The Best in - Trinidad and Tobago

by Arne Kaehler
9/2/2020 – In our “The Best in” series, we already talked to talented players from the Bahamas and Aruba. This time around, we will explore another island from the Caribbean — Trinidad and Tobago. While Jasel Lopez stands out in Aruba, Alan-Safar Ramoutar is the best chess player in Trinidad and Tobago, as he recently surpassed the 2300 rating barrier! He started playing chess in 2015, and only five years later he is getting closer to his goal of reaching a 2700+ Elo rating.

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Chess in Trinidad & Tobago

In my interview with Alan-Safar Ramoutar, we learn a little about the nation between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean.

It is said that the “Limbo” dance and the steel drum both come from Trinidad and Tobago. Furthermore, besides being a beautiful island, the nation’s economy is mostly based on industrial endeavours, with an emphasis on petroleum and petrochemicals.

Trinidad & Tobago

The Pitch Lake in "La Brea" is the largest natural deposit of asphalt in the world

Chess wasn’t invented in the island, but it is growing in popularity there. And one player in particular, Alan-Safar Ramoutar, might be the one that continues to improve the game’s popularity in the future! We had the opportunity to ask him about chess in Trinidad and Tobago, his greatest accomplishments, his future goals and his opening repertoire — which he continues to work on in ChessBase and currently consists of over 200 pages.

His story is very impressive, because he reached a rating of over 2300 in just a couple of years, starting from basically zero, at the age of twelve!

Interview with Alan-Safar Ramoutar

Arne Kaehler: Alan, thank you for taking part in this interview. You are Trinidad and Tobagos’s number one. You aren’t even eighteen years old, but already have an IM title. Where did you get your passion and fascination for chess from?

Alan-Safar Ramoutar: Thank you for having me. I am very happy to take part in this interview. I started playing chess in 2015, when I was twelve years old . At first I was not captivated or fascinated with the game, but as I began to learn more and become a better player, I instantly enjoyed playing and studying the game much more.

AK: Do you remember how and where you learned to play chess?

ASR: My father taught me the game at home when I was twelve. He used to play chess among his friends at university and knew the basics. My mother is from Azerbaijan, which, as you know, has a rich chess culture, and she also played a little chess. Her grandfather’s grave in Quba, a town in Azerbaijan, has a chessboard engraved on his tomb, so he was a local player of some note. I started playing in local tournaments, and in 2016 I played in my first regional tournament, the CARIFTA Junior Chess Championship, which is organized annually over the Easter period under the aegis of the CCA (Confederation of Chess for America). I also played in the Ontario Open tournament in May of 2016 . From 2017 to 2019 I played in several open tournaments in the USA, in addition to plenty of tournaments in Barbados, Jamaica, Suriname, Honduras, Panama, Curacao, Venezuela, USVI and Azerbaijan.

AK: Do you live in a big city or in a smaller place?

ASR: Trinidad and Tobago is a twin island republic in the southern Caribbean. It consists of two main islands — Trinidad and Tobago and several smaller islands. Forming the two southernmost links in the Caribbean chain, Trinidad and Tobago lies close to the continent of South America, just northeast of Venezuela. Trinidad, by far the larger of the two main islands, has an area of about 1,850 square miles (4,800 square km). It is 7 miles (11 km) from the Venezuelan coast at its nearest point and is separated from it by the Gulf of Paria. Tobago, much smaller, with an area of about 115 square miles (300 square km), lies 20 miles (30 km) to the northeast of Trinidad. The capital of Trinidad & Tobago is Port of Spain. I live in the second largest city called San Fernando in the south of the island Trinidad, which is quite small.

Trinidad & Tobago

The breathtaking beauty of Maracas Bay

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

ASR: In 2015 I joined a chess club located about a 15-minute drive away from home. There I met my first trainer, Keevin James, a local chess player who helped me to build up my foundation before making bigger steps. In 2016 I began working with GM Gadir Guseinov from Azerbaijan who is currently rated at 2665 — he assisted me all the way, moving from an ELO of 1405 to a 2305 rated player within 4 years. We did some impressive over the board training when I spent the summer of 2019 in Azerbaijan.

Alan Safar Ramoutar, Gadir Guseinov

Alan (left) with his coach GM Gadir Guseinov

In the same year, I did some additional work with GM Eltaj Safarli, also from Azerbaijan, who at the time was rated over 2650. He assisted me in fixing many holes in my opening repertoire as well as preparing me for various tournaments. In 2020 I began working with a 2500+ rated GM who is a former USSR Champion. We worked on the same materials that he also taught to elite players such as former World Chess Champions GM Anand and GM Kasparov.

In addition to those trainers I also had some training partners to help keep my game sharp. From 2018 on, I occasionally play training games with Dr Willi Gross, a strong  2125 Rated player from Germany and in 2020 I also started playing training games with FM/WIM Gergana Peycheva, a very strong 2274 rated player from Bulgaria.

On top of that, I also read a few very old chess books from the days of the USSR. I think that once players recognize that there are mental, physical and spiritual dimensions to chess, they will begin improving.

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

ASR: I do not have any idols or role models, but my favorite chess player is GM Alexander Morozevich. I like his dynamic and attacking style of play and also he has some brilliant positional games. In addition, he plays with a fearless attitude.

AK: Do you have a favourite chess book?

ASR: Yes my favorite chess books are ‘Together with Morozevich’ by GM Alexey Kuzmin and ‘Chess and the Law’ by Andrew Field.

AK: According to ChessBase, your preferred opening as Black is the Hungarian Variation of the Sicilian opening (B27). What do you enjoy about this opening?

ASR: I enjoy that this opening is very easy to play. In addition, oftentimes my opponent is not likely to surprise me with anything over the board that is not already in my 50-page ChessBase file.

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

ASR: My first big success was in 2016, at the age of thirteen, when I won the Carifta Under 16 championship in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands. It was my first regional tournament and subsequently, I won this annual tournament for the next 3 years in a row, which is a regional record. Winning this initial tournament in 2016 gave me more motivation to study the game.

AK: When and how did you become an International Master? Are there any moments or games in your career that you remember particularly well?

ASR: I became an International Master by winning the CAC U20 (Central American and Caribbean) Chess Championship in December 2019, when the tournament was hosted here in Trinidad. I remember it very well as I had an early loss in the 3rd round to a lower rated player from Venezuela, after which I came back and scored 5½/6 in the remaining games to come in clear first. I won the IM title and also a GM norm by placing first in this tournament.

Trinidad & Tobago

Alan-Safar playing in the CARIFTA U16 chess championship in Curaçao 2019

AK: Does Trinidad & Tobago support chess players or are chess players independent of the state?

ASR: Trinidad and Tobago is fortunate that the President of our chess federation is also the Chairwoman of the FIDE Planning and Development Commission. As you are aware, the PDC is responsible for distributing funds for chess development on behalf of FIDE. Hopefully, Trinidad & Tobago will be a beneficiary to some funding that will be used for youth chess development. It is possible that the Trinidad and Tobago Chess Federation supports certain chess players, however, my financial support has primarily been from my parents.

AK: You recently went over the 2300 FIDE rating barrier. What is the maximum rating you think you can reach and what is your next goal?

ASR: I think I can reach the 2700 rating and above. My next goal is to cross 2400 and begin making steps towards the GM title.

AK: How does the current chess scene look like in Trinidad & Tobago? How do people play, train and compete? Are there any strong juniors and is the chess scene vibrant?

ASR: At present, in Trinidad and Tobago there is not much over-the-board chess activity. There was one tournament in July 2020 (incidentally, I won it), but the tournament was not FIDE rated as the local federation did not approve of the tournament. I train on my own, and I would think most of the higher rated players train on their own and/or with their private coaches. We have some juniors with potential talent.

AK: How would you like to promote and support chess in Trinidad & Tobago?

ASR: In my school I have done many chess lessons and chess presentations to students, and I am the youth officer in the Southern Chess Club of Trinidad & Tobago. At this time, I am more focused on improving myself.

AK: Let’s go back to your career: when did you become Trinidad & Tobago’s number one, and what happened to the Trinidad & Tobago Championships since 2016?

ASR: I became Trinidad and Tobago’s top rated player nearing the end of 2019. Since 2016 in the National Championship there were different winners each year.

AK: Have you participated in an Olympiad yet?

ASR: I have never participated in a Chess Olympiad, but I am on the Chess Olympiad team for Trinidad & Tobago in 2021 in Russia, and I am looking forward to playing and representing my country. Recently, I played in the Online Olympiad which was a good experience even though our team did not advance to the next stage.

AK: How are you dealing with the coronavirus and do you play a lot of online games?

ASR: I am at my home either studying chess or schoolwork and sometimes playing video games as well. Yes, I play almost every day.

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

ASR: My most remarkable moment was the same tournament where I won my International Master Title and first GM norm. I remember clearly how after I lost to the lower rated Venezuelan player I had to come back and fight very hard to win many worse/losing positions.

Trinidad & Tobago

Alan-Safar collects his first place prize after winning a local top six-player round-robin tournament

AK: And what is your favourite game?

ASR: My favourite game is my game vs FM Ryan Harper from the Trinidad and Tobago National Championship 2019. I played with the black pieces and I was awarded ‘Game of the Day’ by Chessdb.com. In that same tournament, another game I played was also named ‘Game of the Day’.

AK: Thank you very much for this interview once again Alan, and good luck for the future.

ASR: It was my pleasure, thank you ChessBase.

 

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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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frankiekam frankiekam 9/2/2020 02:28
Nice mating combination and very gracious of your opponent to allow you to play the mate to its conclusion. Keep going Alan, and I wish you all the best in your GM and 2700 quest!
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