for short), the Taiwanese participating in the Chess Olympiad for example are represented under the title "Chinese Taipei". The English choice is a deliberate one that meets the criteria of both the ROC and the People's Republic of China (PRC), both adamant about the nomenclature used to represent Taiwan.

Taiwan, Alina l'Ami

Trains of thought don't always run on schedule


The Taiwanese: friendly, polite and culturally refined

Chess is a bridge for friendship

The tournament slogan couldn't be truer, especially when looking back. In a condensed time frame, deep connections can be created as everyone speaks the same language of chess. Moreover, in Kaohsiung, the body language of the locals adds another element — the sensation of getting into overdrive, since before this tournament no grandmaster had ever played on the island.

Sergei Tiviakov

Matching theme: Sergey Tiviakov with his favourite Mickey Mouse t-shirt

Some of the most difficult exercises are not the ones which imply calculating long lines, finding an unexpected resource, seeing the solution to a study — these are forced moves which are easier to spot somehow. The difference between a novice and a grandmaster lies in the correct assessment of the outcome of a line or in the evaluation of a change in the pawn structure. As Philidor put it, "the pawn is the soul of chess", since the pawn structure decides where the pieces should be placed.

Three explanatory examples:


CTCA International Chess Open

The double-round program was cooled down by the rest day and a full city tour

It is vivid and contagious the chess excitement of the Taiwanese — exuberance not only seen on the board and around the titled players, but also everywhere else. The love affair with Hello Kitty speaks for itself: the city is a merry-go-round of cartoons, puppies, neon lights, graffiti, ads — a craziness filled with colours which, weirdly enough, offers peace of mind.


The road goes ever on

Taiwan, Alina l'Ami

Perpetual carnival

Feeling like a little kid who just walked into a candy store

Modern, cute, relaxed

Today's Kaohsiung is a far cry from its days as an epicentre of heavy industry. The modern metropolis of airy cafes, waterside parks and cultural spots was a great host for an intellectual activity as chess. Playful when playing, ceremonial and respectful when working, the Taiwanese have a great say in how chess-related matters should be properly arranged.

CTCA International Chess Open

The graceful ballerinas were merciless behind the board

"Jit wanh tsan lei, gao wanh teng"

Literally translates to: "One bowl of snail, nine bowls of soup". The Taiwanese saying is a polite way to point out that something is lacking, since diluting one bowl of snails with nine bowls of broth is like having only four titled players in such a beautiful chess recipe. It just doesn’t make sense. If the rather bizarre occurrence of the 2019 edition isn't quite adding up, the 2020 one will have to start subtracting to prevent a flood of titled players.

CTCA International Chess Open

The Taiwanese are growing their own stars

Taiwan, Japan

The 2020 edition is planned to morph into a chess cruise to Japan!

PS: The game plan to promote sports in the country is to score points in chess tournaments with day-to-day life at stake. A place in the top three in an international sports competition (chess included) facilitates acquiring the residence permit — yet another reason to give it all you've got at the chess board!


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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