The Greek Chess Island of Ikaria

by ChessBase
6/14/2024 – Every summer Greece organises chess tournaments that give participants the opportunity to combine chess games with holidays in scenic travel destinations. The international tournament with the longest tradition in Greece is the ‘Ikaros’ tournament, which for 47 consecutive years, every July, takes place on the island of Ikaria. In a truly relaxed atmosphere chess players from all over the world can enjoy an international tournament in a magnificent island landscape. This year, the 47th edition of the tournament, will be from 11 to 18 July 2024 and is part of the celebration of the 100 years of FIDE.

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Every summer the Greek island of Ikaria becomes a big chessboard!

By Loukas Zahilas

Every summer the Greek island of Ikaria becomes a big chessboard! By Loukas Zahilas Every summer, chess players from all over the world, flock to the Aegean island of Ikaria, to participate in the international tournament ‘Ikaros’ and at the same time enjoy the clear sea, the quiet distant beaches, taste traditional food, accompanied by Ikarian wine (the most famous of Homeric epics ‘Pramneio Oino’) and to harmoniously combine the hard spiritual test with the carefree holidays.

Ikaria has always been known for its thermal baths, the struggles for its independence (‘Free State’, in 1912), for the progressive ideas of its inhabitants and in recent years for the longevity of Ikarians, inclusion in the blue zones ( and for chess!

In the half century or so of the ‘Ikaros’ events, many hundreds of chess players from 50 federations of all five continents have competed. The impressive element is not the total number of players, but the fact that many compete almost every summer! It is estimated that over the years more than 25,000 games have been played in Ikaria!

World champion Alexandra Kosteniuk in her first competitive appearance in Greece, at the "Ikaros 1998" tournament, at the age of 14

Among the dozens of grand masters, international masters and other title holders who competed in Ikaria, we will focus on the former World Champion Alexandra Kosteniuk, who took part in the open international tournament ‘Ikaros ?98’. She was only 14 years old, not well known to the general chess public, but already with the title of WIM.

Nobody expected back in 1998 that she would become the headline in the chess press of the time, with her victories against IMs and GMs. Kosteniuk recorded 6 wins, 1 draw and 2 losses and tied for 4th place with 6.5 points from 9 games, well above their initial ranking according to her ELO rating.

The participation of young boys and girls in Ikaria has stopped being an element of surprise and cameras still capture interesting encounters between veterans and children!

Two teammates with an age difference of three quarters of a century: the 84-year-old and the 9-year-old with their medals from the ‘Ikaros 1998’ tournament.

Chess and Holidays

Many participants are holding international titles, but the majority of players are non-professionals who come to Ikaria with their friends and families to combine their holidays with the chess tournament. In this respect, Ikaria is the ideal place for chess players in the summer. Agios Kirykos, the capital of the island, where the tournament is organized, is a small town, so every morning and every night all the chess players meet in the harbour cafes. You can chat, enjoy a cup of coffee or just relax viewing the sea of Icarus.

The atmosphere is very relaxing and no one is in a hurry. This is a very special feature of Ikaria. There is no rush for anything! This may at first seem strange or even annoying to the unfamiliar visitor, but it only takes a few days to get used to the local rhythm of life and start enjoying it! In fact, this is exactly what people in Ikaria value and return to. In some cases you can even leave a cafe or restaurant without paying. The waiter is never in a hurry. He knows that next day you will come back and pay your debts!

The atmosphere is also very friendly. The tournament takes place in the new, comfortable basketball court of Agios Kirykos. In order to avoid problems due to the summer heat, the games start at 19:00 early in the Ikarian evening.

Hmm ... Isn't it a bit late? Well no! You see, the nightlife in Ikaria starts after midnight, so there is no need to rush. If you visit the coffee shops or local bars at 11:00 p.m. on a Saturday night, you might think that no one is there. An hour later the place is full of life. Midnight is coffee time and then at 3.00 or 4.00 am it's disco time! And what's bedtime? How about sunrise or even later? Yes, but ‘I have to play a game next day!’. Relax and enjoy! The next game is at 19:00 in the evening. You can sleep well, then go to the beach, have a good lunch in the local taverns and you are ready for the next game!

In Ikaria, local traditions are still alive and Ikarians are very proud of them. If you want to get a taste of these traditions, you should visit one of the famous Ikarian festivals, organised throughout the summer in various locations. At the festivals you can taste the local wine and dance the famous ‘Ikariotiko’ until the morning (yes, sleeping in the morning is an old tradition in Ikaria).

But of course, for those who do not wish a wild nightlife, Ikaria is also a very nice place to relax. There are some very nice beaches to visit (eg Gialiskari, Armenistis, Nas, Prioni, Mesakti, Faros, Agios Georgios, to name a few). You can also visit the town of Evdilos on the other side of the island or the villages of Faros and Rahes (where the shops are closed in the morning and open at night!). A good idea is to rent a car and proceed from Agios Kirykos to Naas (on the other side of the island). You will have the opportunity to see many picturesque small villages on the mountain ofAtheras and enjoy the view of the island from above. The more daring can try to visit Maganitis or Karkinagri. You can also visit (by boat) the Fournoi Islands (just opposite Ikaria, where you will find very nice beaches, delicious fish and even lobsters) or (by flying dolphins) Patmos and visit the famous Monastery of the Revelation.

Pleasant Stay

Ikaria is not a touristic island and there are very few large hotels and facilities. Therefore, accommodation for participants is provided in small hotels, guesthouses and rooms for rent. These are not luxurious rooms of 5 stars, but they are clean, with private bathroom (some of them also have a kitchenette) and, most of them with air conditioning (although the pleasant meltemia, the winds blowing very frequently in Ikaria, make the use of air conditioning obsolete). The rooms and pensions of the participants are located in Agios Kirykos and in Therma, the nearby village that hosts the famous Ikarian thermal baths where, for the price of a few euros, you can enjoy a bath and a refreshing massage.

The Hungarian Grandmaster Prohaska in a blind-simultaneous display in 2012 in Ikaria

Therma village is just 20 minutes away from Agios Kirykos on foot or 5-6 minutes by bus (which is provided free of charge to participants). Entry fees are always kept reasonable and the organisers contribute to the costs for players, families and junior teams. In addition, Ikaria is generally a cheap place to stay and you can enjoy your holidays without spending much.

In general, the ‘Ikaros’ festival is an important cultural, sports and also economic event for Agios Kirykos, as for more than 10 days, all pensions and restaurants are full of chess players, something essential for the local economy. This is also the reason why the Municipality of Agios Kirykos strongly supports the event.

This year, the international chess tournament Ikaros turns 47 years old and invites all chess players to visit Ikaria! ‘Ikaros 2024’ is part of the celebratory activities for the 100th anniversary of the founding of FIDE and includes the traditional open international tournament ‘Open Aegean Championship 2024’ (July 11 to 18), as well as many side events such as junior, ladies, veteran, blitz, rapid and simultaneous displays events, blindfold chess, problem solving, chess lectures and many more. Full info to be found here.

About the author

Loukas Zahilas was born in 1960 in Toronto Canada, studied Chemistry, Information Technologies and has a PhD in educational policies. He is working in Cedefop, the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training. He is a National Master, chess writer and was editor of a Greek chess magazine. His 2022 book covers the history of Chess Olympiads in the period 1950-2000. He regularly posts chess articles in web sites and is Chair of one of the oldest and most active chess clubs in Athens.



Ikaros Open Knight Endings

By Efstratios Grivas

I have played twice in the Ikaros Open and I have really enjoyed the relaxed attitude of the island! The first one was in the year 1995, when I had the following interesting and quite instructive knight vs. pawns ending, in the very critical (for an open tournament) 7th round:

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