GM Ramirez on the World Youth: Arriving in Maribor
By GM Alejandro Ramirez   
November 10, 2012
World Youth! 
A few months ago, I received an invitation to be part of the US Delegation in the 2012 World Youth Chess Championship as a coach.  I was delighted to be part of such a great team and even more delighted when I learned that this tournament would be held in Slovenia! 

Slovenia is, to me, a very unique country.  Its natural beauty is unparalleled, the people unbelievably friendly (and English speaking!) and from what I've heard and witnessed and experienced, totally safe.  Maribor is Slovenia's second largest city, despite the fact that not even 100.000 people live here.  Hosting an event that is so big in a city so small can be risky - after all we players and coaches and parents number over 2000 people.  The first and clearest inconvenience is travel. 

Getting There 
Getting there was a unique adventure for everyone.  For Americans, flying to Europe is relatively not bad.  (Imagine being from Argentina, now that's a problem!) The issue with Maribor is that it is so small that the only airport they have does not have any commercial flights.  So unless you parked your private jet in Frankfurt, you're out of luck on getting a flight in.  Most people flew into one of three major cities that are ‘close' to Maribor: Ljubljana, Slovenia's capital city, Zagreb, Croatia's capital, and the closest big city which is Graz in Austria. I was visiting the ChessBase offices in Hamburg, Germany prior to the trip, so I had to figure out how to get to Maribor.  

Since I was arriving a little bit before the official start of the tournament, I wouldn't have the ‘ride' the organizers were providing from the major cities.  After comparing many itinerary costs I chose the following: 

Flight Hamburg, GER - Berne, SUI 
Flight Berne, SUI - Zagreb, CRO 
Train Zagreb, CRO - Zidani Most, SLO 
Train Zidani Most, SLO - Maribor, SLO 

So 12 hours after I left my apartment in Hamburg I arrived exhausted in Maribor.  My experience is not as bad as others, I heard that the Bulgarian team drove a big bus 48 hours to get to Maribor, then spent another 5 looking for the hotel once they got here!  

Hotel Habakuk and Slovenian Scenery 
The first few days of my stay here were uneventful.  I walked around a bit and was dazzled again by how beautiful this country is.  I had already been to Bled in 2002 for the Olympiad, and although Maribor is no Bled, it still is quite pretty.  And it's not that cold!  The weather has been stable around 50 degrees during the day. 

The hotel most of the American delegation is staying is called ‘Habakuk' and it's great.  Thermal Water pools, excellent food, spacious rooms, wonderful service, fast internet and it's next to the playing hall.  It's awesome!  Some federations were not so lucky.  The Colombian federation, for example, is about one hour away from Maribor on car (that's as far as Graz is!) and it's quite complicated for them to transport themselves daily.  The organizers are providing buses, but it seems that Maribor is a bit too small to hold all of us.  This is normally a Ski tourist hot spot, since we are not in season it is rather vacant, but apparently not vacant enough.   

Ambassador and Opening Ceremony/Round 
We were privileged to have a private visit by the one and only Ambassador to Slovenia, his Excellency (yeah I'm a cool guy that writes inside jokes in his articles) Joseph A. Mussomeli.  He informed us we were the largest group of Americans ever to visit Slovenia (220 people!).  After some encouraging words and a large picture session, our head of delegation, Mr. Michael Khodarkovsky explained some minor details set in the technical meeting (including smart ones like no application of the zero tolerance rule).  


When that was done, it was straight to business.  The pairings were up before the round and after an opening ceremony that might as well not have existed, the first round started without any incidents. Our team did overall quite well in rounds 1 and 2.  Some of the highlights included Alara Balasaygun, u10 girls, taking out the number one ranked player of the tournament, Russian Aleksandra Maltsevskaya!  Also our 1-2 duo in the u12 boys, Samuel Sevian and Jeffery Xiong started with a strong 2-0.    

The Daily Life 
Being a coach here is awesome!  But our work is really hard too!  Every coach has been assigned seven individual students.  These students meet one on one with the coach every morning to prepare their game.  Additionally, the coaches gather at 4:30 in the USA Team Room to wait for incoming players.  Once the players finish, they can choose a free coach and analyze the game they just played. Honestly the experience and lessons from this tournament cannot be rivaled. 

Carrying forth 
Many strong rounds await us.  Robert Perez will be facing a GM tomorrow, so wish him luck!  You can follow the US team's progress on the website or on the official website  Or you could wait for my next CLO check-in, which I hope will be soon and full of good news!