Yermo's Travels: Chihuahua Open 2018

by Alex Yermolinsky
1/8/2019 – Americans invade Mexico! At least to play some chess! Grandmaster ALEX YERMOLINSKY recounts his recent trip to a memorable tournament (with a memorable name) "south of the border", in an instalment of his ongoing travelogue featuring Latvian legend GM Alexei Shirov and GM Alex Shabalov and a photo tour of Chihuahua's central Plaza de Armas. | All photos: Alex Yermolinsky

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One memorable thing I did in 2018 was to travel to Chihuahua, Mexico. The trip was made possible by my close friend, GM Alex Shabalov, who had played in this event in 2016 and 2017. Alex spoke to the organisers on my behalf, arrangements were made, and on October 9th I boarded a plane bound for El Paso, TX.

This seemingly easy part proved anything but. A huge thunderstorm had covered most of Texas, which caused enormous disruption in air travel. My plane was diverted to Fort Smith, Arkansas, where a lot of my fellow travellers were crammed into a small terminal. Eventually I made it to Dallas-Fort Worth airport, and after a few more delays finally made it to El Paso just after midnight the next day, some 18 hours after I left my house. Shabalov's ordeal was very similar, as his departure from Pittsburgh was also greatly delayed.

Martin Del CampoWhen such things happen I fully expect further problems but, fortunately, it wasn't the case this time. When I walked into a terminal at El Paso, I saw Shabalov in the company of IM Roberto Martin Del Campo (pictured) — jester, and a great storyteller, who inspires me to study Spanish. Del Campo was with his friend, who waited for us since about Noon. Such a show of friendliness from the people who hardly knew me was the defining moment. I instantly knew I came to the right place.

So, we got in the car and drove across the border to Ciudad Juarez, a town twice as large as El Paso, which has about 680,000 residents, versus 1.5 million living on the Mexican side of the border. The border crossing going south had an unattended booth, while there was a small line of cars waiting to go the other way. I took notice, but a bit more on the whole USA-Mexico border situation later.

We spent a night in Juarez and took off for Chihuahua the following morning. The landscape of a desert highway with a distant view of the mountains was very much familiar to me. In my time I have crisscrossed the American Southwest in all possible directions, and grown to appreciate its severe beauty. Some three and a half hours later we entered the city of Chihuahua.


San Cristobal de Las Casas

The town, which is inhabited by some 800,000 people, has two distinct parts. The old city has a typical touristy feel with its central plaza, dominated by Cathedral of Chihuahua, where I struck my "Rocky" pose.

Yermo as Rocky

Of course, the climb was just a few steps, but who can tell (click or tap to enlarge)

The plaza is dotted with funny looking sculptural works by Rodrigo De la Sierra. Behind is a City Hall building where Shabalov and I attended a small press conference before the tournament. Later we were invited for an interview at a local University radio station.


Sculptures in the plaza by Rodrigo De la Sierra whose motto is, “Life is too serious to take us so seriously” (click or tap to enlarge)

Another big landmark is Angel de la Libertad, raised in honour of Miguel Hidalgo, the hero of the Mexican War of Independence which we viewed from the elevated deck of an adjacent building while enjoying a beer.

Angel de la Libertad

The "Angel of Liberty" stands 35 metres tall and was built in 2003, representing the freedom of Mexicans

The most of our time in Chihuahua was, however, spent in a new part of town, located alongside Perifico de la Juventud, an elevated highway heading north. Both sides of the road are littered with the trappings of the U.S. cultural invasion: shopping malls, car dealerships, gas stations and restaurants. I didn't care to take any pictures of that.

We stayed at the Microtel Inn on the side of the highway and were driven everywhere, to the tournament and back, and later in the day to places to eat and drink.

The tournament didn't boast a very strong field, but it was headed by two representatives of Latvian chess, both disciples of the great Mikhail Tal.


This win pretty much cleared the path for Alexei, who picked up a quick win in the previous round as well. According to the poster in the tournament hall, his next opponent represented Russia.


Yermo from Russia?

Shabalov's quip: Yermo changed his federation back to Russia in protest against Kavanaugh's nomination to SCOTUS.

What happened to me in his game can be described as a senior moment. Fortunately, I didn't have any more of those in Chihuahua. Meanwhile, Shirov concluded the event with two more wins, finishing with a perfect 7/7 score.



The winner in concentration mode

I had a fun last round game that featured an incredible rook move from my opponent.


Encinas Varela

David Encinas Varela

During our lively post-mortem, we became friends with David Encinas, who certainly is a way stronger player than his modest rating indicates.

As the final results were counted I was shocked to learn that the tie-breaks saw me finishing second (!), even though I didn't face any titled players aside from Shirov. The 10,000 pesos prize [about USD $515] felt like a lottery win, and promptly spent it all during our last day in Chihuahua.

Shopping spree

Yermo's shopping spree

In the evening, David drove us back across the border. We came through at a different crossing, manned by just one sleepy guard who wore a ski mask. It seems he could barely understand David's Spanish and didn't even bother to open our passports. No signs of the wall being built any time soon.

At the risk of injecting politics into a chess article, I'd like to offer the following. There's no threat of invasion from Mexico. All Mexicans who ever wanted to move to the United States have already done so; and the rest, such as my friend David, are quite happy where they are.

David Encines


Yermo is enjoying his fifties. Lives in South Dakota, 600 miles way from the nearest grandmaster. Between his chess work online he plays snooker and spends time outdoors - happy as a clam.


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