Chess Velvet in Cabo Verde


Chess in Cape Verde
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This is a guest post by Alina l’Ami who not only holds the titles of International Master and Woman Grandmaster but also knows a thing or two about photography. She shares her interesting experience at the Cape Verde Open 2022… a beautiful story woven with words and pictures!

2 years, 3 months, 3 weeks, and 3 days is my hibernation record (glad I didn’t hit the 3333 jackpot) − that’s how long it took me to wake up from the comfort of reclusion and the poetry of home. After a terrible game back in September 2019 that I finally managed to win in a rook vs. knight endgame, the pandemic decided it is time for a mental break. Living out of a suitcase was the norm for me back then when, all of a sudden, we all got grounded to a standstill.

Little did I know that a flat rating chart would prove a blessing in disguise.

While traveling the world and playing chess is a dream for many, I discovered that being with your family and having a full-time job is quite a worthy alternative. My work for Chessable didn’t just make me happier with a more stable and healthier lifestyle, but it also revealed to the freelancer in me how much I was missing out on. The great colleagues, the dynamics of an office, and all the invaluable lessons I will not bore you with made the hibernation pure elation!

Time to wake up in the Atlantic, some 500 km west of Senegal.

This was the context of my 180 degrees life change when the invitation to play a tournament in Cabo Verde landed in my inbox. It felt a bit like a call from a previous existence, which gave me frissons. Since I haven’t really trained nor played in ages, I knew there was a high risk for my beautifully horizontal ELO to sink towards the dark depths of the ocean. However, declining the offer was not an option either.

The beautiful blend of beaches and mountains beats my office vistas:)

The solution was a typical Alina one: if the marathon of photographing and playing chess at the same time is not enough, try the triathlon − Chessable + reporting + playing. And it worked! Well, -2 rating points but who cares about that after such a long streak of inactivity?!

The street photographer was also happy to just be back on the street.

Catch of the day

Not sure I can return to supermarket papaya after this…

Maybe I don’t want to admit this even to myself but the decision to work by day and play by night might have been triggered by an obscure wish to have an excuse, just in case I’d play extraordinarily bad. My maximalist approach was also sustained by the late starting times of the games when I thought that, with good time management, there is room for everything until 21 o’clock. While that is true (and I congratulate myself on bravery), playing at 2 AM and topping that off with some time difference too, is something that didn’t pass unnoticed.

The Angolan WIM Esperanca Caxita overcame the rating distance and held on to a draw against the more experienced Spanish GM, Salvador Del Rio De Angelis.

GM Luis Galego in deep thoughts

Everything seemed legit up to a point: the Portuguese GM was happily blitzing his opening moves and then, naturally, sunk into deeper thought to only realize that… he was playing on the wrong board and against the wrong opponent! Another time, the Georgian WGM Nino Maisuradze was playing Black right next to me, and again, all looked just fine: two people enjoying their time at the board. It was only when Black couldn’t castle that they noticed the king and queen should… castle:) Amused looks and a bit of laughter were all it took to repair the error (I only wonder how did the Chess24 live transmission cope with that?).

And who would have thought that the Brazilian GM Yago de Moura Santiago, after missing his flight twice and playing only six games, would finish the event in a shared first place?!

Six rounds were also the number of games we played with a mask on, after which the rules in Mindelo softened and we got released from the octopus. A surgical mask could be handy in Alaska, but at 28 degrees it’s not exactly a dream come true. Still, the weather was very friendly, with a crispy ocean breeze, and not that type of heat that makes your body turn into human baklava.

It’s interesting to note that the tournament winner, IM Mariano Ortega Amarelle (top left), is also Cabo Verde’s highest-rated player, towering more than 500 rating points over his nearest compatriot!

If there is still some reluctance when it comes to playing in Africa, I should emphasize that often this continent goes above and beyond to make your stay a memorable experience. I’ve always appreciated the attention to detail and the Cabo Verdean organizers didn’t fall short of that.

IA Francisco Carapinha and IA Carlos Dias

I tried to find out the secrets of a good organization but lip-reading didn’t help.

We have to rely on facts instead.

The playing venue was at the highest standards, there were more live boards than I would have imagined, and the security control for anti-cheating measures was just as serious as during an Olympiad. Professional yet very relaxed would be my definition for this beautiful event, which did have one day with double rounds but not because of financial reasons. The idea was to offer all of us a free day to explore another island, where the next year’s edition will be held.

The tournament in São Vicente was an incredible experience as it didn’t only make me feel alive given the busy schedule and rather little sleep, but also enhanced my stay with the wonderful people and the new friends I had the chance to meet.

A Cabo Verdean showing heart sign on the streets

Blistering heat and middle of the street, but that wouldn’t stop a Cabo Verdean from sharing his friendship (I hope you can see the heart detail)!

The little moments, the little things, weren’t little at all on the island and I will share just one example, otherwise, my novel will be longer than Proust’s most famous book. An unexpectedly lovely moment came during the free-day trip when a local participant took out of his backpack a couple of shot glasses and a bottle of grogue. At 10 AM we were all a bit groggy from waking up in the middle of the night to catch the ferry, but after their national alcoholic beverage made from sugarcane, we were set for the trip.

Carpe diem does not mean fish of the day:)

Sharing is something familiar to the islanders and that is felt through their music as well. They just can’t do without it, even the wind is singing and the trees dance too. I was very tempted to just crash on my bed for a couple of hours before catching the insanely early flight, but I am very glad that peer pressure prevented me from such a feeble plan. I would have missed the famous jazz scenes and all the emotion from the artists’ voices.

Surrounded by Creole chatter and ambient street sounds, it felt as though everything in Mindelo is music, including our chess games…

I am home now but at the same time not. Part of me is elsewhere and that’s the price I have to pay for the richness of knowing people in more than just one place. I’d travel again for 12 hours, tomorrow if possible, in the hope that time will not go as fast since I’m missing the Cabo Verdean moments as they pass.

The island chain is famed for the morabeza (Creole for hospitality) of its people.

It’s clear why many come here and always return. Or just never leave.

8 hours to work, 5 h to play, 6 h to sleep, and 5 for the rest may not be the ideal frame for success. Perhaps my triathlon endeavors would have failed miserably under different circumstances and I’d rather measure success by personal happiness 🙂

Official Tournament Page

Chess24 Game Results

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