Yermo’s travels: Back on the road

by Alex Yermolinsky
6/11/2021 – Yermo is back! Once the restrictions allowed it, he made it down to Mexico City with travelling pal Alexander Shabalov to try his hand in a 10-player round robin. In a thorough report, including plenty of pictures and annotations, he tells us all about his time in CDMX — chapulines, positive COVID tests and good old over-the-board chess made for a great experience in the second-largest metropolitan area of the Western Hemisphere.

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Hidden gems, quarantines and a GM norm

They say you can’t keep a good man down, but what about the army of us, chess players young and old? How long can we be kept away from our beloved game? 

I should leave the matter of online chess outside the limits of this discussion. To each their own, and I reserve the right to ignore the ongoing transformation of chess into a cybersport. All I wanted for those long fourteen months was to get back on the road that had been taking me from one chess tournament to another for as long as I can remember.

And it finally came when I got a word from my old friend Alex Shabalov that we could go to Mexico for a real, on-the-board chess event. I didn’t hesitate for a second.

The title of the event was I ITT Magistral Fenamac Efideporte 2021, a true chess festival with seven different events, held at Complejo Cultural Los Pinos in Mexico City (CDMX for short). Los Pinos is a park that long served as residence of Mexican Presidents.

Mexico City

Now it’s a popular destination for family activities and long solitary walks. Unfortunately due to COVID restrictions some parts of the park were closed, and only on the last day of the tournament, which happened to be Sunday, the crowds were back. Like everywhere else in CDMX, there’s a lot of history to learn there.

Los Pinos

The participants of the festival stayed at the Hotel del Prado, which is located some three miles away, but the organizers provided buses for transportation. COVID or not, there’s always traffic in CDMX, and sometimes it would take almost half and hour to get there. The facilities inside were more than adequate: a spacious playing hall with the back door leading outside for a breath of fresh air during the game and a capacious bathroom. Bottled water was always available for the players.

Los Pinos

We played two games every day, but the reasonable time control of 90 minutes with a 30-second increment with no time added after move 40 allowed us some time for sightseeing. Shabalov and I are working diligently on transforming ourselves from chess tourists to regular tourists, so we were out in town every chance we had.

Alex Yermolinsky

It wasn’t all museums and tourist traps, of course. With some help from our local chess friends we were able to discover hidden gems of Mexican hospitality. Food and drinks were excellent, so was the company of friends.

Mexico City

Alexander Shabalov

In good company — L. to R. David Encinas, Alex Shabalov, WIM Claudinelly Ancheyta Tejas, Uriel Capo Vidal

This is the kind of place where they serve the food of the future — insects.


Yes, they are your garden variety grasshoppers. Spicy, crunchy and full of protein, what is not to like?

Lots of fun, but there was a tournament to play, and it turned out much stronger than I expected.

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Henriquez Villagra Cristobal 7,5 0,0
2 Obregon Rivero Juan Carlos 6,5 0,0
3 Yermolinsky Alex 6,0 0,5
4 Shabalov Alexander 6,0 0,5
5 Ibarra Chami Luis Fernando 5,0 0,0
6 Cardoso Cardoso Jose Gabriel 4,5 0,0
7 Benitez Lozano Javier 4,0 0,0
8 Garcia Guerrero Isaac Antonio 2,5 0,0
9 Sanchez Enriquez Oscar Gerardo 1,5 1,0
10 Capo Vidal Uriel 1,5 0,0

Find more info at Chess-Results

Before the start I did ask (only half-jokingly) to be put into the “B” tournament. Indeed, fice GMs (myself included), a 2400+ FM from Colombia, good local talent — and I left my computer at home...

I had no idea how I’d perform, but as you can see from the results, I didn’t quite manage to embarrass myself.

The future winner of the event, 25-year-old and Chile’s number one Cristobal Henriquez got off to a fast start.


A nice win, and Cristobal went on to improve to 2½/3, but then he hit a snag. Juan Obregon has kept his place among the Top Ten in Cuba not for nothing. One wrong step, and he can hurt you.


Henriquez didn’t get discouraged by this loss. He kept on racking wins, and by the end of round six he was ahead of the field, ironically thanks to Obregon’s win over early leader Shabalov.

By his own admission, Shabba wasn’t at his best in CDMX, but, more importantly, he was told of a great future.

Alex Shabalov

Shabalov’s best game with his own notes to follow.


Looking at the cross table above, the reader might be wondering about my “-” result against Henriquez. I could give you three guesses, but some obvious suggestions: too much chapulin, missed the bus or got arrested for public disorder would all miss the mark. The real story was rather amusing.

Thing is, one enters Mexico without any questions about COVID. In my case, “estoy jugando en un torneo de ajedrez” was enough to clear the passport control, but a lot of Americans flock over to vacation spots in Mexico these days. However, a proof of negative COVID test is required to return to the United States. Apparently, such may be the case with other countries as well, so the tournament organizers set up swab testing at the site on the penultimate day of the event, between rounds 6 and 7.

Alex Yermolinsky

It went quickly, as there were only a handful of foreigners present, and Shabba and I begged off taking the bus back to the hotel, instead opting for a lunch in town, followed by a slow walk back. Cuban cigars further enhanced our mood, and I sat down to face the tournament leader in a good mood. Up to this point my tournament was nothing special, a +2 score with a well-deserved loss to Jose Cardoso, due to atrocious time management.

I was Black, and we played an obsolete line of the Sicilian, where I had tons of experience. 


Well, what are you going to do. A mandatory quarantine was looming large. I took a solitary bus ride to the hotel, got to my room and made some phone calls to family and friends, telling them I might not be returning home for a couple of weeks. Then I got a call informing me that another American participant, GM Nikolay Andrianov, who played in Grupo B, also tested positive. A meal was brought from the restaurant, then Shabba showed up to collect his things, as he was instructed to move to a different room.

I tried to stay positive: I knew I wasn’t sick, that was the most important thing. Shabba  promised to leave me his computer, and I could count on Mexican hospitality to take care of all of my needs. I wondered if I would stay in the same room...

Quarantine meal

Mexico City

My view during quarantine

It all changed in the morning.


As you can see, I got to finish the tournament on a high note. My final result, 6/8 with a 2602 performance, would have been a GM norm if I played the required nine games. Don’t ask me why I think of that. I guess it’s a personal satisfaction thing, but lately I missed a few GM norms, and I would like to score one just to prove to myself I can still play a little.

Far as I am from blaming Henriquez for taking a free point, given the position on the board I’d probably offer a draw if I were in his shoes. Oh, well.

The organizers and arbiters did their job. I assume it wasn’t easy to run the event among the ongoing COVID restrictions confusion. The players were required to wear masks and go through a temperature check before entering the tournament hall. It wasn’t their fault that PCR tests often give false-positive results, particularly with some vaccinated patients, as I happen to be.

Alex Yermolinsky

I was actually offered to stay one extra day to replay our game, but my heart wasn’t in it. It was time to go home. I was armed with a very important document

‘No detectado’

The path is clear.

Mario Ramirez Barajas

Mario Ramirez Barajas, President of the Mexican Chess Federation

In conclusion, I would like to thank all involved in making this trip possible, particularly Señor Ramirez Barajas, the President of the Mexican Chess Federation. I will return to play in Mexico the first chance I get.

Endgames of the World Champions from Fischer to Carlsen

Let endgame expert Dr Karsten Müller show and explain the finesses of the world champions. Although they had different styles each and every one of them played the endgame exceptionally well, so take the opportunity to enjoy and learn from some of the best endgames in the history of chess.


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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