Nigeria Nigeria Nigeria

Tunde Onakoya’s mission to invigorate the Nigerian slum through chess has taken a grand leap. Three years ago, Tunde was in the news after writing of an adorable little girl named Basirat Ariyike. She became a symbol of what Onakoya was trying to achieve in his “Chess in Slums” initiative.

In the chess world, stories of the slums are overlooked or underappreciated. Queen of Katwe was such a story that was set in Uganda and showed a girl rise out of the slums, buy her mother a house, and become a university student in the U.S. The impoverishment of the developing world may contrast with the ilk of people associated with chess… at least that is the perception.

In the past three years, Onakoya has gone on a fundraising campaign, but the journey is a marathon and not a sprint. By his account, he has raised approximately 50 million naira (US$122,000) through social media, but is still seeking support in his growing movement. A profile in The Guardian (Nigeria), added a context for his vision.

While Nigerians and people around the world are just getting to know Onakoya and Chess in Slums, the beneficiaries have had their lives changed. For the children (boys and girls alike), it has been a life-defining moment. Perhaps, for the first time in their lives, the idea that taking weapons and living a hard-knock life are the only chances of survival they have, is being dismantled.

We have heard this story before, but to see how the stories unfold is inspiring. Take a look at this beautiful rays of light in Oshodi and Makoko, some of the worst slums in Lagos:

Videos by The Guardian (Nigeria)

The chess world typically does not highlight such stores as there is only an emphasis on child prodigies, professional players, and dreams of becoming a world champion. However, in this mission, chess is an avenue to living a normal life and aspire to make a mark in any field desired. Onakoya’s mission is giving hope to thousands of Nigerian children and let’s hope the African Diaspora and the chess community supports his Chess in Slums initiative. Wonderful!!

Article: https://guardian.ng/life/on-the-cover/tunde-onakoya-raising-kings-and-queens-through-chess-in-slums/

FM Ignacio Perez (1967-2022)
Photo by Washington State Chess Federation

The Seattle chess community is in mourning after the passing of Ignacio Pérez on January 11th, 2022. The long-time Seattle resident succumbed after a lengthy battle with throat cancer but remained active in the chess community despite his illness. He was a few weeks shy of his 55th birthday.

In May 2019, he reached a throat cancer diagnosis and had surgery that December to remove it. They had to remove his voice box before starting chemotherapy treatments in February 2020, but unfortunately, the cancer was too advanced.

According to Josh Sinanan, Ignacio came to the U.S. “aboard a raft from Cuba in the early ’90s, eventually settling in Seattle, Washington. Born February 2nd, 1967, Ignacio was a regular at the famed Havana Chess Club and was training partners with many strong players including GM Julio Becerra and IM Blas Lugo. It is known that there is a very strong Cuban contingent in Miami, but you will find many scattered throughout the country in various cities around the world.

Ignacio Pérez at 2008 Washington State Championship.

Ignacio Pérez at 2008 Washington State Championship
Photo by Hanniegn Pitre

Many of the Cubans are known as fierce competitors and Ignacio was no exception. His resume of accomplishments was long, but his claim to fame was being a two-time state champion (2007, 2013) over luminaries such as Viktors Pupols. He was also the reigning Washington Senior Champion and represented the state in two Senior Tournament of Champions.

Those who met him talk about his great personality and humor even when he lost his ability to speak. He was referred to by some as “Nacho.” The passing of Ignacio Pérez brings a sad time for the city of Seattle, the state of Washington, the nation of Cuba, and the entire African Diaspora. He will be missed. Nosotros te saludamos Nacho! We salute you!

Funeral arrangements and chess memorials are pending.

Bird flying at Varadero Beach, Cuba

Varadero Beach, Cuba

Photo by Daaim Shabazz

Officer Cookie has been teaching chess since 2006. Photo by Genna Martin.

Despite her own ambivalence toward chess as a youth,
Officer Cookie has shared its joys.
Photo by Genna Martin

After decades of service, Denise “Cookie” Bouldin is having “Detective Cookie Chess Park” built in her honor. Detective Cookie been featured on The Chess Drum over the years with her Urban Youth Chess Club in Seattle, Washington. The Chicago native has taken chess and created a youth environment that will serve as a training ground to excel and avoid the negative elements of the streets.

Cookie remembers her own trials and tribulations growing up in Chicago housing projects. In the early days, she presented on her website:

My heart is more into giving the youth a reason not to handout or getting recruited to participate in crimes. I use to be one of these kids as I grew up in the Chicago Projects. Because of regular people as role models, I was able to refuse being recruited to sell drugs, to do drugs, and prostitution. I know what peer pressure is like, I also know what it’s like to have a role model or somebody who cares, if only just a little bit. (link)

In the beginning, she had a community basketball game featuring youth and police officers, but the next year, the students wanted chess! Perhaps they would have a better chance against the officers in chess. Despite only a couple of students knowing how to play, it set into motion a tradition that has become a fixture in the city’s social landscape.

Now Detective Cookie will have a chess park built in her name after decades of hard work in the community. A very fitting tribute for the popular police officer and former fashion model. Detective Cookie has earned many community awards and this park will be a permanent fixture to her work.

Job well done!!

See plans at Seattle Parks Foundation

Fédération Internationale des Échecs  (FIDE)

A couple months ago, GM Nigel Short contacted The Chess Drum and mentioned that St. Vincent and the Grenadines would become a provisional FIDE member. At the 92nd General Assembly meeting, St. Vincent as well as Belize, Dominica and Niger became full FIDE members.

St. Vincent & Grenadines

Back in 2019, Short and Ian Wilkinson (then President of Jamaican Chess Federation) helped to bring SVG into the chess fold as they launched their nascent federation. This would rapidly progress and may have happened sooner if not for the COVID pandemic. Nevertheless SVG (population 111,000) hopes to make an impact in the Caribbean.

In 2019, Ian Wilkinson, QC and GM Nigel Short are pictured flanking SVG Prime Minister, Dr. The Honorable Ralph Gonsalves. Also present (from left) are the Honorable St. Clair Jimmy Prince, Minister of Education; the Honorable Cecil McKie, Minister of Tourism, Sports and Culture and Senator Israel Bruce, Attorney-at-Law. Photo courtesy of Ian Wilkinson

Belize

Belize has had an active chess presence since the early 1900s (see articles #1, #2), but has not been able to gain consistent footing. Nevertheless, the country had been active (in different degrees) from 1987-2006. In 2006, the chess community got a dose of adrenaline after a visit by FIDE officials.

In February of 2006, Mr. Jorge Vega, President of the Americas, and Mr. Allan Herbert, Treasurer of the Caribbean and the Americas, paid us a visit in Belize. Some of the executives of the BCF and the two gentlemen had a fruitful discussion.

Belize was featured in the same year on The Chess Drum after holding a youth tournament. There was a chess camp held by Ella Anderson in 2007, and in 2008 the reactivation of the Belize Chess Federation after its original founding in 1987. GM Maurice Ashley paid the Central American nation a visit in 2011. Ashley’s visit was part of the “Chess Olympiad” and was featured in a ChessBase article penned by Ashley. It also appeared here at The Chess Drum.

GM Maurice Ashley in a teachable moment with Belizean youth.

GM Maurice Ashley in a teachable moment with Belizean youth.
Photos courtesy of Maurice Ashley.

Dominica

On an island where cricket is the sport of choice, chess has made a foray in Dominica. Last year, the island announced its Board of Directors prior to applying for FIDE membership.

Last year there was a call out for players on the island in Emo News. Spearheading that effort was Ross Boyd, “an avid chess player for numerous years and a mentor to many players.” The article continued,

If you are interested in joining the community of chess players and helping further our goal in helping Dominica be represented under FIDE, reach out to us. Contact 767-225-4117 or 767-613-1022 to speak to either Mr. Ross Boyd or Mr. Nigel K. Francis respectively. Thank you for supporting us.

There was some question whether Dominica would achieve the deadline for application, but they were successful.

Niger

Niger is a landlocked country of 24 million and had a long tradition of games. However, the game that one may see is Oware or Warri. However, one can find a few players on chess.com which is a sign the chess in bubbling above the surface. Last year on May 2nd, there was a “chess meetup” hosted by the Minister of the Interior. Hopefully, in the coming months, we will hear more about the newest African federation.

Report on FIDE 92nd Assembly: https://fide.com/news/1506

This year was the 20th year for The Chess Drum. On February 12th, I posted a very lengthy chronicle of the site’s history with key moments each of the 20 years. I put a lot of effort into that post, but it was fulfilling to recount the special moments, not only for The Chess Drum, but for those who were being highlighted. Some of these highlights were also featured in an article I wrote for New in Chess (2021/1).

New In Chess (2020/8)New In Chess (2020/8)

The year 2021 was one of intriguing transitions. After one year of online activity and the esport, many players longed for over-the-board interaction. Had there been online fatigue as there was “ZOOM fatigue” in the academic and business worlds? Perhaps.

There were a lot of online success stories that came out of 2020 and it continued in 2021 when Jimmy Canty and Frank Johnson signed eSports contracts. Followers of this site may know them for many years.

Hikaru Nakamura served as a catalyst for developing the online streaming platform. Starting his channel in 2018 on Twitch, Hikaru had been an online warrior for more than a decade. The old days of Internet Chess Club marathon battles were a faint memory, but with COVID sweeping the globe, the online platform exploded. Indeed, but we are so glad to be back OTB!

The biggest story of the year may the Magnus Carlsen retaining his championship title on December 11th. The World Championship in Dubai was hosted concurrently with the EXPO 2020 and The Chess Drum was there! Check out my reflections here.

Recap of the 2021 World Chess Championship
(Dubai, United Arab Emirates)

The result turned out to be disappointing, and Carlsen made a pronouncement that he could possibly leave the cycle if there isn’t an able challenger from the new generation. He named Alireza Firouzja, but there are others waiting as the World Rapid & Blitz demonstrated. During the final press conference, I asked both players what they thought of including other disciplines. Nepo nixed the idea while Carlsen was very open. In fact, his pronouncement after the match gave the impression that he had thought about this topic deeply.

Magnus Carlsen, 2021 World Chess Champion

Magnus Carlsen, 2021 World Chess Champion
Photo by Eric Rosen

There were some interesting discussions and the world was still buzzing about “Queen’s Gambit.” I did a piece on it titled, “Gambit and Katwe… Two Queens, Two Lessons,” but I also added an analysis including Phiona Mutesi’sThe Queen of Katwe.” This movie did not get the fanfare, but of course, the lessons of her life may have been unrelatable for most.

Queen of Katwe Queen's Gambit

We saw some interesting stories including Levon Aronian switching federations due to dissatisfaction with the change in the political climate in Armenia. While Aronian is a big name who has been based in St. Louis, there is another St. Louis resident who is doing great things.

Justus Williams started his “Black Squares” initiative of exposing children to chess for personal development, particularly those in the Black community. The initiative seem to give Justus motivation as he went on to clinch his IM title by earning the requisite 2400 rating.

IM Justus Williams
Photo by CCSCSL

As far as other young talents, Tanitoluwa Adewumi and Brewington Hardaway had many bright moments. “Tani” earned his National Master’s title at 10 joining Hardaway who had also earned in at 10. Both are very active in tournament play and improving rapidly. Tani won the North American Youth under-12 in August.

Hardaway recently eclipsed the 2300 rating mark and won the 7th-grade national championship. Most will remember also that Abhimanyu Mishra broke the age record for the Grandmaster title. Young players are benefiting from the wealth of resources for chess, but most notably the sacrifices of their parents.

Speaking of young players, there was a touching McDonald’s commercial featuring three chess-playing girls from the southside of Chicago.

Video courtesy of the McDonald’s Corporation

There was an interesting story out of Kenya as Fred Sagwe walked 165 kilometers (102 miles) to advocate the inclusion of chess in the curriculum. It was a very creative and noble effort by the current Head of Chess-in-Schools. This led to a debate on the floor of the Kenyan Parliament! Speaking of policy, I penned an op-ed piece touting for increasing diversity of chess ideas.

Unfortunately, not all stories were happy. We lost a number of chess players although not as many as in 2020. Obituaries were presented here for the following players:

GM Roman Hernandez Onna

GM Román Hernández, 71
Afro-Cuban Grandmaster who earned the GM title in 1978
(story, obituary)

Jerome Works, 66
Philadelphia native, club manager
(obituary)

Joseph Gadson, 36 – Detroit native, coach, chess promoter (obituary)

FM Albert Chow, 57 – Chicago native, coach, writer
1994 U.S. Open co-champion
(obituary)

December

November

October

September

August

July

June

May

April

March

February

January

Happy New Year!

Brewington Hardaway. Photo courtesy of ChessKid.com.

Brewington Hardaway winning Pan-Am Youth Chess Festival last October
Photo courtesy of ChessKid.com

After Brewington Hardaway’s recent success at the K12 Championship in Orlando, it is apparent that he has been on an improvement course that has been slow and steady. Two years ago, Hardaway became a National Master at age 10, he continued to play online despite the reduction in tournaments due to COVID lockdown. He got 9/9 in the XXXI Pan American Youth Chess Festival (September 4-10, 2021) and wrote about his experience on ChessKid.com.

When over-the-board play resumed, “Brew” didn’t miss a beat. Starting in March he played in a steady stream of weekly tournaments and since then has eclipsed the 2300 mark. Just after this accomplishment, he took 4th in North American Youth and 1st in the blitz competition.

Continuing to work on improvement, he recently reached his peak rating of 2342 at the U.S. Masters at the Charlotte Chess Center. He followed this by winning the 7th Grade Championship as the top seed. His 6.5/7 score was only blemished by a draw with Aiden Reiss who placed joint second with Ameya Haldankar on 6/7.

Currently a FIDE Candidate Master, he appears to have qualified for the FIDE Master title after the Pan-Ams. Hardaway is the second-highest player aged 12 trailing only Abhimanyu Mishra, the world’s youngest Grandmaster in history. Hardaway also has the top quick rating under-13 and under-16. Here is one of his games from the Pan-Ams.

Magnus Carlsen (Norway) vs. Ian Nepomniachtchi (Russia)

Following are my reflections on the World Chess Championship that took place in Dubai, UAE. For years I have been doing reflection pieces for major events. It is enjoyable to go back and relive these memories. What makes this more special was that it occurred during World Expo 2020. I will also include my impressions of the EXPO since I only saw one game of the match. Prior to that, I was enjoying the broadcasts, press conferences, and recaps. It was a smorgasbord of chess.

@ Dubai Exhibition Center in the Press Room
Photo by Daaim Shabazz

Attending a World Championship is certainly a thrill and this would be my second (2016 Carlsen-Karjakin), but my first overseas. My decision to attend the match in Dubai was greatly influenced by World Expo 2020 being held concurrently. In fact, chess got a lot of exposure during the Expo including in the main plaza with Nona Gaprindashvili and Nana Ioseliani playing an exhibition game.

Spain had chess as an important part of their pavilion and even hosted a tournament! Overall I visited 89 country pavilions and I am certainly not ashamed to say that my main impetus for traveling to Dubai was the Expo which is held every five years. That being said, I wanted to see how many games I would be able to see in Dubai.

Monday, 29 November 2021
(Tallahassee, Florida)

While preparing my report for Game 3, I saw Orrin Hudson of Besomeone.org post pictures from Dubai with famous chess personalities in social media. I had just returned from a family visit in Chicago and had no idea he was attending. Incidentally, I had tossed around the idea of traveling for the championship match. I sent him a quick message on Facebook and he replied immediately to call him.

Orrin Hudson at World Championships

When we got on the phone he was excited about the 10 days he spent there and told me he is considering a return to Dubai for the second half. I already told Maurice Ashley I was not going to attend, but the Expo being there and Orrin giving me additional details, gave me more of an impetus to investigate further.

A couple of days later on December 1st, Carlsen and Nepo made another draw, their fifth in a row. The chances of me covering several games were promising. I decided to make the trip! At this point, my plan was to leave on the 8th out of Atlanta, fly through Amsterdam on the rest day, and arrive in Dubai on the 10th, the morning of Game 11. However, the match was about to take a turn.

Friday, 3 December 2021
(Tallahassee, FL)

Watching a top-level tournament or match is very comforting. You often watch several broadcasts with your special screens and audio equipment which gives chess an entertainment experience. I cover chess events regularly, but which is better? There is nothing compared to being at the site, but for a spectator or a journalist, it is more difficult to enjoy the action. More on that later.

Since I had registered with the Expo website, I was also getting updates about the events at the site. Exciting stuff. I knew that in a couple of days, I would be on my way to Dubai with the hopes that Nepo would be able to extend the match.

2021 World Chess Championship (Dubai, UAE)

After five draws, there was a lot of negative energy about how “perfect” the games were and that there had not been a decisive result in five years. However, Game 6 would change all of that and the chess audience witnessed one of the most fascinating games in World Championship history.

As I was preparing for the trip, I was also focused on a magnificent struggle in Game 6. I was following several broadcasts to get the impressions of the complicated position. Each time I watched on of the broadcasts, the position was significantly different.

Almost eight hours of a gripping battle, Carlsen had won a scintillating game.

The Tide of the Match Turns!
(Tallahassee, FL)

As I was making preparation to travel to Dubai, I saw the match take a turn for the worse. Game 7 was an uneventful draw with Nepo playing white. The game was barely a fight, but the two players were excused after an epic battle the previous game. Later on, many wondered where the turning point was for the Russian challenger. Many held the view that it was Game 6 that depleted his energy and wounded his morale.

As I was following the broadcast, I heard a stir that Nepo had blundered in Game 8. Indeed.

During Game 9, I messaged Orrin, “Nepo may lose again. We’ll get there for closing ceremonies.” It was a sick joke. With this discouraging news, I kept preparing for my trip including a stop at the testing station to get a PCR test for travel.

I reached out to Dirk Jan ten Guezendem of New in Chess and asked if he would be traveling for the match. He told me that after yesterday’s result (and Carlsen going up 3) that he canceled his plans. Of course, I was traveling on the free day and was hoping Nepo could extend the match so my joke would not become a reality.

Wednesday, 8 December 2021
(Tallahassee – Atlanta – Amsterdam)

So I am prepared to leave for Dubai for the first leg of my trip… Tallahassee-Atlanta. I had a Delta flight and in a frenzy of events, I get to the airport and miss the baggage check cut off by a few minutes. The attendant tells me the next flight gets into Atlanta at 5:58pm, well after my 5:35pm (Atlanta-Amsterdam) flight leaves. I would have to drive from Tallahassee to Atlanta to get my flight.

After the four-hour drive, I got to the airport at 2:30pm, presented all of my COVID test papers which required me to register with the UAE health website. When I got to the concourse, I went to check on the spa and discovered they were doing rapid COVID testing! Delta was very strict about the mask requirements, but there were no crazy fights on the flight, nor anyone protesting.

While in the international concourse and saw Orrin at a distance with his Besomeone gear on. When I caught up with him, he told me he had been upgraded to First-Class. It must be nice. I had an aisle seat and while it is usually good on long flights, this was the worst one yet.

From my movie choices, I decided on “Erin Brockovich,” an old classic drama about a flamboyant and plain-spoken legal assistant who helped build a case against Pacific Gas & Electric Company for groundwater contamination. Julie Roberts played Erin Brockovich, a struggling single mother of three who single-mindedly chased down the facts (in her own colorful way) and helped win a landmark case.

As I settled into my seat for the eight-hour flight, I knew I would get a chance to work on my manuscript for an upcoming book. So I get quite a bit done, eat my dinner, and then take a nap. I generally have to ensure to order my vegan meal. Airlines are getting better vendors for vegan options and this meal was tasty.

root vegetable chili, brown rice, red beets, green onion, pumpkin seeds

The seat had extra legroom, but it was positioned such that it was the first chair moving from the elite passengers to the less elite. So sitting in my chair, those coming to my area would walk straight toward my chair and have to make a slant to continue and avoid stepping on my foot or tripping. It also meant that the extra legroom was only imaginary. Awful.

With a few hours left in the flight, Orrin came to tell me to check out his First-Class cabin. He then demanded that I relax in it while he took my seat. It was a very generous thing to do and I reluctantly obliged. The cabin is very nice for international travel to say the least. I have had first-class, but all were domestic.

I settled in and watched, “Respect” the Aretha Franklin biopic featuring fellow Chicago native, Jennifer Hudson. I watched exactly 78 minutes of it. I enjoyed the first-class experience. Thanks to Orrin for giving me relief from the worse seating… at least for a short time.

Thursday, 9 December 2021
(Schiphol Airport – Amsterdam)

This was a free day, so I needed to work on my report and check social medial. Orrin had access to the KLM lounge which is a fantastic place for an 8-hour layover. They have a full-service space with sleeping areas, a full buffet, and plenty of places to hide and work.

Orrin heading up to the KLM Lounge.

Taking a nap during the eight-hour layover

Nice work carrel!

Got my own candy, but they misspelled my name. Someone is getting fired.
Photos by Daaim Shabazz/The Chess Drum

Thursday, 9 December 2021
(Amsterdam – Dubai)

OK… now on to the good stuff.

The flight was uneventful. I had a pulled jackfruit biryani which wasn’t bad.

We arrive in Dubai an hour late Friday at around 2:30am. I had to book Thursday night day despite arriving Friday morning. Didn’t want to take the chance of the room not being ready until 3:00pm. I ended up going to bed around 4:00am and slept until 1:30pm!

EXPO prominently advertised!

Luxuries brands… you already know what kind of place Dubai is

Dubai at 3am

Always interesting in a taxi… about 100AED from airport

My room for a week… comfy

Friday, 10 December 2021
(Dubai Exhibition Centre)

One of the adventures in travel is trying public transportation. I bought a week pass for 115 Arab Emirates dirham (AED) and hopped on platform #2. In seven stops, I would be at the Dubai Exhibition Center. The ride was uneventful and the scenery a bit average. The Metro had specific cars for women and children, but women were free to sit anywhere on the train.

Video by Daaim Shabazz/The Chess Drum

Finally made it to the venue, but I had to get my credentials which would give me access until March 31, 2022! I then had to get separate credentials for the match. After greeting some familiar faces such Maurice Ashley, Sagar Shah (ChessBase India) and Mike Klein (chess.com), I settled into my station for what would be my only day of coverage. However, I was asked by Ashley to be on one of his recaps.

Camera…check. Face mask… check. Sunglasses… check. Chamomile tea… check!

Video by Maurice Ashley/NBC Sports

Being at the venue is very different experience from being at home… qualitatively and quantitatively. There are so many options that as a journalist you’re trying to figure out where the action is and how to best capture it. Sagar certainly knows how to do this and I enjoy his passion.

So… I get a chance to watch Viswanathan Anand in action and during breaks give a few autographs. He is the ultimate professional and almost single-handedly led a chess boom in India. There was a large Indian delegation in Dubai taking in the championship environment.

Video by Daaim Shabazz/The Chess Drum

As stated, Nepomniachtchi’s position was deteriorating and on the verge of losing three out of the last four and four out of the last six games. This is disappointing to me because I have come a long way to see the end of the match. It appears that my joke to Orrin was right… we would only see one game.

The handwriting was on the wall and I was in the viewing hall in time to watch the end and the audience break out into applause after the Russian resigned the match. With the match over, all that was left was the press conference which lasted longer than usual. All of the journalists were driven 10 minutes to the building which required us knifing through the EXPO crowd.

Last press conference

Photos by Daaim Shabazz/The Chess Drum

At the press conference, there were some interesting questions and again, Nepomniachtchi conducted himself very professionally. I was able to ask a couple of questions, but one question would become important in the days to follow. It was the question on the championship match format.

“The first five games were drawn and there were some complaints about the draws and of course, that’s a part of the match. There was also some talk about different formats. We’ve had 24, 12, and now 14. Would either of you entertain other formats which would include other platforms like 960, rapid, and blitz as part of the World Championship?”

Carlsen gave a well-reasoned response…

Video by FIDE Chess

Toward the end, he hinted that he may be losing his motivation for championship matches, at least in their current form. Only days after defending his title, Carlsen was interviewed by a Norwegian sponsor, Unibet. He dropped a bombshell stating,

“If someone other than Firouzja wins the Candidates Tournament, it is unlikely that I will play the next world championship match.”

The story was covered in Norway’s headline as well. Social media went crazy wondering if Carlsen was going to leave the cycle if Firouzja was not the contender. The Iranian-born French citizen now holds the #2 position on the rating list, but perhaps there are others who are waiting for a chance. Besides Carlsen has stated he seeks to eclipse the magical 2900 mark.

It turns out that I would not get an invitation and FIDE Press Officer David Llada explained there were restrictions due to COVID and he could only allow 150 guests. It was a big disappointment, to say the least. Nevertheless, it was a great experience to be in the number of attendees, but more importantly, I got to spend the next four days at World EXPO 2020!

Magnus Carlsen, 2021 World Chess Champion

Magnus Carlsen, 2021 World Chess Champion
Photo by Eric Rosen

11th-15th December 2021
(Dubai Exhibition Centre – World EXPO 2020)

Just a bit about the EXPO before giving my best and worst moments. It was simply fantastic! There were 192 country pavilions and all of them presented their patriotism with bold colors and national symbols of pride. Some of the pavilions were massive and included very creative architecture featuring special effects.

Egypt has a wonderful video presentation. China was futuristic, but I enjoyed Jamaica’s colorful expression, Malaysia’s 4D experience (with mist machine) and Peru’s wonderfully educational display. Poland’s ashwood pavilion was also interesting. Angola has great music!

Angola
Angola Angola Angola

Peru
Peru Peru Peru

Many of the pavilions showed how the country charted their respective courses of development. It was not only educational but inspiring and entertaining. All of the pavilions had nationals providing tours and information about their country. I had the honor of meeting the gentleman from Pacific island nation, Vanuatu!

The pavilions were staged in areas touting the different initiatives: sustainability, mobility, and opportunity. The grounds covered nearly 1100 acres and featured parks, intricate pathways, wide arching boulevards, winding roads, food courts, open-air concerts and public art displays.

I enjoyed the chess displays and was able to see the exhibitions featuring two Georgian chess legends.

Best Memories of the World Championship/Dubai were…

  • Watching “Respect” in First Class. Thanks Orrin!
  • Seeing Maurice Ashley in the credential room. He put me on the spot and asked me to be on his recap. It was a honor.
  • Staying in the Rove Dubai Marina… nice staff, nice dining room, nice ambiance. Need chairs in the room instead of a stool, but otherwise full marks.
  • Nice dinner at the Rove Dubai Marina… marinated kale salad and Beyond Meat tacos. Surprisingly good.
  • Walking along the boardwalk and find “Just Vegan” restaurant. Of course, many of my memories center around food. Who said vegan cuisine is boring?

Boardwalk, Dubai, UAE

Vegan Buffalo Wings

You must try these. Ask me about them. They don’t make them like the restaurants in Chicago, but still delicious.

  • Hearing the adhan throughout the day
  • Watching the Indian delegation interesting in all aspects of the championship… commentating, journalism and simply observing. It is why India is now a top-five chess nation. Sagar Shah and his wife Amruta Mokal are doing wonders to further the Indian chess boom.
  • It was interesting seeing the rapidly-improving Hans Moke Niemann fully engaged in Dubai and working on his chess professionalism.
  • Seeing Levon Aronian and Antoaneta Stefanova featured at the Armenian and Bulgarian pavilions as national heroes.
  • Levon Aronian honored at the Armenian pavilion as a national hero

    Levon Aronian
    Armenia Armenia Armenia

    Antoaneta Stefanova honored at the Bulgarian pavilion as a national hero

    Antoaneta Stefanova
    Bulgaria Bulgaria Bulgaria

  • Wonderful conversations with Croatia, Venezuela, Iran representatives at EXPO. All females 🙂 The beautiful Croatian representative was proud that her Dad lived in my hometown of Chicago and it explained her American accent. She was also proud of Bill Belichick who she claimed as Croatian. The Venezuelan representative talked about the misconceptions of her country and the Iranian lady was telling me about a rug I admired… 40,000 euros. 😕 Samuel Berridge from St. Kitts was also engaging. He works in the Office of the Prime Minister!
  • With Samuel Berridge of St. Kitts

    With Samuel Berridge of St. Kitts

  • Fresh juice from “Grill and Chill” every morning on my way to the Metro
  • Seeing that “Address” building every morning. Inspirational!
  • Riding the Metro on a week pass… easy and efficient!
  • Watching Orrin Hudson interact with others. Interesting and inspirational insights.
  • Seeing Garrett’s Popcorn shop in a food pavilion. It is a Chicago favorite!
  • Seeing many African pioneers profiled at the African Union pavilion. I studied these leaders and the Organization of African Unity in graduate school.
  • Visiting 89 Country pavilions and a proud passport to prove it.
  • Not bad memories of the EXPO itself… a wonderful experience, and even familiar music

Worst Memories of the World Championship/Dubai were…

  • Seeing only one game of the match. No one predicted such a collapse by Ian Nepomniachtchi.
  • Not being invited to the closing ceremonies. To come so far, only attend one game and not being able to go to the closing ceremonies was extremely disappointing.
  • Not visiting any of the tourist sites like the Burj Al Arab Hotel, Grand Mall or the desert. Maybe I will return before the EXPO ends.
  • Not particularly about the WCC, but the Atlanta-Amsterdam seat was the worst.
  • The cards thrown on the sidewalk soliciting call girls. They were strewn like confetti and they were at every meter from my hotel to the Metro. Not good.
  • Clean up this trash Dubai!

    Clean up this trash Dubai! 😡

Final Thoughts on the Match

Hope you enjoyed these reflections!

Kenya Kenya Kenya

Elizabeth Cassidy scored 9/9 in the under-11 Girls section. Photo by KBC Sports

Lewis Ncube, President of African Confederation of Chess, was recently featured on Kenya’s KBC Sports TV to discuss the recent Africa Schools Individual Chess Championship held in Nairobi. He discussed the impact of COVID on chess in Africa, the dynamics of online chess, and the development of talent on the continent.

For the African Schools tournament, there were 166 players from eight countries represented (Botswana-6, Ghana-5, Kenya-67, Malawi-12, Nigeria-2, South Africa-41, Tanzania-3, Uganda-26, Zimbabwe-4). In addition to the success of the tournament, there were teaching seminars and according to Ncube, the demand was so great that they had to cut off registrations.

The highlight of the video was the appearance of two medal winners Mercy Ingado (under-17) and Jamie Kanango (under-13) who gave their impressions of the tournament. They also gave a quick exhibition.

Video by KBC Sports

Results: http://chess-results.com/
Full ACC report: https://africanchessconfederation.com/2021/12/22/early-xmas-gift-for-2021-asicc-host-kenya/

2021 World Chess Championship (Dubai, UAE)

FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich making the first move in the World Chess Championship between defending champion Magnus Carlsen (left) and challenger Ian Nepomniacthchi. Photo by IM Eric Rosen

The 2021 World Chess Championship took part as one of the features of the 2020 World Expo taking place in Dubai, UAE. Magnus Carlsen defended his title for the 4th time winning in dominant fashion over Russia’s Ian Nepomniachtchi by 7.5-3.5. While the match was over in a couple of weeks, the World Expo started in October 2021 and will end March 31st, 2022. The six-month festival features 192 country pavilions and many organizations touting various initiatives such as sustainability, mobility, and opportunity.

Chess was featured prominently at Expo 2020. This is the Spanish chess pavilion where the chess broadcasts took place. Photo by Daaim Shabazz

One of the attractions for me attending the World Chess Championship was the Expo and all that it represents. Teaching my students to think globally is one thing, but actually being a global citizen is another matter. It takes time to build up a travel portfolio and develop a comfort to interact with cultures so different from what you’re accustomed to. However, the experience is rewarding on so many levels.

As far as chess is concerned, it was on display at the Expo and included an exhibition at the al-Wasl Plaza on the center stage. Former women’s champion Nona Gaprindashvili and two-time challenger Nana Ioseliani played a game that was projected onto the massive dome structure overhead. In addition, to video imagery of the players, there was creative chess animation. Nice touch!

Nona Gaprindashvili playing Nana Ioseliani in an exhibit
as part of “Chess Day” festivities.
Photos by Daaim Shabazz/The Chess Drum

Video by Daaim Shabazz/The Chess Drum

Nona Gaprindashvili greeted Judit Polgar after the exhibition.

The exhibition of two legendary Georgian champions was a pleasant surprise for me because I happened to be leaving the Expo for the evening. The first thing I saw was Gaprindashvili overheard. I then heard chess commentary and moved quickly to see what was happening. I later see an entire audience watching the game and I was impressed at the level of interest.

Perhaps it was a “Queen’s Gambit” effect, but the visual appeal was certainly there. It should not go unnoticed that Gaprindashvili actually filed a lawsuit against the series because it implied that she did not compete against men. The case was ultimately dismissed.

While I didn’t see much of the game, I listened to the commentary and several people asked me the names of the players and other details. It was quite a scene. Ioseliani won the game and afterward, there were gifts presented and then photo-op including Judit Polgar, who did commentary for the match. Maria Emelianova was capturing the event with her usual professional touch. It was a night that the world noticed chess once again.


“We are here in a very special place, where Expo 2020 Dubai is treating chess in a wonderful way, and I thank the Spain Pavilion for hosting the tournament.”

~GM Judit Polgar


Levon Aronian honored at the Armenian pavilion as a national hero

Levon Aronian
Armenia Armenia Armenia

Antoaneta Stefanova honored at the Bulgarian pavilion as a national hero

Antoaneta Stefanova
Bulgaria Bulgaria Bulgaria

As I visited country pavilions, many offered that they heard about the world chess championship match. For some pavilions, chess was an integral part. Both Levon Aronian and Antoaneta Stefanova were honored at the Armenian and Bulgarian pavilions. Spain hosted a broadcast from the pavilion and had a giant chess set in the front of the pavilion along with videos on chess history after Moorish rule.

The pavilion hosted the World School Chess Tournament during the match featuring 108 players from 10 countries. Both 16-year-old Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa and 15-year-old Dommaraju Gukesh were high-profile participants. There were also a number of chess celebrity visitors to the Spanish pavilion.

Video by ChessBase India

Surprisingly there were other pavilions that had chess sets in their pavilion including Zimbabwe, Mongolia, and Mauretania. The latter country had unique versions of “chess” that looked nothing like the chess we know.

Zimbabwe

This Mongolian set was from an empire 3000 years ago hand-crafted with marble, redwood, silver, and gold. This work of art took two years to make.

Video by Expo 2020 Dubai

There is always the question of the origins of chess. For the most part, the chess community is in agreement that India was the genesis, but of course, there were many variants. One unique form of chess was seen at the Mauretanian pavilion alongside the popular African game “Warri”.

I could not get any details on this West African version, but it appears to be more of a wargame with immediate hand-to-hand combat. Many of the strategy games seen in Africa were categorically called “chess” despite having no relationship with the game we have come to know. In Mauretania, they even have specific games for men and women.

Mauretanian Chess

Chess for Men (Mauretania)

Mauretanian Chess

Chess for Women (Mauretania)

Indeed chess was a major fixture in Expo 2020. The chess match received generous coverage and it was part of an overall theme of connecting people. The issue of chess reaching millions has accelerated due to technology and has even ignited debates on parliament floors. Let us hope that chess will not disappear from the Expo. There are still four months remaining to use the event as a platform!

2021 World Chess Championship
Dubai, UAE (November 24th-December 16th)
NorwayRussiaNorwayRussiaNorwayRussia

Magnus Carlsen (Norway) vs. Ian Nepomniachtchi (Russia) - 2021 World Chess Championship
 
12
13
14
pts.
Carlsen
½
½
½
½
½
1
½
1
1
½
1
Caruana
½
½
½
½
½
0
½
0
0
½
0
Official Site: https://fideworldchampionship.com/

On Friday, December 10th, Magnus Carlsen successfully defended his title for the fourth time in Dubai, UAE since first winning in Chennai, India in 2013 over Viswanathan Anand. They would have a return match a year later and it would be the first successful defense for Carlsen. This match would be his fourth and he defeated Ian Nepomniachtchi in dominant fashion 7½-3½.

Carlsen celebrating his first championship after defeating Viswanathan Anand in 2013. Photo by Magnus Carlsen (Facebook)

This match was highly anticipated because the Russian had a plus score despite losing their last encounter. If there was anything to grasp onto in the match, Game 6 will go down in history as one of the most intriguing games scoring a record of 136 moves. From that point on, Nepo seemed to lose the thread on the match. Something rattled him psychologically or perhaps the eight-hour chess game disoriented him a bit. Nevertheless, he simply collapsed.


After the decisive Game 6, then there was a sense of relief from five years of draws. However, it was famine followed by a feast as dec isive results came quickly. It wasn’t the quantity of decisive results that bothered the chess community, but the quality.


Before the match, there were predictions being made with most of them in favor of Carlsen. However, there were a few people who chose Nepo and others who thought he would be a serious threat. Carlsen gave his opinion that both Fabiano Caruana or Ding Liren would’ve posed a tougher challenge. The reason was that they were a lot more stable. The way it has been put is that Nepo is a consensus 2780-2800 player, but his stability is not the same as the two players mentioned. Carlsen spoke on a Norwegian podcast about this issue.

In Norway Chess he seemed very strong for the first 3-4 rounds, he had a small setback, and then he collapsed. That’s not something he can allow himself in a World Championship match. I am not going to fall even if I am hit in the face once. Perhaps that will be his biggest challenge, to handle the setbacks that will come, regardless of whether it’s a good position he fails to convert, or a game that he should have held to a draw but ends up losing, or opening preparation that goes wrong — that will be a huge challenge for him.

It proved that Carlsen’s thesis was correct. After five draws, there were comments about how chess could not tolerate another championship where the classical portion featured all draws. After the decisive Game 6, then there was a sense of relief from five years of draws. However, it was famine followed by a feast as decisive results came quickly. It wasn’t the quantity of decisive results that bothered the chess community, but the quality. On one hand, draws are not desirable and on the other, decisive results by blunders are not ideal.

Did Nepo check out after the grueling Game 6? He suffered tremendous lapses in attention and frequently got up from the board. Although gracious in defeat, he will have to reboot if he wants to return to the big stage. Photo by Maria Emelianova

For games 8 and 9, the nature of the match shifted sharply. The issue now is whether Nepo could salvage a game from the match. After going down 2-0 Sergey Karjakin was sent to Dubai to assist Nepo. Later there was controversy that Daniil Dubov was working on the Carlsen team, a fact that created a stir among the Russian Federation. Dubov has since responded.


It may very well be that the Game 6 eight-hour marathon exhausted Nepo’s physical and mental resources.


After two disastrous games, Nepo settled down and drew an uneventful game 10 with plans to push in the last four. However, the match result was already a foregone conclusion. Down three games with only four remaining, the hope was to win a couple of games to pull the match into respectability. Even that attempt went awry. In the last game, Nepo prepared well in the opening, but had another blindspot after playing 23.g3?? His house came crashing down and in a flash had a completely losing ending which Carlsen converted with precision.

Magnus Carlsen after winning
the 2021 World Chess Championship.
Photo by Maria Emelianova

In the final press conference, Nepo was again very composed, but one may ask if he was a bit too nonchalant and “happy to be here.” Should he have been more upset? It may very well be that eight-hour the Game 6 marathon exhausted Nepo’s physical and mental resources. Those who have taken eight-hour exams, as this writer has (three in one week), will know that you need several days to recover or risk unraveling mentally.

Yet, what we will remember from this match is Nepo’s gracious posture in the press conferences, a conflicting reality. Nevertheless, Carlsen was clearly the better player and deserved to win. Chants of the “GOAT” or the greatest of all time were made afterward. While I believe those are conversations for a later time, Carlsen has certainly made his mark.

Magnus Carlsen, 2021 World Chess Champion

Magnus Carlsen, 2021 World Chess Champion
Photo by Eric Rosen

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