Una Sola Familia


Today we concluded the chess camp at the school and prepared to head back to the U.S. During camp, Zach and Zoe’s room finished their tournament with Jandry winning the championship with 3.5 out of 4 points. To begin the day in the advanced room, seven people played a simul against Drew, who had not lost any games during the week. However, with only five minutes on each clock, he was unable to remain undefeated as Fernando managed to win his game on time. Following the simul, the experienced students played a three-round (two games per round) blitz tournament.  Pedro and Jesus each won all six of their games and faced each other in a playoff game.  Pedro, who showed great improvement during the week, took home the title of blitz champion.

Drew works hard to finish 6-1 in the simul
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Fernando stands with Drew after his win
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Pedro (left) and Jesus (right) pose after their blitz playoff game

During the final break of the week, about half the people played soccer and the rest sat down and socialized. At the end of the break, everyone gathered together for a group photo.

Chess Camp 2017 at Amor y Esperanza

Once break was over, both groups came together to play a bughouse tournament. After four intense rounds, David and Noemi came out victorious with a perfect score. They were both beginners from Zach and Zoe’s room, so we were very proud of them.

Bughouse champions, Noemi and David

Once the camp was finished, we quickly ate lunch and packed up the boards and pieces. (The school now has twenty boards and one clock for the students to practice during the school year.) Then, we went to see Abel, a child at Amor y Esperanza who is unable to walk and has received physical therapy from our mom. She had sent a medical stroller for him, and Abel and his mother were so joyful and grateful that he had received this blessing. I (Zoe) truly experienced the feeling that giving is better than receiving. Upon seeing the joy on their faces, I knew that giving him this gift was better than receiving one.

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Abel and his mother with the Justice family

We drove home and relaxed most of the afternoon before getting ready to leave. After packing our suitcases, the kids settled down to watch Captain America, which Drew had never seen before. He has just started watching Marvel superhero movies on this trip!

In the evening, we gathered to eat our last meal together as one family. Margarita, who had cooked an cleaned for us the whole week, had helped prepare a delicious dinner for us. She has truly displayed an others-ahead-of-self attitude by humbly serving us throughout the week. Tonight, along with Pity, she had made a dinner of tomato soup, steak, papas fritas (Roberto’s favorite!) and rice, with a dessert of lemon pound cake. It was a scrumptious conclusion to our stay. Maria Victoria also displayed a servant’s heart by sleeping next door with her grandmother the whole week, giving up her room so that Zoe could stay there.

Maria Vitoria and her grandmother

After dinner, we assembled one last time in the living room for prayer and blessing. Pancho and Pity prayed for the Justice kids and especially Danny, who is leaving the country for the first time without his parents. They anointed Zach’s knee and prayed for it to heal, and also anointed Danny and asked God to bless him. After that, Pancho and Pity prayed for Zoe and Drew and Roberto anointed them. It was a beautiful ending to our fellowship as a family.

We loaded up our bags and piled into a rented bus to head to the airport for our 11:30 flight. After some struggle figuring out what line to stand in and where to check our luggage, we made it through by checking in at the “Special Services” counter, which was much quicker than the normal line. We said our goodbyes to the Zola family and got through security with ease because we accidentally stood in the disabled persons line.

We are truly grateful to the Lord for our week of service in Ecuador and are sad to go back home. I hope you all enjoyed our blog and thanks for reading! Adiós.

Pawns, Pizza, and Pim’s


Today was the second-to-last day of camp. The kids in both groups played lots of chess. In Zach and Zoe’s room, they went over openings and played some bughouse. The students in Roberto’s room played some practice games with a clock and reviewed the basic tactics learned yesterday.

The three amigos, Danny (left), Mateo (right) and Jesús (middle)
David and Maria Victoria play a game
The Queens of Quito

Zach and Zoe were both exhausted today so they were happy when it was time for the break. There was, of course, more soccer, but Zoe and Zach mostly just sat and talked with the kids.

After the break, Zach and Zoe set up a four-round tournament in their room. Two rounds were completed today with two more to be played tomorrow. The experienced players participated in a three-round tournament. John, using a unique opening strategy with the white pieces (a4-b3-c4), emerged as champion after defeating Henry in a playoff match.

Mayarí and Danna face each other in the tournament
John finds an outpost for his knight

Henry is a talented player, and he also has to take care of his four-year-old brother, Panchito, while at camp. Panchito has a strange tendency to punch his older brother occasionally. It takes extreme focus for Henry to babysit and play chess while getting hit.  Today Panchito decided to assert himself at the chess board, making interesting moves and then smacking the clock instead of Henry.  He became the first one at camp to win against Drew as he captured Drew’s king multiple times in a new chess variant understood only by the four-year-old.  Roberto proved to be no match for Panchito either.

Panchito hits the clock instead of his brother
Drew is baffled by the unorthodox play of his young opponent

When the day of camp concluded, we gathered to eat lunch and Roberto was very excited to see pepperoni pizza from Pizza Hut. None of us could believe the cost of each pizza, however — $20!!!  Back at home, Zach was extremely glad that they were not planning to run because he just wanted to rest. Everyone was pretty wiped out. Zoe took a nap and read another book, Drew played Wii basketball versus Mateo, and everyone else just relaxed. Later in the afternoon, all the kids except Danny played a Wii bowling tournament, and once again Drew was the champion with a score of 151.

Pancho, Pity, and Pizza Hut

For dinner, the family minus Pity went to at an upscale restaurant called Pim’s, which is located in the oldest part of Quito. There was a lot of traffic on the way, and it took us an hour and a half of aggressive Ecuadorian driving to get there. However, the food was well worth the wait. Pretty much everyone ordered hamburgers except for Pancho. The princesses, Zoe and Maria, got milkshakes along with Roberto. Afterwards, we took some pictures and returned to the house (in only 30 minutes) after a long day of teaching and loving. Thanks for reading!

Roberto and Zoe on the balcony at Pim’s

Ask, Seek, and Knock

We’ve had another great day of chess camp! The kids in Zach and Zoe’s room worked on opening principles and checkmating with two rooks and soon progressed to playing bughouse, while the more advanced students played games and worked on single rook mate. They also learned how to play with clocks for the first time and had another bughouse tournament. At the end of the day, the experienced students were introduced to four types of tactics: pins, forks, skewers, and discoveries.  Zach and Zoe hope to set up a tournament in their room tomorrow in which the kids will play each other.

The students continue to show a great joy in learning chess. They have really been a blessing to us this week. Zach has paid special attention to three little girls: Vale, Salomé, and Mayari. They radiate the love of Christ and show that no matter how much or how little you have, you still should put others ahead of yourself.

Vale (left) and Salomé (right) talk with Zach at break

During the break, the students played soccer once again. Roberto had not forgotten about his fall yesterday, so he decided not to compete as much today.  Zach also played only a little but enjoyed talking to everyone and relaxing.

After the break, we continued teaching and finished off the day listening to Despacito while cleaning up the room. Once all the kids had left, we ate lunch at Amor y Esperanza and headed home.

Roberto was very pleased that Jose got checkmate with a single rook in an actual game
Danny hits the clock after his move in a game against Mateo

On the way to Pancho and Pity’s house, we made a stop at the new school building that is still under construction. It currently has two floors, but there will be a third floor when the remaining funds for the school are secured. When the Whitefield EMT came, they built twelve walls on the bottom level. The view from the second floor is incredible! Roberto said that if he went to school there, he would look out the window and never pay attention in class.

Walls built by the Whitefield EMT
A view from the second floor of the school

Once we arrived at home, everyone was pretty tired so we just too it easy. Zoe finished the book that she was reading, and Drew played Wii basketball for a long time. He challenged Zoe, who had never played before, and she kept the game tied until we had to leave to go to the park.

Danny, Mateo, and Zach ran a 10K while Drew, Zoe, Maria Victoria, and Pancho walked. Roberto decided not to go and took a nap instead. Eventually, Drew decided to start running with Mateo but quickly fell behind and did not quite complete a mile. Nonetheless, it was a decent effort in the thin air of Quito.

Following our time at the park, everyone just relaxed and took showers before an amazing dinner of potato soup, meatloaf, and brownies with ice cream for dessert. Dr. Wells, a member of the board of Amor y Esperanza, also joined us for dinner. Afterwards, we had a very inspirational prayer meeting in the living room. Pancho shared verses from Luke 11 which command us to ask, seek and knock concerning our dreams with the Lord. They tell us to ruthlessly pursue the Lord, much as one pursues and attacks the king in chess, and cast our burdens on Him. This was a time where we were all very close to God as we prayed for Daniel’s journey to college, Zach’s knee, safe travels for Danny in America, healing for our grandmother, Nona, and strength for our beautiful and wonderful mother as she cares for and loves her whole family every day no matter the circumstance (we love you mom!!). This meeting was truly an example of God’s family and the love that we so actively desire to experience as believers.

After prayer, we stayed up for a little while and Scooby inspired a conversation about the differences between dogs and citizen rights in America and Ecuador. We are truly having a great time as a family here in Quito and are looking forward to another wonderful day of chess and love tomorrow. Hasta Mañana.

Scooby tries to sleep while everyone talks


Moves, Mountains, and Music

Today was another great day at chess camp. The kids are learning a lot and progressing very quickly. The beginners learned how to move all of the pieces and played their first full games. In the advanced room, the students played Bughouse, a fast paced version of chess where players have partners. Argenis and Mayarí, an eight year old, won all of their games against the other campers and emerged as champions of the first day of Bughouse.

Argents and Mayari make a great team

Argenis is one of the best chess players at the camp. He used to go to school at Amor y Esperanza, but he left before this past school year. However, he liked chess so much when the Whitefield EMT was here last summer that he came back to camp this week. He quickly proved himself as a superior player by dominating in the advanced room. We are so grateful to God that Argenis was able join us at camp.  Mayari is the youngest student in the experienced room and Roberto believes she has a very bright future in chess.  You can see the joy in her eyes as she plays and she is showing great potential just like Argenis did last year.

Argenis and Mayarí pose after excelling in Bughouse

Midway through the camp, we all took a break from chess and went to the patio for soccer and relaxation. This was probably everyone’s favorite part of the day. The children immediately started to play soccer and they went all out. Zach joined in the game and scored a few goals, but the Ecuadorians were hard to keep up with. Roberto also decided to play, and despite his age and taking a nasty fall, scored a goal. He also held his own for a long time as keeper. Roberto says that us Americans are better at doing stuff with our hands than with our feet, hence why he was best at keeper in fútbol.

Roberto makes a surprisingly athletic save
Zach enjoys getting totally outplayed by children half his age

When we were not playing soccer during break, we were loving and talking to the kids. I (Zach) had a great time getting to know two little girls, Vale (7) and Mayarí (8). They were so cute and talkative and I really enjoyed being there with them. Mayari was particularly impressive. We got into a conversation (in Spanish) about cellphones. She said that she had one, and I was very surprised. I asked her why she had one if she is only eight. She told me that her parents work a lot, and she has to take care of her three year old brother. WOW! This girl is only eight, and she is constantly babysitting a younger child. She also used the word responsibilidad (responsibility). I was so impressed with her maturity and responsibility while playing chess and while talking. This was really a wakeup call for me to stop complaining when I have to do something. This girl does more work and has more responsibility than me, and she is almost ten years younger. This is just one of many examples of the work God is doing here and the inspiration He is bringing about on this trip.

Vale wears Zach’s hat during break

After camp, the kids ate lunch, jammed out to Despacito, and played cards before heading to the Pichincha Volcano with Pancho and Roberto. After arriving at TeleferiQo, we rode two gondolas up the mountain and took in the incredible view. It was truly an amazing representation of God’s handiwork and creation. After walking around for a while, we headed back to the house to relax and have a wii basketball tournament (Drew won with Kobi Bryant and the Lakers). All the kids except Zach then took Scooby for a walk and played basketball and soccer in the park.

The kids eat and jam out to Despacito (indisputably the best Bieber song)
Different prices for Ecuadorians and tourists at the TeleferiQo!
Roberto, Pancho, and the girls board the gondola
The family poses at 13,000 feet of elevation

Following our time at the park, Zach and Zoe practiced music for their evening “concert” that Roberto had requested as a birthday present. (Zach plays ukulele, guitar, and sings, while Zoe plays violin and sings.) Afterwards, everyone ate dinner, a delicious meal of filet mignon, homemade french fries, rice, and pound cake. Roberto was very happy, especially about the tasty papas fritas!

After dinner, Zach and Zoe went back to practicing, while Danny, Mateo, and Drew were finally learning to dunk on Wii basketball. Once the duo were finished getting ready, everyone gathered in the living room for the music. Zach and Zoe played a combination of songs they had done at the Bean (Whitfield’s talent show) in previous years, and some new songs that they are planning to play at the Bean in the future. Zach also tried to learn to perform Despacito with his ukulele, but I guess he just doesn’t have the Spanish singing skills of Justin Bieber.

Zoe and Zach play songs by The Lumineers, Johnny Cash, and Bob Dylan

We closed off our time together in prayer and then everyone left the room to do their own thing. The boys, of course, continued playing Wii basketball before going to bed.

We are looking forward to another day of chess camp tomorrow! Thanks for reading today’s post!  Adiós!


Anything Is Possible

Today was the first day of chess camp. We had a good turnout and a great time. Very early in the morning, Mateo, Danny, and Zach woke up to run at the park in order to prepare for running camp next week. Afterwards, we all headed to Amor y Esperanza to begin our week of teaching. About 30 kids from ages 8 to 15 showed up to learn some chess. Roberto decided to split the kids into two groups: beginners and more experienced players. Zach and Zoe taught the beginners with Maria Victoria helping Zach when he didn’t know the Spanish and helping Zoe because she doesn’t know the Spanish. Roberto and Drew taught the more experienced players, while Danny and Mateo assisted by translating and playing some games too.

Zach teaches and plays chess with the beginners
Drew observes the experienced players who focus hard on their games

In the beginners room, the students learned how the paws (peónes), rooks (torres), bishops (alfiles), and kings (reyes) move. In addition, they began to learn how to checkmate (jaquemate) with just two rooks. We were very impressed with the beginners as they quickly picked up concepts (despite the language barrier and Zach’s questionable Spanish) that typically take our American students several hours if not days. The advanced group jumped right into playing full games.  In order to determine their playing ability, Roberto had Drew play all of the students in the room at the same time.  After the simul, students were paired against each other to play more games and practice checkmate with a single rook.

We also took a break halfway through the day to give the students — and instructors — a rest from thinking. This was a great opportunity for us to meet the students for the first time out of the classroom. We were all really impressed by the self-control of the students inside the classroom, but I (Zach) was more impressed with their energy and passion outside when they were playing. They have so much love and passion for life and each other, and I was just really touched. I know it is kind of cliché, but these kids have already started to give to me more than I can imagine ever giving to them. They have inspired me by showing that no matter how little you have or what situation you are in, you can always be joyful in the Lord and love Him and others with all of your strength. It has truly been a blessing from the Lord to meet these boys and girls and be able to love them and be loved back as one family of God.

View of the city from the roof of Amor y Esperanza

After the first day of chess camp ended, we ate lunch at the school and then returned home. The kids immediately retreated to Danny and Mateo’s playroom to play Wii tennis. After setting up a double elimination tournament, Zach ended up playing Mateo in the championship. Zach won after coming back from a loss in the first round to Danny.

When we were done playing, we took the dog, Scooby, for a walk. After a while, Danny and Mateo brought Scooby back to the house and we proceeded to play some real basketball and soccer. Maria Victoria and Zoe don’t like soccer, so they sat out while everyone else played. After an interesting game against some other kids in the neighborhood, we came back to the house to relax.

The Justices laid low while Danny and Mateo went to karate where they both earned their green belts. Soon after their return, Pity surprised Roberto with a birthday cake and decorations at dinner. We think that it was one of Roberto’s favorite cakes ever (and of course it was chocolate). After dinner, the boys played a few games of Wii basketball (NBA 2K) until everyone gathered in the living room for a night of community, family, and prayer.

The family gathers around Roberto on his birthday

Pancho gave all of us a powerful message that anything is possible if Christ is at the center of our lives. I know we hear that all the time, but the Lord really spoke to me (Zoe) through all the events of the day leading up to what he had to say to us. At the beginning of the chess camp, I thought it would be very hard to get through to the students, partly because of the language barrier, and partly because, in my past experience, some kids are not really interested in learning chess so it seems pointless to teach them. But God had a different plan today. The children were very kind and respectful, as well as passionate about learning chess even if it was very hard, given that their teachers barely speak Spanish. They learned so quickly (way faster than kids in America, I must say) that I knew that God had to be working in their lives. In the same way, some things may seem very hard at the time, but God is working in our lives. If it is hard to do, God will give us the faith and the passion to achieve it. Pancho told us that any dream you might have, no matter how unattainable it seems, can be accomplished through the work of Jesus Christ.

At the end of our time together, we prayed for our mom’s mom, who was recently diagnosed with lung cancer, and knew that God can do anything, no matter how hard it seems. As I saw countless times today, when God wills it, nothing can stop him. Romans 8:31, 35, 37-39 says, “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? … Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Pancho told us to be strong and courageous, because if Christ is at the center of our lives, he can and will work miracles.

Happy Birthday Roberto! Thanks so much for reading! Nos Vemos. 

Love and Hope

Hello again from Ecuador! But this time, Zach and Zoe are posting instead of our mom, Susan. Along with our younger brother Drew and our dad (Kyle aka Roberto), we arrived in Ecuador late Thursday night after a five hour flight from Atlanta. Surprisingly, we flew through security and checking our bags, so we had lots of time to eat and wait in the airport.

The Justice kids prepare to board the plane to Quito

After boarding the plane, we settled in and watched movies for the duration of the flight. Upon landing at the Quito airport, Pancho Zola, our friend from Ecuador, picked us up, accompanied by his two sons, Danny and Mateo. We rode back to their house, exhausted from our travels. We were greeted by Pancho’s wife Pity and soon went to sleep.

The next morning, we woke to a delicious breakfast of pancakes and eggs. Afterwards, we prepared to give the family gifts that we had brought from America. First, Zoe gave Maria Victoria, their daughter, a new basketball, while Drew gave Mateo a new soccer ball. Danny received only an air pump for the balls, since he had already received an unexpected gift from the Whitefield cross country team a few months ago.  (Members of the team raised $2000 in less than a week for Danny to attend running camp with them in North Carolina.  He will flying back with us after our visit and staying in the U.S. for over two weeks.  He is very excited about his visit to America!)  Roberto, as he is known in Ecuador, had a special card (written in Spanish) from our mom, who had visited Quito last month as one of the leaders on the Ecuador Mission Team (EMT) from our school, Whitefield Academy.

The Zola children receive their gifts

Fundación Amor y Esperanza, Foundation Love and Hope in English, is the school that Pancho and Pity started in Quito over fifteen years ago. It provides Christ-centered education for children in Carmen Bajo, an at-risk neighborhood in the city. Whitefield has maintained a partnership with Amor y Esperanza for the past fourteen years. Last year, both of our parents traveled to Quito with the EMT and quickly realized that they were not just on a mission trip — they were part of a family.

Last November Roberto applied for a Retaining the Best grant at Whitefield, which is a program that provides financial awards to veteran teachers who have been working at the school for seven or more years. He received funds to return to Ecuador and do a chess camp at Amor y Esperanza. The camp begins tomorrow, Monday, July 10th (Roberto’s birthday!).

After sharing the gifts with the Zola family, we set off for the market in Ottavallo, a city about an hour from Quito. The market was filled with various alpaca clothing and blankets, as well as handmade jewelry and other various things. We had to haggle and negotiate to get prices that we liked. Zach and Zoe both ended up with backpacks and llama jackets, and Zach also purchased a melodica, which is a portable piano. Drew got a wallet, a t-shirt, and a sweater, while Roberto bought a very comfortable sweater. Next, we went to a large lake and took lots of pictures of the incredible landscape. The lake fills a crater formed by a volcano erupting. Since the volcano is still active, there are no fish in the warm, bubbling water.

Llama jackets at the market
Melodicas (portable pianos)
The beautiful lake nestled in the crater of an active volcano

After lunch and a long day of driving, we crashed at Pity’s family’s farm in Nono, a rural town of about 800 people. Drew and Roberto played lots of blitz chess and Roberto was very happy when he finally won a game (Drew lost track of time and flagged in a 3 minute game). We settled down to a delicious dinner of hamburgers and fries — just like home! Later, Maria Victoria, Mateo, and Danny led us on a mountain trail around the farm. The kids played multiple card games that night, but Zach was exhausted and went to sleep fairly early. The rest of us stayed up a while longer sitting by the warm fire.  Eventually, we all made our way to our beds and fell asleep quickly after a long day of driving, activity, and fellowship.


Saturday was a fun filled, relaxing day in Nono. We slept late and ate a delicious breakfast to prepare for the day ahead. Pancho, Mateo, and Danny set up the Ping Pong table, and a  tournament proceeded. Roberto was the overall champion, beating Pancho in two very close matches, and afterwards Zoe handily beat Drew 5 games out of 6! (Drew claims that the tree was in his way and his sweater was impeding his range of motion, but Zoe clearly proved her superior skill.) After table tennis, we went into town for lunch at a chicken restaurant. Zoe was very hungry and thoroughly enjoyed her pollo. Then, we went to an ice-cream shop, which was surprisingly cheap. Once the group finished there, we played basketball (not soccer!) in the park with the new basketball that Maria Victoria received. We played a game of 4 on 4 to 15 points. Pancho, Roberto, Danny, and Drew vs. Mateo, Maria Victoria, Zach, and Zoe. It was a long and arduous match, with Pancho and Roberto scoring most points off of rebounds and turnovers, while Zoe displayed her long-range shooting skills, leading her team in scoring from 3-point range. In the end, despite Zach’s superior ability and hustle, Pancho led his team to victory by scoring the final two buckets. Remarkably, it was only the eighth time Pancho has played basketball.

Drew barely beats Maria Victoria 22-20
Roberto focuses in the match agains Pancho
Pancho warms up for his 8th basketball game ever
Pity’s cousin Manuel had not played in 5 years but gave Drew a good game

Back at the house, the kids played more Ping Pong and collected firewood for a campfire. After an exciting game of manhunt, in which Drew was almost attacked by rats, we sat down to a delicious dinner of tacos and rice. These tacos were indubitably the best Zach has ever eaten. After dinner, we built the campfire. although it was surprisingly difficult to light without the help of Daniel, our older brother and resident Eagle Scout.  With the assistance of Pancho, we had a great time roasting s’mores and hanging out. After ensuring that the fire was put out, we went inside for a time of fellowship and prayer. Pancho shared the verse Col. 3:23 and the message of pursuing God and living for Him in all areas of our lives. Roberto (guitar), Zach (ukulele) and Zoe (singing) led a few worship songs, and we all enjoyed each other’s company in the presence of God.

Everyone gathers around the campfire to make s’mores

We arose at 8:00 on Sunday to eat breakfast and leave for the Equator. At the museum, Pancho, Roberto, and the kids learned a lot about the different physics at the equator such as the Coriolis effect and the competing forces at the equator. Drew was the only person in the group able to complete the challenge of balancing an egg on a nail, attaining the title of Egg Master and receiving a diploma. (He may never become a GM but he is now officially and EM!)  After touring the museum, we were on a mission to visit one of the local women, Elvira, that our mom met last month at one of the shops. She was very happy to see us, and the feeling that we are a part of God’s family was palpable. It was no coincidence that we came together; it was clearly the work of the Lord. In fact, Elvira’s son may attend our chess camp next week tomorrow! Pancho prayed for her and her family, and she was very loving and hospitable to us, people she did not even know until today. This was a clear expression of the love that believers are called to have for their fellow brothers and sisters.

Just like chess, it takes focus to become an EM!
Family picture with El Vira inside her store

After a tiring day of sight seeing, the group headed to Crepes and Waffles for a bite to eat. Roberto was not hungry, so he just ordered a chocolate milkshake (classic Roberto!). The children, especially Drew, ate and enjoyed their meal. On the way home, Roberto and Pancho had an interesting conversation about denominations within the church. This alone was a major feat because Pancho does not speak much English, and Roberto definitely no habla Español. However, with the occasional translations by Danny, Mateo, and Zach, they had a deep conversation about bringing God’s followers together despite denominational and theological differences. At last, once they arrived at home, the kids relaxed and played wii video games and at a nearby park before heading to dinner (at an up-scale Carl’s Jr. where Zach had to order Roberto and Zoe’s complicated orders in Spanish) and the movies (to see Spiderman).

The nicest Carl’s Jr. on Planet Earth, where they actually get your complicated order correct, even if you order in really bad Spanish

While we were out at dinner, Danny tricked Drew, who does not know much Spanish, into asking the Baskin Robbins employee for a cuchillo (knife) rather than a servilleta (napkin). The employee was very confused and we all laughed and had a great time. Overall, it has been an exciting and fun-filled but tiring weekend of family and fellowship. We are very much looking forward to meeting the students at Amor y Esperanza and using chess as a platform to show them the love of Christ and the pursuit of the King. Hasta Pronto!



Hello again …

It has been quite a long time since I posted here.  I have missed writing and taking time to reflect on our “chess journey.”  I don’t have time at the present to delve back in, but thought I would pass along a link to an article I wrote recently:


Drew and his friend Arthur are playing at the World Open in DC along with a number of other Georgia players. Drew is in the U2000 section, Arthur is playing in the Open section. Here is a link for results:


Continuing in our pursuit of the King …

Planes, Trains, Automobiles … and a Boat

It sure is nice to be home … After a full night’s sleep in my own bed, rising to a cup of tea made just how I like it, and spending some quiet time alone, I think I am ready to face the day.  It will definitely be different at home, time to re-enter the daily tasks of dishes, laundry, and bills.  I read a bit of Ann Voskamp’s book,  A Dare to LIVE FULLY Right Where You Are:  One Thousand Gifts, this morning, and it was spot on for what I needed to hear today.  Finding joy in the every day, giving thanks, taking on the view of a child, and emptying oneself of expectations — leading to a joy in the moment.

Dorm A5, our home away from home.
Dorm A5, our home away from home.

As for the culmination of our world travel, our final day brought adventure, appreciation, and a bit of exhaustion.  We left our home away from home at 8 am, planning to take a taxi into Dubai for more sightseeing before our plane was scheduled to take off at 11 pm.  Our first surprise was that the taxi was not available, so we headed to the line for the bus provided by the tournament.  We were fortunate to be able to make it onto the second bus after waiting only about half an hour, and thankful that we had saved the taxi fare. Our driver was not familiar with the airport and initially dropped us at the wrong terminal, but after I hailed an airport worker and got directions, we made it to the right location.  Actually being familiar with the Dubai airport (odd as it seems), we were able to efficiently store our luggage for the day and hop on the metro to visit the Dubai Mall.

The metro has a car set aside for ladies and children only.  We became thankful for this arrangement when stop after stop the people piled into the train until we felt as if we were in Japan with bodies pressed against one another and people pushing to get off at each stop. When we reached stop 25, we surged toward the door, taking care to avoid the baby stroller.  Ganmama almost didn’t make it off the train, but slipped through the doors as they were closing.  Dubai loves to boast of the tallest tower, the largest fountain display, and on and on.  They can also include the longest hallway of moving walkways in the world. The walkways led us to the opulence of the mall attached to the Burj Khalifa where we would ride the elevator to the 124th floor to view the city from above.

Burj Khalifa.
Burj Khalifa.

From this vaulted vantage point, it was clear to see that this was a city built upon the sand.  We stood in a building with pylons driven deep into the ground, a foundation of cement poured to anchor this spire so that visitors from India, Australia, the US and everywhere in between could stand aloft and feel the Arabian breeze while appreciating the advancement of this new nation.  A city of towers and bridges, built where 20 years ago stood “a few lone buildings in the desert,” Dubai is a study in urban development.  (http://weburbanist.com/2011/02/21/then-now-the-stunning-speed-of-urban-development/)

One view from the Burj Khalifa.
One view from the Burj Khalifa.

We stood looking out the thick glass of the observation deck while unbeknownst to us a large family gathered behind us for a photo.  Ganmama turned and found herself inadvertently popping her head of red hair into the frame.  We ducked behind the 25 or so, until Ganmama mischievously reached a pair of rabbit ears up behind one of the men posing in the back.  Giggling like schoolchildren, we were found out and the group of dark middle easterners pulled Ganmama and Drew into their family photo, laughing and cajoling one another.  They then dispersed with calls of “Bye Auntie, see you next year in Europe!” and we left the tower with smiles and laughter from our brief encounter with another family traveling as well.

Zoe and Drew peer off the observation deck of the Burj Khalifa.
Zoe and Drew peer off the observation deck of the Burj Khalifa.

Prior to leaving Dubai for Al Ain on the front end of our trip, we had made reservations for a sunset cruise prior to our nighttime flight.  Checking our watches, we realized that with the unending moving walkways back to the metro, we would be seriously pressed for time in getting back to the meeting place for our final adventure.  We hurried through the mall, skirting the tourists from around the globe as we progressed through the people movers, and stepped onto the metro once again with bodies pressed close and cultures bumping against one another.  We exited the train at Deira City Center to hail a taxi to the Holiday Inn Express.  Unfortunately, the escalator up from the metro stop was broken and as we climbed the stairs with our bags and cameras, the press of people tight, we had to stop and rest halfway up, faint from the rush and the exertion.  The metro exit was nowhere near the taxi stand, and we had difficulty locating a driver without passengers.  Finally we crossed the street to a waiting cab and settled in — 15 minutes late already for our transport to the cruise.  Pulling up to the hotel, I jumped out of the taxi to find the door closing on our bus.  Just in time, we paid the taxi and boarded the transport.

The rush and hurry was worth it as we were able to relax in comfort and enjoy the company of families from Australia and New York as we watched the sun sink low over the Arabian Gulf and the lights of Dubai illuminate the skyline.  It was a beautiful end to a magnificent journey, the experience of the other side of the world and the diversity of humanity — an opportunity afforded by the game of chess and the generosity of family to help us on our way.

Sunset over the Arabian Gulf.
Sunset over the Arabian Gulf.
Enjoying our sunset cruise with the Dubai skyline in the background.
Enjoying our sunset cruise with the Dubai skyline in the background.

Two bus rides later we arrived at the airport to find that our flight was delayed a little more than an hour.  It turned out to be a good thing as security was tight.  Not only did we go through the initial passport control and security line, but at the gate we were patted down, our carry on bags were explored, and bodies scanned with some sort of detection device.  The flight was long, more than 15 hours, during which we watched movies, slept, and waited to arrive home.  At the new international terminal in Atlanta, one of the security dogs sniffed out an apple that was lingering in my back pack, causing us to have to wait in the Agricultural Customs line.  The contraband fruit was disposed of by the customs officers, and we were finally on our way to the long awaited for visit to Chick-Fil-A. Ah, sweet tea and the taste of home sweet home!

Homeward Bound

IMG_6107 We have made it through the tournament and celebrated the US medals in the Open U10 category — Awonder Liang with 10 points won the gold, and David Peng with 9 points took silver.  There were a couple of 4th place finishes and one of Drew’s new friends, Maximillian Lu finished in 5th.

Maximillian Lu, top US finisher for the U8 section.

Drew played a great last round, but couldn’t quite finish off his opponent, ending up with a draw and a total of 5 points for the tournament.  He placed 107th for his section, narrowly missing his goal of being in the top 100.  Drew is the youngest member of the US team, so he has another year to compete in the U8 section.  To do so, he will have to qualify by improving his rating before the end of February, so no chess break for now 🙂  I don’t think that will be a problem for him though as the only thing he wanted to do tonight was play chess in the lobby of the dorm with the other players!

Drew's round 11 opponent, Qianyi Zhang from China.
Drew’s round 11 opponent, Qianyi Zhang from China.

Link to round 11 game:


While I was waiting for Drew to finish his last game, I looked up and noticed World Champion Garry Kasparov about 10 feet away.  I was able to snap this picture of him with one of the Sheikhs of UAE before he was mobbed by the players and parents.

Garry Kasparov with one of the Sheiks of UAE.  The Sheik bears a close resemblance to Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed al Nayhan, the ruler of UAE, but I cannot confirm for sure that it is him.
Garry Kasparov with one of the Sheikhs of UAE. The Sheikh bears a close resemblance to Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nayhan, the ruler of UAE, but I cannot confirm for sure that it is him.

I must also mention that Drew finished up the blitz tournament this afternoon and won 4 out of 7 rounds, which gave him a top 50 finish.  It was a wonderful experience, but tiring, so we are all hitting the sack so that we can rise early for a long day of travel.  On the docket for tomorrow is a visit to the tallest building in the world before we catch our plane home.

I am hoping to add some final posts with more chess, more pictures, and more stories!  Hopefully when I get home I will be able to make time for writing!  Thanks to everyone for following our adventure — I will see you on the other side … IMG_2452

Chess … Football … Foosball … Friends

It is hard to believe that our sojourn here is almost finished.  While we are certainly home sick (Zoe more so than the rest), it will also feel a little odd to pack up and go.  In some ways, I feel I am just beginning to settle in and get used to the routine — get up for coaching, visit the cafeteria, prepare for the round, then the waiting while Drew plays, and finally the rest and recreation that come in the evenings after game analysis is done.

Foozball!! The foursome of Drew, Zoe, Eddie and Milind take on ...
Foosball!! The foursome of Drew, Zoe, Eddie and Milind take on …
grandmasters Magesh Panchanathan and Ben Finegold!
Grandmasters Magesh Panchanathan and Ben Finegold!

It may be a little difficult to re-enter “regular” life.  But we know one of the first things on the list is a visit to Chick-Fil-A.

Drew’s match with fellow K1 Co-Champion Chinguun Bayaraa played into a Sicilian Najdorf which can be a very tricky opening.  Drew played well through the opening, but he lost sight of his opponent’s possibilities and fell prey to attacks in the middle game. After a series of bad moves leading to a knight fork of his king and queen, Drew resigned the game.

Link to round 10 game:


On exiting the tournament hall, Drew and Chinguun came together to give me the news.  Drew was obviously upset and Chinguun reported that Drew played a strong opening but lost after blundering his knight.  Chinguun then promptly asked if he could join Drew for football again this evening after analysis and dinner!  It took Drew a little while to recover from the loss, but he was glad to join his new friend in a different type of competition and even let his sister play as well.  On the “football field,” it was Drew vs. Chinguun and Zoe.  Since neither Zoe nor Chinguun could catch the ball or out run Drew, they lost to the one man team.

Tomorrow will be round 11, the final round of the 2013 World Youth Chess Championship.  Drew will face an opponent from China who also has 4.5 points, hoping to end the tournament with a win for an even score of 5.5 out of 11.  But win, lose, or draw, each tournament and each match provide opportunities for growth.  We will leave here with the memories of new experiences, friendships forged through the shared love of chess (and football, and foosball), an appreciation of home, and many, many pictures.


Full Circle

The reason that I am sitting here in the Middle East, typing blog entries, is that Drew somehow managed to pull off seven victories in a row at Supernationals V back in April.  I never imagined that he would be able to tie for first place in that tournament, sharing the K1 Championship title with the player who took first on tie-breaks, Chinguun Bayaraa.  (Kyle claims that he thought Drew could do it, but he didn’t share that insight with me until after it was over.)

Drew and Chiguun receive their trophies for winning the K1 National Championship.
Drew and Chinguun receive their trophies for winning the K1 National Championship.

Drew and Chinguun did not get a chance to play each other in April, because entering the last round, there were four undefeated players.  Since arriving here for the World Youth tournament, Drew has had the chance to get to know Chinguun as a team mate and play mate.  They have played soccer, American football, and eaten together at lunch.  They have sat side by side in the tournament hall, representing their country against players from across the globe.

Drew and Chinguun just before the start of round 7.
Drew and Chinguun just before the start of round 7.

Unfortunately, when traveling for a tournament, you sometimes get paired against players from home, as we have seen in national tournaments when we have had to face other players from Georgia.  And here, although we are all representing Team USA, tomorrow Drew will face Chinguun over the board for the first time.  Both players have a total of 4.5 points; Chinguun defeated Atai Shatenov from Kyrgyzstan today, while Drew lost to Leon Mendonca from India.

Drew's 9th round opponent, Leon Mendonca from India.
Drew’s 9th round opponent, Leon Mendonca from India.

Drew played another solid opening but dropped a pawn in the middle game.  As GM Nick de Firmian told him during game analysis, “If you like your cookies, you need to hold onto them!”  Entering the endgame down a pawn proved to be an insurmountable deficit.  Drew attempted to trade off his pawns to achieve a drawn position, but he allowed his opponent’s knight to get behind his pawns, and it was all over from there.

Link to round 9 game:


Round 9 puzzle – play the best move for black:

I love how the Lord often brings things full circle in my life.  One of the lessons that I keep coming back to is that it is the small things that count.  A smile, a hug, a word of encouragement — these little gestures can make all the difference in the world — paying attention to the details, ministering to the “least of these,” and maintaining perspective on our importance in the grander scheme of life.  After all, those pawns sure can be valuable.

Answer to the puzzle:

Ra8 — although this move makes the rook passive, it is necessary to protect the a pawn due to the threat of Nc6. Drew moved Rd8 which proved to be one of the decisive moves of the game.  Play proceeded with  21.  Nc6  Rd6  22.  Nxa7  and Drew is down a pawn.

A Day of Contradictions

The Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.
The Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.

Christmas in Abu Dhabi.  A visit to one of the largest Mosques in the world.  Lunch in an elegant tent on the Arabian Gulf (they don’t like to call it the Persian Gulf in UAE), with a Christmas tree in the sand and Santa coming by boat to visit the children …

In the middle of lunch, Santa came with his elves by boat to the beach.
In the middle of lunch, Santa came with his elves by boat to the beach.
Christmas tree on the beach.
Christmas tree on the beach.
Christmas day lunch buffet.
Christmas day lunch buffet.

The buffet was a welcome change from the cafeteria food and Subway sandwiches that have become our regular fare at the University campus.  We feasted on everything from shrimp salad and kabobs of lamb, to more traditional roasted turkey and dressing.  The desert table offered edible chocolate houses and an assortment of delectable confectionaries.  We tried new exotic fruits and went back for seconds of our favorite dishes.  And as we dined, there were sunbathers in their bikinis on the beach merely a few yards away.

From lunch, we went with our hostess, the cousin of a friend from Alabama, to the Grand Mosque just across the canal.  To enter the Mosque, women must have arms, legs, and head completely covered. Visitors who are not prepared may borrow a black Abaya to wear over their clothing.  We experimented with wrapping our scarves over our heads, and now looking at the pictures, I see that I did not do a very good job with this!

Drew was quite happy to be able to wear his regular clothes and not have his head covered.
Drew was quite happy to be able to wear his regular clothes and not have his head covered.

Our hosts were gracious to give us a driving tour through the city which ended at the Heritage Village where we were able to see tents and huts typical of the living conditions in this area prior to Sheik Zayed’s leadership.  This country has just celebrated its 42nd year (same age as I am!) and has made amazing progress in modernization during that time.

A hut with a thatch floor very similar to the type of home that our host Ramen lived in as a child.  His family moved to UAE from Iran when he was a young child.
A hut with a thatch floor very similar to the type of home that our host Ramen lived in as a child. His family moved to UAE from Iran when he was a young child.

The family with whom we spent the day was very gracious to entertain us and show us the sights.  We experienced the beauty of this modern city, the stark majesty of the recently completed Mosque, and the combination of southern and Iranian hospitality all rolled into one!

Ramen is now a civil engineer for the municipality of Abu Dhabi, having trained at the University of Alabama.  His work includes this bridge and a three mile tunnel under a portion of the city to relieve traffic.
Ramen is now a civil engineer for the municipality of Abu Dhabi, having trained at the University of Alabama. His work includes this bridge and a three mile tunnel under a portion of the city to relieve traffic.

I must say, however, that it was difficult to be away from family and from home.  The weather was beautiful, but listening to the voice of Gene Autrey singing Christmas music by the beach could not replace the comfort and joy of being home for the holidays.

At the end of the day, we caught the public bus back to Al Ain, and I for one, was glad to see my bed.  Fortunately, the roads here are in perfect condition and travel is easy.  We only had a little sand in our shoes from our visit to the Heritage Village, and as I washed Drew’s feet before he climbed in bed, we talked of how Jesus washed the feet of his disciples.  The King of Kings, born a baby in a stable.  The Son of God, a servant to those who followed Him.  And the most divine worship, which does not require the grandeur of a magnificent temple, but takes place in the simple heart of a child surrendered to Him.

Wise Men Still Seek Him

Steps at Muzabarrah.  Zoe thought these steps looked like ones Jesus would have walked.
Steps at Muzabarrah. Zoe thought these steps looked like ones Jesus would have walked.

It is wonderful to see the pictures of friends and family back home celebrating the birth of our Savior together, knowing that Christ still reigns!  As for us, we will be traveling today in this arid land, not so far from where the wise men of old traversed in pursuit of that king born a babe, following the star that led them on.

A Light unto the nations
The King of the Jews
A sign in the heavens
Its course we will choose

I pray that on this Christmas morn, you will be blessed by the riches of the Savior who will minister His peace and glory in your heart.

Matthew 6:33-34 “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things.  Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Preparation and Celebration

Drew and Zoe playing bughouse in the lobby of the dorm.
Drew and Zoe playing bughouse in the lobby of the dorm.

Drew was in chess heaven tonight.  A few hours after his victory against the reigning European Union Champion, Andrei Bulgariu from Romania, he returned to the playing hall to participate in a blitz tournament.  The difference between blitz and regular chess is vast:  3 minute time control vs. more than 120 minutes.  The organizers once again had some technical challenges, so the pairings between rounds were not produced quickly.  Drew and his newfound chess compatriots dealt with the delay by playing 3 vs. 3 bughouse.  I cannot quite picture how that would work, but apparently, they have it all figured out.  The main beauty of the arrangement was that the organizers kicked all the parents out of the playing hall prior to play.  Therefore, we were not there to keep things calm.  I’m sure there were some raucous games of bughouse going down.

Drew managed to win three out of five rounds of blitz.  The final two rounds were postponed due to the delays in pairings.

Andrei Bulgariu from Romania.
Andrei Bulgariu from Romania.


As for the round 8 game, Drew entered the round with preparation from his onsite coach, GM Magesh Panchanathan, his coach back home, IM Carlos Perdomo (via a very shaky Skype connection at just after midnight Atlanta time), and his dad via FaceTime.  I attempted not to mess him up by inserting any of my thoughts!  Although I was nervous about this round, Drew was as cool as a cucumber.  Drew had the white pieces, and his opening progressed well, turning into an advantage for white after black castled long on move 11:

Drew was unable to hold onto this advantage however as he made a mistake on move 16 with Qe2.  After 16.  … b4  17.  Bxa6  bxc3, white is down a knight for a pawn and is now at a disadvantage:

I was very surprised when Drew came out with a victory because team mate Kevin Chor, the top ranked US player in the section, told me that Drew was playing down a piece (Kevin got a relatively quick win in the round and checked the boards of his team mates before coming out of the hall).  Analyzing the game afterwards, Magesh noted that Drew did get down a piece, but then proceeded to crush his opponent.  He appears to be working on evening up his score with “the rest of the world.”

Link to round 8 game:


In the meantime, while Drew has been playing chess and bonding with the other U8 American boys, Zoe and Ganmama have been seeing the sights.  They visited the palace of the former Sheik Zayed as well as the Al-Ain museum today.  Zoe said that she saw pottery from “way back in BC.”  She has always been fascinated with the “olden days” which she thinks of as Little House on the Prairie.  She was quite impressed with just how old these artifacts were!

Unfortunately, I have encountered technical problems of my own, and cannot seem to access the pictures on my camera!  I promise that I will update the last few posts with enhanced media as soon as I am able to!

So, as I am writing here, the time has ticked away and moved past the stroke of 12, from Christmas eve onto Christmas day.  It is indeed a very different holiday this year.  But I am reminded that the Lord lives in the hearts of those who love Him and have surrendered their lives to His grace.  Though our traditions may point us to the living, incarnate One, it is not in the traditions themselves that we find meaning, but in the peace and presence of Jesus.

May your heart be thankful today, in whatever circumstances you find yourself, and may His countenance shine on you not only today, but in each and every moment as you seek His face.

View of the parents' waiting area where I spend a significant amount of time.  Do you remember the Where's Waldo books?  Well, let's do a Where's Ganmama on this one!
View of the parents’ waiting area where I spend a significant amount of time. Do you remember the Where’s Waldo books? Well, let’s do a Where’s Ganmama on this one! (Clue, she is one of about two people in the Middle East with red hair!)

Reptilian Draw


Just before turning in for the night, I pulled up chess-results.com and saw that in round 7 Drew would be facing another American player, Callaghan McCarty-Snead.  Playing a team mate means that there are certain restrictions on what the on-site coaches can cover — specifically, no opening preparation.  I quickly sent an email round the world to see if we could set up an impromptu session with Drew’s coach back home in the morning . . . my head hit the pillow, and before I knew it, I felt a little tap, tap on my shoulder.

Drew has asthma.  It is very mild and usually only acts up when he has a cold.  Unfortunately, he gets colds at very inopportune times, like three days before leaving for the Middle East.  The congestion has now settled to his chest, and the air was particularly dry last night.  It was 3:12 when he woke me with a coughing spell that just wouldn’t stop.  A cough drop, 4 puffs on the rescue inhaler, sips of water, elevating his head in the bed, and letting in some cooler outside air, finally led to more sleep sometime after 4 am.

I woke up around 8 o’clock to the iPad buzzing with a FaceTime call.  Within the hour I had moved the coaching session with GM Panchanathan to noon, reviewed the games available for Drew’s opponent, and gotten Drew ready to Skype with IM Carlos Perdomo back home.  We connected with Carlos around 1 am Atlanta time, and he prepared Drew for facing the Wing Gambit.  (For those of you who really get a kick out of chess, check out this lesson on chess.com — it will give you a good chuckle: http://www.chess.com/video/library?keyword=wing+gambit).  Although Drew would not end up facing this novel (to us) opening today, the preparation and encouragement (and sacrifice of sleep) offered by Carlos definitely gave Drew confidence heading into the round.

Ganmama headed off to the camel market (more on that in another post), and Zoe helped Drew with his preparation for the round. Team USA had some big games this round in U14 girls with Maggie Feng, Agata Bykovtsev, and Eswaran Ashritha on boards 2, 3, and 4.  The U10 section had Awonder Liang and David Peng representing the US on boards 1 and 2.  Daniel Naroditsky continued to hold board 1 in the U18 section, and in Drew’s U8 section, the US was on boards 3, 5, 6, and 7.  Although Drew is not in contention to medal as are the above and other American players, this round would be very important for his overall tournament performance.

Link to round 7 game:


The round 7 game ended up not going as long as I expected since Drew forced a draw by three-fold repetition on move 32.  I pulled out the iPad to email Kyle and dashed off a note that Drew had forced a three-fold reptilian draw! (Got to love that auto-spell feature.)  Since Callaghan is rated about 300 points higher, Drew was satisfied with the outcome of his game.  It was a great game for him and a good result.  He did miss one move that would have led to a clear win.  See if you can find it in the following position (leave your ideas in the comments — answer in next post):

Round 7 puzzle:  Black to move

During analysis with IM Jan van de Mortel, Drew was challenged as to why he forced the draw rather than pressing for a win.  Jan and Drew agreed that the position was better for black and that black had the control of the game.  But the path to victory was not clear, nor easy.  Jan shared with Drew his new “rule” for chess which applies to himself and his students:  no offering draws and no accepting draws.

So, now I am left with one task for the day:  figure out how to draw parallels between reptiles and chess.  I have learned that if you put the word “reptilian” into the draft of a blog post, you come up with the most crazy “related content” blogs — more people are writing about being abducted by alien reptile species than you can possibly imagine.  What came to my mind though were chameleons.  Sometimes beautiful, sometimes drab and unnoticeable, these creatures not only adjust to the color of their surroundings, but like all reptiles, to the temperature as well.  In chess, you have to adjust to the position that you face on the board.  You may not get the opening that you want.  Your opponent may not respond to your threat the way you expected.  There are times that the position may dictate that you cut your losses and settle for a draw instead of pushing for a win.  But evaluating the position is penultimate.  Do not accept a draw without first looking for the winning move.  And in life as in chess, do not settle for just fitting in when there is something more significant waiting …

Revelation 3:14-22

I am definitely not blending in!
I am definitely not blending in!

Halfway Home

US players and coaches pose for a team picture.  The US has the largest delegation with 94 players.
US players and coaches pose for a team picture. The US has the largest delegation with 94 players (many are not pictured here as it is difficult to get everyone together).

We are getting to know more of the American players here, which is wonderful for team camaraderie, opportunities to practice chess, and of course, tossing the football, but it is leaving me less time for blog posting (and more to write about!)  I have added in a number of pictures to older posts, so be sure to scroll through and take them in.

Back:  Kevin Chor, Henry Hawthorne, Ethan Pau, Balaji Damalapati, ??  Front: Andrew Teng, Logan?, ?, Drew Justice
Back: Henry Hawthorne, Ethan Pau, Balaji Daggupati, Harvey Zhu.   Front:  Kevin Chor,  Andrew Tang, Logan Wu, Eddie Wei, Drew Justice

Yesterday’s second game brought a much tougher opponent than his  first game of the day.  Drew was paired against an American, Atreya Vaidya from Texas.  Atreya is playing his second WYCC, having competed last year in Slovenia. (The word on the street is that the tournament in Slovenia was much more well-organized and ran much more smoothly than here in UAE.) With a solid FIDE rating and a USCF rating about 500 points higher than Drew’s, we knew that Atreya would be difficult to beat.  Once again, there was not much time for preparation.  We were able to locate games on chess-db, and Drew studied these on his own before trekking to the tournament hall for a 4 pm start.  The game lasted almost four hours, and Drew played well, but he came away with a loss in round 5.

Drew shakes hands with opponent Atreya Vaidya from Texas before their game.
Drew shakes hands with opponent Atreya Vaidya from Texas before their game.

Link to round 5 game:


Drew was able to get a good night’s rest — he has always been one who was asleep by the time his head hit the pillow — and felt good going into round 6 paired against an opponent from Saudi Arabia.  In chess tournaments, players are typically paired against someone with the same or similar number of points.  With wins in rounds 3 and 5, Drew had garnered two points thus far in the tournament. His opponent also had two points:  one bye and one forfeit win.  Magesh prepared Drew for some opening traps during the am coaching session and then we escaped campus to visit the Bawadi Mall for a change of pace.

I have never seen Zoe smile so big about a piece of cheese pizza!
I have never seen Zoe smile so big about a piece of cheese pizza!
This picture speaks for itself! While eating in the food court, we met a couple who live in Hiram, GA -- very close to home!
This picture speaks for itself! While eating in the food court, we met a couple who live in Hiram, GA — very close to home!
Another taste of home!

After returning to campus, Drew and I boarded a packed bus to head to the tournament hall.  I had just gotten set up in the skittles area to do some writing when Drew came bouncing in, only 35 minutes into the round.  He won in 18 moves.

Abdalla Mezin told us that his parents are Iraqi, but that he has lived his whole life in UAE.
Abdalla Mezin told us that his parents are Iraqi, but that he has lived his whole life in UAE.  He is competing for Saudi Arabia in the tournament.

We are just over halfway though the trip and the tournament.  With six games down and five to go, it is

Drew vs. Middle East:  3-0                          Drew vs. Rest of World:  0-3

Hopefully he can even the score against the “world” in the days to come.

Round 6 game:


Round 6 puzzle:  White to move and mate in 2

Answer to puzzle:

1.  Bg4+  Ke7  2.  exf6#


The stillness of the morning has always been a special time for me.  A time of preparation, reflection, looking forward to the new day.  This morning, I had planned to sleep in, but I awoke while the night was still thick and black and there was no sound.  Checking the time, 5:22 am, I turned and spoke gently the name of Jesus as I snuggled back into the thick white comforter planning to drift back to sleep.  But my thoughts tumbled in my head, and I lay awake for a few minutes pondering what is really important in life.

Just then, I heard the sound of the muezzin, the voice calling the adhan or Muslim call to prayer.  The call sounds five times a day here. Each adhan, having seven parts, includes the basic tenets of the Muslim faith and the call to hurry to the prayer.  The pre-dawn adhan includes an eighth part which translates to:  prayer is better than sleep.  The call is of course in Arabic, so I had to look up the translation.  And the call is a haunting sound.  After it is done, the sound hangs in the air, echoing in my head, and I am not sure whether it is finished or still continuing.

Mosque in Al Ain at the Green Mubazarrah.
Mosque in Al Ain at the Green Mubazarrah.

I remain in bed, but I listen, and I watch, and I pray.  The sky slowly begins to lighten, and I can now hear the sound of birds chirruping.  There are surprisingly few animals here.  Since arriving seven days ago, I have seen one giraffe (as we passed a zoo), and a few camels in the distance as we travelled from Dubai to Al Ain.  All the other animals I have seen are flying things:  gnats, common flies, and yes, birds.  I love the birds.  This morning there are flocks of birds swooping into the pool in the courtyard, skimming the surface, I suppose to take a drink of water.  They will then flit and frolic up into the trees as I look down on the whole dance from my fourth floor window.  Occasionally, one will break free from the others and soar toward me, pulling up at the last moment to alight on top of the building above my head.  I have only been a bird watcher in the most novice capacity, watching the black capped chickadees and house wrens visit my father’s bird feeder, but I can see why people spend hours watching these lively creatures, and I pull out the camera to attempt to catch their gaiety in flight.

Birds swooping into the pool in courtyard.
Birds swooping into the pool in courtyard.

Again the cool breeze of morning flows in the window, and my soul is refreshed as I enjoy the creation that God has placed around us — a picture of his love, care, and creativity. And I also give thanks for the freedom to worship, to pray, to speak about my faith, that I enjoy at home.

View from my dorm window.
View from my dorm window.

Another believer has travelled here recently, and I look up his post, mulling over his thoughts as I turn to prepare for the day:


The buses are beginning to travel their routes between the dormitories and the main campus, the sound of their engines carrying up to my window.  The birds begin to quiet and roost.  I hear the swish, swish of the outdoor daily cleaning crew sweeping the sand from the many crevices in the stone courtyards, and the chatter in the halls as the indoor crew begins to make their daily rounds.  They are diligent, mopping every floor, wiping every surface, sweeping each ceiling and each vent of each hall and every room, every day.  (I will have to transition back to the dust in my own home!)  The silence of the morning is gone, but I will hope to maintain the presence of the Lord that it brings as the day moves on.

Addendum:  About thirty minutes after I published the above post, I was in my room with Drew getting ready for his morning coaching session.  I could hear voices in the courtyard below, which is not unusual.  Then the most incredible sound, wafting in through the window — the sound of a few saints gathered, singing Amazing Grace.  What a sweet, sweet sound it was!  I leaned far out the window and joined my voice to theirs. Hark the Herald Angels Sing followed, and we praised the Lord together — them gathered in the courtyard, me four floors above looking into the clear blue sky and breathing in the very breath of God.

A Win Is a Win (x2)

Following tough round 1 and round 2 match-ups, Drew was paired against weaker opponents in rounds 3 and 4.  He was able to easily win both games.  Although a win is always the best outcome, neither game gave particularly interesting or instructive positions.

For round 3, Drew was paired against Al Amiri Saad from Kuwait.  Although there were no games in the database for Saad, we were able to get the notation from his round 1 loss to American Ethan Pau.  From looking at the game, GM Panchanathan decided to prepare Drew to face the King’s Indian Attack.  This was an opening that Drew had not ever heard of before this coaching session.  Panchanathan also told Drew that he felt Drew would win.  Coming out of the round, Drew said, “Magesh must be magical.  He knew that my opponent would play King’s Indian, and he knew that I would win!”  While I do not think that there was anything “magical,” I do think that Panchanthan’s experience was helpful.

Drew with his round 3 opponent, Al Amiri Saad from Kuwait.
Drew with his round 3 opponent, Al Amiri Saad from Kuwait.

Round 3 game


Round 3 puzzle:  black to move and mate in 1

One of the things Drew is enjoying most here is the chance to get to know the other players his age from around the US.  Just before going in for round 4, he received encouragement from Atreya Vaidya who played in last year’s World Youth.

Drew with U8 team mates Maurya Palusa, Malind Matinda, and Atreya before round 4.
Drew with U8 team mates Maurya Palusa, Milind Maiti, and Atreya Vaidya before round 4.

Day four of the tournament is the one day that the players have to face two opponents, having a 9 am round as well as a 4 pm round.  Waking up early to shower, I checked Drew’s pairing online and found that he was set to face Mohamed Mustafa from UAE (his mother told me they are Syrian, via Saudi Arabia, now living in UAE). According to chess-results, Mustafa had a round 3 win against a player from the Russian federation.  With no games to draw from and no time for coaching before the 9 am round, Drew would be on his own for this one.  After 1.  e4  Nf6  2.  e5  Ng4  3.  Qxg4, Drew felt confident and came away with a quick win and time to rest and prepare for round 5.

Drew shakes hands with round 4 opponent Mohamed Mustafa before they begin play.
Drew shakes hands with round 4 opponent Mohamed Mustafa before they begin play.

Round 4 game


Round 4 puzzle:  white to move and win a pawn

With the second round of the day coming up soon, I must sign off.  I will try to post again this evening and include some non-chess content …

Answers to puzzles:

Round 3: 1 …  Rh3#

Round 4: 1  Bxb8  Kxb8  2  Bxc6

Facing the Dragon

Entering the tournament hall.
Entering the tournament hall.

Day 2 of the World Youth Chess Championships proved to have challenges of its own.  After not enough sleep (my own fault for staying up too late), I was able to have a nice breakfast with no line, and to bring back food for Drew who was sleeping in.  The early bird does get the worm (but is also tired throughout the day).

There was a flurry of emails between US players and organizers as the pairings for the round were posted in two different places online, and they conflicted.  The official site had Drew playing black again while chess-results.com gave Drew the white pieces.  The US head of delegation instructed the team to go by the chess-results website.  Though not the official site, it seemed to be more accurate.

Now that we have made the foray into international competition, we are able to access games online for some of the opponents that Drew will face.  Visiting chess-db.com, I was able to pull up seven games of Drew’s round 2 opponent, Siddanth Lohia from India. Since Drew would have the white pieces (we hoped), we looked mainly at the opponent’s games as black in which he consistently played the Sicilian dragon defense — also known as just the dragon.  I pulled Drew out of bed at 8:45, and he padded up the stairs in his sock feet and bed-head, to meet with his coach GM Magesh Panchanathan.

Round 2 miraculously started on time, and Drew was seated and ready to go at 2:55.  His opponent did indeed play the Sicilian dragon leading to the following position after move 10:

Drew’s coach had wisely advised Drew in this position to move  Kb1 prior to black placing the queen on a5, but Drew instead pushed g4 allowing black the initiative on the queenside.  Following 11.  …  Qa5, Drew could have salvaged the mistake with a3, but play proceeded with 12.  Kb1  Rfc8  13.  h4  Rxc3  14. Qxc3  Qxa2, forcing Drew’s king to the middle of the board.  After this point, Drew was playing out of his element and missed some opportunities to exploit his opponent’s weaknesses.  He fought a good fight, but fell to the dragon after more than three hours of play.  He would not be successful against the dragon this time, as he was at the Supernationals in April where he defeated the dragon in round 7 to tie for the championship and qualify for this adventure.  Links to his full round 1 and round 2 games are below.

Siddanth Lohia from India.
Siddanth Lohia from India.

Since I put off writing the blog post until morning, it is now around 11 am local time.  I am sitting in a sun filled room with the window wide open, feeling the breeze on my face.  The weather is strikingly beautiful here, warm and sunny during the day, with cool breezes in the morning and evening.  Zoe and Ganmama have made an excursion today into the desert while Drew prepares for round 3.  We continue to meet people from around the world and to experience the beauty and diversity that is abundant here.

Round 1 game:   www.chessvideos.tv/chess-game-replayer.php?id=87644

Round 2 game:  www.chessvideos.tv/chess-game-replayer.php?id=87642


In chess, as in life, there are complications.  When playing chess, there are times to simplify, and times to complicate the position in order to make it more difficult for your opponent to hold an advantage.  Of course, if you choose to complicate the position, you must be sure to maintain perspective and to not be brought down yourself by the difficulties that you have created on the board.

So, life is full of moving pieces.  And today was a day of complications.  The main issue here so far seems to be getting food.  Breakfast required a wait in line for over an hour, with many of the breakfast choices  having run out by the time we reached the counter.

The line for breakfast extended through the cafeteria and spilled out into the courtyard.  This is at 10:15 -- breakfast service was supposed to end at 10:00!
The line for breakfast extended through the cafeteria and spilled out into the courtyard. This is at 10:15 — breakfast service was supposed to end at 10:00!

Next it was on to the team meeting to hear from our heads of delegation regarding technical details of the tournament.  Here we learned that the start time for round 1 was being pushed back two hours due to issues with ID badges and players still having difficulties at the airport with visa issues.  With dinner now being encroached upon by a hopeful 5 o’clock start, we wisely chose to forego the cafeteria and visit the food court for lunch.

A very welcome taste of home!  Still no sweet tea though!
Subway! A very welcome taste of home! Still no sweet tea though!

So, after a long day of waiting, Drew was anxious, and I felt he needed to burn off a little energy.  Zoe, Drew, and I were throwing the football around on a patch of grass when I noticed a boy looking longingly at the game from a bench nearby.  When I asked him to join us, his mom politely said, “no English,”  but I motioned for him to come, and he readily joined in.  After some initial foibles, he quickly learned to catch and throw the oddly shaped ball, and jumped ahead of both Drew and I in a game of pick-up.  Too soon it was time to head in and prepare for the round.  Through halting words, I learned that the boy is from Iran, and his mother and I exchanged smiles and encouragement.  Interestingly, I later ended up talking for an hour with another Iranian parent, mostly about chess, a little about life, and again found much common ground.

Amir and Drew following a friendly game of "American Football."
Amir and Drew following a friendly game of “Jackpot 5000.”

Once again, things got a little harried as we attempted to make it to the first round of play.  The pairings were not posted when it was time to leave for the playing hall.  Packing up the laptop, we took the brisk walk from the women’s campus over to the men’s.  Again, the tightly packed mass of people trying to find their way into too small doors, impatient for a round now three hours late.  Finally, a tip from a mom of one of the three representatives of Fiji, and I located Drew’s pairing on a sheet of blue paper with small print taped inside the glass of the hall.  Drew faced a player from Mongolia who is ranked 17th in his section of about 170 players.

Round 1 Opponent
Tugstumur Yesuntumur (“Tugs”) from Mongolia.

I had hoped to be able to share Drew’s game with you, but suffice it to say that more complications arose.  Drew resigned the game on move 48 in a lost position, conceding the win honorably to his worthy opponent.  Analysis with GM Nick DeFermian revealed sound opening play, after which he was unable to hold off an aggressive attack.  During the game Drew mounted a protest to the tournament director when his clock did not operate properly and maintained his composure when the director did not fix the issue.  He also spoke with the US head of delegation to explain the problem so that hopefully it will be fixed for tomorrow’s games.

Gaining perspective on the day, it was all in all both wonderfully diverse and yes, complicated.  When the complications can be seen as opportunities, the frustration eases and the beauty of the great diversity of God’s creation encourages the spirit.  Being thankful in the moment for whatever the moment holds …

This breakfast line neighbor from Azerbaijan jumped into my attempt to take a photo of the long breakfast line.  He later prompted to Drew to escape the line and retrieve a few trays for us from the next line over.
This breakfast line neighbor from Azerbaijan jumped into my attempt to take a photo of the long breakfast line. He later prompted to Drew to escape the line and retrieve a few trays for us from the next line over.

Sand in the Desert

My main thought for today is that there is a LOT of sand in the desert.  You would think that this should be obvious.  But when in Dubai, the sand is largely hidden.  There are a very few empty lots which are bare sand, but almost all of the land is covered with either buildings or immaculately manicured landscaping.  Every median is covered with green grass bordered by yellow and orange marigolds, huge marigold plants which add up to probably millions of individual marigold blooms in the city.

Marigolds in Dubai

Dubai consumes more water per capita than maybe anywhere else on the globe.  97% of the water they use is desalinated sea water.  This technology has allowed the city to transform the desert into a lush landscape with gardens everywhere.  But we left Dubai today, and there is quite a stretch of desert between the largest city in the UAE and the oasis city of Al-Ain which will be our home for almost two weeks.  We have not had time to explore the city here, but we experienced more authenticity in the first three minutes of arriving than in all the time spent in Dubai.


Upon arriving at the dormitory, we were greeted by university students who have given up their holiday to play host to the World Youth Chess Championship.  These Emerati girls are on duty 24/7.  Some of them are literally sleeping in the lobby of our dorm so that they can be available at any time that a need arises.  They greet us with smiles and go above and beyond to grant any request.  I feel like I am back in the south!  (If only I could find some Chick-Fil-A nuggets and sweet tea to go with those smiles!)

One of our sweet dorm hosts -- she is a student here at UAEU.
One of our sweet dorm hosts — she is a student here at UAEU.

Well, actually, I felt like I was back in the south until I went to dinner.  In the process of securing our spot on the number three bus from Dubai to Al-Ain, we missed out on lunch and thus headed for dinner in the cafeteria a few minutes early to try to be at the front of the line.  (Thank you Sarah for the tip!)  When the doors opened, there was a mad rush for the trays and silverware, followed by jostling to secure a salad and a place on the line to reach the hot foods: bodies pressed against each other, Drew exclaiming, “my head doesn’t have any room!”, and me blocking out the chess dad so that I could let Zoe and Drew slip in ahead of me.  A large man pushed Ganmama aside with a gruff, “sorry,” to skip the salads and head straight to hot food.  Another “gentleman” moved the silverware cart so that he could cut across from his line into ours.  Memories from a long ago trip to Budapest came to mind — difficulty reaching the counter at McDonald’s — but I have watched plenty of football since then so I was prepared this time.  Chess parents are indeed a breed of their own.

So, now, we embark in earnest on the chess part of the journey, which is indeed the whole purpose of the journey to begin with.  Enough with waxing eloquent on the various sites and sounds of this foreign land and on to analysis of opening moves, strategy, and putting away the opponent.  (Or the opponent’s parent in the cafeteria as the case may be!)  As is true of all large chess tournaments, the players must be concerned with their preparation over the board while the parent must manage the hairy details of finding food fast, ensuring the player gets enough rest, and attending to the various details involved in keeping everything moving smoothly. (Task for tomorrow:  locate a finger nail clipper. Task #2:  locate a cord to connect camera to computer so I can show y’all some real photos and not just these ones from my phone!)

But before I leave this post, I have to go back for a moment to the sand in the desert.  The flowers in Dubai remind me of a book I read back in high school, Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. The flowers are beautiful, but sometimes what is good is not best.  Hopefully tomorrow Drew will look past the good move that he sees and find the best one.


The Best of the Best

burj al arab

We have trekked half way around the world to attend a tournament that is designed to challenge the best scholastic chess players in the world, and award one of them in each section as the champion for their age group — the best of the best. And we are hosted by a country that seems to be striving to be the best of the best — at least in the travel and tourism industry.

We took today to see the sights in Dubai.

Ganmama and Zoe taking in the sights on the double decker bus.
Ganmama and Zoe taking in the sights on the double decker bus.

If challenged with one of those interview type questions, “Pick three adjectives to describe what you saw today . . . ” I might choose opulent, ostentatious, even outlandish. Dubai boasts the tallest tower in the world, standing at almost twice the height of the Sears Tower in Chicago (and yes, I know it is no longer called the Sears Tower, but how many of you would know what I was talking about if I referred to it as the Willis Tower?) More impressive to me are the Palm Islands.  You really have to see these to understand why.  Check out this National Geographic on their creation:

You will see what I mean by outlandish!  And as we observed from the top of the double decker bus, I kept thinking, “Can all of this really be built on a foundation of sand?”

Dubai skyline

Though I have no desire to judge a city based on a one day experience, there is something lacking:  authenticity.  In fact, other than the passport and customs officers at the airport, I do not know that I have even met an Emerati.  There is a confluence of cultures here, the Popeye’s stands next to the Iranian bakery.  And the Burj Al Arab is completely decked out in Nutcrackers and Christmas Trees.


The culmination of our excursion today was dinner at the “best” hotel in town, this Burj Al Arab.  Not allowed to enter the hotel unless you are a guest, we wisely made reservations for lunch rather than staying the night. It turns out the “best” is also often quite expensive.  As we feasted on the most beautifully plated dishes I’ve ever seen (except maybe on Masterchef): salmon, venison, lamb, ribeye, pasta with butter (yep, Zoe), our server let us know that we were literally sharing seats with the best of the best.  It seems that Zoe was in the seat recently occupied by the the most beautiful woman in the world (okay, that is truly debatable, but at least according to the million or so who voted on IMDb):  Angelina Jolie.  And an indisputable best had just two days before warmed the cushion of Drew’s chair:  Messi (he is so good that he only needs one name).

Lunch at the Burj Al Arab. Notice the Palm Island in the background.
Lunch at the Burj Al Arab. Notice the Palm Island in the background.

So, hopefully some of all this “bestness” will rub off on Drew and bring him success in his tournament games.  But actually, I believe his practice over the last seven months is what will really benefit him.  My hope, however, is that he will remain authentic, true to his sometimes crazy, always lovable, zesty, compassionate, and fiery little self.   May his Pursuit of the King bring honor to the One who is True.  And may his foundation be firm.

Arab Sunrise

Arab Sunrise

The day dawns slowly over Dubai. I am watching the color through the sand covered window of our hotel room. After what seemed to be the longest night of my life, it is wonderful to see the light!

We left for the airport after nightfall and boarded our almost 14 hour flight right on schedule. The flight path took us up the east coast, over DC, New York and Boston. Veering east across the Atlantic, we then flew over Dublin, London, Nuremburg, Baghdad, Kuwait City, the Persian Gulf, and landed finally, here in Dubai. Zoe, Drew, and I watched the arc of the plane’s path on a seat back monitor. As we crossed the globe, the sun passed overhead, but we missed out on the day as the flight attendants were insistent that all the windows remain tightly shuttered to maintain the darkness of our simulated night. Zoe and I did steal quick peaks of the snow capped mountains as we crossed the Alps. Actual night soon fell again and we raised the window to see the lights of cities in Iran and the welcoming twinkle of city lights along Dubai’s shore.

Interspersed among the geography and history lessons as we discussed what was passing 37,000 feet below, we catnapped, ate Moroccon chicken and quinoa with veggies (okay, I ate it – Zoe complained and Drew chose the shrimp), and wrestled with finding a comfortable position in seats not soft enough. Drew switched seats with Ganmama who was across the aisle so that he could advise the man from Oman who is returning home from LSU for the holidays as he took on his seat mate in a game of chess on their iPad. The LSU freshman was a self-proclaimed beginner, and Drew reported that he did not value his pawns and made matters worse by trading to a lost endgame.

After much needed horizontal rest in the Holiday Inn Express, we are ready to see what today’s adventures will be. (Okay, I am ready, Zoe is still sleeping 🙂

World Youth Chess Championships – Opening Preparation


I have never entertained the idea of setting up a blog until I found out that I would be embarking on an adventure to the United Arab Emirates.  My six year old tied for first place in the K-1 division of Supernationals 2013, qualifying him to represent the US at the World Youth Chess Championships along with other top US scholastic chess players.  So, in less than six hours I will be boarding a plane with Drew, my daughter Zoe, and their grandmother (Ganmama), on a chess and travel adventure!

I will be posting here about our journey.

Chess adventures with the Justice family