I felt quite ignorant. When my friend asked me “Would you like to play a tournament in Suriname?”, I immediately replied “What is Suriname?”. Of course, tech-savvy as I am, I used an online search engine named Google to find out. Still, I was not sure. Did he really mean the former Dutch colony in South America, bordering in the South on Brazil and in the West and East on Guyana and French Guyana, respectively? He did. And so I traveled to Paramaribo, Suriname’s Capital, to take part in the Srefidensi Chess Open which is celebrating the independence Suriname’s from the Netherlands. Srefidensi is the Surinamese word for independence.

The first three rounds went pretty well and I could win them all. Before the big game against strong grandmaster Lazaro Bruzon, I had time to explore Paramaribo. Here are some impressions:

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The Surinamese River

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A palm tree park, how awesome is that!

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The Saint Peter and Paul Cathedral, gorgeous from the in -and outside!

Paramaribo is a very green city, with palm and coconut trees giving it a Caribbean flair. The architecture is quite impressive but you also see some buildings that need urgent renovations. As I learned in conversations, often the money is missing to renovate and as in many South American countries, corruption is an unfortunate problem. I was slightly surprised to notice that the casino business and nightlife is blooming in Paramaribo. In fact, my hotel also had a casino on the ground floor and a club on the first, reminding me of Las Vegas standards. The people of Suriname were very friendly and I felt well treated at all times. Well, except for this one time, when we were in the shuttle to the tournament venue and one man on the sidewalk exposed his genitals in a demonstrative fashion. I got over it.

Let’s get back to chess. My game against Bruzon was pretty anti-climax. In the Berlin, I aimed for a risk-free variation and was able to exert a little bit of pressure. Alas, my opponent did not really have difficulties to defend and a draw was the natural outcome.

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The Cuban Grandmaster was once part of the elite 2700 club

After a win in round 4, I played against WGM Linares Napoles next and was confronted with the unusual Bird opening 1.f4. I replied with an even more curious choice, 1…Nh6. This move is not as stupid as it looks and in fact, the trap that I had set (set a trap in the first move, that must be a record!), worked out perfectly. I analyzed the game in a video:

Write me in the comments what your most curious opening has been to date!

The remaining rounds went fairly smoothly, up to round 8 when I faced my second strongest opponent, Vidal Mendelez from Venezuela. It was an interesting strategic battle which suddenly turned into a tactical mess. In this position I played a horrible and at the same time, ingenious move:

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White to move

My opponent had about 35 seconds on the clock and in such situations you don’t necessarily want to give easy moves to your opponent. So, I noticed that in many lines my back rank is weak and decided to play 27.h3. This is a bad move because after 27...Be5 28.Qf3 Qxa2 I am just lost. The bishops are controlling my two passed pawns and it is difficult to create any counterplay. Why was it a great move then? Well, with the seconds ticking down, my opponent reached for Be5, hit the clock, but it was too late! I had won on time.

I finished the tournament in shared first place with Bruzon, we both made 8,5/9 points. We then played a two game blitz tiebreak to determine the winner of the Srefidensi Open. I lost the tiebreak 0,5-1,5 and Bruzon became the champion but this was not too heartbreaking for me. Here’s a picture of all the players from the closing ceremony:

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You can see the final standings and all the individual results here. And here’s the official website where you can also play through all the games.

Afterwards, we played a 12-round blitz tournament (you can never play enough chess!) and once again, I shared for first with Bruzon since we both had 11/12 points in the end. This nice picture was taken here:

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Facing off against one of the organizers, Michael Siban, in a blitz game

Michael Siban and Frank Lo Kim Lin did an amazing job of organizing the event and taken care of the players. If I get a chance, I would love to return next year.

I am quite grateful to not have only learned about a new country but to be able to experience it as well. This is something that I have come to appreciate a lot about chess. It enables me to see new countries, meet people from other cultures and get to know different parts of the world. Last week was Thanksgiving, so let me ask you: What has chess given you that you are grateful for?