Outdoor Chess: Uruguay

by Alexey Root
11/24/2020 – In Montevideo, Uruguay, chess is part of the city’s cultural heritage. 18 de Julio Avenue, the city’s most significant street, was the site of its most famous outdoor chess game. Gonzalo Muniz, a FIDE-rated chess player from Uruguay, and WIM Alexey Root tell about chess in Uruguay’s capital. | Photo: Gonzalo Taborda

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Carlos Ferrari’s kiosk

When former World Champion Veselin Topalov visited Uruguay in 2013, he played chess outdoors at Carlos Ferrari’s kiosk. A YouTube video of their game is here. Ferrari’s kiosk sold magazines and was at the intersection of Convención and 18 de Julio Avenue. The latter is named after the date the first Constitution of Uruguay was written, July 18, 1830, and is the most significant thoroughfare in the city.

For forty years, Ferrari ran the kiosk. FIDE-rated player Gonzalo Muniz said, “Ferrari was always available to play with whoever challenged him to a chess game in his kiosco [kiosk]. Different people, from diplomats to homeless people, played chess there. It was a very nice example of social coexistence and harmony. You can ask anyone in Montevideo about ‘the guys who played chess in 18 and Convención’ and even if they don’t know a thing about chess, they do remember that daily scene in our city.”

According to a newspaper article on the occasion of his retirement in 2018, Ferrari said, “It is a chess club more than a kiosk.” After losing a final chess game to ballet dancer Ismael Arias, Ferrari declared that chess at the kiosk was finished.

Carlos Ferrari

Carlos Ferrari returns, October 4, 2020, wearing a white mask | Photo: Gonzalo Taborda

Heritage Day and the dancer

Just as 18 de Julio Avenue is more important than any other street, Heritage Day (Día del Patrimonio) is the most significant cultural event of each year. Heritage Day was celebrated over an entire weekend, October 3-4, 2020. Free museum visits and cultural events made up this weekend; a photo gallery from the Uruguayan Ministry of Culture and Education is available here. With COVID-19 precautions, such as social distancing and smaller crowds, Heritage Day was as successful as celebrations in previous years.

Ballet dancer Ismael Arias thought Heritage Day in 2020 was the perfect time to reintroduce chess at the site where Ferrari’s kiosk had been. On October 4, Arias set up a giant set to catch the attention of passers-by. Also, children loved playing on the giant set.

A nearby table had three regular-sized sets and boards. Displayed near the boards was a Roa chess clock, the first clock bought for and used in Carlos Ferrari’s kiosk. Although it is at least 40 years old, the clock still works. Roa clocks were made in Argentina.

Roa clock

A 40-year-old Roa clock | Photo: Ismael Arias


360Ajedrez is Arias’s chess project. In addition to the Heritage Day event discussed above, it has daily activities with a lot of chess players. Here are two recent examples. One chess gathering at Luisa Cuesta Square, on September 19, 2020, attracted National Master Facundo Domínguez. Another chess table was set up on the sidewalk adjacent to Bar Hispano on October 10, 2020.

Ismael Arias interviewed

Ismael AriasMuniz interviewed Arias [pictured backstage at the ballet] about the origin, present, and future of 360Ajedrez.

Muniz: How did 360Ajedrez come into existence?

Arias: During the pandemic, in Montevideo, I founded 360Ajedrez for the democratization of chess in Uruguay. 360Ajedrez continues the legacy of Ferrari’s kiosk. Its owner, the legendary Carlos Ferrari, provided chess, this lovely game-sport-science, to anyone who wanted to play. In that kiosk, I saw chess practiced with the most pure feeling of democracy, in a public thoroughfare, available for everyone. When the kiosk closed in 2018, we first played chess in the streets and now also play daily in a gas station cafeteria.

Muniz: Tell about your present activities, especially outdoor chess.

Arias: We did outdoor chess activities during these past months, in streets, squares, fundraising events, mixing chess with other sports like football [soccer] or basketball. Always according to COVID-19 protocols and taking every necessary precaution. This daily activity we have is a really strange and remarkable thing in our country. It’s something outstanding: None of the chess clubs here had daily on-site activities during the pandemic. I must stress that these were not only chess activities, they were widely social and democratic events. In some of these events, many low-income people not only played chess but got something to eat. That free food was important during these hard times.

Muniz: What are the future projects of 360Ajedrez?

Arias: We want 360Ajedrez to be not only for those who want to compete at chess, but also to function with other disciplines, such as other sports, art, culture, research, education, social work, etc. For that reason, we are working to get a location, writing our statutes and internal regulations so that we can work more like a chess club and make bigger activities. In the short term, we are planning an online chess match with the oldest chess club in the United States, the Mechanics’ Institute. We know that chess can make miracles. We know that chess improves life quality, for many reasons. Our mission and our dream is to share chess to make this world a little bit better.

Ismael Arias

Ismael Arias holding a pair of pawns | Photo: Gonzalo Taborda

Contact the authors

I met Gonzalo Muniz in the Twitch chat for Mechanics’ Institute, during that club’s U.S. election-night tournament. When Muniz said he was from Uruguay, I asked about his chess background there. He learned chess in school, at age 10. Now, at age 30, his FIDE rating is 1969.

Muniz is on the Board of Directors for 360Ajedrez. You can contact him — in Spanish, English, or German — at gonza.munizdls@gmail.com. If you would like to be my next “outdoor chess” co-author, please contact me via editor@chessbase.com or on Facebook (Alexey Root).

Bar Hispano, Uruguay

Outdoor chess at “Bar Hispano” | Photo: Ismael Arias

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Alexey was the 1989 U.S. Women's Chess Champion and is a Woman International Master. She earned her bachelor’s degree in History at the University of Puget Sound and her doctoral degree in Education at The University of California, Los Angeles. She has been a Lecturer in Interdisciplinary Studies at UT Dallas since 1999 and is a prolific author.


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