Alina in Mexico

by Alina l'Ami
1/8/2020 – Life is not fair, why should I be? So asks ALINA L'AMI as she kicks off her photo report of a recent tournament in Mexico with an enviably sumptuous beach scene. Another gem: She writes, "'typical' Mexican is atypical". If you can't swing a visit to beautiful Cancún yourself, this is the next best thing! "I love how sportive and fun this nation is," she added later noting that a recent trend towards enjoying outdoor runs (see photo) was brought about by the Mexican organizer, Señor Armando. | Photos: Alina l'Ami

The Shining Sveshnikov Sicilian The Shining Sveshnikov Sicilian

Always wanted to play like a World Champion? Search no further! With Magnus Carlsen using the Sveshnikov variation as his weapon of choice in the World Championship match against Fabiano Caruana, this DVD could not be better timed.


This is not an article of faith (I hope!)

“Piles of unidentified corpses / Brazen attack by Mexican drug cartel / Foiled raid against El Chapo's son” are the top three headlines expectorated by a single google click. Bad news travels fast while good news is on a hitch-hiking tour. Adding to the highly reported criminality the country's vulnerability to natural hazards, renders quite an ailing reputation. Understandably, uninformed chess tourists would call me a lunatic and choose the more solid Italy. And that's a shame. Mexico is a behemoth of wonders, which explains the scenic route taken by the truth... A calamity gets halfway around the world before the chess tournament and the people that I love get a chance to speak up.

Alina on the beach

Life is not fair, why should I be?

Click or tap any image to enlarge!

When I tell my friends that I'm off to my soulmate country, they ALWAYS ask me: isn't it dangerous?? The short answer, in my experience, is no. Extreme violence and drug cartels executions are limited to specific areas and tourists are rarely targeted. Having said that, I wouldn't advise wearing an Oscar de la Renta outfit in Culiacán or in certain parts of Mexico City, but that is common sense regardless of where you are. There is no valid reason for someone like me to venture in those problematic territories. A much better idea is to have dinner in Pujol, ranked 12th in the 2019 World's 50 best restaurants list.


Life is full of surprises: from watching the Netflix documentary “Chef's Table”
to dining at Enrique Olvera's table!

The only real danger in Mexico is gaining weight from the endless, and I mean endless, food options — barbacoa, pozole, cochinita pibil, birria, chiles en nogada, moles (complex sauces, their recipes jealously guarded), chilaquiles etc etc. The street tacos alone or the typical tamales are compelling the Michelin restaurants to raise their standards and keep up the pace.

To debunk another myth: the 'typical' Mexican is atypical. Mexico boasts heroic population demographics, where indigenous groups speak hundreds of variations of 68 different languages.


And my blue eyes favourite student speaks fluent English at the age of only 9!


Herd mentality or not, more than 90% of tourists heading towards Mexico
gravitate around the safe and beautiful Cancún

photo collage

And yet, I had no issues in Acapulco either

It is hard to tone down my enthusiasm when it comes to Mexico. Just five minutes ago I booked my ticket for December. Either I am going to play, train or lecture, my visits have never been dull. An all time favourite remains September though, when hundreds of chess aficionados come together for a double celebration: Copa Independencia and the country's Independence Day.

Chess festival

Power for the king

Independence day

Independence Day, the Mexican way

Mexico City is one of the most dynamic, surprising and cosmopolitan cities on earth and the host of a bucket list type of tournament. More than 700 players took part this year and over 300 reserved their spot for 16-20 Sept 2020, before the 2019 edition made its first move. I wouldn't be surprised if many signed up for 2021 already.

older man

A regular player my camera can't miss

“In Señor Armando we trust” could be a viable mantra for this special event and organizer. Having more than 500 chess competitions on record and with Copa at its 8th edition, my friend (I am privileged to call him that) remains the same humble and restless person, always ready to serve the others without sparing himself. Great modesty hides great merit. Two hours of sleep per night and a bank account in minus is what he gets in return. For many, running a chess tournament is a way to make a living, for Armando is a way of living. What for? “Sheer craziness” as he would say.

collage with boy

Actions speak louder than words

Happy kids

A happy child is worth fighting for

Doing all of it at exquisite standards in a country where corruption is routine makes me sympathize even more. I am from Romania and the presidential elections are knocking at the door...

concentrating hard

Politicians might play checkers, we play chess

What is explained can be disclaimed but what is felt can't be forgotten. At the heart of my Mexican experiences are los Mexicanos, an overachieving crew in the production of happiness. Humor is a detox, a balm against pain and an efficient tool for resilience. People here laugh easy. They laugh at themselves, politicians, they even laugh at the face of death.

bright colours

The bright colours reflect a warm and lively culture —
colour is history in Mexico, colour is life

Monarch butterflies

Monarchic reverie

Happiness is like playing chess: the more you practice, the better player you become. Mexico has only two chess grandmasters on the current FIDE list but it is a world-champion-nation in celebrating life. The Mexicans might despair over ever being well governed, but they're fiercely proud of Mexico. And rightly so.

Man in sombrerp

A novelty sombrero

Local musicians

Authentic and unique

I'm an expert in digression but I don't forget the main point: the first place of Copa Independencia's 8th edition was shared between the Cuban GM Aramis Alvarez Pedraza and the Mexican GM Juan Carlos Gonzalez Zamora, both with 7/9, but an inferior tiebreak for the latter.

The players on this side of the World are in sync with their whereabouts, having quite a colorful and dynamic playing style. Underneath: five examples from the top boards; I particularly like the first one, even though it didn't play a major role for the top three standings.



Gym for the mind

To keep enjoying the vibrant culture, the infinite gastronomic repertoire, the country's diverse topography, the tight-knit social bonding and the agave based liquors, avoiding Durango's light yellow scorpions would be a smart idea. I had two visitors crawling in my room but in the state of Guanajuato, which hosts a friendlier species. The stingy critters there can be painful but not life-threatening. Luckily, the hotel staff got rid of them before I got a chance to test the theory. The downside is that I let panic clutter my judgment and for more than 48 hours I was on a scorpions' hunt, unable to close an eye. Courage is knowing what not to fear, and I'm afraid I fell into the chicken section too.

Middle aged man

Being lion-hearted is not the absence of fear

young girl

Being brave is finding a way through that dread

view from hotel

A room with a view... and scorpions

But who is now the worldly-wise person who survived those stealthy predators and has a subject to throw in when silence threatens to impede?!

It is now five years since I've been going back and forth to Mexico, with a pace of at least three sojourns a year. Chances are that, with a leap of faith, playing Copa Independencia will offer not only a memorable chess experience but an inter-dependent life undergo too.

A visual conclusion to the conclusion — six reasons why I'll always return:












The end of a story...

Alina is an International Master and a very enthusiastic person in everything she does. She loves travelling to the world's most remote places in order to play chess tournaments and report about them here on ChessBase! As chance would have it Alina is also an excellent photographer.


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