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The room parties that shook Spanish chess

Covid-19 infections and forfeited games overshadowed the Spanish Individual Championship that ended on Tuesday. The safety standards were high but didn’t go beyond the tournament hall, reports Stefan Löffler.

The medical doctor of the Spanish Federation had more than temperature-measuring to do during the Spanish Championship
The medical doctor of the Spanish Federation had more than temperature-measuring to do during the Spanish Championship (photo: Patricia Claros Aquilar)

Covid-19 cases at the Spanish championship in Linares were reported widely in Spanish news media and international chess media. The reported numbers of infected and quarantined players ignored the Second Division that was played in the same venue. How the virus spread among the players went unmentioned, even though this holds an important lesson for the international chess community. To establish what happened, ChessTech spoke to the Spanish Chess Federation (FEDA) and to several participants whose names we know but won’t mention.

The second division of the Spanish league took place in the same tournament hall in Hotel Anibal as the Spanish championship and the legendary world class tournaments of 1988 to 2010. Most players also stayed in this hotel. During the nights, players of the second division regularly met for drinks in hotel rooms. Up to ten players would camp around the bed and tiny table and chat the night away. The day temperature in Linares often reaches forty degrees Celsius or more in summer. Two o’clock at night is considered by many the best time to be up. The players could not have met in the hotel bar. Nor any other bar in the Andalusian town. They all close early and allow few guests due to the pandemic.

The players bought beers, whiskey, rum, soft drinks and plastic cups from the super market for the improvised room parties at night. In Spanish they are called “botellón”, because the main offering is beer consumed straight from the bottle. The players have probably not called it a “bottelón”. Not only because a “botellón” is typically in a public place rather than a hotel room, but also because it has a bad reputation now. The botellón is considered as a main factor why Covid-19 infections have been resurging in Spain in spite of strict preventive measures.

After the second division, from one team all players except one tested positive. From three other teams all players went into quarantine – in most cases in their home town – and some tested positive later on. One of the players interviewed by ChessTech said that with near certainty he got infected during the second division. A few players stayed in Linares for the individual championship starting three days later. Seven of them were quarantined before they could enter the tournament and two of them tested positive.

FEDA decides nothing about the private life of the players. Executive Director Ramon Padullés

Following up who was in contact with the infected, twelve more players were quarantined, which resulted in two more positive tests and four more players confined to their room. At the end of the Spanish championship four players remained confined to their rooms until they are free of symptoms for three days and have a negative test. None of the infected players has been reported as seriously ill.

Ramon Padullés is the Executive Director of the Spanish Chess Federation (FEDA)
Ramon Padullés is the Executive Director of the Spanish Chess Federation (FEDA) (photo: Patricia Claros Aquilar)

Ramon Padullés, FEDA’s Executive Director, stresses that none of the infected has entered the tournament hall during the individual championship. During the second division, the 140 players were checked regularly for temperature and symptoms by the doctor of the federation, and no one was reported with symptoms at that time. Padullés concludes that nobody was infected in the tournament hall and closes with: “FEDA decides nothing about the private life of the players.”

Having reported earlier about a federation that upheld strict safety rules inside the tournament hall and ignored what went on immediately after the games or during the price-giving at the same venue, this attitude seems self-defeating. Analysing completed games, playing blitz and staying up late to chat with other players is all part of the tournament culture of chess.

A holistic safety concept would require organisers to provide safe spaces for socializing and to remind players to practice social distancing after their games.