In an impressive showing last Friday, Detroit City Chess Club (DCCC) continued its tradition by honoring area scholastic players for its 6th Annual All-City Team Awards. Detroit has had a history of successes in scholastic tournaments and this is an opportunity to recount the positive community impact.
DCCC hosted the event on June 14th at the historic at the Detroit Institute of Arts and the children in attendance were in good spirits and looked impressive in their formal attire. DCCC board member Catherine Martinez gave the welcome and occasion.
According to the program, DCCC founder Kevin Fite described the occasion…
This annual event is one of our personal favorites because we get to honor our young men and women who have been totally dedicated to the game of chess through competition, hard world and discipline. Our young people represent some of the brightest minds of our nation.
Board Members, parents and volunteers making it happen!
The awards program honored two members with the Harold Steen Hall of Fame award for excellence, Dr. Ed Mandell(All the King’s Men) and Coach Glenn Smith(Duffield, UPrep, Washington Park). Steen was a long-time chess coach at Bates and organizer in the Detroit area. He passed away more than a decade ago, but is still honored with a memorial tournament and as the icon whose name is associated with the Detroit Chess Hall of Fame.
There were ten categories for 2019:
Honorable Member All-City
Primary School (2nd Team)
Primary School (1st Team)
Elementary School (2nd team)
Elementary School (1st team)
Jr. High School (2nd team)
Jr. High School (1st team)
High School (2nd team)
High School (1st team)
All-City DREAM TEAM
Chrysler Elementary School
Outstanding! Photos by David Calton
Detroit has been making strides in developing talent for the next generation and these efforts are complemented by local standout players some of who have worked directly with these children as coaches or volunteers. Several have been forging ties with the broader chess community (and adjoining cities like Cleveland and Chicago) to help provide these talented children with opportunities in chess and in life.
Twenty-year old Aleksandra Goryachkinawon the Women’s Candidates tournament with a dominating performance and finally bringing to fruition her prodigious world championship potential. Since coming on the scene as a young prodigy she has turned in stellar performances winning three age world titles and the Girls World Junior in 2013 and 2014. She joined the national team in a reserve role in the 2013 European Team helping Russian win a silver medal.
Three years later she was double gold (team and individual) at the 2018 European Team and became a Grandmaster the same year after earning the required three norms. She got her first appearance on the 2016 Olympiad team in Baku, Azerbaijan and score 50% before a strong performance in Batumi, Georgia with 6.5/9. She has been fancied as the future of Russian women’s chess as her teammates make way for a new generation.
Russia’s future has arrived with Goryachkina. Photo by Fred Lucas
In the recently-ended Candidate’s she dominated a veteran field and clinched the berth with two rounds remaining. She will be the second Russian to play for the title as Kateryna Lagno lost the title bout last year against Ju. Goryachkina will try to bring the title back to Russia after 11 years. The match will take place later in the year and will mark the first championship after returning to the match format.
University of Technology student Nathan Hinds claimed first place after an exhilarating finale in the President’s Cup Invitational Chess Tournament which concluded on May 26 at the Jamaica Olympic Association.
Hinds, who has had a phenomenal Chess year so far, inched closer to achieving the illustrious National Master (NM) title. This came as a result of his recent performances in the Fesco Manchester Open, Robert Wheeler Open and the now concluded President’s Cup. The title still has to be ratified by the Jamaica Chess Federation’s (JCF) Council, but there is no doubt Hinds will receive the title. “The NM title has always been a key goal for me. I am elated and proud of my achievements so far and look forward to achieving higher goals I have set for the year”, Hinds stated.
Nathan Hinds 2019 Presidents Cup Champion
Hinds’ final game against Douglas Markland saw an equal position that was balanced all the way into the endgame. With the tournament secure, Hinds drew his final game to finish on 7 points from 9 games while Douglas Markland finished eighth on 2.5 points.
“It was a spectacular feeling to win such a prestigious tournament. Playing against veterans such as International Master (IM) Shane Matthews and Michael Diedrick and other strong players such as FIDE Master (FM) Shreyas Smith and Candidate Master (CM) Malik Curriah was both humbling and satisfying.” As long as Hinds maintains the momentum he started the year with, he should qualify for his CM title once his international rating surpasses the 2000 mark.
There was a three-way tie for second place involving IM Matthews, FM Smith and CM Curriah who each finished on 6.5 points. FM Smith had the opportunity to claim first place if he had won his final game against IM Matthews. However, IM Matthews maintained his composure as he played with precision throughout the complicated game. Despite being down a piece, FM Smith tried some last minute tricks to secure a draw, but his sacrifices weren’t enough to stop the “Magician” and prevent an inevitable checkmate. CM Curriah also won his final game against CM Andrew Mellace in a lengthy endgame where he was up a piece. CM Mellace finished in fifth place on 6 points.
NM Blackwood secured a sixth place finish on 4.5 points with his final round victory against Michael Diedrick. NM Blackwood’s tournament saw him secure draws against Hinds and IM Matthews while Diedrick struggled as he finished in last on a half point.
Incumbent JCF President Ian Wilkinson had a rousing Sicilian Dragon win against the reigning Jamaica Junior Women’s Champion Raehanna Brown in his final President’s Cup game as the sitting JCF head. Even though the event was far from perfect for Wilkinson who finished on 2 points, it was an entertaining event for him as he got to play the national champions and enjoy thrilling games against them in his final event. He said that this was arguably the strongest-ever President’s Cup as it featured an International Master and a number of national champions. It was also a memorable event for the rapidly-improving Brown who registered a massive upset, delivering the only loss to IM Matthews in the tournament to finish in seventh place on 3 points.
Incumbent President Ian Wilkinson QC (left) plays the final moves of his game against National Junior Girls Champion Raehanna Brown. Photos by David Rose/Jamaica Chess Federation.
The tournament, one of the most prestigious on the calendar of events for the JCF, was held between April 24 and May 26, 2019 at Eden Gardens Wellness Resort & Spa and the JOA. It was a ten-player round-robin event with nine rounds played at a time control of ninety minutes per player for the game with increments of thirty seconds from the first move.
The event was made possible thanks to sponsorship from the Sports Development Foundation, Eden Gardens Wellness Resort and Spa, the Jamaica Olympic Association and the Magnificent Chess Foundation.
At the 2019 Chicago Open, I walked into a tournament hall and noticed the wide range of ages playing in the under-1000. However, what also stuck out was three girls who were under the watchful eye of their coach. I snapped a few pictures not immediately realizing the backstory of success. Of course, in today’s tournaments it is rare to see three Black girls competing. I knew that Glenn Bady’s daughter Grace Bady was playing, but the pink uniforms intrigued me.
I later saw them in the skittles room with their coach and went over to introduce myself to their coach, Eric Luster. He told me he was familiar with The Chess Drum and immediately introduced me to Imani Hill, Trechelle Williams and his daughter Shakira Luster. Imani had such a bright smile! After the introduction, I realized I had seen a story and video about St. Ethelreda floating around on Facebook from one of the Chicago Chess Blitzers, While I bookmarked it for a story, I now had my own scoop.
St. Ethelreda in action!
Trechelle Williams… focus… focus.
“We are stars,” said Shakira half-jokingly. It was apparent from watching them that she was the outspoken one with very expressive eyes. I soon had an idea to get some photos of them. I had been selling Triple Exclam, the biography of International Master Emory Tate. There were numerous blitz battles going on, but I had another idea. I told the Coach Luster that I would present each of them with a copy of Triple Exclam. I ran to my car to retrieve the copies and we were able to get some nice photos.
Shakira Luster, Trechelle Williams, Imani Hill with Triple Exclam!!!
After the photos, I challenged them to a few of the puzzles from Triple Exclam. This was the best part. I wanted to see what their thought process was. The first puzzle was relatively straight forward. In back was the banging of the chess clock. IM Kassa Korley was holding court against the Chicago Chess Blitzers and of course I wanted to watch, but this was a “teachable moment.”
The girls peered at the board with inquisitive eyes. In this instructive puzzle from Tate-Cohen, 1996. The girls saw 1. Bd3+ skewering the rook, but rejected it because of 1…e4. They thought a bit longer, looked at other variations before going back and finally seeing the cute 2.Bxe4+! Kxe4 3.Nf6+ snaring the rook. Photos by Daaim Shabazz/The Chess Drum.
Interestingly enough, the second puzzle (Tate-Serper) I gave them was much harder! This puzzle was presented by GM Gregory Serper shortly after Tate’s death in a tribute on chess.com.
Emory Tate-Gregory Serper White to Move (After 35…Ba3xc1)
The first move that was suggested was 1.Rxd4 which of course would lead to mate if black plays 1…exd4 after 2.Qe7+. Of course, black would play 2…Ba3, keep the extra rook and play Rh1+ if the white queen wanders. There was also the suggestion 1.Bxf7 with the idea of 1…Kxf7 2.Qb7+ but black can play 1…Qb4+ with unstoppable mate after 2.Bb3 Qa3. After some time, I gave them 1.Qb7! to threaten mate.
After 1…Rh7, they suggested 2.Qe7+ but the black king runs away. Other moves fall to 2…Qa3! So… after minutes melted away, they learned about deflection of 2.Rh1!, but isn’t white getting mated again after 2…Qa3? The beauty of this is one has to see these tactical oddities. Finally Shakira found 3.Qxf7+!! Rxf74.Rh8 mate!
Emory Tate-Luke Zhao White to Move (After 24…g7-g5)
The last puzzle I gave them was Emory Tate-Luke Zhao. We spent a long time on that one. The tactical ideas seem to impress them. With prodding from a few bystanders, they learned the solution to this amazing sequence which was played during a simul. Can you figure it out?
We had a great time and I would watch them on the next day not quite sure what impact was made with those tactical puzzles. They finished out the tournament with respectable scores with Imani and Trechelle both scoring 4/7 (under-1000) and Shakira getting 3.5/7 (under-1300). After the tournament, Coach Luster told me they were going through the book and the rest of the puzzles. Let’s hope their experience at the Chicago Open will yield them more success!
The 13th edition of the the Federation Haitian Chess Chess Championship (FHE) took place, for the first time, on two days at the Hotel Le Plaza on Saturday 1ST AND SUNDAY 2 June 2019, from 8am TO 4pm.
The tournament is made following the Swiss system with a pace of 45 mn ko per player on 5 round for each category. The tournament had 9 CATEGORIES: U11f, u11g, u13f, u13g, u15f, u15g, u19f, u19g and a special category. The latter had beginners less than a year to learn chess.
The 13th edition of interscholastic has been carried out with 103 participants, 49 girls and 54 boys, from the majority of schools in the west department. We’ve had 27 winners, due to 3 winners per category.
The prizes of the winners:
1st: Champion (NE): Trophy Trophy (Gold) + cheque of 7500 gourdes
2nd: Vice-Champion (NE): Medal (Silver) + cheque of 5000 gourdes
3rd: Medal (Bronze) + cheque of 3000 gourdes
The tournament has succeeded, with the collaboration of 10 referees, a main referee and a director of the tournament.
PR of the Federation Haitian Chess (FHE)
June 3, 2019
Charles Troutman III had been one of the top 100 players in age categories between 9-11 years old. After a lull in his tournament play during 2017, he began playing more online activity and his classical chess began to improve. He’s on the verge of eclipsing the 2000 rating barrier.
He is the son of a tournament chess player (Charles Jr.) and lives in the Atlanta area. Now 15, Charles is one of the top 20 juniors in the state with a rating of 1992 and traveled to Wheeling to compete in the 2019 Chicago Open (under-2300 section). He ended on 3/7 with two wins over 2100-rated players. In fact, he had interesting encounter with Chicago’s Daniel X Jones, promoter of the National Blitz League (NBL). Playing white, he alertly won a pawn on the queenside, but the game took many twists and turns. Jones beat back a blistering attack and won the battle.
Charles Troutman (right) playing Daniel X Jones in the first round of the Chicago Open, under-2300 section. National Master Marvin Dandridge looks on while waiting for his opponent. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.
Charles lost that battle, but played in the blitz tournament on Sunday night and got 4.5/10 in the Open section. It’s puzzling because the cross table indicates that he drew his games against his first opponent when he clearly won the following game with 00:03 left on the clock. Was it a friendly?
This game against National Master Luke Calhoun of Arizona was out of a Blackmar-Diemar Gambit, an opening often used for shock value. This particular game saw black decline the gambit only to win a pawn later. Despite being a pawn down, white had more space and in order to free his position, black had to return the pawn. The game evolved into a very interesting pawn ending.
The Chicago Open has been one of the marquee tournaments for two decades. It is the first major of the summer season and generally attracts a healthy mix of professionals, norm seekers and scholastic phenoms. However, what made this tournament different was the buzz created by the online battles that had been brewing over the past two years.
Daniel X Jones and Jimmy Canty in the first official cage match almost TWO years ago! Photo by Nathan Kelly
Chicago Chess Blitzers (CCB) started a movement centered around the formation of several intercity matches. The action started with a Detroit-Chicago cage match between Jimmy Canty and Daniel X Jones. After a series of cage matches with different players, team matches become all the rave as Chicago set up successive matches with Cleveland, Memphis, St. Louis and Detroit. The battles have done more than provide players with opportunities to engage in battle, but it has also helped players to build cameraderie which is an important facet of chess improvement. Let’s talk specifically about the impact on the Black chess community.
The Chicago Factor
What was evident at the 2019 Chicago Open was that there is an energy that may translate into sustainable participation for the Black chess players. Why is this important? For decades, the issue of Black involvement in chess had been given little to no attention. So much has been said about the gender gap in chess and the May 2019 issue of Chess Life was declared “The Women’s Issue.”
On the other hand, there has been little outreach to the Black community which is why these efforts are so important. Unfortunately, U.S. Chess Federation does not keep ethnic data, so it is difficult to understand the demographic trends. Suffice it to say, observational data shows a lack of participation of Black players in USCF tournaments. This is why for 18 years The Chess Drum has served as a platform for encouraging more participation from this overlooked segment.
Joshua Colas on the move while Daaim Shabazz watches. Photo by Nathan Kelly
Granted, some have rekindled their interest and come out of retirement to compete again, but there has been a net loss. The recent jolt of energy from the Chicago Chess Club has given a shot of adrenaline to the Black chess community. Many players who have met at one of the blitz match or through Facebook came to the Chicago Open with hopes of earning titles, rating points, prize money, or simply bragging rights. This kind of energy has not been seen at a Chicago Open in a long time.
While there was the usual banter and trash talk in between rounds, there was a camaraderie and a support that extended beyond the inter-city rivalries. There was the Detroit “lion’s den” (AirBnB) that everyone visited to unwind, socialize and play blitz. It appears to be the beginning of a tradition. There were a couple of blitz matches before the tournament started with Gwayne Lambert facing Joseph Gadson(10½-10½) and Kameron Tolliver facing Tom Murphy(Murphy won 11½-7½). Daniel X battled Jimmy Canty in another round of their ongoing rivalry. It ended in a 5-5 tie.
Stephen Faulkner (Louisville), IM Kassa Korley (Brooklyn), Kenneth Gaskin (Los Angeles) representing three iconic cities! Photo by Daaim Shabazz
While players who form the National Blitz League came Detroit and Chicago, Ken Gaskins came from Los Angeles to take part. Stephen Faulkner came from Kentucky to enjoy the festivities. Long-time legends like Marvin Dandridge reveled in watching the blitz battles featuring Kassa Korley and CCB members. The Chicago Chess Blitzers were making all types of challenges. One of them bore fruit as the New York trio of Justus Williams, Josh Colas and James Black took on Atulya Shetty, Jimmy Canty, and Daniel X Jones. The first to 13 points wins.
BLITZ BATTLE! New York City vs. The Mighty Midwest 27 May 2019, Wheeling Westin Hotel
After New York broke out to a 10½-7½ lead, the Midwest had more chance. So far everyone had played everyone twice, but there had to be another round. This ended with Jones 1-1 Williams, Shetty ½-1½ Colas, Canty 1½-½ Black giving New the three points needed for a 13½-10½ victory. New York won the battle, but the war will continue in Philadelphia at the World Open.
The Future of Black Chess
One of the ongoing discussions often heard at the tournament was the prospects of harnessing talent in the Black community. In various podcasts hosted by Detroit’s Derek Wilder this has been an ongoing theme. This question has been the $1million question and has been discussed in a special session at the 2002 World Open. Many of those players are no longer active although National Master Glenn Bady, who took part in the 2002 discussion, was at the Chicago Open with his children Grace and Ayo.
Here is Grace Bady at 2014 World Open. She is the daughter of National Master Glenn Bady and still going strong. She scored 4/7 at 2019 Chicago Open. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.
When asked the question during a recent podcast, I offered that blitz can be used as a training tool, but too much emphasis on the discipline will not result in accomplishment of goals that are often stated for classical chess. There are many expressed goals of earning titles, rating heights and norms, but these are only a distant goal if the right steps are not taken.
In a world where 12 and 13 year olds are becoming Grandmasters, we can no long be content when our youth are making a 1800 rating in high school. The youngest Black master ever is just over 13. The record for youngest U.S. National Master nationwide was set by Abhimanyu “Abhi” Mishra at 9 years, 2 months and 17 days! The current world’s youngest GM (Dommaraju Gukesh of India) earned the title at 12 years, 7 months and 10 days, ten days behind the record of Sergey Karjakin.
Justus Williams, Josh Colas and James Black still striving at 2019 Chicago Open Photo by Daaim Shabazz
“Young Lions” Justus Williams, James Black, Jr and Josh Colas in 2012. All made National Master in their 13th year. Photo by Guy Colas
If we don’t want to wait another 20 years for our next GM, we have to put a support system in place. Of course one can argue that not every player wants to be a chess master and that is fine, but for those showing a talent, they may be able to earn a scholarship or admission to a university based on their chess prowess. Chess seems to be the new currency in college admissions. Asian parents have understood this very well.
International Master Kassa Korley, IM-elect Justus Williams, IM-elect Josh Colas and National Master James Black, Jr. are still pursuing chess and that is admirable, but what kind of assistance are they getting? What kind of support is Jimmy Canty getting? How about 13-year old Experts Tremil Anderson of Los Angeles and Brewington Hardaway of New York?
YouTube sensation Tremil Anderson giving an intermediate lesson! Video by Los Angeles Chess Club
Sharika Luster, Trechelle Williams, Imani Hill of St. Ethelreda School (8734 S. Paulina Avenue, Chicago) Photo by Daaim Shabazz
What about our young girls? Jessica Hyatt? Charisse Williams? Janell Warner? I met a trio of girls from St. Ethelreda School and they have received media attention. Shakira Luster wants to be the first African-American female National Master. We’ve heard it before, but we are still looking for that historic mark to fall.
New Road Ahead
The World Open will be a very critical moment with a number of players from the east coast joining the fray. In addition, African and Caribbean contingents are usually in the crowd. Five years ago in Arlington, ten Nigerians came to compete in the World Open. They made quite an impression.
NIGERIA & two friends!
(L-R) Charles Campbell, Iyobebe Owolo Hanson, Precious Acheru, Efemuai Odafe Benedict, Uche Agu, Daaim Shabazz, Lolomari E. George, Robert Asibor, Vanita Young and Paul Obiwame. Photo by Daaim Shabazz/The Chess Drum
The World Open is still the marquee tournament in the U.S. It is a reunion of sorts and an event during which lifelong friendships are made. It is also where many ideas are exchanged. While we miss the exciting post-mortems displays of Emory Tate, perhaps we will start a new tradition of chess advancement.
While blitz chess is a popular magnet for activity, we must venture into more serious efforts at chess excellence or many of the sought after goals will only remain dreams. The World Open is typically where there are breakout performances of Black players. George Umezinwa’s $18,000 haul in the under-2000 section is still part of history and there have been many norms taken at this tournament. Let’s take advantage of this energy! Philadelphia awaits.
Illia Nyzhnyk and Vasif Dararbayli face off in round 7. The game was drawn.
Aided by a strong 5.5/6 start Vasif Dararbayli held off a field of strong GMs to win the 2019 Chicago Open. Perhaps the key win was his 6th round win over then-co-leader Jeffery Xiong(2015 Chicago Open winner). He ended with three draws and top the charts with 7/9 for a $10,300 prize. The other contenders were primarily an All-Star cast of collegians from the chess powerhouses in Texas and Missouri.
Dararbayli, an Azerbaijani student at Webster University was joined in the hunt by teammates, Illia NyzhnykAlexander Shimanov(2018 Chicago Open winner) and Cuban GM duo Lazaro Bruzon and Yuniesky Quesada. They ended on 6.5/9 along with Dariusz Swiercz of St. Louis University, Hovhannes Gabuzyan (UTRGV) and Pavlo Vorontsov (Texas Tech). UTRGV’s Vladimir Belous(2016 Chicago Open winner) ended on 6/9 along with Evgeny Shtembuliak (Texas Tech) and Cuba’s Yasser Quesada. IM Qi Chen of China was an intrigue. Going undefeated in his U.S. debut he ended on +3, but unfortunately no GM norm.
Other notable results were IM Erik Santarius winning 1st under-2400 with 6/9 and joint 2nd under-2400 won by FM Edward Song, Deepak Aaron, FM Seth Homa, James Canty. Homa got an IM norm as did FM Aleksey Sorokin.
Jimmy Canty finished with 5.5/9 and 2nd under-2400
The 2019 Chicago Open drew 859 players from the U.S. and approximately 20 countries. As usual, the tournament was populated by a good percentage of scholastic players. Collegiate players dominated the upper echelon of the Open section. There were a good percentage of girls/women playing in the “under” sections and particularly prominent in the under-1000 section.
Shakira Luster, Trechelle Williams, Imani Hill from St. Ethelreda School with their copies of Triple Exclam!!! Photos by Daaim Shabazz
Open: GM Vasif Dararbayli, 7/9
under-2300: Nicholas Matta, 7/7
under-2100: Dan Rade, Dane Zagar, Vladyslav Shevkunov, Ciprian Comsa, 6/7
under-1900: Ethan Pau, 6.5/7
under-1700: Donald Aman Uzoma, 6.5/7
under-1500: George Gonzalez-Napoles, Timothy Speight, 6/7
under-1300: David Paul Schmitz, 6.5/7
under-1000: Liam M Masse, 6.5/7
Tim Speight II (center) tied for 1st in the under-1500. Photo by Nathan Kelly
Summer is here and just outside of the “Windy City” in the suburb of Wheeling, the Chicago Open has begun. Aleksandr Shimanov is the defending champion, but Jeffery Xiong is the top seed and wants to repeat his 2015 win. Then only 14-years old, he has since evolved into a member of the U.S. national team and is approaching the 2700 class. He will be challenged by a cadre of other young upstarts looking to make the same type of impact he did four years ago.
While the Chicago Open $100,000 prize fund is not enough to attract the true elite, it is enough to attract norm seekers and those trying to get a “major” win. A number of foreign Grandmasters are affiliated with American universities and will be coming from all of the collegiate powerhouse teams. Webster University, St. Louis University, Texas Tech and University of Texas-Rio Grand Valley and a few others have sent several players.
Blitz phenom Gopal Menon battles IM Atulya Shetty, 1/2
FM Justus Williams drew GM Alexander Shabalov. While Sandeep Sethuraman took down FM Jimmy Canty. The young lions are on the prowl!
WIM Megan Lee takes on FM Josh Posthuma, 1/2
Photos by Daaim Shabazz
The lower sections will be hotly contested with the unconventional section of under-2300, under-2100 and under-1900 which different from the 100-point increments seen at the World Open. Wheeling is just outside of downtown Chicago and fall during the busy Memorial Day weekend.
Before traveling to Francophone (French-speaking) Africa for the first time, I had to brush off my French instruction books from grad school to brush up on vocabulary, cognates, listening, phrases, and passe compose’. I discovered that there were a lot of videos on YouTube and went through a number of them. My colleague from Haiti also offered to help me practice. Nevertheless, my comfort level was not high. J’ai tout oublie’!
Tuesday, 7 May 2019
(Tallahassee to Jacksonville to Atlanta)
“Flight Paths” by Steve Waldeck
After surviving a tense week of grading papers/exams and compiling final grades at Florida A&M University, I prepared to leave Tallahassee the next day. I had to drive 2-3 hours to Jacksonville International Airport. Any delay could cause me to miss my first leg.
While driving, I was listening to French language sites and also to zouk music from the French Caribbean. It’s always risky to take a flight in another city, but I made it to catch my 7:59 flight. After dropping my car off at the parking company, I check in. This would be the beginning of my Tallahassee-Jacksonville-Atlanta-Paris-Abidjan journey.
My 42-minute Jacksonville-Atlanta flight was uneventful, but I always like walking in the train tunnel in the Hartsfield-Jackson airport. They have a number of wonderful exhibits including a fascinating work of art called, “Flight Paths,” a sensory buffet of colors and nature sounds. Stunning. The exhibit is between Concourses A and B and one of my favorites.
Tuesday, 7 May 2019
(Atlanta to Paris)
My Atlanta-Paris flight was rather smooth although a bit delayed. We took off at around 8:30 and I settled in. Besides wondering about my specially-ordered meal, I’m always intrigued at the entertainment selection. There were a number of choices of course. I started watching “Aquaman,” but couldn’t get through it so I settled on “Crazy Rich Asians” which I enjoyed.
Fortunately, the meals came and since I special-ordered, I was served first. It was a polenta dish with lentils and carrots, peppers, artichokes and what appeared to be sauteed kale. This was one of the best vegan meals I’ve had on a flight. Surprisingly well done!
I started watching “Arctic,” a movie about a man named Overgård (Mads Mikkelsen) who crashed his plane in the desolate snow plains of Iceland. As a result, he was in a desperate fight for survival. With limited time and resources, he had to figure out how to cope in the bitterly cold conditions while hoping someone would find him.
A rescue helicopter did pick up his beacon but it crashed, killing the Thai pilot. He salvaged valuable equipment from the helicopter, but it left him to care for a severely injured female co-pilot. After days of caring for her and assessing her strength, he decided that she would most likely die of an infection before any help arrived so he packed her in a sled and began a trek across the rugged plains in search of the base he spotted on a map found in the crashed helicopter.
As my flight was about to land in Paris, he and the injured woman were taking refuge in a cave after hours of hiking in blustery weather. While trying to feed his weakened compatriot, a polar bear had sensed their presence and tried to claw his way into the cave. He scared it off with a flare and primal screams. Would the bear return as they attempted to find the base? The thought weighed on me as I exited the plane.
Wednesday, 8 May 2019
(Charles De Gaulle International Airport – Paris, France)
I have never been to Paris proper, but have only had connecting flights. DeGaulle has made quite a few improvements to the airport over the years. In the Air France concourse there were plenty of shops including the usual upscale and duty-free kinds. I had a couple of hours to wander around and began eating snacks I bought in Jacksonville. I also charged my phone and got on the airport’s free Wi-Fi.
“Paris will not forget you.”
Beautiful wall garden. I had to get a closer look.
I actually met a manicurist from Vietnam who spoke better English than French. After telling her that I visited Vietnam in 2014, she told me she long to return to Hanoi, her hometown. It had been hard for her and French people can be unforgiving about their language.
So I went back to the gate to hear announcements. We then lined up only to be told the flight would be delayed due to a storm. It was raining heavily. In about 15 minutes we lined up again and boarded the plane.
Wednesday, 8 May 2019
(Paris to Félix-Houphouët-Boigny International Airport – Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire)
Now almost all of my interactions were in French. I couldn’t find “Arctic” on the Air France system, but watched an interesting African movie called “Maki’la” about young women living on the unforgiving streets of Kinshasa, Congo. Interesting.
We got to Abidjan and before I could get through customs, I had to stop to get my visa. There was a man directing us. After about 20 minutes, I had gotten my new stamp. I went over to the baggage claim and watched the carousel go around. After about 40 minutes of waiting, I went to the office and discovered my bag was still in Paris! I would have to collect it tomorrow evening. Fortunately, I carried toiletries, another shirt and under garments. I was picked up by Dr. Essoh Essis who had been waiting an hour while I was trying to get my bag. I was also greeted by Private Kouakou who got me a SIM card for my phone.
My bag was still in Paris!
Not off to a good start. It was very hot and humid in Abidjan… even at night. Not to mention that there was a change of plans in my accommodation. For the first night, I would be staying with the Nigeria team in the Residence Hotel. After a huge helping of local rice with and a pepper condiment, I checked out the room. It was clean and neat but it probably would be fortunate to get two stars.
Nigeria in the house!
This would be my office for the first night.
There were no toilet seats, but at least I had Internet. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Babatunde Ogunsiku of Africa Chess Media helped me get online and let me use his adapter to charge my phone. I stayed up checking chess reports and slept relatively well in the very firm mattress. Tomorrow would be a big day for me.
Thursday, 9 May 2019
(Pullman Hotel – Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire)
Charles Lorng came by the hotel telling me they were moving me to another place. I had mentally prepared myself to be in the hotel with the Nigerians, but the Résidence Hôtel la Grace was a definite upgrade. I thought it may have been better to stay with the Nigerians, but the hosts picked me up each afternoon. After I got checked into the Residence, we stopped at Delices Restaurant for lunch. After struggling to find a vegan option, I had alloco (plantains) and some spicy tomato stew over rice.
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Throughout Abidjan, I took pictures of numerous billboards. Absolutely stunning. No words needed. More billboards later, but one thing that was certain was that this was the home of international soccer star Didier Drogba and you were made aware of it. Billboards of him were everywhere.
Drogba may be king, but Côte d’Ivoire is also a land of queens!
As we were heading to the Pullman Hotel, I told Babatunde about something I saw on chess.com about Maurice Ashley’s video playing soccer. Someone had posted a comment asking where Drogba was. Funny. When we got to the hotel, I went down to see the ECOWAS Team event. Besides Nigeria, Ghana and Togo had sent players.
After taking pictures I moved inside the hotel where I saw Babatunde who said, “Drogba’s here.” Tu plaisantes? I didn’t see him laughing or smiling, but he must be joking, right? He motioned over toward the dining area and there was a tall man seated having lunch, baseball cap turned backwards. It certainly looked like Drogba. I inched closer… it WAS him! Imagine that… Drogba in the same hotel as the World Champion Magnus Carlsen, an ardent soccer fan.
Babatunde and I went upstairs by the production room and we saw Essoh Essis. We informed him that Didier Drogba was in the hotel. He had an incredulous look on his face and said, “Here’s here NOW?!?” We rushed downstairs and he immediately approached the table. What was said? Essoh, the chief organizer of the Grand Chess Tour event and the President of the Ivorian Chess Federation (FIDEC) wanted Drogba to make the ceremonial move in one of the rounds. What is more interesting was that apparently Drogba told Essoh that he always wanted to learn to play chess. Imagine the boost for chess in country if Drogba was seen playing. Unfortunately, Drogba was unable to participate in the event but it was a very interesting way to begin the day.
Essoh Essis chatting with Didier Drogba Photo by Daaim Shabazz
As word gets around that Drogba was in the building, I find a spot to work. Initially, there was no media room for the event so we essentially just found a convenient spot near the action. Just outside the production room seem to be the best option. Alessandro Parodi of chess.com held down this location the entire tournament. Later on, Graham Jurgensen made a meeting room available to journalists. It was a tremendous upgrade. Far too often, conditions for journalists are an afterthought. We have to fix this issue.
The round was ready to start. I covered the first Sinquefield Cup in 2013 and remember there being only four players. Now the Grand Chess Tour had expanded to a much larger format and also hosted the tournament for the first time in Africa. Bassem Amin of Egypt was the wildcard representative and I greeted him. He was very gracious despite the 0/3 start. “We finally meet,” he said. I had seen Bassem at several Olympiad tournaments and had been covering him since he won his first African Junior Championship in 2004.
Maria Emelianova speaking with Egypt’s GM Bassem Amin Photo by Daaim Shabazz
Day two was interesting as Carlsen was in fine form. Hikaru Nakamura suffered an improbable loss to Amin and stated that there was pressure in trying to keep pace with the World Champion. Despite this loss, Nakamura was only two points behind Carlsen.
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The environment was very positive and upbeat, but the players were not always accessible so it was difficult to gauge their overall mood about the environment. Veselin Topalov was seen earlier in the pool so at least one Grandmaster was enjoying the amenities.
The hotel lobby had a section set up for viewing the action.
Friday, 10 May 2019
(Pullman Hotel – Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire)
To be honest, I was busy milling about and trying to decide which interviews I was going to do. I was meeting the other players from West Africa including Philip Ameku, the President of the Ghanaian Chess Association. After taking a number of photos, I conducted the following interview of Ameku.
Video by Daaim Shabazz/The Chess Drum
Philip Ameku (Ghana), Angela Ayiku (Ghana), Christiana Naa Merley Ashley (Ghana), Daaim Shabazz (USA) and Ogunsiku Babatunde (Nigeria)
Carlsen would remain on top of the rapid segment three points infront of Nakamura with Wesley So and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave trailing close behind. That night a group of players, organizers and journalists went to the Bushman Cafe for dinner. I enjoyed my conversation with Veselin Topalov who spoke about a wide range of topics including who should move first in chess. I later interviewed him and he covered the topic in more detail.
Saturday, 11 May 2019
(Pullman Hotel – Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire)
An increasing trend has moved toward quicker formats. There is a debate on whether blitz and rapid is more attractive to viewers. I believe it depends. If you are a decent chess player, it can be. If you don’t play chess or a low-level player, it will not be any more fascinating other than the fact that the physical emotionalism is easier to understand. You will not know what is happening on the board, but at least you have an inkling of who’s winning and losing from the expression. Is this enough? Of course not.
All of us (100%) learned to play chess in the classical form and we became attracted to it. If we consider slower formats “boring,” maybe we should recall why we pursued chess. In classical you have time to listen to someone explain the plan, see the tension build, attempt to understand it and see it evolve. You can even guess the moves, see why your choice is good or bad, and interact with others on the ideas. The question remains, what is the best way to tell this story?
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave’s surge was impressive slightly closing the gap on Magnus Carlsen.
Honestly, I didn’t get a chance to follow the blitz games very much. From a journalist viewpoint, you cannot do recaps after every round, so you have to settle for tweeting or posting photos of the action. At the end of the first day, Carlsen had lost a half-point as MVL got 6.5/9, 2.5 points back. It probably was too much to think of anyone overtaking the World Champion.
Oh… a group of us went to the Parker Place reggae club where they were commemorating the life of Bob Marley. The reggae ambassador died in Miami May 11, 1981. I was one of the fortunate few of the chess group who stayed long enough to see Essoh Essis perform “No Woman, No Cry.” Nuff respeck!
Taking in Ivorian reggae vibe!
Video by Daaim Shabazz/The Chess Drum
Sunday, 12 May 2019
(Pullman Hotel – Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire)
Last day. The event had been an organizational success and I was glad I made the trip. I managed to interview Veselin Topalov along with Maurice Ashley and Oladapo Adu. Carlsen held onto the lead as expected, but he was none too happy losing both blitz games to Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (MVL).
Nevertheless, neither Hikaru Nakamura nor MVL could gain any ground as they suffered crucial losses. MVL dropped games to Nakamura, Wesley So, and Sergey Karjakin. Nakamura had a good second half, but had a few draws and lost the finale to Carlsen. In the end, Carlsen won by a 3.5 point margin clinching with two rounds remaining.
The evening ended with a short closing ceremony and lots of selfies. Carlsen was mobbed for interviews, but I decided to grab Topalov for a session. It was a refreshing interview and he even complimented me on my outfit. It was a very positive environment and my colleague Babatunde Ogunsiku(africachessmedia.com) got the interview with Carlsen.
Monday, 13 May 2019
(Grand Bassam, Côte d’Ivoire)
The tournament was over and Carlsen had won his 5th tournament in a row. While most were catching flights to other destinations, I would get to see my Ivorian friend from graduate school, Dr. Jean Yapi. We attended Clark Atlanta University both for MBA and Ph.D. in International Affairs and Development. Those were very important times in my intellectual development.
I plan to write a book just about these experiences, but suffice it to say, my educational grounding has provided me with the tools to become a successful academic. At this institution, I met dozens of students who were from the African continent seeking to make a difference in their respective countries. Jean was one of them.
Jean Yapi and I are on the left at the graduation of our friend Biram Fall, an erudite scholar from Senegal. Nearly 30 years ago!
Jean told me who glad he came to Atlanta after spending 10 years (ages 15-25) in Paris. Many times he was the only person of African descent in his class and it was easy to become isolated. After completing his studies in the U.S., he returned to Côte d’Ivoire. For the past 20 years he had been learning about his own country.
When he took me to the old capital, Grand Bassam, I could tell that he enjoyed it as much as I did. It was a very nostalgic town with remnants from the past still standing. We visited the Musee National des Costumes (Grand Bassam), the former administrative and residential location for the French colonial government. It is appropriate that they have replaced it with indigenous traditions.
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The costumes of the various ethnic groups had very specific meaning. In fact, in order to wear certain types of clothing you had to show a level of erudition or wisdom. Another exhibit showed the ritual involving a girl coming into womanhood, a practice that seems to disappearing in all but the remote areas. One of the most fascinating was the “Royal Hammock” on which the Akan king would be carried. What was most interesting that the carriage was shaped like a coffin as a reminder that he has to be a just ruler, or else… well, you can imagine.
This was an important trip in my career of travels and evolution as a global citizen. One of the things one has to do to become a global citizen is to travel, but also engage in language immersion. This trip helped me to reignite my quest for fluency in another language. During graduate school, I chose French because it is spoken widely in Africa and my Ph.D. research was dealing with the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS). It is through understanding of different languages do we learn to see the world in a holistic way. I teach my students that we often evolve through five stages…
Coming to this event was part of my professional development was of course I came due to its historic importance. My impression was that the event was run well and the production team did a stellar job. I enjoyed the event, but was surprised that I met none of the Ivorian ladies who were in Batumi for the Olympiad. Nevertheless, FIDEC will have some challenges going forward as they will endure the strains of a young federation. It was a great event and we can thank Dr. Essis and his team for making the event a rousing success. Felicitations!
Best Memories of the Abidjan were… (not ranked)
The hospitality of Charles Lorng… he has great passion and he took care me while I was in Abidjan! Thanks for everything! Thanks for tolerating my French!
Essoh’s performance at the Parker Place reggae (see video above)
Essoh Essis performing a Marley favorite.
Speaking with Babatunde Ogunsiku about the need for an international journalists organization. He has started a WhatsApp group.
My conversations with former World Champion, Veselin Topalov. He gave very dynamic insights on various topics which were similar to the way he plays chess. He agreed to an interview!
Socializing with the West Africans from Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria and Ghana.
Riding around with Simplice Degondo, the Ivorian #1 player. He told me an uncle taught him to play initially.
The mangoes!! Best I’ve ever had… and the largest.
Seeing my classmate Jean Yapi from graduate school (after 20 years) and visiting Grand Bassam, the first capital of the Ivory Coast
Meeting Bassem Amin of Egypt formally
The billboards of Côte d’Ivoire. Initially, it was my impression that Ghana had the most beautiful billboards I had ever seen, but those in Abidjan were also stunning. They conveyed hope, happiness, self-esteem, family values, pride, patriotism and beauty.
Billboards in Côte d’Ivoire (Click on Facebook icon in upper right!)
The Didier Drogba joke! “Where is Drogba?” We found him! 😀
Finishing the movie “Arctic” on the Paris-Jacksonville flight. Outstanding movie!
Watching Peace Samson and Christina Ashley play blitz
The view from the The Pullman Hotel… very nice!
The waiter with whom I had a conversation in French. He said my French is pretty good. He was either too generous or I had become an expert at using DeepL Translator and a French book I received from a Haitian friend in 1989!
Or course… interviewing Maurice Ashley and leaving Abidjan on the same flight. It’s one of the few times that we had time to talk during a tournament.
Video by Daaim Shabazz/The Chess Drum
Worst Memories of Abidjan were…
My bag not arriving in Abidjan when I landed. I waited 40 minutes until I found out it was still in Paris
Missing blitz tournament and not playing a single game
Not getting a chance to visit the Grand Mosque in Abidjan
Interview with Dr. Essoh Essis, President of FIDEC
Nigeria has plans to break through to produce their first Grandmaster and an official campaign was launched in February. One of the hopefuls in the Africa’s most populous nation is International Master Oladapo Adu. A long-time national team member, Adu spent a number of years in the U.S. before returning in 2016 to nurture chess talent in his country. Over the past few years, he has created his own chess academy and has designs on helping the next generation of chess players.
Daaim Shabazz presenting “Triple Exclam” to Oladapo Adu at Grand Chess Tour event in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. Photo by The Chess Drum
Côte d’Ivoire was Maurice Ashley’s 7th African country, all in a relatively short period of time. This would be the first visit to a Francophone African country and the Jamaican-born GM would put his French skills to use. Ashley took up French in high school with a desire to travel to France where his father is an artist. His fluency was good enough to land coaching positions with the Ivorian and Madagascar Olympiad teams in 2016 and 2018, respectively.
After being a guest at the 4.4 subzonal tournament in Ghana, Ashley headed to Abidjan for the highly-anticipated Grand Chess Tour. It would feature World Champion Magnus Carlsen and nine other top-level players. The brevity of the tournament did not deprive fans of immense excitement, and of course Ashley was up to the task of calling the games. Carlsen was in form once again as he won his 5th tournament in a row reasserting the dominance that had eluded him in 2018. This victory serves to sent a message to those who may have thought he was losing his edge at age 28.
Magnus Carlsen greeting Nigerian International Master Oladapo Adu (winner of ECOWAS blitz) at the closing ceremony while Maurice Ashley, Graham Jurgensen (Technical Director), François Cernejeski (Managing Director-Pullman Hotel), Claude Paulin Danho (Côte d’Ivoire Minster of Sport) and Dr. Essoh Essis (President, Fédération Ivoirienne Des Echecs) look on. Photo by Daaim Shabazz
Ashley interviewed Carlsen who noted the enthusiasm and stated that there was a bright future in West Africa. After Ashley got with all his interviewing for the tournament, he sat down with The Chess Drum’s Daaim Shabazz to give his impressions of the event, its impact on the continent and initiatives to keep the momentum going in Africa. This interview took place after the Grand Chess Tour Rapid & Blitz event at the Pullman Hotel in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.
The first event of the Grand Chess Tour is officially over and Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire will have in its history and world class chess event. There will be trivia questions such as the players who played, the hotel where it was hosted and that famous icon who was visiting the hotel during the event! All in all, it was a well-run event and earned plaudits from the participants and guests.
Dr. Essoh Essis
Dr. Essoh Essis, the President of Federation Ivoirienne des Echecs (FIDEC) was the chief organizer and had a team of tireless workers including South Africa’s Graham Jurgensen, the technical director who essentially saw to it that many organizational details were handled. Vivendi and Canal+ provided crucial support and Pullman Hotel gave a five-star experience.
While the numbers on viewership have not been compiled, the event was well-received in social media and the usual stellar coverage was provided by major chess outlets. ChessBase, chess.com and chess24 provided ample coverage and many other platforms like chessbomb and lichess carried the games live. The Chess Drum was able to conduct a number of interviews with Philip Ameku, Veselin Topalov, Maurice Ashley and Oladapo Adu.
Following is the interview with Essis. He discusses the Rapid and Blitz event, his encounter with Didier Drogba, future of Ivorian chess, its social impact and future plans of his own. Enjoy the treat at the end!
After the election in the past FIDE election, there was an assertion that the international chess body would be more inclusive. While the Grand Chess Tour is not related to FIDE, the general atmosphere has been spurred by these sentiments. Africa is one region that has been slow in developing an enduring chess culture, but when it was announced that the Grand Chess Tour was moving to Cote d’Ivoire, it set off a sort of celebration.
This buildup of this tournament was epic given that it would be the first such tournament on African soil and also the first time a sitting World Champion had competed on the continent. The event was met with great anticipation and there was even a parallel tournament to ensure the highest level of interaction with the elite chess players.
2019 ECOWAS Team Championship
The first event of the Grand Chess Tour was in very different venue, but the result was the same… Magnus Carlsen won. In what has been a dominating year for the World Champion, Carlsen was coming off of a list of wins aptly documented by Norwegian journalist Tarjei Svensen.
BREAKING: @MagnusCarlsen wins #GrandChessTour in Abidjan, that's his 5th straight tournament victory: – World Blitz Ch' 2019 – Tata Steel Chess – Shamkir Chess – Grenke Chess Classic – Abidjan Grand Chess Tour
While there was little interaction between the players and the locals before and during the event, there were always the impromptu autographs, selfies and happenstance encounters. Carlsen meant business disappeared soon after his games were over. The rapid segment gave Carlsen a comfortable cushion going into the blitz segment. Fortunately for him, both Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Hikaru Nakamura were having problems closing the gap. In the end, Carlsen clinched the tournament with two rounds left.
With the title already decided, Carlsen watches Nakamura and Vachier-Lagrave fight for second. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.
Several players will be competing in the FIDE Grand Prix event beginning the 17th in Moscow and others will be competing in the next Grand Chess Tour event in Zagreb, Croatia. The Abidjan edition was an organization success. FIDEC President Dr. Essoh Essis and his team deserves credit for making the historic event memorable.
Magnus Carlsen receives the beautiful trophy from the Minister of Sports Paulin Danho Photo by Daaim Shabazz
Commentary Broadcast Links
The GCT will stream official commentary broadcasts in both English and French to YouTube and Dailymotion. The following links apply:
YouTube English Commentary (GM Yannick Pelletier, IM Tania Sachdev, GM Alejandro Ramirez & GM Maurice Ashley):
Former World Champion Veselin Topalov with Daaim Shabazz in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. Photo by The Chess Drum.
Veselin Topalov has seen a thing or two in chess. Known as a tremendous fighter and the master of the exchange sacrifice, he has playing many a scintillating game. However, he is a bit more relaxed and is just enjoying the game without all the added pressures.
The Chess Drum was able to get an interview with 2005 FIDE World Champion and he candidly spoke on a variety of topics including the idea of whether white or black should have to choose for the right of the first move. Very bold and insightful comments! He also spoke about his impressions of how this event would impact Africa and his outlook on chess talent in the future.