Mar del Plata Open turns 50

by Sergio Ernesto Negri
4/12/2019 – From 1928, the Argentine city of Mar del Plata has hosted a large number of remarkable chess events. The 50th edition of the "Abierto de Mar del Plata" will take place on April 13th-20th, with about two-hundred players participating. SERGIO NEGRI takes us through some of the biggest chess milestones that transpired in the tourist destination, which even gave name to a variation of the King's Indian Defence. | Photo: Leandro Kibisz (CC BY-SA) via Wikimedia Commons

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A long-standing tradition

The 50th edition of the "Torneo Abierto de Ajedrez de Mar del Plata" coincides with the presentation of volumes 1 and 2 of the four-book series that recounts the history of Argentine chess, co-authored by Sergio Negri and Enrique Arguiñariz. Such a coincidence invites us to reflect about Mar del Plata's contribution to the development and expansion of chess in South America.

Many strong chess players were born in the coastal city, including:

  • Fernando Braga, who won the 1997 edition, when he already represented Italy — Braga, in fact, won the Italian national tournament twice during his career
  • Víctor Brond, who finished second in 1967 and 1975, and shared first place in 1976
  • Mario Leskovar
  • Eduardo Vasta    
  • Jorge Rosito, who got second place in the 2004 edition

Mar del Plata is known as "the happy one", due to its welcoming beaches, which make it the main tourist destination in Argentina. Thus, it happily hosted plenty of chess tournaments throughout the years. In 1928, the 3rd South American Chess Championship took place there, with Roberto Grau as the eventual winner. The city also hosted the 1934 and 1936 editions of this event, and crowned Arón Schvartzman and Isaías Pleci as champions.

Chess in Argentina 1939

The Argentine team in 1939: Bolbochán, Pleci, Grau, Piazzini and Guimard | Photo: Asociación Rosarina de Ajedrez

While the Open Chess Tournament is reaching its 50th edition, the Mar del Plata International Tournament — an invitational — was played between 1928 and 2001. Particularly memorable are the times when Miguel Najdorf and Gideon Ståhlberg fought for first place during the 1940s — Ståhlberg won in 1941, while Najdorf took first the six following consecutive years.

Some "locals" also won the invitational event, although not all of them were born in the city, as some simply decided to reside there permanently. Herman Pilnik, Héctor Rossetto, Erich Eliskases and Julio Bolbochán took first place at different times between 1948 and 1956.

Franciscus Henneberke, Gideon Stahlberg

Franciscus Henneberke v Gideon Stahlberg during the 1961 Zevenaar Tournament | Photo: Wim van Rossem / Anefo

The tournament garnered worldwide fame and counted with distinguished winners from the 1950s until the 1980s. Some of them are:

  • Svetozar Gligoric, winner in 1950 and 1953
  • Borislav Ivkov, winner in 1955
  • Paul Keres, winner in 1957
  • Bent Larsen, who won in 1958 and, while living in Argentina, shared first place with Julio Granda in the Open of 1993
  • Ludek Pachman, who shared first place with Najdorf in 1959
  • Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky shared first place in 1960, prior to their renowned World Championship encounter
  • Lev Polugaevsy, winner in 1962 and 1971
  • Vasily Smyslov, who won in 1966, eight years after having lost the World Championship title
  • Jan Timman, winner in 1982
  • Others participated in various editions: Samuel Reshevsky, Alexander Kotov, David Bronstein, Yuri Averbakh, Lajos Portisch and Leonid Stein

All games by joint winners Fischer and Spassky during the 1960 edition


The first Mar del Plata Open took place in 1967. A larger field meant more local and South American players were among the participants. Some big names that stand out among the winners are Miguel Najdorf (who won the first edition), Oscar Panno, Sergio Slipak and Salvador Alonso.

Mar del Plata also hosted four FIDE Zonal Tournaments: Erich Eliskases and Julio Bolbochán won in 1951; Oscar Panno finished on top in 1954; Panno and Najdorf shared first place in 1969; and Facundo Pierrot and Rubén Felgaer were joint winners in 2001. In addition, Brazilian Ruth Cardoso won the Women's Zonal organized at the coastal city in 1969. 

The 1962 Latin American Championship, won by Raimundo García, and the 1967 Argentine Championship, won by none other than Najdorf, were also organized in Mar del Plata.

Oscar Panno, Julio Bolbochán

Oscar Panno and Jullio Bolbochán | Photo: Diario La Razón

So many episodes of chess history transpired in the beach resort that we should not be overly surprised by the fact that the Open is turning 50. Even a King's Indian Defence variation is named after the city! The Mar del Plata Variation got its name from a 1953 game between Miguel Najdorf and Svetozar Gligoric. The latter decided to expand on the kingside with 9...d7 and 10...f5, defining this long-lasting strategy used with Black in the KID.


The 2019 edition

This year's Open already counts with 210 registered players. Four grandmasters lead the field — two-time winner Diego Flores will try to catch up with Salvador Alonso and Sergio Slipak, who have three wins each and are also participating. Meanwhile, second seed Robert Hungaski will try to become the first player from the United States to take the title. 

It will be a 9-round Swiss to be played between the 13th and the 20th of April, with a double-round on the 14th. Special prizes for the best woman, best senior, best local player, best U18 player and for the U-2300, U-2100 and unrated Elo categories will be awarded.

Starting rank (top 25)

No. Name Rtg
1 Flores Diego 2596
2 Hungaski Robert 2505
3 Alonso Salvador 2497
4 Liascovich Lucas 2457
5 Slipak Sergio 2427
6 Saldano Dayer Horacio 2422
7 Menna Barreto Felipe Kubiaki 2378
8 Gomez Baillo Jorge H. 2376
9 Della Morte German 2366
10 Romero Barreto Jaime Jose 2337
11 Cejas Jose 2324
12 Sanhueza Cristian 2309
13 Tobares Leandro 2305
14 Miranda Rafael 2295
15 Kanefsck Gustavo 2290
16 Benedetti Julio 2281
17 Abregu Miguel 2251
18 Gimenez Aguirre Alejo Ismael 2247
19 Contin Daniel 2236
20 Leskovar Mario 2225
21 Van Riemsdijk Herman C. 2225
22 Condino Gabriel 2225
23 Lapicki Raul 2224
24 Di Muro Matias 2217
25 Kapitanchuk Tomas 2215

...210 players

Translation from Spanish and additional reporting: Carlos Colodro


Sergio was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He is Master FIDE, who developed studies on the relationship of chess with culture and history.


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