Monday, July 25, 2016

Pan-American Youth Chess Championship 2016

¡Montevideo, Uruguay!
- Draft notes, to be continued -

Back in May, the US Chess Federation informed us that both Naomi and Ethan will be the US Official Representatives in their categories (Girls U14 and Open U18) at the Pan-American Youth Chess Championship in Montevideo, Uruguay, July 24-31, 2016.  This means they are partly compensated for accommodation and travel.  For cheapskates like us this was the last straw, now we had to go!  

July 22 - Day 1

After the 24-hours-long three-legs flight (SEA-SFO-MIA-MVD), we crashed at the AirBnB unit rented for the first two nights before the chess tournament started.  It's advertised as "a unique place in the depth of the Old Town".  From there we raided the Old Town streets, attractions and restaurants.

Take a look at the photo album to appreciate that unique AirBnB rental, the beautiful Plaza Matriz, the opulent Plaza Independencia, the intimate Sarandi walkway, the tucked away Plaza Zabala, the bon vivant Port Market, and the grandiose Rambla Francia.

At the Cervecería Matriz I made first contact with the delicious popular Uruguayan food chivito.  It's a thin slice of filet mignon in a bun, with mozzarella, tomatoes, mayonnaise, olives, bacon, boiled eggs and ham.  Popularly known as a "cholesterol bomb", it's tasted divine.  Even more divine was my wife's order of lasagna, whose savory meaty creamy hot gentle taste stuck in our yearning memories forever.

July 23 - Day 2

After seeing the General Artigas Mausoleum, under the enormous horse-mounted General Artigas Monument on Plaza Independencia, we hopped onto the Bus Turistico for a guided tour of the city, and hopped off at a few stops.  The City Hall Lookout provided thrilling vistas in all directions.  The grandiose Legislative Palace was closed - for which we successfully compensated later on Day 5.  The nearby Agricultural Market managed to be both abundant and hip.  The Botanical and Japanese Gardens were very walkable, and the Rodó attraction park rides supplied our kids with ample excitement.  We ended the day at the El Cuatro restaurant at the Port Market, by devouring inhuman amounts of meats.

July 24 - Day 3

Early in the morning I climbed onto the AirBnB unit's rooftop to capture on camera the Old Town views, and the view to Cerro de Montevideo, the famous hill across the Bay of Montevideo.  

At 11 AM we joined the Solis Theater guided tour for a glimpse of this famed 19 century entertainment venue. Later, fútbol replaced teatro as the leading form of popular entertainment, especially after Uruguay topped the World Cup in 1930.

A nice walk along Avenida 18 de Julio, with its plazas, monuments and the unspeakable SUBTE exposition (double entendre), brought us to the Art History Museum, an instant love affair for any cultured person.  On the way back, at the Del Navio restaurant, milanesa and empanadas satisfied our earthly urges as well.

From the AirBnB unit in the Old Town, we've Uber-ed to the Sheraton Montevideo hotel at Punta Carretas, for the remaining week July 24-31.  The day ended with the Pan-American Youth Chess Championship opening ceremony, an inevitably crowded and self-consciously serious affair.

July 25 - Day 4

We went to the US team meeting, otherwise staying indoors due to rain.  I've discovered the gastronomic joys of the nearby Punta Carretas shopping mall. Chiviteria Mil Salsas, Churrascaria El Fogon, Blas Rincón Gourmet and other restaurants nourished the body way beyond what it needed ;-)

Round 1 started at 5 PM.  Naomi won over Luiza De Oliveira Felix from Brazil, and Ethan drew with Juan Heinechen from Paraguay.

Here is the Pan-American Youth Chess Championship website, with live games and video stream:

And here are the tournament crosstables to follow:

July 26 - Day 5

Round 2 started at 9:30 AM.  Naomi defeated Alexandra-Fiore Estrada-Cantaro of Peru, and Ethan beat Dominguez Facundo of Uruguay.

During the game we habitually abandoned the chess venue, flagrantly free from any parental guilt, and Uber-ed to Palacio Legislativo for the 10:30 guided tour.  What a delight!  Apparently back in 1904 when the construction started, Uruguay (along with Argentina) used to be much higher up on the relative world-wide wealth scale.  Palacio Legislativo is a true Italian-style architectural marvel, built with insane amounts of marble, allegorical statues, gilded rooms and epic paintings.  It can easily compete with parliaments of countries 100 times more populous than 3-million-people Uruguay.

In Round 3 Naomi drew with Melanie Dongo of Peru, whereas Ethan has dramatically defeated FIDE Master Francisco Javier Munoz of Argentina, by gaining a two pawns advantage and realizing it in the endgame.  Since Ethan played on (electronic) Board 3, we watched the whole game broadcast live, all 78 moves!  Here is the online screenshot of Ethan's triangulating moves which craftily denied his opponent the 3-repetitions draw.  After erroneously claiming such draw and being rebuked by an arbiter, his opponent resigned two moves later:

Now both Ethan and Naomi have 2.5 points out of 3, and move to third and second position in their categories respectively.  Ethan's next round opponent will be International Master Kevin Joel Cori Quispe of Peru, and Naomi's - Woman FIDE Master Fernanda Luisa Diaz of Colombia.  The game is on!

July 27 - Day 6

Round 4 started at 10 AM, a new morning game starting time - to let local parents park their cars in the shopping mall when it opens.  Naomi defeated Woman FIDE Master Fernanda Luisa Diaz, and moved to the top position for now.

And Ethan drew with International Master Kevin Joel Cori Quispe of Peru!  Thus, he already played with the two strongest participants.  The rest should be easier, so 3 points out of 4 is a very good start!

There was no afternoon round, so instead we took a walk in the Punta Carretas neighborhood to the oceanfront, Punta Brava cape and its picturesque lighthouse.  Frigid Antarctic winds were piercing our barely adequate clothing. In the Southern Hemisphere, Winter is Coming.

July 28 - Day 7

In Round 5 Ethan defeated Marco Delgado-Romero and Naomi lost to Stephanie-Beatriz Puppi-Lazo.

In Round 6 Ethan lost to FIDE Master Brian-Sebas Escalante-Ramirez, and Naomi drew with Aleyla Hilario (thanks for having just one first and one last name!).  By chance, all four of our kids' opponents were from Peru on that day.

July 29 - Day 8

In Round 7 Ethan lost to Dawton-Almino Lemos of Brazil, and Naomi lost to Woman FIDE Master Javiera-Belen Gomez-Barrera of Chile. ¡Caramba!

In the morning we strolled along Rambla Gandhi to Playa Pocitos (Montevideo puny answer to Copacabana), and in the evening we Uber-ed across Montevideo  Bay to Fortaleza del Cerro.

To be continued...

Thursday, June 30, 2016

2016 The Riviera Demolition - Flashback: 2008 Las Vegas National Open

Boom! Goes The Riviera...

June 2016: The Riviera Demolition

Recently we stumbled upon some riveting news from Las Vegas.  The famed Riviera hotel and casino has been demolished by implosion.  It has been one of those time-honored upsettingly-joyful Las Vegas demolition celebrations, with fireworks and music and all.  But for us it felt like yet another bridge to the past being blown up.  There are all those previous-life towns and cities and countries left behind...  And now -- Boom! Goes The Riviera...

June 2008: The Riviera Flashback

It was our first air travel to a national chess tournament ever in the USA.  Ethan (then 10) played for the first time in his life for big money, in the 2008 National Open's U1400 Section, whereas in the Open Section very big guys were playing: Gata Kamsky, Hikaru Nakamura, etc.

Naomi had just turned 5 and didn't yet even know how to play chess!  

This is the point in time where this Chess Travel blog's Temporal Field starts.  It would take 3 more years until the first Chess Travel blog post appears, about the 2011 World Youth Chess Championships in Brazil.  But this 2008 trip to Las Vegas was where the seed has been planted.

June 4: Flight to Las Vegas

Our first travel as a family out of the US home:

June 5: Las Vegas Strip and Casinos

From The Riviera, we started walking south on the west side of the Strip.  It was a hot day, so pretty soon we decided to take the Deuce bus on the way.  We saddled the second-floor front-window seats, and had one of the most vivid neck-breaking mouth-gaping unashamedly-touristy experiences of our lives.

After riding the Deuce all the way south we disembarked at the Mandalay Bay and walked back north inside the interconnected hotels and casinos.  The Luxor, The Excalibur, The New York New York ravished our sense of splendor.  And then The MGM Grand delivered a coup de grace in the form of the Rainforest Cafe and the glass-sided Lion Habitat.  

The M&M's World and the nearby video games hall replenished the kids energy, we walked past the Hard Rock Cafe, caught the Deuce near Planet Hollywood and rode to The Riviera.  What a day!

June 6: National Open, Riviera, Bellagio singing fountains

On our second day in Las Vegas, the tournament started.  In the morning, in Round 1, Ethan (rating 1327) defeated Aaron Chow (1345).  In the afternoon, all four of us found a refuge from the heat in The Riviera's swimming pool.  The kids were happy.  

In the evening, we left Ethan alone in The Riviera to play Round 2 against Jonathan Booher (1283), while the remaining three of us took off to see the famous Bellagio singing fountains, see the videos here:

June 7: Bellagio Conservatory, Caesars Palace Forum, Venetian Canals

On the third day, Ethan stayed at The Riviera to play chess for the whole day.  In Round 3 he lost to Kyle Burris (1395) and in Round 4 he defeated Michael Beckham (1285).  Between games Ethan would walk back to the room himself and then come down to the playing hall again, in time -- no small feat for a 10 year old boy in a typical sprawling Las Vegas hotel and casino complex!

We went to see the Bellagio Conservatory, the Caesars Palace Forum Shops with its Atlantis show and tacky Roman piazzas, and The Venetian with its delightfully fake canals and gondolas. Why visit Europe when you have Vegas?

June 8: Las Vegas Downtown, Flamingo, Treasure Island, Bellagio

On the fourth day, Ethan lost to Evan Zheng (1121) and defeated Newton Steers (1255).  His final place was in the middle of his U1400 section, as expected.  In the following 6 years, Ethan reached USCF rating 2184, so maybe this tournament did good for him.

In the morning, the touristic appetite took us to Fremont Street (Las Vegas Downtown).  Under the famous full-street canopy, we ran into the coolest classic cars show.  And then we experienced the debilitating gluttony of a Las Vegas all-you-can-eat buffet.

In the afternoon, back at the Strip, we've seen The Flamingo's flamingos - who were lavishly pink.  Then we grabbed Ethan who just finished the tournament and rode the Deuce to see The Treasure Island's Pirate Show, with scantily clad performers and some pyrotechnics.  Slightly under-impressed, we walked to The Bellagio singing fountains again, to show Ethan what he's been missing.  

June 9: Las Vegas Circus Circus, magician show

On our last full day in Vegas, the kids were up for a treat: the Adventuredome theme amusement park at the Circus Circus Hotel and Casino.  Under a giant roof, the air-conditioned park has dozens of rides and attractions.  The kids went decidedly berserk, and we all had fun.

In the evening, the World's Greatest Magic Show at the Greek Isles Hotel & Casino (just across the parking lot south from The Riviera) had been unexpectedly delightful.  In 2013 that place was renamed the Clarion, and then in 2015 demolished as well!  It's like running on a bridge over an abyss, with the bridge falling apart behind you...

June 10: Flight from Las Vegas

We flew back home with this unforgettable first impression of Las Vegas.  Even after a few more trips to Bally's Las Vegas for chess tournaments, that first trip to The Riviera still sticks out most.  And now they blew it up!  Leaving only memories, sweet memories...  Sic transit gloria mundi.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

US Chess School / Schein - Friedman chess camp in St. Louis

"The Best Things in Life Are Free"

The Camp

On June 2-5, the 6th Schein - Friedman Chess Camp, in collaboration with the US Chess School, was held at the world-famous St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center.  This exclusive invitation-only camp was offered to some of the most promising young chess players in the USA, and was not only tuition free, but also accommodation free!  The campers had to pay only for travel and food.

Naomi was invited to this camp (yay!) together with other young talents with high chess ratings.  There were 15 kids, of whom 4 were girls.  Incredibly smart, perceptive, top-notch youngsters whose parents should be genuinely proud.

The camp coach was IM Armen Ambartsoumian, a long time US youth team coach in world events.  The organizers and chess guides were FM Aviv Friedman (Schein - Friedman Scholastic Recognition Project) and IM Greg Shahade (US Chess School).  These three guys made it all possible, huge thanks to them, and to the main sponsors: Mark Schein, Dr. Jim Roberts and the Scheinberg family.

Also huge thanks to the St. Louis Chess Club for providing the venue and accomodation.  The camp was on the chess club second floor 10 am - 6 pm daily, with a lunch break.  We all stayed at the nearby historic Chase Park Plaza, absolutely free of charge!  That's unusual for chess parents, who are used to paying a lot.

The chess camp was very fun and entertaining for kids and parents.  After study, many kids and parents would go to the pool.  On the second evening, Naomi played in a local tournament in the St. Louis Chess Club.  She got into the top quad and played with two FIDE Masters and one National Master!  Almost won a couple of games ;-)

On the third evening, Naomi and her friends Nastya and Martha visited the marvelous, phenomenal City Museuм.

Timeline and photos

While the kids enjoyed chess, we enjoyed St. Louis.  Each day we took Uber after 10 AM, back before 1 PM to feed Naomi lunch, then Uber again after 2 PM, back before 6 PM.  

Here are the resulting photo albums, take a look!

June 2: St. Louis chess camp, Cathedral, Riverfront, Arch



June 3: St. Louis Chess Camp, Hall of Fame, Forest Park, Jewel Box, Fun Trolley Tour, Chess Quads



June 4: St. Louis Chess Camp, Art Museum, Botanical Gardens, City Museum



June 5: St. Louis Chess Camp, Zoo, Science Center



Social Media

Thank you letters

Dear U.S. Chess School, Scheinberg family, Greg Shahade, Dr. Jim Roberts;
Dear Schein-Friedman foundation, Aviv Friedman, Mark Schein,

Thank you so much for making the U.S. Chess School camp possible!

I haven't been to a camp with people who are both my age and my rating for a considerable amount of time, and I've certainly never been as captivated in a camp as I was in this one.

In this camp, I not only have learned of new ways to study chess from both my peers and the coaches, but more importantly I know now both my weaknesses and my strengths.

This camp instilled in me a new fascination with chess and invigorated me with the motivation to improve my chess skills, and for that I can thank people like you who sponsor and support this camp.

Naomi Bashkansky

Dear St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center,

Thank you so much for hosting this camp for us! I've never been in a camp more interesting, nor have I ever learned so much about myself in a camp before. It felt humbling to see the photos of some of the most elite chess players all stacked up in one chess club, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who hopes to be there someday as well.

Onto matters closer to the present day, my favorite part of the camp was when we played out positions that coach Armen showed us. Especially, for obvious reasons, the position with opposite-colored Bishops in which we all played against Greg, and I was the only one who found how to win.

And the hotel itself was one of my favorite parts as well, as it was wondrous to be able to see a hotel with such a classical structure, and there's also the fact that I got the room with the couch-bed all to myself. Though, to be honest, I liked the hotel elevators the best for the simple reason that I'd never imagined that the semi-circle and arrow above the elevator door existed in anything but movies.

Another thing I didn't expect was seeing dear old Benjamin on the hall of fame. I'd already know that he was many great things, but until visiting the hall I could never be sure with absolute certainty that he even knew what chess was. Even better than the hall of fame, however, was the studio.

At first I was bored and slightly confused, seeing seemingly random colors in either square or triangular shapes, but I got a shock when I realized that it was actually an entire game, represented rather creatively. I started trying to figure out the first moves in each game, and for one of the games I managed to figure out the first three whole moves (which I don't remember anymore, but it did help that I knew with over 99% certainty that the first move is not h3).

And then, there's the wooden King the size of a giraffe and many life-size chess sets (Right now, I'm just waiting until the year 2068 when there'll be Harry Potter movie-style animated life-size chess pieces).

And of course, I'm sure my parents are grateful for any excuse to visit St. Louis, take pictures of the arch, go to the zoo, the art museum, the botanical gardens, and whatever else it is they do when I practice and play chess.

This all thanks to your organizing the camp at your club. Thank you!

Naomi Bashkansky