The Bashkansky family Chess Travel blog

The Bashkansky family Chess Travel blog: parents Guy and Ludmila with children NM Ethan and WIM Naomi

Saturday, December 31, 2011

My Brazil article in Northwest Chess magazine

This article about our WYCC2011 experience in Brazil appears in the latest (January 2012) issue of the Northwest Chess magazine.  Compare it to the original article at, also by your humble correspondent.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Brazil: Chess, Music and Papaya

Brazil conforms to every stereotype you’ve ever had about it -- and then much more!

On November 17 - 27 Naomi Bashkansky played in the World Youth Chess Championships in the Girls U8 category, in Caldas Novas, Brazil.  She was a qualified member of the USA team, along with 2 other girls in that category. All 3 of them took 6 points out of 9 possible, a respectable result at the world’s level.  Here is a short description of the Brazil experience.

Naomi at WYCC2011

Both Naomi (8) and her brother Ethan (13) are the highest rated chess players in their respective ages in the Pacific Northwest.  Both have won twice the Washington State Champion title, among all kids in their ages. In 2010 only Naomi and Ethan didn’t lose to GM Varuzhan Akobian (rating 2705) during a simultaneous games exhibit in which many adults participated too.  Naomi has been mentioned in a few press articles, and her photo appears on the cover of the December 2009 issue of Northwest Chess.

Naomi has trained with GM Greg Serper and coach Nahum Gofman.  She took classes in Chess4Life with GM Emil Anka, and in WGM Elena Donaldson's Chess Academy.  She plays in online chess clubs and took Susan Polgar’s online class a while ago. Her mom motivates and monitors her to do chess every day.


There are no scheduled flights directly to the hot spring resort of Caldas Novas.  You have to fly to either Brasília (the federal capital) or Goiânia (the state capital), and take a bus or a van from there.  So it made a lot of sense to spend a day sightseeing Brasilia before heading to the chess tournament.

Brasília is a pre-planned city, built in 1956-60 for the purpose of being Brazil’s federal capital.  It has wide and long transportation axes, points of interest far apart, official government areas separate from hotel and shopping areas.  The most reasonable way to see all of its monumental attractions is by a tourist bus, e.g. Brasília City Tour located at Brasília Shopping mall, and reachable from the airport by "Aeroporto Executivo" service bus.  The tour is pre-recorded in Portuguese, Spanish and English.

The National Cathedral

The tour lasts 2 hours, which is more than enough to see all main Brasília monumental architecture wonders.  The driver lets you out at main tourist points for 10-15 minutes: National Cathedral, Square of Three Powers, Presidential Palace, etc.  And even among all this monumental, almost totalitarian, architecture -- you can still feel you’re in the fun-filled country of Brazil, with picturesque mango trees and operetta-like guards.

The Presidential Palace guard

The next day, the championship organizers helped with the 4.5 hours transportation by van to Caldas Novas, and eventually everything worked out quite well.  In Brazil, sometimes you have to relax and trust friendly Brazilians to help you, even through the language barrier. Eventually you even start speaking some basic Portuguese, which is an added benefit to the foreign trip.

Caldas Novas

The USA team stayed at the Thermas diRoma hotel, which is well equipped for some serious fun: many hot spring pools, water slides, a ping-pong stage, an all-you-can-eat restaurant, and a night bar with an amazing female singer.  The densest concentration of fun occurred twice daily at the fitness sessions inside the pool, where dashing Brazilian coaches moved sculpted Brazilian bodies in sync with irresistible Brazilian music.  Wild monkeys yelled at night, lest anybody forgets it’s an exotic land.

Naomi spent her free time in the pools, at the water slides, and at the ping-pong table, where she learned to play “around the world” game, which is a bit like the chess “bug house” with a paddle.  However, free Brazilian meals 3 times a day with unforgettable cream soups and papaya, and especially free ice cream -- provided strong counter-balance to these fitness exercises. And, after won games, additional treats were due: Splash water park across the street, with giant slides, and Sorbeteria, a fancier ice cream parlor.

Fitness exercises at the pool

The Thermas diRoma group fitness coaches provide the best entertainment for the tourists:

The Championships

The Convention Center is adjacent to the Thermas diRoma hotel.  There were 9 rounds spread across 9 days.  Rounds started at 3pm every day, except one free day and one day with two rounds.  The tournament hall resembled the Tower of Babel, with dozens of languages spoken by people from all over the world.  A few large strong teams obviously stood out: Russia (most medals), Kazakhstan, Armenia, India, Poland, Iran, Germany, Peru, USA, Columbia, Hungary.

There were 12 championships in total: Open and Girls, under 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18.  In Naomi’s category, Girls U8, the 1st place went to a 7-year-old from Kazakhstan. She automatically became the youngest Women FIDE Master in history, a Guinness record (pending approval).  Her mom became good friends with Naomi’s mom, and shared a few useful “tough love” techniques of a chess mom, like siblings competitiveness, needs leverage and spirited parental motivation.

Team USA

Naomi won over girls from Peru in round 2, Italy in round 3 and Venezuela in round 5, when she was clearly stronger than the opponents.  However, she lost to girls from Iran in round 1, Macau/China in round 4 and fellow USA in round 6. She played way too fast, without paying due attention to opponents' moves.  And sometimes her openings with whites were less than perfect. There was a certain “question mark” feeling.

At that point Naomi has been advised to slow down and spend much more time at the game.  Naomi followed this advice and strongly won the last 3 games vs. girls from Turkey in round 7 (who played very well at the recent Europe Youth Championship), vs. Canada in round 8 and vs. India in final round 9.  Thus she finished the championship with an “exclamation mark” feeling instead.

Here is Naomi’s round 7 game (black) against the girl from Turkey, with annotation by Naomi herself:

Sade, Defne vs. Bashkansky, Naomi

1. e4 e5  2. Nf3 Nc6  3. Bc4 Bc5 4. d3 h6  5. Nc3 d6 6. Na4 Bb6 7. Nxb6 axb6  8. Be3 Nf6 9. a3 Be6 10. Ba2 O-O 11. h3 Nh7  Here I played Nh7 to push the f7 pawn to f5.  12. g4 Qd7  13. Nh2 d5 I didn't think she would defend the pawn on g4 even though it looked like I wanted to take it.  I played d5 because it's attacking in the center to get more space. 14. Bxd5 Bxd5  15. exd5 Qxd5 16.  Rg1 Rad8 17. Qd2 e4  I saw here that Qd2 was planning an attack so I attacked her before she started attacking me.  18. Rd1 Ne5  Bringing the knight to the attack.  19. Ke2 Nf3  20. Nxf3 exf3+  21. Kf1 g5 22. h4 f6  23. hxg5 fxg5 After f6 hxg5 fxg5 I am totally safe.  24. Rh1 Qe6  25. Rg1 Rd5 26. Re1 Qd7  27. Qb4 Rxd3!  On this move I took on d3, even though it was protected - but, if she takes, I do checkmate and win the game.  28. Qc4 Rd5  29. Rd1 Qb5!!  This is a beautiful move because if the queen moves I mate, if she protects her queen with her pawn - I take her queen, then her rook, which is a mate.  30. Rxd5 Qxc4+  31. Rd3 Rd8 32. Rh1  Rxd3 33. cxd3 Qxd3+ 34. Kg1  Qb1+ 35. Kh2 Qxb2 36. Rd1 Qxa3  37. Rd8+ Nf8 38. Rd1 b5 39. Rd2 b4  40. Bd4 b3 41. Bb2 Qb4 42. Rd4 Qe1 43. Rd2 Qxb2  44.Bd4 Qxd4 45. Kh3 b2 46. Kh2 b1Q 47.Kg3 Qf4 48. Kh3 Qh1# This game was great and I wish all my games are like this.

Sade, Defne vs. Bashkansky, Naomi - before 28. Qc4 Rd5  29. Rd1 Qb5!!

Naomi Bashkansky and Marcell Szabo

The award ceremony on November 26 started with an exhibit of Capoeira, a Brazilian martial art which is more “art” than “martial”.  Top 6 in each category got medals, and top 3 also got trophies.  The organizers started with awards to Girls U18, then Open U18, and progressed nicely all the way down to Girls U8 and Open U8.

Girls U8 top 6, left to right: Kazakhstan, Vietnam, India, India, Canada, Russia

São Paulo

After 10 unforgettable days, it was time to leave Caldas Novas for Goiania airport, a 3 hours bus ride, collecting chess delegations all over the resort town.  Brazil’s local roads and airports retain the sensible and simple approach, where you connect things in a straight line on the ground level. You walk to the plane on the airfield, and it is a pleasure.  Then, upon landing, São Paulo strikes you as the southern hemisphere’s largest mega-city, with 20 million people.

A great São Paulo discovery - many street eateries offering empada - small stuffed pie, and suco - freshly made juice/shake, optionally with milk.  All time favorites: maracujá (passion fruit) and goiaba (guayaba).  In all these places huge bunches of different types of fruits hung from the ceiling, just fitting your best tropical life stereotypes.  Street vendors offer boiled corn and grilled meat skewers. Forget your travel medicine doctor’s warnings and plunge right in, it’s all delicious!

Suco natural: at least 10 fruit types in this one pile

On Sunday São Paulo downtown looked abandoned, but then on Monday it was bustling with life and excitement.  Some large central buildings from 1920-1950 look very much like that era’s building in, say, New York and Chicago.  Old photographs on the hotel walls reveal a city which was a magnet for immigrants from Europe in the two world wars period: safe, prosperous, energetic, well-developed.  Today’s Brazilians are very ethnically diverse and multiracial, representing every possible mix of genes and physical looks, combined from many parts of the world.

Bonespa building, with Sao Paulo state flag

São Paulo’s fanciest shops have long ago moved away from the old downtown, to Avenida Paulista.  Their elaborate Christmas decorations mean summertime is coming to the southern hemisphere. And then you enter a tropical park in the middle of the city.  And then a tropical rain comes dutifully. OK, now all possible stereotypes have been checked and marked as fulfilled. It’s time to return home.

Tropical park at Av. Paulista

Future plans

Naomi needs to improve her knowledge of chess openings, and get accustomed to using them successfully when playing white.  She might travel to some of the following tournaments:

  • Dec 26 - 29, 2011 -- North American Chess Open Tournament -- Las Vegas, NV
  • Apr 20 - 21, 2012 -- All Girls National Chess Championship -- Chicago, IL
  • May 11 - 13, 2012 -- National Elementary (K-6) Championship -- Nashville, TN
  • Nov 7 - 19, 2012 -- World Youth Chess Championships -- Maribor, Slovenia


See our photo albums from November 16 - 29, 2011: