Paleochora Open 2017 - where the entire town celebrates chess!

by Sagar Shah
8/1/2017 – It's one of the most southern points of Europe. The town of Paleochora has barely a population of 2000, yet it hosts one of the most popular tournaments in Greece. How did a town with absolutely no chess background become the central hub for the game? We bring you the story of how chess in Paleochora began and also take you on a tour of the entire city. Surely you will be as enchanted by its beauty, as our authors Amruta and Sagar were! | Photos: Amruta Mokal

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Bride of the Libyan Sea

Continued from Part I - Stupak, Nikolov, Bernadskiy win 10th Paleochora Open

Paleochora is a small town on the Island of Crete south to mainland Greece. It is located around 77 kilomenteres south of Chania (which is also the nearest airport). It occupies a small peninsula 400 meters wide and 700 meters long! The town is set along 11 kilometers of coastline bordering the Libyan Sea. The population of the place is less than 2000!

Once there was nothing at Paleochora, not even the peninsula on which the town now stands. The ground lay beneath the sea and only the Fortezza hill, now the site of the Venetian fort, jutted up like a little island above the waves. A major earthquake made west side of Crete rise up and the peninsula of Paleochora emerged from the depths, justifying its title of "Bride of the Libyan Sea".

Travelling from India, we took a flight from Mumbai to Athens, then Athens to Chania and then a bus from Chania to Paleochora. It took us 30 hours to reach the place!

It takes about two hours to reach Paleochorafrom from Chania airport, but time just flies by when the view is so spectacular!

Houses in Paleochora are not allowed to be more than two storeys high. This, combined with the fact that part of the town is closed for traffic each evening, still gives Paleochora the feeling of a serene village.

The rocky beach on one side of the peninsula...

....and the sandy beach on the other!

Crystal clear blue water. Swimming in such water is relaxing and puts you in the perfect frame of mind before the game!

People from many parts of Europe come to spend a relaxed vacation in Paleochora. During the day it's the sunny beach...

...and at night you sit down in one of these lively cafes. 

I don't know why, but this view just kept reminding me of the popular television series "Game of Thrones"

When you see images like these, you understand that playing a tournament in Paleochora is like a dream for any chess player. But how did this tournament begin in such a small town?

How did the Paleochora Open begin?

The Paleochora Open is a wonderful event with a very decent prize fund (EUR €7,000) and a strong field of players (15 GMs and 15 IMs in the 2017 edition). How did this event, on one of the southern-most points of Europe, become so popular? It all began with a visit by GM Krum Georgiev for a simultaneous exhibition against some of the youngsters of the town.

The Mayor saw this spectacle and was fascinated by it. He decided that Paleochora should host a huge event. He was even ready to host a world championship Match! Such was his enthusiasm. 

GM Krum Georgiev — the man who is responsible for the Paleochora Open to begin! By the way, did you know Krum also beat Garry Kasparov in a wild complicated game at the Malta Olympiad 1980. Check it out!

Chania is the biggest municipality nearest to Paleochora, and the head coach of the Chania Chess Club, Kostas, and his wife Anelia Tsarouchas, took up the task of organizing the first edition of the Paleochora Open in 2008.

"We didn't really expect many entries", said Kostas, reminiscing about this pleasant memory of how the chess tournament began! "But then calls started coming in and by the end of it we had received nearly 200 entries!"

Kostas and Anelia, the power behind the Paleochora Open

IA Sotiris Logothetis has been the chief arbiter for all the ten editions!

The support from the Mayor was surely a great blessing for this tournament. Even today, in the 10th edition, the prize money of the event is provided by the Mayor. But more than prize money is needed to put on a tournament; lodging, boarding, travel, refreshments, tournament hall  so many things need to be taken care of. It was as if the entire chess community of Paleochora came together to organize this huge event and take care of all the needs of the chess players.

Whether it is a super market...

...or a shop, you could see each of them promoting the event, by putting up the tournament circular

"A few years ago, when Greece was hit by economic crisis, was a tough period for us", says Anelia. "We thought that the tournament will not be held that year. But we kept receiving calls from players that they are coming to the event! Somehow they were in love with the place and couldn't wait to return to Paleochora."

Alberto David with Inna Iasman. Alberto loves Paleochora so much that he has been to all the ten editions of the event!

Playing backgammon in one of the cafes. You could see the duo knew their place around extremely well as they travelled on bicycles and seemed very much like locals!

The tournament survived through the rough moments of economic depression. While the Mayors of Paleochora continued to support the prize fund of the event, sponsoring food and stay for top players was becoming extremely difficult. "We were able to convince the hotels to give some free rooms and the restaurants to provide food coupons. When 200 players come to the tournament, they bring with them nearly 200 accompanying persons. And this is a great avenue of promoting business for these establishments," said Anelia.

Pizzerias like Odyssey, Portofinno, Niki served some of the best pizzas that we have ever had

Kalitsounia is a famous dish in Cretan cuisine. It's a pie filled with cheese and herbs.

Even for a vegetarian like me food was not at all a problem. The Rissotto was delicious and so were the grilled vegetables!

But you are in for a real treat if you are a sea food lover. Caravella serves you fresh fish which is caught on the same day.

And you must definitely leave some space in your stomach for the dessert! This is not something that you have to pay for. When you ask for the check, the restaurants provide you with Raki (an alcholic drink) and some fruit (watermelon above) which is on the house. Mind you, every restaurant in Paleochora follows this tradition.

The staff at each of the restaurants was very friendly and pleasant. For example Cafe Zygos, where we had our breakfast each day. Woman power at its best!

Analysis room...nah: analysis street!

The tournament hall is in the centre of Paleochora and the analysis room is the street right outside it! Around 15 chessboards are laid out and anyone could sit down and play a game of chess or watch a grandmaster analyzing! What a nice way to popularize the game!

Midnight chaos! Team Blitz tournament!

On Sunday a lot of chess players came from Chania and adjoining areas to watch the tournament. The organizers policy is simple - everyone should get a chance to play chess! And hence a team blitz tournament was organized after the round ended around 11 p.m. The event was meant just for fun - no entry fees, no prizes. Yet, 41 teams participated. That's nearly 160 players! And everyone was blitzing out moves until 3 a.m. at night! It was a congregation of true chess lovers, that's all I can say!

A nice way to decorate the shop, wouldn't you agree?!

Street shopping options with local handicrafts

The author of these lines at the famous ruins in Paleochora

Visiting Paleochora was perhaps one of the best decisions for Amruta and me! We had a wonderful time, not just sight seeing, enjoying the beach and food, but the tournament also went pretty well for us. I scored 6.5/9, finished 19th and gained a few Elo points. More importantly I enjoyed playing chess in the stress-free environment. I would like to sign off the article with one of the games that I played and liked very much.


[Event "10th Paleochora 2017"] [Site "?"] [Date "2017.07.25"] [Round "7"] [White "Sagar, Shah"] [Black "Hristodoulou , Panagiotis"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D11"] [WhiteElo "2391"] [BlackElo "2252"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "rq3rk1/pp1n1ppp/2pbpn2/3p4/2PP2b1/1PN2NP1/PB2PPBP/R2Q1RK1 w - - 0 10"] [PlyCount "35"] [SourceDate "2009.03.06"] [SourceVersionDate "2009.03.06"] 10. Re1 {Let's join the game from this point onwards. I have just played Re1 and am angling for e2-e4.} h6 {I was happy to see my opponent making this move. While there is absolutely nothing inherently wrong with this move, allowing me e4 made me feel quite good during the game.} (10... b5 $5 {This was the move that worried me the most. If I cannot play e4, what am I supposed to do. Well, sometimes the move that you want to make is the move you should make!} 11. e4 $3 b4 {And now what?} 12. Nxd5 $1 {I don't know if this trick was unusual for you, but for me it definitely was.} (12. e5 $2 bxc3 13. Bxc3 Ne4 $19) 12... cxd5 13. e5 $16 {And White is just better.}) 11. e4 Nxe4 12. Nxe4 dxe4 13. Rxe4 Bf5 14. Re3 {I put the rook on this square because it somehow just seemed natural. Also I could put my queen on e2 and sacrifice the rook on e6 at some point. I didn't know at what point it would happen, but such ideas were in the air.} Rd8 15. Qe2 (15. d5 $1 {The computer thinks this is the best move, but with the queen opposite the rook, I thought it was better to just place the queen on e2 and then go for the d5 break.}) 15... a5 $6 {I already have a feeling that this was not such a great move. Black has his pieces messed up and it is important that he co-ordinates them. ...a5 is an extremely over ambitious move. Black thinks that if he gets in a4, axb3 and exchanges the rooks down the a-file he should be fine. Yes, that's true, but the plan is excruciatingly slow and White can just blast the centre now.} 16. Nh4 (16. d5 $1 {is also worthy of attention.} Bc5 {This somewhat traps the rook on e3, but White has the strong} (16... cxd5 17. cxd5 exd5 18. Nh4 $1 Be4 (18... Bh7 19. Bxd5 $18) 19. Bxe4 dxe4 20. Nf5 Bf8 21. Nxh6+ $18) 17. Nd4 $1 $16 {And Black is completely struggling.}) 16... Bh7 17. d5 {This is the natural consequence of White's play.} cxd5 (17... exd5 18. cxd5 $16) 18. Rxe6 $1 {I liked this sacrifice! Often you see a piece sacrifice on e6, but a rook is pretty unsual.} (18. cxd5 e5 $11 {This is Black's dream scenario.}) 18... Re8 (18... dxc4 { If Black ignores the rook on e6, the rook continues his policy of gulping pawns.} 19. Rxh6 $1 gxh6 (19... cxb3 20. Rxh7 $1 Kxh7 21. Qh5+ Kg8 22. Ng6 $1 fxg6 23. Bd5+ Kf8 24. Qh8+ Ke7 25. Qxg7+ Ke8 26. Qf7#) 20. Qg4+ $18) (18... fxe6 {If Black takes the rook, the lines are pretty straightforward.} 19. Qxe6+ Kh8 (19... Kf8 20. Bxd5 Ne5 21. Bxe5 $18) 20. Qxh6 {And now there is simply no way to stop Ng6 and Bxd5 mate.} Ne5 21. Ng6+ Kg8 22. Bxd5+ Nf7 23. Qxg7#) ( 18... Ra6 $1 {is the best defence. Not so easy for humans to calculate.} 19. Rxh6 $1 (19. Re3 Bc5 20. Bxd5 Bxe3 21. Qxe3 $44) 19... Bxg3 $1 (19... gxh6 20. Qg4+ $18) 20. Rxh7 (20. Rxa6 Bxh2+ 21. Kh1 bxa6 $13) 20... Bxh2+ 21. Kh1 Kxh7 22. Nf5 $44 {White has very good attacking chances.}) 19. Rxe8+ Qxe8 20. Qd2 $1 (20. Qxe8+ {was possible, but after} Rxe8 21. Bxd5 Re2 22. Bd4 Bc5 23. Nf3 $14 {I felt as if Black has some more play than what I would have liked.}) 20... Qf8 $6 {This hastens the end.} (20... Be4 21. Bxe4 (21. Re1 Bb4 22. Bc3 Qf8 $16 ) 21... Qxe4 22. Re1 Bb4 (22... Qg4 23. Qxd5 $18) 23. Rxe4 Bxd2 24. Rd4 $18) 21. Qxd5 Nc5 22. Nf5 Bxf5 23. Qxf5 Rd8 (23... Re8 24. Rd1 $18) 24. Re1 Re8 ( 24... Nd3 25. Qxd3 Bb4 26. Qb1 Bxe1 27. Qxe1 $18) 25. Rxe8 Qxe8 26. Bd5 Qe7 ( 26... b6 27. Qg6 Qf8 28. Bxg7 $18) 27. Qg6 {I was happy that I was able to calculate well and find some nice resources in this game.} 1-0

This two-minute video gives you the feel of how beautiful the town of Paleochora is!


Sagar is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He is the co-founder and CEO of ChessBase India, the biggest chess news portal in the country. His YouTube channel has over a million subscribers, and to date close to a billion views. ChessBase India is the sole distributor of ChessBase products in India and seven adjoining countries, where the software is available at a 60% discount. compared to International prices.


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