The Zalakaros Chess Festival

7/13/2009 – Just prior to the start of summer there is a noteworthy event which for 28 years has held a prominent place in the Hungarian chess calendar. Zalakaros is located in the south western part of Hungary, 200 km far from both Budapest and Graz. The event is favoured by many Hungarian GMs and IMs, in addition to players from further abroad. Pictorial report by Diana Mihajlova.

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The Zalakaros Chess Festival

Pictorial report by Diana Mihajlova

The latest edition of the Zalakaros Chess Festival attracted 112 players. These players were split over ‘A’ and ‘B’ groups, and included a number of titled players, some of whom are pictured below.

Results of the A Group (61 players)

Rnk Seed Player Ti. Rtng Nat. Pts
1. 6 Cao, Sang IM 2512 VIE 6.5
  12 Pap, Gyula IM 2466 HUN 6.5
  9 Nguyen Huynh Minh Huy IM 2484 VIE 6.5
4. 1 Groszpeter, Attila GM 2553 HUN 6.0
  3 Gonda, Laszlo IM 2522 HUN 6.0
  10 Bokros, Albert IM 2483 HUN 6.0
  11 Czebe, Attila GM 2472 HUN 6.0
  13 Csiszar, Csaba IM 2450 HUN 6.0
  21 Konnyu, Janos IM 2367 HUN 6.0
  14 Horvath, Peter GM 2445 HUN 6.0
11 15 Meszaros, Tamas IM 2434 HUN 5.5
  5 Szabo, Krisztian IM 2518 HUN 5.5
  7 Banusz, Tamas IM 2502 HUN 5.5
  16 Duong The Anh IM 2434 VIE 5.5
  8 Romanishin, Oleg M GM 2501 UKR 5.5
  18 Berczes, Csaba IM 2381 HUN 5.5
17. 2 Medvegy, Zoltan GM 2546 HUN 5.0
  19 Horvath, Gyula IM 2370 HUN 5.0
  22 Kernazhitsky, Leonid IM 2331 UKR 5.0
  38 Bereczki, Janos   2191 HUN 5.0
  20 Feher, Adam   2251 HUN 5.0
  25 Brustkern, Juergen FM 2292 GER 5.0
  39 Juhasz, Kristof   2189 HUN 5.0
24. 50 Kovacs, Lajos   2126 HUN 4.5

Picture gallery


First prize went to Sang Cao (HUN), FIDE 2543

Sang has adopted Budapest as his residence for the last 14 years. As such, he has been a frequent spectacle at the First Saturday tournaments, and even managed to secure his final GM norm at the 2002 Hungarian Championship, where he finished in third place. Additionally, he has been afforded the opportunity to support himself by working as a night porter in the Hotel Chesscom, run by a Vietnamese businessman. There, amongst his colleagues, is GM Thanh Trang Hoang. Hoang’s father, Dr. Ming Chuong Hoang, is a trainer of them both. Sang explained that Dr. Hoang is not necessarily a chess player, but his training is invaluable due to his mathematical and logical insights.


IM Gyula Pap, rated 2466

Gyula won the second place in the A group. He was the winner of the 2007 and 2008 Zalakaros Open. This year with the same number of points, 6.5/9, he narrowly missed tht title, sinc San Cao had the better tiebreak. 17-year-old Gyula made his first GM norm in the March First Saturday tournament.


GM Attila Groszpeter (HUN), highest seed, FIDE 2553


IM Tamas Banusz (HUN), FIDE 2501


GM Oleg Romanishin (UKR), FIDE 2503

GM Romanishin has been a personal friend of the organiser of this tournament for 40 years, since the time they first met at a tournament in Belgium, and has subsequently been a regular attendee at the Zalakaros Open. As he himself asserted: “I might not be the best player at this tournament, but am certainly the most experienced.”

IM Horvat, Peter, a vice president of the Hungarian Chess Federation, has been running the Zalakaros Chess Festival for 28 years. He is the manager of the team Csuti, six times champion in the Hungarian Team Championships. Antal Csuti was a Hungarian chess player, for some time trainer of GM Portisch, Lajos. Together with Mr Horvat they are all from the same town – Zalaegerszeg in the Zala county.


Sang Cao (middle) with his compatriots IM Huynh Minh Huy Nguyen (VIE), FIDE 2500 and IM The Anh Duong (VIE), FIDE 2440, who finished close behind, with 6.5/9 and 5.5/9 respectively.

A number of Vietnamese players spend considerable time in Budapest, with the intention of improving their chess skills and rating. They oscillate around the First Saturday tournaments, playing over extended periods of time, while also participating in a number of additional Hungarian tournaments. The Vietnamese government provides support for their efforts, as with The Anh and Huynh Minh Huy, who have each spent a year in Budapest.


IM Laszlo Gonda (HUN), FIDE 2499 v IM Janos Konnyu (HUN), FIDE 2401


Aron Amstadt, (13 years, 2219) and Tibor Kende Antal, (11 years, 2103) were the
youngest players to face GMs and IMs in the A group.

The tournament served as an excellent platform for a large contingent from the Maroczy Chess School, which included the B group’s eventual joint-second place finishers.


Balazs Csonka (HUN), FIDE 2062 and Bence Korpa (HUN), FIDE 2087,
who shared second place in the B group (6.5/9), with their proud teacher GM Jozsef Horvat

The Maroczy Chess School bears the name of Hungarian chess legend, Grandmaster Geza Maroczy. Initiated in 2006 by Mr. Peter Kunos, President of the Hungarian Chess Federation, and GM Gabor Kallai. The school is generously subsided by the Hungarian Ministry for Sport. Every month, students meet for a full week of study, while receiving instruction via the Internet during the remainder of the month. Students are also given homework: to prepare analysis of games from important chess tournaments, such as Wijk-aan-Zee, and to solve chess problems.

To date, the school has produced IM Peter Prohaska, the former Under 14 Boys European Champion. Promising stars also include FM Richard Rapport, FIDE 2400, FM Norbert Lorand, FIDE 2334, and FM Andras Csirik, FIDE 2281.


Tibor Kende Antal, a successful competitor in Zalakaros, and a
former pupil of the Maroczy Chess School (Photo: GM Horvat, Jozsef)

As a keen promoter of chess education, who regularly accompanies his pupils to tournaments, GM Jozsef Horvat spoke enthusiastically of the Maroczy Chess School’s endeavours to bring chess to as many youngsters as possible. Together with the Peter Leko Chess School in Miskolc and Mattolna Chess School from the region of Tolna, the Maroczy Chess School represents one of the three main chess institutions which are cultivating young Hungarian talents.


Of course, the school is not simply about all work, and no play. Some pupils managed to sneak out from pre-game preparations for a bit of soaking in the healthy, warm spa…


…a bit of frolicking in the well-maintained parks…


… or, like Zsuzsanna and Kristof, for a small adventure at the pool

Zalakaros is a picturesque city, situated southwest of Budapest, 25 km from Lake Balaton. It has the reputation of being one of the cleanest, safest and best maintained little cities in Europe. With the aid of huge parks, flower beds and green belt areas, a relaxing, serene atmosphere is created.


The villa-style houses adhere to the traditional architecture of the area


These houses are colourful, but with predominantly yellow and green shades

The main purpose of these houses, however, is to receive the many visitors that are drawn by the famous medicinal spa. Tourism is the backbone of the town’s economy, and nearly every house bears a plate offering B&B accommodation. These have a bilingual announcement, in Hungarian and German, as the majority of guests have traditionally been either German or Austrian – but lately there has been a considerable influx of Russians.

This giant chess board is made of iron, and is eminently placed at the entrance to the spa ‘Granit.’ Zalakaros’ greatest fame, however, is attributable to the remarkable medicinal thermal baths. The water was discovered in 1962, when, as a result of hydrocarbon prospect drilling, instead of oil, 96°C water gushed to the surface. A holiday resort was promptly established, which today, with its thermal waters at the highest temperature of any in Hungary, draws up to one million visitors per year. The remarkably serene place has another accolade: it is the smallest city in Hungary. It received city status in 1997, with 1300 inhabitants. Not surprisingly, the population swells considerably in the summer months.

The Mayor of Zalakaros, Mr. Lajos Szirtes, not only takes care of one of the prettiest cities in Hungary, but he is also an eager promoter of chess. He is the patron and sponsor of the Zalakaros Chess Festival, and made time to attend the awards ceremony.

Staghorn Sumac is a small tree or a tall shrub with conical bloom that turns into fuzzy red fruit. As I was taking photos helpful local ladies told me that they call it ’ecetfa’ (Ecet = vinegar; fa = tree) and that a lemonade type of drink can be made from its crushed fruit. They consider the tree to be typical to their region. I learned later that Native American Indians also use the fruit to make a drink; they also smoke its lives mixed with tobacco.

During the tournament, Suze, my faithful companion, was an additional inhabitant of the quiet, pre-season Zalakaros. She braved the three hours drive from Budapest even if with a visible grudge for being locked in a transporting cage. But once arrived in the leafy Zalakaros she had a ball hopping happily in the huge meadow in front of my hotel room.

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