The Best in... Aruba

by Arne Kaehler
8/19/2020 – From the small country Aruba comes one of the strongest chess players of the Caribbean Islands - Jasel Lopez. Aruba has roughly 100.000 inhabitants and hardly any chess tradition but Jasel Lopez still managed to become an IM and to reach an Elo-rating of 2416. In an interview he talks about his development as a player, chess in Aruba and his plans for the future.

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Chess in Aruba

Aruba is an island country, situated almost 30 kilometres north of Venezuela, which can be spotted on a clear day. Together with Bonaire and Curaçao it forms the so-called ABC islands and is part of the Dutch Caribbean islands, due to their constituency of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Dutch is also the common language used in Aruba, besides English, Spanish and Papiamento.

The most popular sports on this beautiful island with its white beaches are surfing, beach tennis, beach volleyball and baseball. However, the chess federation has no less than 30 active members who have a chess rating.

The country is the smallest of our "Best in" series so far, placed 197th in the world by population and 188th by size. That means, Aruba fits into The Bahamas 77 times and even 165 times into Armenia!

One of the biggest surprises might be though, that their best chess player has a FIDE rating of more than 2400! IM Jasel Lopez tells us how this happened.

Arne Kaehler: Hello Jasel, it is a pleasure having this interview with you. Since many years you have been Aruba's number one. How did you get such a high rating and do you remember when and how you learned to play chess?

Jasel Lopez: Thank you very much for having me. I learned playing chess when I was around 5 years old by my father. He taught me the basics of the game, that my fingers are my enemy, and that I have to think first before moving a piece. Afterwards, my brother and I attended chess lessons from a local chess player, John da Silva, who later on decided to train me privately for a brief period of time. He wanted to train me, because he saw potential in me.

When I started winning back-to-back youth tournaments in Aruba, I aspired to becoming much more than just a chess master. I wanted to be the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be in Aruban Chess. Through sheer dedication and constant support from my (non-)chess friends and family I can finally say that I am the best there is and the best there was in Aruba. After all, I am the first Aruban who achieved International Master.

It’s also worth mentioning that I was fortunate enough to move to The Netherlands to continue my studies after high school. Aruba is an autonomous country within the Royal Kingdom of The Netherlands, which gives us this unique opportunity.

When I moved to Amsterdam, I was a Candidate Master with a mere FIDE rating of 2130. Almost seven years later, here I am as an International Master with a FIDE rating of 2416.

I couldn’t have reached such a high rating if I was still in Aruba. We simply don’t have enough FIDE-rated tournaments nor do we have master-level players to play against or trainers to help us reach master level.

Jasel Lopez (right) in action with the French Defense

AK: What fascinated you about the game?

JL: When I was younger, mostly the different shapes of the chess pieces and the distinct movement of the pieces. Now that I’m older, the problem-solving element in chess and the complexity of the game.

AK: Did you live in a bigger city or in a small place?

JL: Back in Aruba, it doesn’t really matter in which city you live in. Aruba is already an extremely small island, with around 100.000 inhabitants. Aruba is smaller than Amsterdam, in size and population! At the moment I reside in Amsterdam, even though very soon I’ll move back to Aruba.

AK: How did you get better in chess? Did you read books, did you have a trainer, did you join a club?

JL: I got better by playing a lot of online and offline chess, reading books, going through annotations by strong players and hanging out with chess friends. Also, watching Banter Blitz of IM/GM level and live commentaries of chess tournaments helped me a lot. It’s a nice enjoyable way to relax and learn something from great players at the same time.

AK: Did you or do you have any idols or role models, players that impressed you a lot?

JL: My idols are Anatoly Karpov and Ulf Andersson.

I like their simplistic deep positional playing style and how they make the ordinary looking moves, look extraordinary!

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AK: Do you have a favourite chess book?

JL: My two all time favourite chess books are Positional Chess Handbook by Israel Gelfer and 101 tips to improve your chess by Tony Kosten. Don’t make me have to choose between one of the two. (haha)

AK: How active is the chess scene in Aruba?

JL: It’s not active at all. We have only two chess clubs and a handful of chess tournaments on a yearly basis. Also, there aren’t many active chess players on the island. Not to mention that most of us have a narrow repertoire and we all share a similar playing style.

Flamingos playing the "Bird" opening

AK: What was your first big success? Do you remember how that felt?

JL: My first big success was definitely the Scholastic Chess Tournament in Aruba, which I won. I was around eight years old. It was my first chess tournament I played in and all the best youth players of the age category (four to twelve) participated in said tournament.

I remember one or two school teachers of my primary school visited the tournament to support me, and a few days after the tournament I was asked to bring my trophy to school to do a "victory lap" to the other classes. In addition, I was also inducted into the Hall of Fame of the school.

The whole process of becoming champion, the support that I received from my family and teachers and the recognition of being a champion at my primary school really gave me a lot of motivation to continue playing chess.

AK: You are an International Master with a current Elo rating of 2416. Tell us a bit about your career: when and how did you achieve your first title and when and how did you become an IM? Are there any moments or games in your career that you remember particularly well?

JL: I obtained my first title back in 2010. At the Subzonal 2.3.5 in Bahamas I scored the required points to obtain the title of Candidate Master. Four years later I obtained the title of FIDE Master at the Subzonal 2.3.5 in Trinidad & Tobago, where once more I scored the required points. And finally in 2019 I obtained the title of International Master. I scored the necessary 3 IM-norms and reached the required FIDE rating of 2400.

In the tournament in which I scored my first norm I needed to score 2/2 out of my last two games to get the norm. My opponents in these two games had an average of 2440 and I had White in both games. In both games I played the wonderful London system and I won them both.

AK: Are you a chess professional or do you have a steady job?

JL: I’m still a student with chess as my "side gig", even though I’m playing chess more as a hobby. I earned money by either giving chess lessons or by playing for my chess clubs in the Dutch and Belgian league.

Very soon I’ll move back to Aruba to take over my father’s company.

AK: Does Aruba support chess players or are chess players independent of the state?

JL: In general chess players don’t get much support from the government. The Aruban Chess Federation receives a sum each year to support chess in Aruba, however, it’s not much.

As I am currently residing in The Netherlands, I’m receiving little to no support from the federation.

For instance the qualification system doesn’t allow a player of my calibre to represent Aruba at the upcoming prestigious Chess Olympiad, although I’m an Aruban and the strongest chess player by far.

Aruba vs France

AK: How do people play, train and compete in Aruba? Are there any strong juniors and is there a vibrant chess scene?

JL: In Aruba most of the players are competing to represent Aruba in regional tournaments and/or to qualify for the Olympiad, which takes place every two years.

A few years back, the Aruban Chess Federation introduced the FAA-points system. It’s the same as the Grand Prix system of FIDE. I think we have at the moment around 20 tournaments every two years and in each tournament the top six players of the final standing win FAA-points. By the end of the season, the top five players with the most FAA-points earn the right to represent Aruba at the Olympiad.

As to representing Aruba in regional tournaments, the ones who have accumulated the most FAA-points before the regional tournament, earn the right to represent Aruba.

As to youth players, we have a few very talented juniors. Their FIDE rating doesn’t represent their strength. They achieved a low FIDE rating, because they started playing in regional junior events where their opponents also had a low FIDE rating. As they become older and stronger, their FIDE rating still stays approximately the same due to a lack of FIDE tournaments they are able to play.

AK: How would you like to promote and support chess in Aruba?

JL: To be honest, I haven’t put much thought into this. I could see myself training ambitious chess players and organizing or sponsoring chess events on the island.

With 365 days of summer, it is easy to enjoy the many beaches in Aruba (this picture shows Eagle Beach)

AK: Are you using ChessBase in Aruba?

JL: Of course! It’s a must if one wants to improve his/her game or become a chess trainer.

AK: If you look back at your career: what was the most remarkable moment? 

JL: I would say my most remarkable moment was my round 6 game at the Central American & Caribbean U20 in Venezuela. Back then I was a Candidate Master, and I was paired against another Candidate Master from Panama. Up to this point my opponent was leading the tournament with a perfect 5/5 socre, beating three of the top five seeds, while I had 3½/5. Many believed that I would lose, however I proved them wrong and managed to beat him. I haven’t won the tournament, but I sure made my presence felt at the tournament.

AK: What is your favourite game?

JL: I would say my second round game at the Subzonal 2.3.5 in Trinidad & Tobago, where I obtained my FIDE Master title. I managed to first shut off all of my opponent’s counterplay on the queenside and afterwards won the game by launching a mating attack on the Kingside.

AK: Thank you very much for this insightful interview.

JL: It was very nice indeed, my pleasure.

Here are some games and annotations by Jasel Lopez.

 

Links:




Arne Kaehler, a creative thinker who is passionate about board games in general was born in Hamburg and learned how to play chess at a very young age. Through teaching chess to youth teams and creating chess content on YouTube, Arne was able to extend this passion onto others and has even made an online chess course for anyone who wants to learn how to play this game. Currently, Arne blogs for the English news page of ChessBase and focuses on creating promotional and entertaining articles.
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PhishMaster PhishMaster 8/19/2020 09:11
The Positional Chess Handbook by Israel Gelfer is a fantastic book. I recommend it for every player, who wants to get better.
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