GM Julio Becerra
GM Julio Becerra
Photo Clint Ballard
Julio Becerra grew up in communist Cuba, where he learned chess at 13 years old. With few resources, he got by on talent and one of the few books that were always available in Cuba, informants, comprehensive opening updates published three times a year in Yugoslavia. In 1999, Becerra arrived in Las Vegas for the World Championship. After the tournament, he decided to stay in America, "I was very privileged in Cuba because I was a chessplayer. I traveled alone to many countries and I never stayed, so they had no idea I was thinking about defecting....I felt that it was my last opportunity and that if I didn't take it, it would be in my mind my whole life."

The period between 1999 and 2005 was difficult for Julio, because as much as he enjoyed America, he was frustrated at not being able to travel internationally to play in chess tournaments (he had no American passport) or to return to Cuba (where he would be arrested.) Since then, Julio got a greencard and is an official U.S. resident: "I think that America is the best country in the world cause of the freedom to travel and live as you want," says Julio, "it's one of my dreams to play in the Capablanca Memorial in Cuba...it's disgusting that I cannot return."

Today, Julio augments his natural talent with disciplined chess training: "On Monday morning at 9 am, you can find me downloading last week's games from The Week In Chess." He plays five minute blitz on the ICC (three minute is too fast to learn, in Julio's opinion) and studies every game afterwards, anxious to fill any opening holes he discovers from his blitz sessions. Julio also teaches in Miami, where he's been living since 2005. He advises aspiring chessplayers to study Dvoretsky endgame books and to solve as many puzzles as possible.

Julio Becerra is first board for the Miami Sharks of the U.S. Chess League. In 2006, he earned the League MVP title over seven other GMs. He won "Game of the Week" for this powerful, creative victory over Polish-American GM Pavel Blehm, who was playing for the Baltimore Kingfishers.