Saturday, 21 May 2011

Adios Havana Bienvenidos Santa Clara

Well folks, the tournament is over and I had a hair-raising encounter with a Spanish GM. Whereas quick draws were being agreed all around , neither my opponent or I felt like a quiet day. No draws were offered although a repetition claim by me was being discussed for so long that I just offered to keep playing as the position was totally drawn and after a few more moves my opponent also called it a day. My scoresheet was confiscated again but anyway there is no point in boring you with the last 30 or 40 moves. There were many repetitions so impossible to remember. Here tis.

Our game was one of the last to finish at 8pm. Then it was time for Dinner and then I got interviewed by Cuban TV! They have a four hour chess program once a week. Then came the prize-giving ceremony where to my surprise Ivanchuk was pronounced the winner! This miracle man was struggling on 50%  last time I checked and Le Quang Liem was on +4. Vassily turned on a spurt in the second phase and beat Le in the last round today while I was busy trying to keep my disastrous position together. Congrats to both.

After the prize-giving I asked about a rumoured  tournament in Santa Clara and was told that yes there is one but they can not offer any conditions so they assumed I didn't want to play. I informed them that naturally I would love to play and the next hour a few more players were approached and now it seems that an extremely strong round robin will start on Monday! Yippee :-)

I love Santa Clara having visited Che's city in 2001 but I doubt very much that there will be wi-fi there so this is probably my last entry for a few weeks but Cuba has surprised me before. If it is the case I wish you all a good time and hope you don't miss me too much :-)      

Friday, 20 May 2011

Round 9 and a few more pictures

Today I was a bit lazy I must admit. I did spend more than two hours preparing for my game but was naturally surprised in the opening. not nowing my way around I played a novelty early on, at least according to my database, and equalized easily. My opponent offered a draw on move 11 and I took it although I suspect black already has a microscopic advantage but 100 elo points more.  Since the game is not really worth looking at I am going to show you some photo's of Paseo de Havana.

Some guy on a Horse :-) These immortal words were spoken by my Portugese mate Luis Gallego when I asked him about a similar statue in his home town of Porto.

The middle of the Paseo. As you can see the trees are in Bloom. Is there a Botanist out there who can tell me what they are?

A wonderfully restored Colonial house.

A house yet to be fully restored :-) See the tree on the first floor? Wait, here's a closer look

Nice no?

And finally a nice old Car

That's all for today folks, tomorrow is the last round at the civilized time of 3pm.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Revolution square and Round 8

Plaza de Revolution

Today I had an encounter with internal security. I was bored with hanging around at the Hotel and felt I should show you some more of Havana so I took a walk to Revolution square. The walk from the Riviera is a good half hour along the tree-lined Paseo de Havana. Along the way you won't see any advertising billboards as they are banned in Cuba which I really don't mind. You do however get lots of Inspiring Slogans like these.

Socialism, today, tomorrow, forever.

Together with Fidel and Raul. Revolution.

52 years of light and victory. 

Once there I took some pictures of the buildings. As I was to find out later, this building is the foreign ministry. Since there were Soldiers outside I thought it wise to ask if it was permitted to take photo's and was told “no problemo” by the patrolling Soldier.

This is the right part of the ministry which you may photograph. The left side had a huge Cuban flag that made a great photo but is forbidden apparently.

In the middle of the square is a Statue of Jose Marti in front of a Museum and 109 metre high Tower. For 3 CUC you can ride to the top and get a great view of Havana. I would have gladly paid double if they would only clean the windows but it was great anyway.

Jose Marti, a famous Cuban revolutionary around the turn of the century.

and here a picture of the ministry from the tower. I was allowed to keep this one because it was from far enough away. Weird.

By now I was drenched in sweat (better not to go out in the mid-day sun) so I headed back to the Hotel. Just short of the Hotel a man in civilian clothing stopped me . Very politely he told me that I had been seen photographing the foreign ministry and this is a crime that can get you expelled from the country and/or attract a fine. Having experienced several hustling attempts here I asked to see his identification again. He produced a very unofficial looking piece of paper that definitely did not look like any kind of security ID I but offered to show him my pictures and delete any he found unacceptable. He did identify one and I duly deleted it. We then shook hands and parted ways but I am still not 100% sure that I was dealing with a real agent of the Interior ministry.

Why is taking a photo of a building on Revolution square illegal?
Why did he wait so long to approach me and why alone?
The ID looked very suspicious.

On the other hand

If he wanted a “fine” he was not very persistent
I imagine impersonating security forces is very dangerous.

In all probability he was who he said he was in which case Cuban Security forces are very polite.

I got back at 1pm, had lunch and did a bit of preparation. This went very well and I got a winning position straight from the opening, won a piece but still had to play many moves. Instead of trying to mate my young opponent I just swapped everything expecting resignation. Instead I had to play another 50 pointless moves. I only entered the first 20. The rest were just a waste of Ink and paper.

Hasta Manjana Amigoes

ps: My Buddy Klaus de Francesco made an IM norm with a round to spare today. I'm sure you'll all join me in congratulating him on a great, well deserved result.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Capa Round 7

I didn't get out today so I only have a game for you. I was playing a Nicaraguan IM today and we had a bit of a wild game in which I got a nice advantage out of the opening but then got greedy, grabbed an exchange and then nearly got myself mated. So a draw was a fair result.

I guess I cant let you non-chessplayers suffer without a pic or two can I. Here are two more from the
 Gaudi-like Gardens

There were these charming little walkways everywhere, a bit squeezy though :-) 

And a stone hut with stone tables and chairs.

I just found out why my pictures have been taking ages to load and it is not the fault of the connection but the @#$%^& Bill Gates and his @#$%^& automatic updates cleverly hidden under hidden icons. Since this is a family blog I will not write what I suggest he does with them.

Have a nice day all.....except Bill.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Capa Mem Round 6

Well folks, it's 2am and I should really be counting sheep but I just had to show you today's game. I have just come back from a comedy club, the Cocodrilo which is just around the corner where I and a lovely English Lady listened to Cuban humour. Rosanna was a Spanish teacher and I can speak a bit but both of us found it hard to follow the funny young man who spoke very quickly in a fairly strong Cuban accent. I understood 2 of the dozens of jokes but it was funny anyway.

Now to my game. My opponent was WGM Vigoa Apecheche, a very talented and very attractive young lady, one of the top 10 women in Cuba. She neglected two of the principle rules of chess, development and rapid castling and consequently got into trouble early but then defended quite tenaciously. After getting a completely dominating position I faffed  around a bit but finally put her away with a positional queen sac.

AFter the game I requested to keep my score-sheet for 15 minutes so I can enter my game and the arbiter kindly agreed. Now on +1 everything looks brighter. Finally I want to show you two pictures that I wanted to post yesterday but could not due to the lethargy of the connection.

Anybody know what this is?

No mistaking this beauty.

That's all for today folks, time to get some sleep as I have to be up before 10am or go without breakfast.
Hasta Manjana.

Monday, 16 May 2011


Today was a rest day, one of the great things about chess in Cuba. Whereas in the west we have moved to double rounds which neccessarily include the almost universally hated morning rounds here in Cuba the games start at the civilized time of 3pm, one round a day and a rest day. Only in Holland, for example Leiden, do you still see the same respect for the royal Game. Today I took a walk around our neighbourhood in Vedado and this is what I saw.

The ground floor has one of the many 24 hour bakeries I have seen in Cuba

A beautiful Fortification next to the Colonial Club 1830 housing a cafe and restaurant

The mouth of the River

A fisherman throwing his line in the water

Some kind of Temple?

The Colonial Club or 1800 as it's known locally (despite the 1830 sign) has great music on Thursdays and Sundays.

Inside you have a rock garden made of sea fossils that reminds me of the Gaudi garden in Pobla de Lillet in Catalunya, Spain

a closer view

and a stairway to heaven.

and a final one from the top. I did want to show you a few more but these took nearly 2 hours to upload. The wi-fi here at the Cohiba Melia hotel is usually quite good but today is extraordinarily slow.

That's all folks, wish me luck for tomorrow, I am playing my fourth female competitor, a Cuban WGM so I'll need all the luck I can get :-) 

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Cuba v USA match and round 5 game.

Cuba v USA

The Cosmos Club has an exclusive membership of 90 living Nobel prize winners, authors, scientists and lawyers. Since intellectual pursuits are their “raison d’etre” it is not surprising that they have a chess club. Unlike most chess clubs they like to travel the world and play against other amateur clubs for example the Royal Automobile Club in London and the Cercle Interalee de Paris in Paris.

From left to right Silvino Garcia President Cuban Chess Federation, Carlos Riviero, Commissioner of Chess, Roy Berg, yours truly, Professor Robert Bennett Lubic and Arnold Leibowitz.

Author Sophy Burnham (The art of intuition, A book of Angels, The treasure of Mountseque and For writers only amongst others) with her young opponent and her mother.

Their trip to Cuba was more of a challenge according to Professor Robert Bennett Lubic or Bob as he likes to be called. Bob and his wife organise tours since he retired so they know the difficulties associated with travelling to Cuba for Americans. The US has had an almost unilateral embargo against Cuba for roughly half a century now and discourages it's citizens from travelling to this Island in various ways. Cultural exchanges are permitted in some circumstances but not others and spouses are not permitted to come along just for a holiday. In the case of the New York Philharmonic some members of the delegation were denied permission in one instance because they were administrators and not musicians.

First the Cosmos Club approached the office of Cuban interests in the US who were very friendly but took their time processing their request. Cuban bureaucracy moves slowly and chaotically as in most Latin American countries. Next our intrepid adventurers had to get permission from OFAC. They would not give permission for non-playing spouses to come along. This makes me suspect that maybe some of the spouses who did make the trip may not play regularly or could even have learned the game for the purposes of the trip but this is pure silly speculation on my part so please take it with a grain of salt and even if it is the case, good for them. Anyway, after six more months of paper shuffling they finally got permission from all sides. Then three weeks before the planned trip Bob inquired if everything was alright on the Cuban side but unsurprisingly nobody knew anything about it. Finally he got the President of the Cuban Chess Federation on the phone and he made things happen immediately and since then everything has been great.

The top boards.

The wives. Did they learn to play chess just to qualify as competitors?

Only Roy Berg managed a draw despite being out-rated by several hundreds of points but all had a great time and could not praise Cuban hospitality enough. Finally a few of them expressed interest in playing a friendly match in Australia against a Social Club. Or any other interesting Country. Hamilton Chess Club?

As for my fourth round game, it was quite good by my current standards but since it was a long endgame I cannot remember all the nothing moves, in fact I cannot vouch with 100% certainty that I got the move order right in my first 3 games. The score-sheets do not have carbon copies and the arbiters insist on collecting them all after the game. That's a shame because I would have liked to show you my first win. Maybe they will give them back after the tournament.
I do however have my fifth round game for you. I got the better of the opening, turnrd down a repetition and then got outplayed but held. 

 Here's wishing you all a great day. Hasta manjana.  

Friday, 13 May 2011

Opening ceremony and Rounds 2+3

Blogger didn't let me in yesterday so I will now catch up. The song and dance at the opening ceremony was really first class. The event as very popular as is everything to do with chess here in Cuba so I struggled to get a good spot. Please excuse the video quality.

Less thought seems to have gone into the rest of the tournament. The conditions for the elite group are just hilarious. Some of the worlds best players are playing next to the swimming pool and the hotels main phone exchange which rings all the time. I have also heard several mobiles go off from the throng of spectators. Not Wijk aan zee, that's for sure. Here is the official site.

The open reminds me of chess tournaments in Australia except much stronger. As you can see there is very little room between the boards, it's very hot and today my neighbour stood up too fast and sent all the pieces flying. Tablecloth. I need some sort of excuse for how I am playing. Please do not feel obliged to play through these next games unless you are looking for a laugh. In the first game I just blundered a piece overlooking that after g5, Qh5 my knight is no longer covering f4

And today it got worse. All credit to my opponent for playing well early on but when she played h4 allowing Qh3 and mate I really should have seen it.

 Oh well, I still have the sights.

Just outside the hotel I spotted this beautiful convertible.

As you see I have a new name, new country AND I have become an athlete :-) Well that's all for today folks, wish me luck for the coming rounds, I obviously need it.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Capablanca Memorial first round and Santa Maria.

I should have played Nd5 instead of f5 of course but thought I could win without further risk. Gutless chicken. Oh well. it will get better I hope. Not a fascinating game but to make up for it

I will show you some more pics. Santa Maria is 5km north-west of Guanabo and is much cleaner but also more boring. A typical tourist beach resort but if you are not an Aussie you will like it.

Rent a Catamaran if you like

or get a suntan  next to a bunker similar to the ones in the Medoc. 

the Police are a welcome presence here as well.

And of course a taxi patiently waiting to take us back to Guanabo. 

I will have to show you more interesting games or else take some good pics of Havana. Btw, this evening I met my musician friends at a bar around the the corner again and they promised to show me some good places to listen to great Cuban music so stay tuned :-)

Hasta manjana amigoes. 

Tuesday, 10 May 2011



Not the best place in Cuba by any stretch of the imagination. In our guidebooks this town is described as a lovely little beach-side town which still has kept it's old world charm. This may have been true in 1933 as in this photo.

I would describe it as a Mad-Max type post apocalyptic hell-hole that attracts the worst elements of Cuban society and the worst type of tourist. It is very run down, dirty and sleazy
One example, whatever you do, do NOT go to this beach bar.

. Naturally there were nice people there as well and many locals from Havana came for a day at the beach because it is quite cheap to get there by bus.

I must make a special mention of the Police because they tried really hard to make us feel safe and welcome. We did have an “opportunity” to visit the station after one of the Ladies in our group, Andrea, had her backpack stolen on the beach. Claudia and Andrea, who you met in my last blog-entry, were sunning themselves on the beach using their backpacks as pillows as they had been advised to do many times by the police. Andrea lifted her head to take out her MP3 player, put it on and lay back down again and her pack was missing. A matter of seconds! Claudia was lying right next to her reading a book (no MP3) and heard and saw nothing. Incredible. I accompanied the ladies to the station to help translate.

We were interviewed by the local chief of immigration who spoke good English and several other officers who helped write out the report in great detail. They all went to enormous amount of trouble, including sending out several squad cars and making numerous phone calls to try to find the bag. So I would like to extend a warm thank you to the Guanabo Police. They are doing a great job in a difficult situation. Unfortunately they cannot be everywhere at once.
Lada or Moskovitch? I can never tell the difference. These are the Cars the Police use.

Of course it was not all bad, we met many nice people as well, had nice food in the two Italian restaurants, Don Peppo and Italo nova
Cadillac? Behind is the Italo nova.

 and saw many nice old cars and other methods of transport.

Horse + Buggy
Water delivery? The tap water is salty here and undrinkable.

Now it's time for some more pics of nice old cars. Since I am not such a car buff you will have to identify some of these yourself.

Many are Taxi's
I got this one! FORD!! :-)

There are worse places to end up in but not in Cuba. At least there is almost no violent crime, just theft and tourist hunting and ripping off. At any rate, I am glad to be back in Havana at the Riviera hotel and am looking forward to the tournament starting tomorrow. After the tournament I will show you the nice places in Cuba of which there are many.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Havanna with wi-fi!

In ten hours we flew from one of the worlds most boring and bland cities, Frankfurt, to one of the most colourful and exciting, Havanna.Our first full day started with an acceptable buffet breakfast in our Hotel,the Occidental Miramar. We took the free tourist bus to the Malecon and then walked through the back streets towards the Capitolio. Of course inspiration can be found everywhere

We also passed a little park on the way that Nina would have enjoyed. I have never seen a Goat train before.

 On the way we passed Chinatown. I remember being very surprised my first time in Havanna a decade ago when I saw Chinatown. I must admit that I did not expect to see a Chinese area in Cuba, especially the size of it. Is there a major city without a Chinatown? If you look closely at this photo you will see a girl holding up a menu.

As soon as she saw me taking a photo she jumped up to try to tempt us into the establishment. For us it was too hot for lunch and we had all had a big breakfast. Immediately next to Chinatown is the Capitolio which is a replica of the Whitehouse. Here is our Group, Klaus, Andrea, Claudia and Thomas from left to right, in front of this landmark.

 And here they are again debating what we should do next.

 We also wandered through a market and gawked at the oldtimers that are remarkably well kept considering their age.

 One has to admire Cuban mechanics. How they keep these cars on the road without spare parts is truly remarkable.

 We got seperated because I wanted to change some money and the rest of the afternoon was a little stressful but also interesting. Being alone one meets a lot more people than in a group which is a double edged sword. I could not find the bus and after some unsuccesful and annnoying attempts to get a reasonably priced cab back to the Hotel I spat the dummy and decided to walk figuring it would not be much more than an hour but turned out to be about 11! Mind you I did make a few stops on the way. From the Centre I walked back to the Malecon and headed west.

 After an hour I met Alejandro and William, two Bakers who insisted on inviting me for a beer and would not let me pay a round until they had no money left.

 I then had to tell William that I am older and therefore he should show some "respect" and let me buy a few rounds. Several hours and many "Crystal" later I stumbled back in the direction of the Hotel. My next encounter was with a couple of guys, Carlos and Octavio, who first played me some songs

 and then invited me for dinner. I didn't have much memory left on my phone so that's why the song was cut short. Their friend Vilma made me some dinner and her son Marcos played some games of Chess with me while the aforementioned lads kept playing guitar and singing. By now it was so I bade them goodnight and stumled on. (more beers). Little did I know how far I still had to go especially without a map. I did eventually make it back at 2am after a little "detour" with a totally drenched t-shirt and blisters on my soles. I did not wake up in time for the May-day parade which was the reason for arriving in Cuba 2 weeks before the tournament. Oh, well, the best laid plans.... At least I now have an excuse to visit Havanna again :-) Always look at the bright side :-)