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Alina's Tunisian Chess Adventure

3/29/2012 – Chess tournaments are not just about moves and norms, trophies and prize sums. When a very dedicated sponsor and organiser like Kamel Meddeb takes it into his mind to stage a big event in Tunisia, and concentrates on making all participants feel good about it, you get something culturally enjoyable as well, as our roving reporter Alina L'Ami shows us in this big pictorial report.
 

My Tunisian Chess Adventure

Report by WGM Alina L'Ami

On 22nd of March I landed in Tunis, with the intention of playing a closed wgm tournament. But what I initially planned it turned out to become the beginning of a great adventure…

To make you see the whole picture through my eyes, I will start by saying that, at this moment, I am writing from my own room, from a fantastic/marvelous/gorgeous four-star resort. Built in the middle of nowhere, in the north east of Tunisia, hidden by orange groves, sand beaches and picturesque white little houses, the hotel gives me that moment of tranquility, peace and quietness, which my mind is avidly looking for. Why is that so?!

Well, it’s hard to explain but I will do my best.

I arrived in Tunisia thanks to the generous invitation of IM Njili Kamel, the organizer of the Chess Festival ‘El Haouaria’, to play a closed WGM tournament. A tremendous amount of events and activities were scheduled to take place between 16th of March and 4th of April: an open tournament (which was won by the Serbian Igor Miladinovic, with 7.5 points out of nine games); a blitz tournament; an international open for juniors; five closed tournaments (two for GM norms, two for IM norms and one for women, where I was also supposed to take part); and on top of that a simul given by none other than Nigel Short, to mark the start of a very ambitious festival. In addition, in order to create a friendly and family like atmosphere, excursions, parties, exhibitions and many other activities, of which I’ve already lost track, have been organized. Each day!

In other words, the organizers put a lot of efforts, time, money and energy to make every single player happy, which is in fact an impossible task. They simply wanted too much for the first edition, they asked too much from themselves, especially considering the lack of experience in organizing an event of such proportions. Plus: there was actually only one single person behind all that, to plan and arrange everything: the main sponsor of the tournament, Kamel Meddeb. He has such a big heart – and you cannot see his name anywhere, not on the official tournament website, not on the posters, not in the media, nowhere! He prefers to stay in the background, behind the scenes, just watching and truly enjoying other people's happiness. And to see that, he did everything he could; his fiancée Imen told me that only three weeks before the Open started, his dream began to take shape. We have to admit that it’s way too little time and yet, his fantasy of having a mixture of nationalities under the same Tunisian sky, eventually became reality!


That Kamel and me in the middle, with two local journalists on Cap Bon


The tournament poster

It might look like many people are here to help (and they do!) but in fact Kamel is the one to personally arrange every single little detail, to make sure that nothing will go wrong. And because of that… things went a little bit out of hand, naturally.

More than 100 players were here to play in the Open, 40 different countries, 40 different mentalities and cultures, amateur players and professionals, all with different demands and expectations. You can imagine that dealing with all of that is not a piece of cake, especially for someone who doesn’t know what the chess world really looks like and what exactly our needs are. For us professionals it seems so easy, but somehow I cannot overlook the fact that we are actually playing chess and not organizing events. Probably we would also have sleepless nights, many problems, angry players and a lot of stressful situations.

In this case, inevitable inconveniences were present: the simul planned with Nigel didn’t take place, but he made a lot of photos with his fans, gave autographs, shared his memorable stories – so after all, his visit was still a success. Another important aspect: the tournament hall was improvised in a tent by the sea, which turned out to be an unfortunate idea. It proved to be quite windy and cold inside. Yes, that’s right: an African country can be unimaginably cold at the end of March! Only the ‘luckier’ ones, the players who were strong enough to be on the first boards, were fighting in an adjacent room, in between the tent and the restaurant, where everybody had their meals. The problem for them was, logically, the noise coming from the restaurant, which gives me the opportunity to go to the next issue: the full board accommodation.


The tournament hall for the first boards


The other venue for the lower boards – basically a tent


The restaurant "Le Pecheur", where everyone congregates


A party organised on one of the evenings, with music and festive spirit

You probably know from your own experience that a professional player has his own rituals, habits, his own little things that make his life bearable. So the best scenario would be: a hotel where you sleep, eat and play chess, giving you the freedom to go back to your room whenever you want, to be social or not etc.

The rounds in El Haouaria started at different hours each day, and you had to spend the entire time, more or less, around the restaurant and the tournament halls, making it difficult to get into your rhythm. That’s because you have to eat there, to play there, but also to wait for everybody else to finish. Eventually, after dinner, buses and cars transported the players back to their accommodation: either to the beautiful hotel, where I am currently staying (with a fantastic sea view!), which is more than one hour drive one way, or to the villas, which were closer but less comfortable than the hotel.

To be honest, I didn’t really feel all these inconveniences because I didn’t play the tournament and they are treating me like a VIP. But with the players who did experience inconveniences, things had to be solved on the go. Not without stress, frustration, unexpected surprises and unforeseen situations. To give you an example: I needed a car to reach the tournament hall, it was arranged for 10 o’clock, but nobody was there. Around 12.30, to my surprise, not one, but three cars came to pick me up! I had a good time deciding which of the three I preferred – in the end it turned out to be the Mercedes!


The hotel where I am staying


My room is on the right side balcony


... and the beautiful view from there


There is an oasis inside of an oasis – right in the middle of the hotel


It is a a wonderful design, combining African, Meditarrenean...


and Berberian details


Outside the water world, and a short walk to...


... the Mediterranean beach, part of the hotel property

Actually, for the amateur players, the entire experience was superlative! They were happy, dancing, singing, no such things as frowns or raised eyebrows on their faces. By the end of the Open their attitude became contagious, and I am sure that also the professionals have plenty of funny stories to share.

After all, every country is beautiful in its own way, but certainly, what makes it special is: its people. I am convinced that when we will look back to the start of this festival, when we will think about ‘El Haouaria’, we will immediately picture the generosity, the warmth and openness of these wonderful people. Honestly speaking, I’ve hardly seen so much dedication elsewhere, so much care and efforts to please you. And the most valuable gift: their sincere friendship. I will definitely not forget the feeling I have (which I cannot fully describe), every time I see their eyes smiling, happy that I’m feeling good. It’s a life lesson which I hope I will learn by the end of my stay here…

On a more serious tone: I know, and so do the organizers, that some things went out of hand, impossible to control anymore given the circumstances. But I am sure that in the next edition, which is planned to take place at the beginning of May 2013, everything will be taken care of. On this note, I will end my novel here and turn to my pictorial impressions. But I'll be back with more info and discoveries asap!

Top final standings of the First International Open in El Haouaria

# title Player FED
Rtng
Pts
 TB1 
 TB3 
1 GM Igor Miladinovic SER
2555
7.5
40.5
441.0
2 GM Hamdouchi Hichem FRA
2617
7.0
39.0
429.5
3 im Bruno Fabio ITA
2435
7.0
37.5
440.0
4 GM Alfonso Romero Holmes ESP
2501
7.0
37.0
414.5
5 GM Gleizerov Evgeny RUS
2570
7.0
36.5
442.0
6 IM haddouche Mohamed ALG
2410
7.0
34.5
405.0
7 IM Vijayalakshmi Subbaraman IND
2415
6.5
36.0
420.5
8 GM Ulibin Mikhail RUS
2515
6.5
35.5
427.0
9 GM Pikula Dejan SER
2525
6.5
35.0
420.5
10 GM Sriram Jha IND
2406
6.5
34.0
440.0
11 im Plamen Dimitrov Mladenov BUL
2389
6.5
33.5
435.5
12 GM Petrov Marijan BUL
2527
6.5
32.5
402.5
13 cm Amir Zaibi TUN
2174
6.5
30.5
386.5
14 GM Lazic Miroljub SER
2452
6.0
36.0
414.5
15 GM Azer Mirzoev AZE
2560
6.0
33.5
403.0
16 Sebbar Ali MAR
2290
6.0
31.5
403.0
17 IM Kaabi Mejdi TUN
2344
6.0
31.0
413.5
18 GM Stupak Kirill BEL
2531
6.0
30.0
387.5
19 Pogosian Manvel BLR
2406
6.0
30.0
398.5
20 Boudriga Med Ali TUN
2131
6.0
29.0
401.5
21 Hergli Amir TUN
2173
6.0
28.0
362.0
22 Seraoui Mohsen ALG
2196
6.0
28.0
358.5
23 Serge Delseny FRA
1992
6.0
25.5
354.0
24 GM Georgy timoshenko UKR
2569
5.5
35.5
390.5
25 IM Ezat Mohamed EGY
2441
5.5
32.5
405.5
26 FM Adnani Moklis MAR
2404
5.5
32.5
408.5
27 Amdouni Zoubaier TUN
2279
5.5
31.5
376.0
28 Naciri Zouhir MAR
2245
5.5
31.0
389.5
29 IM Sarwat walaa EGY
2326
5.5
30.0
398.5
30 Villegas Pierre MNC
2278
5.5
30.0
387.0
31 Jalal Hazhar IRQ
2003
5.5
28.0
392.5
32 Salhi Nouressadat ALG
2115
5.5
24.5
325.0

Links

More pictorial impressions


Top seed Hichem Hamdouchi, France, rated 2617


The ultimate winner, GM Igor Miladinovic playing GM Lazic Miroljub


WGM Nino Maisuradze of France, rated 2320, with a friend


The Hamdouchis: Hichem and Adina, with whom I was very happy to speak my
native language, because she is from Romania too


We were all given these typical Tunisian hats


Everyone got one, and they were very useful, because it became really cold


The Punic ruins from Kerkouane – the Phoenician city was probably abandoned
during the First Punic War (c. 250 B.C.), and not rebuilt by the Romans


The participants enjoying the wonderful sightseeing tours


One of the main commodities at the local market in El Haouaria: Tunisian dates...


... and some of the most colorful spices I have ever seen


The Roman Caves of El Haouaria, for which the city is famous


Players at the beach – the acrobat did it for the picture, which he knew would end up here


The Regional Falconers Club of El Haouaria, where the tournament was initially supposed
to take place. The idea has to be dropped, because it was too windy on the hill, and too cold.


The falcon – I've always been intrigued by their eyes


The female, bigger and stronger, of course


These ladies gave me a lesson in how the delicious Tunisian bread is made!


It is baked in a stone and cement oven


The small port in El Haouaria, where our pictorial journey ends

Copyright L'Ami/ChessBase

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