Chess on snowy peaks and sand-dunes of Morocco

Report by Stanislav Vlček

Is it possible within one week to play chess game at the highest snowy peaks of the High Atlas Jebel Toubkal (4167 m) and on the sand-dune of the Sahara desert? You do not believe?

Evidence may be photos and record of games played by two young international masters from Slovakia, Peter Vavrák (2474) and Štefan Mačák (2400), who accompanied by the author of this article and photographs, Stanislav Vlček and Pete’s girlfriend Evka took a round trip in a country of great contrasts and unusual natural beauty – Morocco.

Inspiration we could take from the greatest chess celebrities, namely Magnus Carlsen and Garry Kasparov, who held training camp in Marrakesh before Magnus’ winning streak on the super GM tournament in Wijk aan Zee 2010.

Morocco 1

Morocco 2

The swift game from the Jebel Toubkal summit, in honor of the grandmaster Eduard Gufeld who liked to give his hilarious games poetic names, I named it “The High Atlas Snowflake”. Game is likely the chess altitude Slovak national record and would not lose even in global rankings. The only known attempt to me is the act of members of the Brunei Chess Federation, who played a blitz tournament in the base camp below Mount Everest of 5300 m. (See

Game from sand-dune Erg Chebbi in comparison to the mountain one is a little “dry” and therefore deserves name “The Desert Rose from Merzouga”. Nuances of the positional maneuvering were relentlessly interrupted by our eager camel guide, who felt great need to sell us some minerals and fossils, among them the mentioned desert rose… Leaving them no choice but to agree with the draw …

Morocco 3

Before entry to town of Gibraltar you need to cross airport runway. To go on the red light is not recommended.

Morocco 4

Gibraltar official guardian

Morocco 6

Tangier, our first Moroccan city will held Expo 2012

No wonder that between chess players and tourists there is a strong bond. Chess and hiking have a lot in common and complement each other. To maintain concentration during a long game of chess is required sufficient physical condition which to be gained and kept it by an additional sport.

Alternation of physical and mental burden has a positive impact on performance in both areas. Hiking, like chess, naturally will support growth of the will, stamina and the patience. In both cases, we approach by the slow steps gradually to the ultimate goal.

Morocco 16

In the 3200m above the sea you can refresh yourself and spend night in the chalets Neltner or Mouflon

Morocco 17

Jebel Toubkal summit (4167 m), IM Peter Vavrák, FM Stanislav Vlček, IM Štefan Mačák, 20.5.2011

Whether it’s a wonderful view from the summit or the taste of victory in a chess game or a quality tournament, there is a fundamental difference. Pleasure in both cases is not alone achievement of the objective but also the path to reach him. But as you are closer to your goal, the more effort on every other step are demanded to be made. To stand and admire our successes, or go to downhill whistling is much easier than to climb-up hills. For chess this is doubly true, although the course of action is slower. Similarly, preparing for a difficult hike or game must be very careful, every slightness can play a decisive role.

But there are also “minor” differences. Hiker’s successful descent and expectation of warm supper in the base camp joys him, while chess player’s bad performance and following fall down on the rating ladder depresses him. One bad move in a chess game can affect the health and life of wooden chess king, while after the evil step on a difficult hike consequences can be a real disaster.

Fortunately, tourists, unlike chess players, generally “play” together, not against each other.

Photo gallery by Stanislav Vlček

Morocco 10

Koutoubia minaret in Marrakesh is the oldest and most famous mosque in Morocco

Morocco 11

Young artisan is creating new chessman (Fondouq Marrakesh), Štefan acknowledged his mastery and bought a chessboard here.

Morocco 18

Glorious 110m high Cascades d’Ouzoud waterfalls – curiously a local swimming course was held during our visit

Morocco 19

Ait Benhadou Kasbah, the place where some famous Hollywood movies were recorded. Among them is The Gladiator with Russel Crowe (2000).

Morocco 21

IM Peter Vavrák (on the left side in blue Tuareg scarf :-) ), member of the Slovak Olympic team for the Chess Olympiad in Dresden 2008

Morocco 22

The caravan is returning from nearby oasis

Morocco 24

Bab-e Jeloud or Blue Gate is the main entrance to the medina in Fes

Morocco 26

Author of this article, FM Stanislav Vlček