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Venezuelan Chess Player Gets FM Title At 88

Venezuelan Chess Player Gets FM Title At 88

PeterDoggers
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116 | Chess Players

An 88-year-old chess player from Venezuela recently received a very nice surprise: his FM title. He was informed that FIDE had acknowledged the title application based on results that he scored in the 1960s.

It's a record that won't be easy to beat: getting an official FIDE title when you're 88. That's what happened to three-time Venezuelan champion Salvador Diaz Carias from Caracas, now living in San Cristobal. He received the FM title shortly before turning 88 last Wednesday.

A video made by Diaz's son in which he surprises his father with the news.

Diaz was born on June 23, 1933. He started playing chess relatively late, at age 20, in 1953. It was thanks to his good friend Luis Alberto Matos, who by then was already a strong tournament player and above all very knowledgeable about openings, that he managed to play his first tournament, which was at the University of Los Andes, in the city of Merida.

The first big surprise for Diaz came when in that same tournament, in one of the games,  as White he defeated the reigning Venezuelan champion, Andres Sadde, with an opening variation that Matos had taught him!

"This unexpected event had two consequences: a good one and a bad one," Diaz wrote Chess.com. "The bad news was that I stopped studying the first year of engineering because I was completely absorbed by chess until the sun of today."

I was completely absorbed by chess until the sun of today.
—Salvador Diaz Carias

From 1953 to 1960, he dedicated himself to studying openings and endgames and studying grandmaster games. In those seven years, he became one of the best players in the country, to the point that he conquered the national championship in 1960 in the city of Maracaibo. He retained his title a year later in a match with Celso Sanchez Pouso, an IM in correspondence chess, who had won almost all the tournaments that were played in Caracas. Much later, in 1978, Diaz would win his third and last national title in San Cristobal.

Salvador Diaz Carias in the 1960s
Diaz in the 1960s

After his second title in 1961, Diaz had to quit tournament chess because he started working, first as a mathematics teacher until 1965 and then as a computer programmer for IBM. But he never abandoned the game completely; for example, in 1964 he played for Venezuela in the First Caribbean Series, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. In this four-player team event, he won all his games to help the Venezuelan team to remain champions.

1966 Havana Olympiad

Diaz participated in the famous 1966 Havana Olympiad, where he scored 11.5 points over 20 games, the best performance among the five players who represented the Venezuelan team. He shared the following anecdote:

During the Olympiad, we were staying at the Habana Libre Hotel, formerly the Habana Hilton. Me and two members of the Puerto Rico team, whom I had met in the Caribbean Series, went up to the top floor of the hotel to have a few drinks. When we entered, we saw GM Bobby Fischer who was having a few drinks practically alone. We greeted each other, because I already knew him personally since 1962, when he passed through Caracas, accompanied by GM Miguel Najdorf, who was temporarily residing in Caracas, and they were coming back from their participation in the Mar del Plata Tournament.

By the way, Bobby and I played an informal game. Black got into a worse position in the Sicilian Defense, in a variation that I had learned in a Soviet magazine, but he equalized the position and, of course, he won the game.

I want to say that Bobby at that time was a totally normal person, friendly in his dealings, cheerful, in short, very different from the Bobby Fischer that all chess players began to question because of his behavior after winning the world championship.

Diaz also played in the 1968 Lugano Olympiad, where he scored his best international performance: 10.5/15, with which he reached a 2300 Elo rating. He would play one more Olympiad, in 1978 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Diaz still plays. As recently as in 2020 he won a local tournament at the San Cristobal Fair.

Diaz Feria Internacional de San Sebastián
Diaz winning the San Cristobal Fair tournament last year.

FIDE Title

About a year ago, Diaz's good friend Nicola Nigro, a great promoter of Venezuelan chess, and Luisana Mujica, a former Venezuelan women's champion, began to scrutinize the data of Venezuelan players. They obtained a Chess Informant from 1971 that showed the 2300 Elo. Immediately they began to make the arrangements for the validation of his title, knowing that this single requirement was enough for the title.

Salvador Diaz Carias FM chess
Salvador Diaz Carias with a 2300 rating in a 1971 Informant.

FIDE, a year later, confirmed that they were going to granting the title on the condition that the standard administration cost of 70 euros would be paid. When Nigro realized that the Diaz family could not afford this sum—the incredible inflation that the country has seen in the past years means that this amount now equals 266,000 Venezuelan bolivares—he decided to take care of the payment himself.

Diaz himself had no idea about all of this. He wrote: "You, gentlemen of Chess.com, can you imagine what my joy was when I learned last week, that at 88 years old, I had been given this international title. I want to share this joy, first of all with Nico and with you, and of course, with all the fans who love this beautiful game, which is getting even bigger, with the effects of this pandemic that we are experiencing."

Together with sending a wonderful letter full of information about his chess life, Diaz also wrote to Chess.com: "I want to express the great satisfaction that overwhelms me, having the knowledge that a site as prestigious as yours in the field of chess, has shown great interest in telling me about my experiences in that discipline."

The great satisfaction in telling this story is mutual.

Salvador Diaz Carias ajedrez MF
Diaz, still enthralled by chess in his 80s.
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