Luis Rentero: "I love the game"

| 0 | Chess Event Coverage
Luis RenteroTomorrow the first round in Linares will be played. Last year Rick Goetzee spoke with the godfather of the tournament, Luis Rentero. "I owned 32 supermarkets and 4 hotels. I sold the supermarkets to a Belgian company but still have my hotels. Hotel Anibal is the only one with a chess theme, but sometimes visitors to my other hotels bring me chess memorabilia as they know I love the game."

By Rick Goetzee | Photo: David Llada

Traveling to Linares is like a pilgrimage. Flying from Ireland, the flight is long enough to daydream about the days ahead and short enough not to get cramps from lack of leg room in the low fare airplane.

Every year the same lady at the Hertz desk tries to sell you extra insurance and every year she accepts refusal with a smile. You get stuck in rush hour traffic (at 9pm) on the highway labyrinth around Madrid, but you’re not in a hurry because the round will only start at 4pm the next day. The route planner guides you towards the A4 and you prepare yourself for the three hour journey south. At every kilometer sign you tell yourself that you are a bit closer to Linares, as KissFM plays lovesongs on the radio.

At kilometer 288 you get a new boost of adrenaline when for the first time Linares appears on the road signs. Ten minutes later you enter the town, in travel guides often described as ugly, but a chess player wholeheartedly disagrees. You follow Centro Ciudad and suddenly you recognise a roundabout. You feel as if you’ve come home when you arrive at Hotel Anibal, as it goes without saying that’s where you have booked a room. No need to make reservations months in advance, there always seems to be space. You park in the street next to the hotel, opposite the park where Leko always used to go for a walk just before the game, and you know for sure that you have arrived in the right place when you turn the corner and bump into Radjabov.

Hotel Anibal

Hotel Anibal stopped hosting the tournament several years ago but it's still a chess hotel and the place where the players and journalists stay 

This year I have come to Linares on a special mission, I have arranged an interview with the great man himself: Luis Rentero Lechuga, the founder of the Linares chess tradition.

Since last year the playing venue has moved from Anibal to the Cervantes theatre in the town centre. On entering the theatre well in time for the first round I notice a beautiful display chess set in the foyer. Admiration turns into astonishment when I see that not only the King and Queen are reversed but that there is also a dark square in the bottom right hand corner. We are used to seeing this in window displays and in movies but I hadn’t expected it at the venue of the most prestigious tournament in the game. The reparation is completed just in time before the start of the round.

My appointment with Mr. Rentero is at 6pm. I can’t find him in the pressroom so ask a member of the organisation if they have seen him. ‘Yes he is sitting in the auditorium in the front row and he is snoring loudly, so please get him out of there.’ As I move into the playing area I wonder why they haven’t woken him up themselves. Rentero’s English is almost as bad as my Spanish so I have asked María José to help me with the interview. I couldn’t have a better interpreter as she was also Kasparov’s interpreter when he announced his retirement in Linares in 2005.

After exchanging the usual pleasantries I start by asking Rentero about his own chess career. He learned the game when he was 8 years old by playing with friends at home. He has always been an e4 player and loves the Kings Gambit. He didn’t play much as he describes himself as a bad loser. ‘Especially when playing against children.’ In the end he gave up playing chess as he just could not stand losing. He has a passionate love for the game and during top tournaments he always plays over the games at home. In the press room it is a nice sight to see Rentero standing close to the monitors, totally engrossed in the positions on the screens.

From an early age onward it was clear that Rentero was better suited for organising chess events than for playing in them. When he was 15 he organised a simultaneous display in Linares by IM Roman Toran, who later became a good friend. In 1978 he organised his first tournament in Linares. At that time he didn’t have the ambition to make it a regular event, let alone make it grow into what it has become today. When Rentero talks about the 1979 tournament he grabs the opportunity to talk about his favourite topic. ‘Yes, Larry Christiansen won. That’s an aggressive player. Me gusta mucho!’ I don’t have to ask any more questions for the next five minutes as Rentero climbs on his soap box. ‘I attended a tournament in Bugojno in Yugoslavia. Ten minutes after the start of the round half of the games had ended in a draw. This was a tragedy for me. I want chess players to play, to fight, that’s why I handed out penalties for not trying hard enough. Kasparov is my favourite player, he is a fighter. Chess can be very pretty, it can be a show but only if the players fight.’

Luis Rentero

Luis Rentero in 2008, at the 'living chess' festival on the last rest day

Glowing with pleasure he tells the story that he even fined Kasparov once. The world champion had just made a draw in 32 moves when Rentero informed him that he would withhold half a million pesetas from his prize money. Kasparov was beside himself with anger: ‘It’s my friend who does this to me; I will never play in Linares again!’ Rentero didn’t budge; Kasparov paid his fine and did return the following year. Rentero obviously likes the Sofia rules and acknowledges the compliment that he was 20 years ahead of his time with a firm nod of the head. He may be getting on in years and he may still feel the impact of his car accident 10 years ago but his passion and pride for what he has created are still there.

Rentero is no longer involved with the Linares tournament but sings the praises of the members of the local government who have taken over from him. ‘It’s becoming more beautiful every year. They are doing a great job. I agree with the move to Mexico for the first half, there was no choice. Also moving to Dubai next year is good for the event, it will keep it financially viable. The people in Linares love the tournament; they may not know the rules of the game but they are proud that the most famous tournament in the world takes place in their town. They love it more than football.’

In the following days I test this bold statement in the cafés of Linares. Many people want to talk to me about the Champions League match of Real Madrid against Liverpool. Very few are able to tell me anything about the chess tournament. Some don’t even know it is actually going on. But there are exceptions. One man invites me to his home and proudly shows me the autographs of Karpov and Spassky which he collected as a child.

When I tell Don Luis that I have always been surprised about the lack of publicity for the event in the town and on the internet, his reaction is quite surprising. He slams the table and says: ‘Yes I agree and I will take measures!’ Later I find out what he means by this.

I ask him about his successful business career which gave him the financial means to organise his events. ‘I started delivering groceries to several villages by motorbike. Then I bought a large storage facility and it grew from there. I owned 32 supermarkets and 4 hotels. I sold the supermarkets to a Belgian company but still have my hotels. Hotel Anibal is the only one with a chess theme, but sometimes visitors to my other hotels bring me chess memorabilia as they know I love the game. I had a lot of people working for me and I’m proud of that, as it created employment for the area. I like having people working for me. I also like people playing chess for me. (laughs)’ Did being a bad loser in chess help him in business? ‘Yes for sure, my whole life has been a fight.’

Rentero says that he wants to go and talk to the organisers so it is time for my last question. What is your proudest memory of the tournaments you organised? ‘I received the Leonardo da Vinci prize in Russia for my accomplishments in chess. During the ceremony we talked to two astronauts in a space station. One of them was a Karpov fan and the other a Kasparov fan. When asked which Spanish cities they could name they answered: Madrid, Barcelona and …. Linares.’

After the interview I follow Rentero back to the press room. He immediately approaches one of the organisers and tells him in no uncertain terms that publicity has to improve. He points at me and then moves on to the monitors to watch the games that are still in progress. The organiser is clearly not happy with me and tells me about the banners which are hanging all over town. I reply that they were only put up the day before the first round and I tell him about the Wijk aan Zee tournament which runs a website all year long. He takes me to one of the monitors to show me the website of his tournament. A very nice site indeed but when you enter ‘Linares chess’ or ‘Linares ajedrez’ in Google the link doesn’t come up. Also the site is only in Spanish. ‘Then you will have to learn Spanish’ is the final word from the organiser. Luis Rentero may have officially handed over his tournament to the local government but his presence is still felt.

I didn’t see Rentero’s face when Radjabov and Dominguez played on till bare Kings in the 12th round, but it reminded me of another thing he said: ‘I will tell you why Linares is the greatest tournament in the world. Because in Linares the players fight!’
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