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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

2014 World Youth Chess Championship in Durban, South Africa

Between the Two Oceans - Atlantic and Indian

The 2014 World Youth Chess Championship was held in Durban, South Africa on September 19 - 29.

Naomi (11) played for the USA in the Girls Under 12 category. She is younger than most other players in this section, which means tougher competition for her. However we couldn't let go of this great opportunity to visit the fascinating country of South Africa!  

Ethan (16) stayed home, since he was starting his studies at the University of Washington, through the UW Academy program.

London


From Seattle we flew 12 hours to London, where we had a 9 hour layover, put to a good use. From the Heathrow airport we rode a train to the Piccadilly Circus (1 hour).

There we took a Big Bus sightseeing tour (2 hours) non stop through major tourist attractions, then returned to the airport from Victoria Station (1 hour).

Inside Heathrow Terminal 3 there is an hourly-rate micro-hotel, where we crashed for 3 hours before the 12 hour flight to Johannesburg.

Photo album: 2014_09_13 London Big Bus Tour (a nice touristic refresher)

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Big Ben, obviously

Johannesburg


A modern Gautrain from the airport to the Park Station brought us within walking distance of our Protea Hotel Parktonian, however they still sent a shuttle to pick us up. This is not a safe city.

Despite being 36 hours on the road, almost immediately after checking in we went back to the Park Station (with an accompanying hotel employee for safety) to catch a Red City Tour bus.

Johannesburg has changed many times since gold was discovered there in the 19 century. It had been radically transformed in the last 25 years.

The only stop we made during the tour was at the Apartheid Museum. The museum is impressive, however its confusing architecture and emotive presentation style only emphasize the relative paucity of informative load.  

The high rise cylinder of the Protea Hotel Parktonian offers 360° views of the city. We caught them before sunset and then at night.


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Gold Reef City casino and theme park

Next morning a hotel shuttle brought us same few hundred yards to the train station, and the Gautrain took us back to the airport. The flight to Cape Town took just one hour.

Cape Town


Cape Town is a truly iconic city. Like in the blog post about Rio de Janeiro, it's hard to explain in words, you have to see the photos!

Day 1


We rode a taxi from the airport to the Waterfront Marina Residential vacation suites, located along picturesque Dutch-style canals near Cape Town's touristic heart: V&A Waterfront.  

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Our Waterfront Marina Residential hotel room balcony view

In the afternoon we visited the Two Oceans Aquarium, a very nice and intimate place.
 

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African penguin in the Two Oceans Aquarium

While strolling on the picturesque V&A Waterfront In the evening, we've spotted the actor Aaron Paul, who played Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad.  He was hesitating over an antelope hide cushion in the Taung Trading Post store.  I'd say, with those iconic $5M bags of money, he should've gone for the $2000 full zebra hide ;-)

Day 2


In the morning, the Red City Tour bus took us through the center of Cape Town to the Table Mountain cable car lower station, where we took the cable car to the upper station.  The Table Mountain top offers incredible views of Cape Town below to the north, Table Bay, Devil's Peak, Signal Hill, Lion's Head, and the "12 Apostles" cliffs to the south.  It's one of those places where a photographer goes into a feeding frenzy.

On the way back, the bus drove along picturesque neighborhoods perched along the Cape Town western coast: Camps Bay, Clifton, Bantry Bay, Sea Point, Green Point.  We rode beyond the Waterfront, back to the city center, and then joined the Bo-Kaap walking tour at 3pm.  Browsing through the Greenmarket Square pavement market we couldn't resist and bought the frighteningly horned and bearded "Zulu King" mask from a street vendor, in what looked like a bargain, after he lowered the price from 3000 to 400 rand ;-)

We rode the Yellow Downtown Tour bus non stop and then the special end-of-day return bus back to the Waterfront. In the evening, we strolled along the Waterfront and enjoyed South African cuisine in Karibu restaurant.


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Cape Town panorama from Table Mountain

Day 3


In the morning, we took the Canal Cruise between the Waterfront and the International Convention Centre.  It was foggy with wet drizzle and the Table Mountain was completely hidden by fog and low clouds.  Now we realized how lucky we were yesterday to have clear weather.  

However, for the purpose of today's Blue Mini Peninsula Tour, the wet weather was not a big problem.  The bus drove past Rhodes Memorial and the University of Cape Town to the back side of the Table Mountain.  There we visited the splendid Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden and the World of Birds.

From Hout Bay the Blue Tour bus took the familiar road north along the Atlantic coast, then through the Waterfront and on to the city center, where we visited the South African Jewish Museum, and its famous collection of Japanese netsuke.  Like yesterday, we rode the Yellow Downtown Tour bus and then the special 5pm return bus back to the Waterfront.


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Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden entrance

Day 4


This was our grand finale -- the full day Cape Peninsula tour.  However, in the morning the tour van missed our pick up.  After a few phone calls, the tour company sent a transfer driver who picked us up and eventually caught up with the tour van at Hout Bay. We didn't miss much, and the tour company gave us a discount.

Because of the rough weather, there were no boat trips from Hout Bay to Seal Island, but we caught a perfect view of the seals right there on the pier!  To avoid rain, after driving through Chapmans Peak Drive we took left to Simons Town on the east side of the Cape Peninsula.  There we saw whales from afar, and visited the famous Boulders Beach Penguin Colony.  

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Hout Bay seal

From the north, through a large nature reserve, we arrived at the picturesque Cape Point -- with its views, funicular, lighthouse on the cliff, crazy winds and friendly baboons. The Cape Of Good Hope is 15 minutes away and presents a nice photo-op, plus a certain sense of geographic exploration rooted in maritime history.

On the way back we saw again the splendid Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and learned about South Africa's national flower, the King Protea.


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Cape of Good Hope, obviously

Durban


Day 1


As frequent travellers to international chess events we are always a bit anxious about the "organized transportation" from the airport to the chess hotel.  Too often it's a torturous affair: either nobody meets us, or we wait for hours, or both.  However, in Durban they organized it perfectly!  They met us at the arrival hall, brought to the transportation desk immediately and then accompanied to the bus which departed very soon.  This time the "organized transportation" actually was, well, organized.

Upon arrival, we got a nice corner room on floor 5 of the Maharani Hotel, with a stunning view of the Indian Ocean and the Golden Mile beachfront. Together with 3 meals a day, it made the FIDE-mandated price tag of $135/day per person ($405/day for the three of us) just a tiny bit more sufferable during the 11 days of our stay.


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View from our room window

Day 2


In the morning we met a family of our long-time friends from the Kazakhstan delegation.  We bump into each other at every World Youth Championship since the first one in Brazil in 2011.  The two mothers developed a strong bond, centered on the child education topics.

The US team meeting, held between the Elangeni Hotel and the Indian Ocean, and led by Coach Michael, was an opportunity to see our whole large team together, with all the kids and their parents, the coaches, and even a USCF official. The kids in each section typically know each other, and Naomi joyfully played with her peers.

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US team meeting - parents

The 2014 World Youth Chess Championship opening ceremony was scheduled for 3pm in Durban International Convention Centre (ICC).  It culminated at 4pm with the stunning "Zulu Experience" tribal dance performance.  The dance videos are in the photo album:


It is customary for the players to exchange small souvenirs from their home places before the game starts, like key chains or fridge magnets.

In Round 1, Naomi played white against a South African player, Hlomisa Vuso, and won.  

After each round, post-game analysis was provided by our US coaches: Sam, Michael, Aviv, Ben, Armen, Nick, Andranik, John.  The US chess delegation felt like a real sports team.  

The chess tournament itself is best described by a series of articles written by the US team coach GM Ben Finegold, posted online at the US Chess Federation website.  Here is his opening article, after Round 1.
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Round 1: USA's Naomi vs South Africa's Hlomisa Vuso

Day 3


In Round 2 Naomi drew with the last year's World Youth winner Saina Salonika from India, not bad!  
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Round 2: Naomi vs last year winner from India, Saina Salonika

During her play we ventured by taxi to the Durban Botanic garden, the oldest in South Africa.  It was an awesome experience, the best botanical garden by far we ever seen.  They have a walking tree, a sunken garden, an orchid house, and much more.


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Botanical Garden Orchid House

In Round 3 Naomi lost to a girl from Poland, Honorata Kucharska.  I went for a swim in the roof pool on floor 35 of the Maharani Hotel, crashing an Afrikaner family picnic.



Day 4


In the morning, I took a swim in the Indian Ocean.  Actually, it was more of wave jumping, restricted to the lifeguard area.  It was reassuring that they have nets against sharks along the Golden Mile.  

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Sand sculptures along Durban's Golden Mile beach

Starting from Round 4, the organizers provided continuous online video coverage from the playing venue.  Try watching 6 hours of kids playing chess, like many parents actually did from the galleries...


In Round 4 Naomi won over a girl from Turkey, Sude Hereklioglu, while we strolled leisurely along the beachfront.

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Round 4 vs Turkey's Sude Hereklioglu

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School children organized trip to beach water attractions - see the video!

Day 5


In Round 5 Naomi was almost winning, but then lost to a Slovenian Zala Urh, after making a mistake in time trouble.  In Round 6 Naomi lost to a fellow player from the USA, Chenyi Zhao.  There is a day like this in every tournament...  The stormy weather matched our mood.


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Severe mood at the post-game analysis
(US coaches left-to-right: Sam, Michael, Aviv, Ben, Armen, Nick, Andranik, John is missing)

Coach Ben has posted his mid game chess tournament report on the USCF website.

Day 6


This was the only free day on the tournament, and some people went for a safari.  However, to actually see the animals you have to wake up at 5am, arrive to countryside at 7am to meet a guide, who then drives you into the wilderness before most animals start to go to sleep around 10-11am.  With many chess games ahead, we decided to keep our sleeping habit and opted for the uShaka Marine World instead.  

After walking the Golden Mile there, we very much enjoyed the spectacular dolphin show, the "sunken ship" aquarium, the penguin feeding presentation.  Naomi was ecstatic about the seal show, which continuously made a big laugh of a "random" spectator.  


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uShaka mascots

Day 7


In the morning, we walked on the beach all the way north to the stadium, and in the afternoon the US team gathered for a team photo in the ICC.

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In Round 7 Naomi won over a girl from exotic Madagascar, Miah Raveloson.  Earlier this year Miah represented Madagascar at the 41st World Chess Olympiad in Tromsø, Norway.

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Round 7 vs Madagascar's Miah Raveloson

Day 8


In Round 8 Naomi won over a fellow teammate from the USA. Now she had 4.5 points out of 8.  


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Round 8 vs fellow USA's Sanjana Vittal

At that point, Coach Ben has written his pre-endgame chess tournament report.

Day 9


In the morning we rented bikes for a ride on the Golden Mile beachfront.  Naomi took a regular bike and we tried quad bikes, but I switched to a regular one in the middle.  It was fun!
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Quad bike ride on the Golden Mile


In Round 9 Naomi drew with a girl from China, Xue Bai.

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Round 9: USA vs China's Xue Bai

Day 10


Most tourists in Durban spend their time within the Golden Mile, close to the beachfront.  However, the city experience wouldn't be complete without a sightseeing bus tour.  I ventured out on the Ricksha Bus Tour this drizzly morning. The tour rode the Golden Mile, then turned to the port and the wharf, to the city center, markets, churches and mosques the City Hall, the ICC, and on to the affluent neighborhoods up the hills.  Durban displays a unique mix of Zulu, Afrikaner, Indian and British influences.  From a viewpoint in the hills one can see a great panorama, from the Umgeni River, through the stadium, the Golden Mile, to the port.

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Durban panorama from the hills


In Round 10 Naomi beat a Czech opponent, Julie Vilimova. Now she's got 6 points out of 10.

Day 11


In the last Round 11 Naomi lost to a Canadian player, Maili-Jade Ouellet.  With 6 points total, she was 30th out of 80 international players. Here is the final results cross-table.

In the afternoon, we three went to the beach in front of our hotel.  For hours we jumped in the big waves of the Indian Ocean, washing away the stress and suspense of the last 10 days.

The closing ceremony started at 7pm with speeches and dance performances.  Unexpectedly, the organizers spent very long time with the (run in parallel) Grandmaster Tournament awards.  The World Youth Chess Championship awards started late, and only at 9pm they reached Naomi's Girls Under 12 category.

The GU12 category top award was the US team's triumph worth waiting for!  Jennifer Yu from Ashburn, VA won the first place and got the gold medal!  


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3rd - Olga Badelka, Belarus 1st - Jennifer Yu, USA! 2nd - Elizaveta Solozhenkina, Russia

Coach Ben's endgame article about the WYCC elaborates on Jennifer Yu's great success and draws some conclusions from the tournament.  The Washington Post - Jennifer's local newspaper ;-) wrote a proud article about her.

Out of our fellow Washington State players, Jason Yu was 11th in U8 section, Bryce Tiglon 11th in U14, Naomi 30th in U12 Girls, Eric Zhang 34th in U8, Tendo Lumala 64th in U10.

The most memorable part of the closing ceremony has been the Zulu Experience tribal dance performance:


The Long Road Home


After dipping our feet in the Indian Ocean for the last time, we started the long road home.  The Durban - Johannesburg flight was delayed, but arrived in time for the Johannesburg - London connection.  Overall, South Africa is a great tourist destination, everything related to international travel and tourist transportation is safe and efficient.  The long flight to London left us tired and mentally unprepared for the absurdly long, invasive, and overzealous hand baggage security inspection at Heathrow.  USA's TSA actually seem sane in comparison.

The three-hour rest and breakfast in the same familiar micro-hotel room has been a welcome respite.  The flight to Seattle completed our 39-hour journey home.