Duel of Cubans highlights Turkey Bowl chess event
November 20, 2006
By Paola Iuspa-Abbott
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
November 20, 2006
Boca Raton · Growing up in Cuba, they spent countless hours playing chess together. They joined the national chess team and traveled the world until defecting in the 1990s.
Julio Becerra’s and Blas Lugo’s paths crossed again Sunday, as they faced off for the title at the fifth annual Turkey Bowl Chess Championship at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.
Becerra, who defeated Lugo, is Florida’s top chess player. They shared the weekend with about 180 players competing in different categories and ranging in age from 6 to 92, said Jon Haskel, the event coordinator.
During the final round Sunday afternoon, participants left their chessboards to watch Becerra and Lugo play. Five, 10 or 20 minutes would pass before Becerra, 33, or Lugo, 39, made a move.
Becerra is a grandmaster, the highest ranking in the chess world. There are about 60 in the United States. He makes a living playing in tournaments and giving private lessons. Lugo owns Miami International Chess Academy.
Becerra and Lugo said they began training professionally at 14.
In Cuba, children played chess in school, International Master Renier Gonzalez said. A former member of the national team, he defected from Cuba in 1999 and teaches chess at Davie-based Nova Southeastern University and Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale. He attended the tournament to support students competing in the event.
Growing up in Cuba, Gonzalez took mandatory chess classes in second and sixth grades. He liked it and joined a chess academy, which were everywhere in his neighborhood, he said.
“Cuba follows the Russian training system,” Gonzalez said.
Russia had close ties with Cuba for more than three decades until the fall of communism in the late 1980s and early ’90s. Russia generates the most world champions in chess, and Cuban players studied the Russian approach, Becerra said.
“It elevated our playing level,” he said.
Russian-born Boris Veksler, who participated in the Turkey Bowl, said Cuba had talented players long before the Russian influence.
“Before Russia, Cuba had Capablanca,” he said, referring to José Raúl Capablanca, world champion from 1921 to 1927.
In the FAU room filled with focused minds and almost complete silence, race, age and nationality became irrelevant.
“It is the meeting of the minds,” said Haskel, who got involved in professional chess as his son, Jeffrey, 14, became one of the top players in the country.
Paola Iuspa-Abbott can be reached at email@example.com or 561-243-6631.