1st International Chess Festival of El Haouaria – Tunisia
Report by Diana Mihajlova
The 1st International Chess Festival of El Haouaria started on the 17 March,
with a nine-round Open, which included the Tunisian National Championship. A
nine-round Blitz tournament was also squeezed on the free day during the Open.
The second half of the festival started on the 25th March with an International
Youth Championship for various age categories. The last part of the Festival,
the closed GM and IM tournaments are currently at the 7th round.
El Haouaria seascape
The beautiful, unspoiled, eco-friendly resort of El Haouaria is situated on
the most North-East point of Africa which is at only 80 km from the nearest
European small island, Panteleria and at 140 km from Sicily.
El Haouaria is the African continent's closest point to Europe (apart from
Gibraltar). The European, and particularly the French influence is evident –
from morning when breakfast starts with delicious crêpes (pancakes) and
croissants, through the bilingual street signs and the majority of the population
speaking French as a second language, a legacy left from years of French colonial
Tunisia is the most modern, enlightened and prosperous African country with
moderate Islamic values, on the path of affirming a long awaited democracy after
the eruption of the last year's 'Arab Spring'. Tunisia was the first to start
the chain of uprisings among the Arab countries fighting against decades of
The Koranic school in El Haouaria – a typical architecture –
white washed walls with
an obligatory touch of blue – symbol of the sky and peace.
El Haouaria is a relaxed, fishing town leaning on the Sidi Abioud Mountain,
on the northern tip of the Cap Bon. With its back turned on the Mediterranean,
it looks inland towards slopes covered with green pastures, animals grazing
calmly, wheat fields, orange and olive groves. It is a resting place for migrating
birds and it is popular for the breeding of falcons and the ancient sport of
Tensely green coloured rich fields are overlooking the clean and fresh Mediterranean
Animals come unusually close to the sea shore to graze on the juicy pastures
A mosque – the style of the mosques in this region is minimalist,
with pure geometric
lines, a simple large dome with no decorations.
In contrast: St Vincent de Paul Cathedral at the capital Tunis, a witness
to co-existing beliefs, thanks to the Tunisian moderate Islam values
On the Cathedral's square, a statue is dedicated to Ibn Khaldun, the 14th century
great Tunisian Muslim scholar – a philosopher, sociologist, historian
and a forerunner of the modern economics. His magnum opus "Al-Muqaddimah'
(Prolegomenon) is considered one of the greatest works in the philosophy of
The echoes of the last year's Tunisian "Jasmine Revolution" are present
in every walks of life in the country still searching to affirm a lasting democracy.
In an art exhibition entitled "Renewal" at the Ministry of Culture's
gallery, the artist Naceur Louati's works express the struggle to leave behind
23 years of suppressive and corrupt government.
And one turbulent spring passed by, a new spring in Tunisia starts with a big
chess event as a way of turning the international attention to this newly free
country where visitors are welcome and safe and where chess is celebrated as
sport that brings together nations and cements friendship and peace. These aspects
as well as the promotion of the region were subject of a press conference with
national radio and TV channels held at the Grand hotel Africa in the capital
Tunis few days before the start of the 1st International Chess Festival of El
At the press conference, (from left) Kamel Meddeb, the main sponsor, Diana
Mihajlova, assistant organiser and Kamel Njili, main organiser
Camel driver? Nigel Short in his newly resumed role in El Haouaria
Nigel Short was a guest and officially opened the 1st International Festival
of El Haouaria. He missed out on giving a simultaneous, which scheduled a day
before the start of the Festival did not bring a desired number of the anticipated
30 boards. He however mingled among the participants and obliged many a blitz
with players that lined up to take on the distinguished guest. At one point,
Nigel gently appeased an eager young opponent: "You know, you can also
resign the game. I am a grandmaster!"
Above Kamel Meddeb and Kamel Njili are photographed on the main street in Tunis,
which only a year ago was a scene of a revolution that erupted after the death
of Mohamed Bouazizi, who set himself on fire as a revolt against the corruption
and social and political injustices in the country. The two Kamels or the 'two
Ks', as they got to be known, both native of El Haouaria put together forces
to promote their pretty town and region by launching a big chess festival.
The Chess Festival is a brainchild of Njili Kamel, an International Master
and 2011 African Zonal chess champion. He is among the chess leaders and a member
of the Olympic team of his country. As it is often the case, being a chess player
is not always compatible with being a chess organiser, and this very first effort
left a few organisational issues met with displeasure from the international
I met Njili Kamel in Budapest two years ago, at the First Saturday tournament.
Half way through his organisational efforts to mount this highly ambitious chess
event he asked me to give him a helping hand, which I gladly accepted, but this
was only after most of the work has already been done.
Throughout the festival, on occasions, I found myself in an unenviable position
trying to extract greater exactness from the organisation on the one hand and
to appease the frustrated players on the other hand. A clash of cultures was
evidently present, the endless disrespect of punctuality was met with a bewilderment
by the players... Our Tunisian friends' heartfelt hospitality and a desire to
promote their beautiful region often eclipsed the main purpose of the festival
– the chess competition. However, in spite of some evident omissions,
one thing everybody agreed about: our hosts, in their own inimitable way, have
shown us a bottomless generosity, kindness and willingness to make us feel at
home. With few organisational improvements, this chess-loving country has a
great potential to become a chess destination on an international level.
The generous sponsor Kamel Meddeb, an entrepreneur, and his fiancée
Imen is a lawyer, have pledged to persevere with a second international tournament
to take place in the near future by correcting the few faux-pas which were inevitable
in their first effort.
Further plans are being made among the chess clubs in Tunisia to mount several
chess tournaments throughout the year and that way provide opportunities for
local players to compete on an international level. The next one is already
envisaged for the second half of June of this year, by the same organiser of
the El Haouaria Festival, Njili Kamel. The Chess club of Monastir are planning
theirs for September.
Among the home participants: (standing from left) J.Lahmar, N. Naouali, A.
Chouchene, M. Hmem, Mme Meddeb, J. Ben Fredj, A. Hergli, B. Messaoudi (arbiter),
(Seated from left) Aya, Mariem, Mohamed, Maysa, Syrine.
Accompanied by their mother Chérifa, Nourhene, Imen and Ayoub travelled
Bizerte to take part in the Youth Championship
The international tournament in Tunisia was particularly welcomed by players
from the neighbouring countries:
The Libyans: Fathi Dorar, manager, Abrhim Achrani, Hussen Asabryi, Hassan
Asabryi, Elnami Khaled (President, Libyan Chess Federation)
Algerians Moroccans: Nesla Adnane (ALG), the chief arbiter, FM Mokhlis
Adnani (MAR), IM Haddouche Mohamed (ALG), Ghimouz Chakib (ALG), arbiter, Seraoui
Mohcen (ALG), Khaled Elamari (MAR), Cherrad Mounir (ALG), arbiter.
IM Ezat Mohamed and IM Sarvat Walaa
The Iraqis: Danar, Majeed, Hazhar, Hassan, Hamasalih, Qader, Mohamed, Haydari
A villa on the El Haouaria sea side
A number of villas by the sea were rented to accommodate the international
chess players and visitors, which would have been a wonderful alternative arrangement
in a kind of a "chess village". However, the weather played a nasty
turn and the usually warm North African spring at this time of the year left
the players enduring a couple of cold nights. Heaters and blankets were soon
provided to the pleasure of some players, but others opted for the luxurious
Africa Jad hotel, even though at one hour drive from the playing hall, by bus
or cars provided by the organiser.
The chess travellers to El Haouaria. The players from Irak (Kurdistan),
made our journey shorter with their beautiful voices and Kurdish folk songs.
A delegation of 20 Iraqi players landed in Tunisia for the Festival.
The restaurant "Le Pecheur" where players would gather for their
meals and dubbed also as a playing hall with an adjacent purpose built tent,
became a meeting place to more than 250 players from 22 nations. In the Open
22 titled players competed.
GM Azer Mirzoev (AZE), IM Fabio Bruno (ITA), GM Alfonso Romero Holmes (ESP)
Nesrine Baktache (TUN), the Tunisian woman champion, WGM Nino Maisuradze
(FRA) and Hamza Baktache (TUN)
Henrik Westerweele (NED), Ioualalen Lofti (ALG), Outahar Takfarinas (ALG)
and Slimani Anis (ALG)
WGM Adina Hamdouchi (FRA) and GM Hichem Hamdouchi (FRA)
GM Igor Miladinovic, winner of both the Blitz and the Open
IM/WGM Vijayalakshmi Subbaraman (IND) and GM Sriram Jha (IND)
By the second half of the Festival the weather considerably improved to the
delight of the sea and fresh air loving players.
IM Plamen Dimitrov Mladenov (BUL) and WGM Deimante Delyute (LTU) by the
Apart from the dense chess events, the Festival's cultural programme offered
the guests daily excursions and cultural activities – folkloric music
and dance in the evenings, picnics on the surrounding mountains and by the beach
and excursions to the near-by historic spots and cities. This is a land on which
most important wars were fought that shaped the Roman empire. Roman traces are
scattered all around the peninsula Cap Bon which is at the crossroads between
the Middle East and Europe.
The Roman caves, Ghar el-Kebir
The Roman city Carthage (6th century BC) was built with the yellow-orange sandstone
of excellent quality that was extractes in the quarries of El Haouaria, known
as Ghar el-Kebir.
International arbiter Lyudmila Barishnikova (AZE) on the way to an ancient
Kerkouane is under UNESCO's World Heritage protection as the only example of
a Phoenician-Punic city to have survived. Archaeological excavations have unearthed
remains dating from the third and fourth centuries BC and today there are found
considerable ruins dating back to ancient Carthage.
Kerkouane ruins with floor mosaics and the Punic symbol of Tanit, the Phoenician
IA Mohamed Ali Baktache with the pairings for the day's round stack on a
during a picnic on the nearby mountain
James Coleman (ENG), WGM Diamante Deilyute (LTU) and GM Kirill Stupak (BLR)
at a picnic by the sea overlooking the closest tip to Europe
Diana Mihajlova, Suze the hare and and geraniums
Tunisia, the country of geraniums, the colour blue, a big welcoming heart and
love for democracy is looking forward to many more chess festivals on its soil,
to celebrate love, friendship and peace, which chess is so able to emanate among
nations. With the few omissions and al, the 1st Open International Festival
of El Haouraia has marked the beginning of a new chess activity in Tunisia that
merits to be supported and encouraged.
Top final standings of the First International Open in El Haouaria