Egypt's GM Amin Victorious In Grand Chess Tour-Style Tournament
Bassem Amin receiving the trophy for winning the strong Ivory Coast tournament. | Photo: FIDEC/Alina L'Ami.

Egypt's GM Amin Victorious In Grand Chess Tour-Style Tournament

The Egyptian GM Bassem Amin won the first edition of a rapid and blitz tournament held in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. The tournament was supported by the Kasparov Chess Foundation and held in Grand Chess Tour style.

Is chess a sport for the crowds? Most of our readers will be familiar with the hard work done by the St. Louis chess club, among others, to popularize the noble game and make it fun and entertaining. In Africa, the Kasparov Chess Foundation has made tremendous efforts to market chess throughout the continent with world-class events featuring a host of titled players.

Its latest offering was the Cote d’Ivoire (CIV) Invitational Rapid and Blitz tournament played in Abidjan July 25-29. It delivered good fun for online spectators and high-quality chess as it attracted the very best players in Africa.

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Blitz at the CIV Invitational. | Photo: FIDEC/Alina L'Ami.

Take a luxury setting in the form of the five-star Hotel Tiama. Add 10 champions to create a field with an average rating of 2357, including four GMs. Make them play nine rapid rounds and 18 blitz games over five days, using the tried and tested GCT format. Add sponsorship from Vivendi SA, a mass media French company currently building major operations in the Ivory Coast.

What you get is arguably the strongest tournament ever organized in Africa, with a total prize pool of $15,000, and thousands of spectators worldwide tuning in to live commentary provided by the producers from St. Louis.

A short clip from the live broadcast.

While it may not yet be a super-tournament, the signs are very promising. “This event was an experiment for us,” says Graham Jurgensen, director of the Kasparov Chess Foundation Africa and co-organizer of the CIV Invitational (together with the Ivorian Chess Federation (FIDEC).

“I can safely say that we have passed with flying colors, as we overcame all the technical difficulties one can envisage to be associated with running a high-quality event in Africa. We were able to grant our top players the very best playing and lodging conditions."

Jurgensen even went as far as suggesting a real GCT event on the continent: "This type of event is exactly what is required to build the profile of the participants as much as the profile of our sponsors. Our next goal is to see an event worthy of the Grand Chess Tour, which I now think is totally doable in Africa.”

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African Chess Confederation candidate Essis Essoh uplifted chess standards in Ivory Coast. | Photo: FIDEC/Alina L'Ami.

The undisputed winner of both the rapid and the blitz event was GM Bassem Amin from Egypt. Africa's "super-GM" is currently ranked #60 in the world and is a World Cup veteran.

He placed fourth in the 2018 Tata Steel Challengers section and easily defended his African Individual Championship title in May 2018. The Egyptian superstar didn't have it all his own way in the early rounds, however, and after a couple of draws in the early rounds he found himself on the ropes against the Moroccan IM Mokliss El Adnani.

“There are many talented players in Africa”, said the Egyptian champion. “Despite the rating gap, they play very good chess and I got in trouble at some point of the rapid section. The tournament was a good opportunity to play against them and I liked the formula. This is the first time I have ever played with delay, so it is something of a new experience.”

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Bassem Amin is the highest rated player in Africa. | Photo: FIDEC/Alina L'Ami.

A casualty of the tournament was the Ugandan IM Arthur Ssegwanyi. East Africa’s number-one had his moment of glory in the 2015 World Cup thanks to a tenacious draw against GM Anish Giri (below) but struggled to find his best form against the best players on the African continent.

Ssegwanyi scored a few blows in the rapid portion, but blitz is not his strength and he crumbled under the intense pressure in the fast games, scoring only 3.5/18. One of his most interesting games was the one he played against the Algerian GM Mohamed Haddouche where his bishop sacrifice backfired and forced him into a hopeless endgame:

A fantastically resourceful player, Haddouche played solidly throughout the event, except for the first day of the blitz. He had established a grip on second place in the rapid section and he played enterprising chess on the final day to salvage his rocky start and end up in third place in the blitz portion, behind IM David Silva from Angola.

Here is another exciting game played by the Algerian GM. This time it was him being punished for an over-optimistic sacrifice, against the Zambian IM Andrew Kayonde:

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A moment from the game Haddouche-Kayonde. | Photo: FIDEC/Alina L'Ami.

The tournament was also an important test for the young IM Fy Rakotomaharo from Madagascar. Just 18, he is one of the most exciting prospects on the African continent and he demonstrated his talent with some spectacular games. Here is a fine example against IM Oladapo Adu from Nigeria:

There was a curious anecdote about the South African GM Kenny Solomon, who had a difficult start to the critical final day as he suffered two defeats early to record a 0.5/3 start to the day. Faced with the daunting task of taking on the still undefeated Amin in his next round, he desperately needed a change of fortune.

Solomon left the hall, went to his room, and changed his clothes. He then proceeded to deliver Bassem’s first defeat before playing sufficiently good chess in the last five games to end the tournament in third place overall. At the end of the tournament, he explained: “When everything is going wrong, you just need to change something!”

Analyzing the results of the tournament, the organizer Jurgensen commented: "Congratulations are due to GM Amin who clearly demonstrated his superiority over Africa’s best throughout the course of the event. As events of this nature become a more permanent feature in Africa, he can probably expect sterner tests in the future. His colleagues can only benefit from the exposure and will no doubt improve quickly if they are able to participate against players of his calibre on a more regular basis."

Rapid section | Final Standings

Rk. Fed Name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Pts. SB
1 GM Amin, Bassem ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 1 1 1 1 7,5 29
2 GM Haddouche, Mohamed ½ ½ 1 0 ½ 1 1 1 1 6,5 24,5
3 IM El Adnani, Mokliss ½ ½ ½ 0 1 ½ 1 ½ 1 5,5 22
4 IM Rakotomaharo, Fy 0 0 ½ ½ ½ 1 1 1 1 5,5 17,75
5 IM Kayonde, Andrew ½ 1 1 ½ 1 0 0 0 1 5 24,5
6 GM Solomon, Kenny 0 ½ 0 ½ 0 1 1 1 1 5 16
7 IM Silva, David 0 0 ½ 0 1 0 ½ 1 1 4 12
8 IM Ssegwanyi, Arthur 0 0 0 0 1 0 ½ 1 1 3,5 9,5
9 IM Adu, Oladapo 0 0 ½ 0 1 0 0 0 0 1,5 7,75
10 GM Belkhodja, Slim 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 1,5

Blitz section | Final Standings

# Fed Title Name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Pts. SB
1 GM Amin, Bassem 1 1 1 ½ 1 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 14 113,25
2 IM Silva, David 0 0 1 0 0 1 1 1 1 1 ½ 1 1 1 ½ 0 1 1 12 94,25
3 GM Haddouche, Mohamed 0 ½ 0 1 ½ 1 0 ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 0 1 1 1 ½ 1 11 87,75
4 GM Solomon, Kenny 0 1 1 0 ½ 0 0 1 1 ½ 1 0 1 0 1 ½ 1 1 10,5 84,5
5 GM Belkhodja, Slim ½ ½ 0 0 1 ½ 1 0 1 0 0 1 0 1 1 ½ 1 1 10 79,75
6 IM El Adnani, Mokliss ½ 1 0 0 0 ½ 0 ½ 0 1 0 0 0 1 1 1 1 1 8,5 66,75
7 IM Kayonde, Andrew 0 0 ½ 0 ½ 0 0 1 1 0 1 1 0 0 0 1 1 1 8 61,5
8 IM Adu, Oladapo 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 1 0 1 0 1 1 0 0 1 0 7 59,5
9 IM Rakotomaharo, Fy 0 0 ½ 1 0 0 0 ½ 0 ½ 0 0 1 0 1 1 0 0 5,5 50,25
10 IM Ssegwanyi, Arthur 0 0 0 0 ½ 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 1 3,5 23,5

Combined Final Standings

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Some images from the gala night at the end of the tournament. | Photo: FIDEC/Alina L'Ami.

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The players and officials celebrating. | Photo: FIDEC/Alina L'Ami.

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Speeches at the gala evening. | Photo: FIDEC/Alina L'Ami.

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The gala evening featured local songs and dances. | Photo: FIDEC/Alina L'Ami.

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Music at Tiama Hotel. | Photo: FIDEC/Alina L'Ami.

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