“Strong Minds” at Chess Festival in Maia, Portugal

by Stefan Löffler
9/20/2023 – This year’s Portuguese Chess Tour concluded with the Maia Chess Festival at the beginning of September. The Open tournament was a great success, both in terms of quality and popularity. Victor Mikhalevski won with 7½ points. On the sidelines of the Open, a conference was also held on the Tecmaia Campus under the motto Strong Minds. Stefan Löffler chaired it and sent us a report. | Photo: Streamer James Canty / Official website

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Powerful thinkers at the technology campus

The chess festival in Maia, just north of Porto, was the highlight of Portuguese chess life this year — both in sporting and social terms. Stefan Löffler, who organised a conference as part of the festival, reports.

The Open in Maia attracted more than 300 participants, including a dozen grandmasters and a dozen German participants, of whom Pascal Karsay from Worms was the best with 6 out of 9 in 33rd place. The tournament victory was decided in the end by the five players who had 6½ points before the final round.

It was at the top board that things got toughest. Awonder Liang, who had replaced Fabiano Caruana as the youngest American grandmaster and started as the top seed by Elo, played the very solid Semi-Tarrasch, but Victor Mikhalevsky tackled the challenge boldly by going for a sharp attack. The Israeli convincingly secured the point and the first prize of 3,000 Euros.

Victor Mikhalevsky

Final standings

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Mikhalevski Victor 7,5 0
2 Stremavicius Titas 7 0
3 Halkias Stelios 7 0
4 Balakrishnan Praveen 7 0
5 Postny Evgeny 7 0
6 Moroni Luca Jr 7 0
7 Almeida Quintana Omar 7 0
8 Garrido Outón Alex 7 0
9 Liang Awonder 6,5 0
10 Sousa André Miguel Vale Ventura 6,5 0
11 Perez Candelario Manuel 6,5 0
12 Kanov Nikola 6,5 0
13 Miranda Mesa Elier 6,5 0
14 Sokolovsky Yahli 6,5 0
15 Yordanov Lachezar 6,5 0
16 Zamengo Fulvio 6,5 0
17 Lortkipanidze Nodar 6,5 0
18 Fantinel Thibault 6,5 0
19 Nijboer Friso 6,5 0
20 Santos Tomás Afonso Pires Dos 6,5 0
21 Zwirs Nico 6 0
22 Ivanov Mike 6 0
23 Materia Marco 6 0
24 Eidelman Gabriel 6 0
25 Santos José Guilherme Bárria Lima Dos 6 0
26 Gomez Barrera Javiera Belen 6 0
27 Bilych Olexiy 6 0
28 Verstraeten Rein 6 0
29 Sun Chao 6 0
30 Campora Sivori Daniel Hugo 6 0

312 Teilnehmer

Maia adjoins Porto to the north and the sights are accessible by metro. Because many technology companies are located here, the municipality is one of the richest in Portugal and supports the organically grown chess festival organised by the Maia Chess Academy.

Another success factor is the chess club O Amanhã da Criança, which is linked to a social welfare organisation that runs a kindergarten and a home for the elderly. Youth chess, as the flowery name “The morning (belongs) to childhood” suggests, is capitalised and the intergenerational character of the game is also celebrated. An active women’s chess group has also emerged from the academy, club and festival.

Against this background, the chess festival is not limited to the sporting side. Low-threshold offers for hobby and occasional players are just as much a part of it as a blitz tournament on an excursion ship sailing across the Douro, an evening party and a half-day conference on the Tecmaia Campus, which I was commissioned to lead. Under the title “Strong Minds”, I presented five exciting thinkers.

To be precise, I did it from a control room because an hour before the conference I tested positive for Covid and had to isolate myself: So Vitor Cardoso took over asking and calling questions from the audience, which consisted mostly of participants from the Open held earlier in the same room.

Shohreh Bayat described what had happened to her since a photograph of hers at the 2020 Women’s World Championship with her hijab around her neck generated controversy in Iran. Natalia Zhukova reported on her everyday life as a city councillor in Odessa amid the war.

Shohreh Bayat

Natalia Zhukova and Vitor Cardoso

When she entered politics three years ago, and even on 21 February 2022, the eve of the Russian invasion, she had no idea what was coming.

James Canty spoke about his career as a streamer and the African-American chess community.

Awonder Liang and Praveen Balakrishnan, who both study Economics at the renowned University of Chicago, dealt with the special relationship of American universities to chess. Clips of the interviews and lectures will soon be available on the YouTube channel of the Maia Chess Academy.  

The Portugal Chess Tour 2022/23 came to an end in Maia. The Canadian grandmaster Kevin Spraggett, who has lived in Portugal for 35 years, was first overall, ahead of the young International Masters André Sousa and Francisco Veiga.

The Portuguese Championship traditionally takes place in the first half of September. This year it was all about José Guilherme Barria Santos, who had already won the Youth and Blitz Championships. In the league and in Maia he had missed an IM norm despite a good start. In the National Championship, with 8 out of 9 points, he exceeded the requirement by 1½ points and won the tournament by exactly that margin over Bruno Martins, his teammate at A.XAT Montemor-o-Novo.

Stefan Löffler


Stefan Löffler writes the Friday chess column in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and succeeds Arno Nickel as editor of the Chess Calendar. For ChessBase the International Master reports from his adopted country Portugal.