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International Chess

University of Texas at Brownsville. With just three GMs remaining in the country, this “brain drain” here has resulted in a scarcity of strong competition as well— anyone living outside Santiago will be hard-pressed to find an opponent above 2200 FIDE. The necessary playing condi- tions for “good chess” aren’t available, either. The longest time control offered is generally Game/60, with Game/25 being the norm. The accommodations are more likely to consist of school cafeterias than hotel ballrooms, making it hard to approach the rounds with the same level of seriousness that we find in the devel- oped world. Most of the time, even experts and masters don’t keep score. Essen- tially, without money, there is no professional chess. This isn’t welcome news for the country’s

up-and-coming players. During my time here, I have gotten to know Pablo Sali- nas, Chile’s most talented high school player. At 16 years old, Salinas has achieved a FIDE rating of 2263, making him #28 among Chile’s active tournament players. For age 16 and under, he is ranked #8 for the entire South American continent. In 2008, he won the gold medal for his age category in the South American Champi- onships in Cochabamba, Bolivia. An aggressive, versatile player with a wide opening repertoire, Salinas routinely trounces me in our weekday blitz matches at the club. In our only rapid tournament game, I was lucky to hold a draw. If Sali- nas had been given the same opportunities to play that I had back in the U.S., I have no doubt that he would be competing for the limelight with Robert Hess, Steven Zierk, and Sam Shankland. Salinas has been fortunate enough to


A Chess Player’s Paradise? The Chilean chess scene, so decisively

separated from the perils of money, suf- fers from none of the problems mentioned in the introduction above. Sets and clocks are provided; entry fees are the bare min- imum; the prize structure allowing club players to win more than grandmasters is nonexistent; local clubs dominate tourna- ment organization; the events revolve around a sense of community; no one cheats for profit; and the schedule isn’t harmful to one’s health. Shouldn’t this be a chess player’s utopia? In short, no: most Chilean club players

are, in fact, envious of chess in our coun- try, a country where you can find a

26 Chess Life — August 2011

FIDE-rated event every weekend and where opportunities for improvement abound. It is frustrating for many Chilean ajedrecistas (chess players) that the com- parative lack of money nearly eliminates chess as a full-time profession. Mone- tary prizes for open tournaments, although not unheard of, are generally not more than a few hundred dollars. A few masters offer lessons or teach chess in private high schools, but in general titled players look for other work. Two of the country’s four grandmasters (GMs) have relocated to other countries in search of better opportunities: one left for Europe to become a trainer, and the other, GM Mauricio Flores, is now playing for the

travel some around South America in his search for good tournaments and strong competition. His father captains a siz- able fishing boat, which is considered a high-paying job in Chile. This gives Sali- nas the ability to take lessons via Skype and the Internet Chess Club from a GM in Santiago, the reigning champion of Chile, GM Rodrigo Vasquez (“Kastor” on the Internet Chess Club). Additionally, Salinas trains for a solid hour and a half every day. When that school has let out for the year in December (December marks the start of the beginning of sum- mer here below the equator), Salinas has plans to travel nonstop to find tourna- ments, going as far as Buenos Aires on the other coast. Still, he has no intention of trying to become a chess professional in Latin America. “I have two years before college,” he says. “In terms of my chess, I’m just going to make the most out of them that I can.” He doesn’t have any ideas yet about what he wants to study, but he knows he’ll have to make his career outside of chess.

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