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On Chess: Travel (K)nightmare

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 23, 2011 - As often happens with complicated international travel plans, things don't always go smoothly.

For the first half of August, I was in Chennai, India, coaching 16-year-old GM Ray Robson in the World Junior Championship. My job was to analyze the tendencies and weaknesses of each of Ray's opponents prior to his games and develop an effective plan of attack (or defense!) for each. Ray came in 4th place, scoring 9 points out of a possible 13, which is quite a good finish, especially since he entered the event seeded 6th out of 126 participants.

When the event ended, Ray and his father stayed in India for another week to do some sightseeing before heading off to Russia to play in the World Cup, a strong knockout event that begins on Aug. 26.

I had seen enough of the sights, however, and was ready to head home. I was bound for Detroit to visit my daughter and to get my car to drive back to St. Louis. When I made my travel plans, I realized flying for 19 hours and then driving another eight hours right after seemed crazy, but I planned to stay the night in the Detroit/Ann Arbor area and get some much needed rest before the long drive home.

It seemed simple enough. I was scheduled to leave by air from Chennai at 9:20 p.m. and arrive in Mumbai at 11:10 p.m. Then, I was supposed to take the flight from Mumbai (scheduled to depart at 1:10 a.m.) to Amsterdam and, after a three-hour layover, I would take the flight to Detroit and get in about 1 p.m. I would have almost 24 hours in the Detroit area before I needed to drive back to St. Louis. Unfortunately, the Mumbai part did not go as planned!

I arrived in Mumbai a bit late (I think 11:35 p.m., instead of 11:10 p.m.), but I thought it was no big deal. Unbeknownst to me, however, Mumbai has different airports for domestic and international travel! So, I had to go from the domestic terminal to the international terminal, which required a 25-minute bus ride. To make things worse (much worse!) I had to wait about 30 minutes for the bus to leave. Then, when I arrived at the international terminal (with about 15 minutes to make my flight) I still had to go through the long lines at passport control and security.

When I finally got to the gates, it was about 1:35 a.m. I hoped the flight was delayed (or maybe by, some miracle, they had decided to wait for me!), but when I looked on the screen for the flight info, my flight was already de-listed! I was not sure what gate the flight left from, but I figured if I spoke to a Delta employee (the flight from Mumbai to Amsterdam was Delta), he or she would help me somehow. But it was almost 2 a.m., and there were no Delta personnel around.

I spoke to many other employees from India Air and Air France, and they told me to go upstairs to the check-in station to locate a Delta employee that could assist me. Unfortunately, passport control informed me that I had already "left" India and was not allowed to come back! They told me that if I wanted to come back to the check-in area upstairs, I would need to come with a Delta employee.

"There are no Delta employees at the gates, that's why I am going upstairs," I said. What a Catch-22!

Security was not sympathetic, so I was forced to wait downstairs at the gates until a Delta employee finally arrived. About 3:30 a.m., Delta paged me, and I eventually got on a Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul at 5:15 a.m.! I was routed through JFK and on to Detroit, finally arriving at 8:30 p.m. (instead of my expected 1 p.m.). I got to my hotel just before midnight and got a few hours of much-needed shuteye before my drive back to St. Louis.

I had fun throughout my travels, but I was really looking forward to seeing familiar faces again, and the difficult trek back to the U.S. made me appreciate my homecoming even more. As Dorothy would say, "There's no place like home."

To reach Ben Finegold is the GM in residence at the St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center.

Ben Finegold
Grandmaster Ben Finegold learned the rules of chess at age 5 and was dubbed “The 40-year-old GM” after receiving the title in 2009. In between, Finegold was a U.S. Junior champion in 1989, a recipient of the prestigious Samford Chess Fellowship in 1993 and a competitor in nine U.S. Championships. He is a popular scholastic coach and commentator for elite events.

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