'No more coincidences' – interview with IM Aly Yasseen

8/9/2009 – Egyptian International Master Aly Yasseen is a well-known and prominent figure in the African and the Arab chess worlds. His chess achievements are many, among which include being a two-time Egyptian Champion. He now works as a technical director and coach in the Smouha Club Chess Academy (SCCA) in Alexandria, Egypt. He shares his views in this exclusive interview.

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No more coincidences

Report and photos by Medhat Moheb

How did you enter the magnificent world of chess?

With a mere coincidence. I learnt chess when I was 20 years old, when, one day, I observed my neighbor who was a young and very beautiful girl, Samia ElKady – God bless her soul – playing chess in the entrance of our building. She taught me the moves and we played a game which lasted for two minutes, as I lost by Scholar's Mate. Afterwards, I decided to become a chess champion.

When, and where, was the real start?

In the early seventies, in cafes and coffee shops, where chess was simply practiced alongside dominos, cards and backgammon. One day, I went to the old historical camp, Caesar district, and began learning how to play chess at Waly Café. In less than a year, I came fifth in the Alexandria Championship, and, a few years later, I became Alexandria Champion.

You were a member of Egypt's National team for a long time. What was your first serious international chess experience?

That was the Olympic chess tournament in Lucerne, Switzerland in 1982.

In your chess career, you have traveled abroad a lot and visited many countries. Tell me your unforgettable memories?

There are four incidents that I will never forget. The first was in Zurich, when I had to climb up an escalator (or, as I call it, an electrical staircase), which I was facing for the first time in my life. I suddenly stumbled badly and fell down on top of my colleagues. I was very embarrassed but thanked God that no one was hurt.

The second was during my first international game against the well-known English grandmaster Murray Chandler, where I had the black pieces in a hard-fought Sicilian game. At that time, I did not know opening theory, but I played a fine game and even rejected a draw offer from my opponent. While I was moving around the boards kibitzing other games, however, I was approached by one of my colleagues who warned me that my opponent was from the world's best players. I became nervous and distracted, so in a few moves I blundered away my queen and lost.

The third was in the Novi Sad Olympiad of 1990, when we faced Brazil. My game was a duplicate from former World Chess Champion Mikhail Tal's brilliant game in Chess Informant 40, so I left the playing hall while my opponent was pondering his fifteenth move and asked a friend to buy a copy of Chess Informant 40 from a nearby chess library, so I could review the game. My position was better, but I missed many winning chances. Then a strange thing happened, I had a pawn on the seventh rank that I decided to queen on the next move. I stood up and went to a nearby table to get an extra queen, but my colleagues tried in vain to prevent me. One of them whispered: "No, no, it's mate, do not do it," but I did not hesitate for a second. I said to myself, "I'm winning! What is wrong?," and I actually queened on my next move. I was then stunned to see a rook check on d3, which I had completely missed – as I only examined all other checks – and it was true, a simple mate in three moves! I learned the lesson quite well and never did the same behavior again.


IM Yasseen with his Egyptian teammates at the Olympiad.

The last was in Sicilia, during the 1987 Mediterranean Team Championship, which Egypt won. I had a good result (+6 -1 =2), and, after I had finished my last game, I decided to have a look from the large window – this was 3 meters away from my chair throughout the tournament, as I never changed my seat. When I looked from the window, I was stunned to see a bunch of naked girls all over the swimming pool. For a while, I kept asking myself if I would have had a chance to produce my first-place performance, had I noticed this before or during my games in the tournament.

What have you learned from chess?

Chess makes you tolerant, allowing you to love people after you exhaust all your aggressive energy in playing good chess moves.

What do you do now? How do you spend your time away from the chess board?

Now I am the technical director of the Smouha Club Chess Academy (SCCA) and also a chess trainer of many young talented players. I play blitz games on the Internet, and I have also discovered that I have a deep interest in literature. So, I published two books, Dying of a Planet and Dark Lines. Chess and literature are alike, as imagination drives the human soul through unlimited boundaries.


IM Yasseen in action, teaching young Egyptian chess talents tricks of the trade.

There was a study published on the ChessBase website, three years ago, about who is the best chess player in history, based on a scientific approach. Whom do you think is the best chess player in history? Why?

Bobby Fischer, without a shade of doubt. He was, simply, the main cause for the change of the conditions of the game to the better. I recall the tenth World Chess Champion Boris Spassky’s words about Fischer: "He made us all rich". His achievements from 1970 to 1972 and beating the soviet chess machine, alone, were very remarkable.

Who is your chess idol?

Internationally, Capablanca, and, locally, I name my friend Mr. Ashraf Thoson.

Which is your best game ever?

There are two games: My game with the white pieces against GM Gyula Sax in the Golden Cleopatra tournament of 1998 and the one, with the white pieces also, against FM Riebero Fernando in the Yerevan Olympiad of 1996.


IM Yasseen, playing against German IM Dirk Poldauf, in the Golden Cleopatra

How do you see the chess conditions in Egypt in the past, present and future?

In the past, chess champions were made by mere coincidences and good chances. How many talented players passed away quietly in developing countries, and in Egypt, that nobody in the world, especially developed countries, had ever heard of? For instance, the late Alexandrian player, IM Essam Aly Ahmed, was a very brilliant talent – maybe the most talented player Egypt ever had – who didn't find anyone to give him a hand to become an elite grandmaster, or even a world chess champion. He died young after being killed by ignorance.

Football (a.k.a. soccer) in Egypt is the “First Sport” and the only sport that gains attention and care. The developed countries give other sports some air, even full attention and care, but, unfortunately, here we – the sportsmen of sports other than football – are forced to breathe with gills to live. Chess here is considered a martyr game.

The only positive development was in Alexandria, with the approval of the well-known Chairman of the Smouha Club Chess, Businessman/Engineer Farag Amer, to establish the first chess academy in the Smouha Club. As he has converted an old beautiful dream to reality, which happened after a strange coincidence, now young generations will not suffer like we did; they will simply have better chances.

We have discovered very young talents in the Smouha Club Chess Academy (SCCA) and, I believe, in less than eight years – with the support of the Egyptian Chess Federation, under the auspices of Chairman Hussein Nefady – we will have great chess champions, not by coincidences and good chances anymore, but by planning, good strategy and sincere work – as in chess itself.



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