BY EVAN PARK
After my travels to Brazil and Spain for chess tournaments, I was once again going on a journey to another country. This time, as an eleven-year-old, I was headed for the Pan American Junior Chess Championship in Guayaquil, Ecuador, the country that is closest to space. In Spanish Ecuador means equator. People from Ecuador take pride in the unique geographical position of their country because the equator runs through Ecuador.
For this tournament, I was playing in the under-18 section, so I knew it would be challenging. The main piece of information I received from my coach was that we could expect the unexpected. Starting from two days before departure, when we learned that our hotel had been overbooked, his words turned out to be prophetic.
From Pittsburgh, we flew to Ft. Lauderdale, where we had hoped to fly together with my “chess cousin,” Adamson, and his mother. Unfortunately, his mother and my father had miscommunicated, and we ended up being not only on two different flights, but on two different airlines. Fortunately, our flights left at about the same time, so we arrived at a similar time.
When we arrived, a familiar dilemma awaited us. We couldn’t find the transportation shuttle! This time, they had a designated area for the competitors, but we waited and waited… and waited, and nobody came. The tournament representatives near the transportation counter kept saying, “Another ten minutes… just five more minutes.” After close to an hour, we gave up. Eventually, since we knew the exact location of the hotel, we decided to take a taxi. Everything went smoothly, and we were thankful to arrive at the hotel without any further issues.
The competition began the next day at 5 pm, so we had most of the day to rest. To be honest, I played well on the first day, and for the first game on the second day. Then, disaster struck. I began to play poorly, partly because the food took a very long time to come, which limited my time to rest. The assigned restaurant was small, and while they worked very hard, they struggled to keep up with the massive amounts of food orders that the U.S team was putting in. We heard that there were three restaurants that would serve us, but it turned out only one of them would accommodate us, so everybody went to that one. Also, the chefs were making everything from scratch, which resulted in delicious food--I can still taste that pizza!-- but it took a long time. They had delicious fresh squeezed juices as well. We heard the same refrain: “Another five minutes. . . just ten more minutes.” We waited for more than an hour for our lunch. I appreciated the effort and the wonderful food, but the long wait did take a toll, as I did not receive the rest I needed to perform at my best for the afternoon game.
On the first day of the tournament, a very unexpected event occurred that I had never seen happen before at any tournament. In one of the games, a player thought for almost one hour, then resigned! While timer stalling does happen on occasion, the magnitude of this player’s timer stalling was unprecedented. I will add it to my list of crazy events that have happened at tournaments.
In all, the tournament lasted four days, and once again, I got to study with very good coaches. I met Grandmaster Robert Hungaski, an American team coach, whom I had first met in Brazil, as well as Grandmaster Nikola Mitkov. For those not in the chess world, “Grandmaster” is the highest official title a player can earn aside from "world champion," so being supported by such renowned players was an honor. Coach Hungaski, assigned to me once again, helped with my preparation by showing me some new openings. Grandmaster Mitkov helped me review my games and gave invaluable advice. He was witty and humorous, so he always kept me positive.
Additionally, because the internet was better this time, I could even communicate with my coach back home, Grandmaster Alexander Shabalov, who also helped me prepare my games. Since he knows me well, he knows I have a tendency to get anxious before important games, so he kept me calm.
The day before the last game, it was Adamson’s birthday. We planned to celebrate at a steakhouse. On the way to the steakhouse, it was very crowded. “Why was everybody celebrating my friend’s birthday?” I wondered. Bursts of loud bangs of colors lit up the sky as fireworks were shooting out from the ground. Many people were dancing enthusiastically, and music was coming from all different directions. Excitement emanated from the streets. It was so crowded that we had to rub shoulders with other people when we were walking down the streets. We had to be very careful not to lose sight of each other. It turned out that Guayaquil was celebrating its 420th anniversary on the same day as my friend’s birthday, so it seemed like the entire city was celebrating with us! The steakhouse was a happy surprise. The steaks, which were enormous, tasted amazing, and everything was surprisingly inexpensive.
After the last game on the last day of the tournament, we could explore the city. When we traveled around the city, while there were fewer skyscrapers than many urban cities in the U.S would have, there was a wonderful vibrancy. Everywhere, there were clusters of buildings of all different colors. It resembled a collage and was in general more rural than most big cities in the U.S.
We also got to explore the sights of Ecuador. Climbing Santa Ana Hill, we saw many types of different concession stands serving a variety of different treats, such as the numerous banana-made snacks. While going up the many steps, we got to observe the River Guayas from the hill. The colorful architecture filled my eyes. The homes were built on hills, so they looked like they were stacked on top of each other. There was also a tall brilliant blue and white lighthouse that shimmered in the sky’s light. We could even enter the lighthouse and a chapel nearby, which held the sword of the city’s patron saint, Santiago el Mayor.
Overall, I enjoyed the tournament and was glad that I got to explore my third country through chess--Ecuador.