Chess fever in Cairo (1/2)

by Alina l'Ami
5/10/2016 – A sprawling modern metropolitan, as well as the birthplace of one of humanity's oldest and greatest civilizations, Cairo, the capital of Egypt has more than can be appreciated in a lifetime. The vibrant city epitomizes the cliché of a 'city that never sleeps' like few others, as Alina'L'Ami discovered in her recent visit to a tournament. Enjoy her pictorial and travelogue.

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One month, twelve flights, four countries, 30 rated classical games, reports and lessons on the go, plus some other trivial but time-consuming hurly-burlies would sum up my lifestyle in the past few days. Living out of a suitcase has its challenges but a chess traveler like me doesn't need a ton of reasons to embark on a new adventure. Besides, the combination of a promising tournament invitation and the attraction of one of the oldest civilizations in the world is the highroad to a speedy takeoff: Egypt Open 2016, played in a sight for sore eyes – Cairo!

I was ready to take the plunge into Egypt's fascinating history but was caught off guard by its intensity

First, the drawbacks: for some sensitive natures (including yours truly), the 22 million people metropolis could make your eyes sore, literally. In addition to the 40 degrees sun, Cairo's crowds would brand Amsterdam as a 'ghost town', meaning there is absolutely no way to escape the noise, traffic or over cordial sellers, not to mention the chance your face will turn black, not from getting too much sun but from the smog. And yet, this is a small price to pay for tapping into an energy I have never seen elsewhere!

Colorful, vibrant and above all...

… alive! There was something about this sprawling city that tugged at my heart.

Egyptians are grandmasters at having fun, particularly at weddings, which are invariably wonderful,
joyous and raucous too. And just like Western marriages, they frequently break the bank of the parents.

In more than 25 years of traveling and over 70 countries visited, I never had the chance to have dinner at 4:30 AM in a normal restaurant, just around the corner. My excuse is that as I landed quite late/early. The cliché “the city that never sleeps” undoubtedly belongs to Cairo, where one can find everything and anything at anytime, day or night, 24/7, not in just one place but anywhere!

The five o'clock tea can be served at 5 PM or 5 AM, your call

It's getting a bit crowded, isn't it?

I must say I felt overwhelmed at the beginning, even though I passed the Indian, Indonesian or Malagasy tests before...

With a crushing infrastructure, the most reliable way to move around could be in a...tuk-tuk

There are a few key points though, which I quickly learned:

  1. Crossing a street is like in one of those video games where you have to bring the frog to the other side of the road without getting smashed – the only difference is that you don't get a second chance in real life, as my Egyptian friends wittily put it! (big fan of their earthy sense of humour).
  2. Headlights and brake lights are optional but a working horn is absolutely vital
  3. Roundabouts can be traversed clockwise and counterclockwise; always be on the lookout for vehicles coming the 'wrong' way.
  4. Traffic signs... are merely a suggestion.
  5. Luck is an attitude, which was sustained by the organizers with cars, people, guides, advice, assistance and many other things we didn't even know we needed.

It turned out I was still caught up in rules, order, still used with traffic lights and zebras, with less racket and a more rhythmic breathing pace. So how was I going to cope with all of that and get ready for a tough chess event, including double rounds?! Easily, starting from Day One, thanks to the charming and humorous Egyptians, although I did change my hotel room several times, until I found a quieter one.

Curious people are also interesting characters, perhaps because they care?

And they are beautiful too...

...without losing their authenticity.

And here we are, in the “chess zone”, with the hotel staff to be precise. These nice fellows helped me
moving around like a...zillion times?! In the end I found the perfect, almost 'soundproof' room, after
checking everything the hotel had to offer. A lot of patience was required, which the Egyptians didn't lack!

Indeed, there is order in chaos, so why worry, especially when the organizers did their utmost to make our stay a memorable one? And they succeeded.

Special thanks to the wonderful IA and IO Omar Salama, who was one of the driving
forces behind the event as an organizer, arbiter and a good friend, all in one package!

Symbolic move on the top board by the father of Egyptian chess, the much loved coach of
Ahmed Adly, Mr. Hassan Khaled

Of course, nothing could be done without a hard working team: the Egyptian Chess Federation
and the main tournament sponsor, Eastern Company, together with the organizing committee
(Dr.Hesham, Dr.Sayed and apologies for not mentioning everyone) created a unique event, which
I will certainly remember with pleasure. Also note the carpeting! Besides the luxury feel it is also
good against... the loud clacking noise of high heels!

Our elegant shoes were not as comfortable when diving into the soft, lush material, therefore...

...casual shoes became my preference, especially when walking on Cairo's streets.

Discovering the city's true colors. If you love Cairo, it will surely love you back.

Belly dancers are probably more recognizable but do not underestimate the Egyptian heritage.
I got dizzy only by looking at the spinning wizard!

All this passion, life, vibrance, colors, and noise was felt on the board as well, in a 'coffeehouse kind of chess' some would say, judging by the crazy sacrifices or by the way the clock was pressed in the tournament hall hosting the 300 chess 'addicts'.

“I wish I could press fast forward, just to see if you can come up with a good move”.

Top board, top player, shall I wonder why it was also the top attraction?!

However, nothing beats the interest of your own game.

Ameir - Hesham

[Event "Egypt Open 2016"] [Site "Eastern Company Club"] [Date "2016.04.28"] [Round "9.2"] [White "Ameir, Moheb"] [Black "Hesham, Abdelrahman"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B90"] [WhiteElo "2430"] [BlackElo "2390"] [Annotator "AA"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "rn2k2r/1bq1bpp1/p3pn1p/3p4/PN1NP1P1/7P/1PP2PB1/R1BQR1K1 w kq - 0 14"] [PlyCount "50"] [EventDate "2016.04.22"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "EGY"] {You cannot play this sort of chess if you have a weak stomach, so big respect for both players, particularly to Hesham. Since he lives far away from the tournament hall and due to the Egyptian madhouse on the streets called traffic, Hesham was quite often very late at his board, usually with only 31 or 32 min left on his clock for the whole game. Just in time before getting defaulted!! In the final round though he was punctual, so probably he slept somewhere nearby. And yet, Moheb was a tough egg to crack...} 14. Nxd5 $1 exd5 15. exd5 O-O 16. Nf5 Bd6 17. Be3 {White decided to develop his pieces, preparing an attack but playing positional chess could have been more precise.} (17. Nxd6 Qxd6 18. b3 Rc8 19. Ba3 Qf4 20. c4 {The pawns will prove not only dangerous but rather difficult to stop without material loses.}) 17... Nbd7 18. Qd2 Rfe8 19. c4 Bf8 20. Rac1 a5 {A very logical move, looking for a blockade, but apparently not the best according to these machines.} (20... Ne4 {is more precise, disturbing White's coordination} 21. Qc2 Ndf6 $13) 21. Red1 { returning the favour} ({Better was} 21. c5 {when the pawn cannot be captured} Bxc5 22. Bxc5 Nxc5 23. Rxe8+ Rxe8 24. Qd4 $18 ({not} 24. Qc3 $2 Qf4 $1 25. Qxc5 Bxd5 26. Bxd5 Nxd5)) 21... Bb4 22. Qc2 Nc5 23. Rd4 Qb6 24. Rf4 Nfd7 25. Bd4 Ne5 {It could be interesting to analyze this position in depth as there are alternatives at every turn.} 26. Nxg7 $1 {The second piece is sacrificed for a higher cause and it almost paid off...} Kxg7 27. Qf5 Qg6 28. Bxe5+ Kg8 29. Rd1 Qxf5 30. Rxf5 Bc8 31. Rh5 Ra6 32. d6 Bd7 33. Rd5 {White's advantages goes down and lower.} (33. Bf6 {and I don't see how Black can escape without material damage.}) 33... Re6 34. g5 ({Better was} 34. Bd4 Nxa4 35. c5 $16) 34... Bc6 35. gxh6 Kh7 36. d7 $2 {the final mistake missing an intermediate move.} (36. Rd4 Rg6 37. Rg4 {White still holds the trumps but Black has some sort of blockade} Bd7) 36... Nxd7 37. Be4+ Rg6+ {Oups!} 38. Kh2 Bxd5 {An important victory for Hesham, who finished on the 2nd place with 7.5/9. Well done!} 0-1

I believe the enthusiasm, the concentration, the fervor, the ardor behind the board speaks louder... And it is contagious!

Awadhom - Lauridsen

[Event "Egypt Open 2016"] [Site "Eastern Company Club"] [Date "2016.04.26"] [Round "7.21"] [White "Awadhom, Elsayed"] [Black "Lauridsen, Jesper Morch"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B26"] [WhiteElo "2047"] [BlackElo "2275"] [Annotator "Alina L'Ami"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "r2qk2r/pp1b1pb1/3p2pp/2p1p2n/3nPP2/2NPBNPP/PPP2QB1/R3K2R b KQkq - 0 13"] [PlyCount "13"] [EventDate "2016.04.22"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "EGY"] {Perhaps inspired by the flying pieces on the other boards, Jesper decided to play in a similar style and went:} 13... Nxg3 $1 14. Qxg3 Nxc2+ 15. Kd2 { and now not} Nxa1 {as played in the game, which gives White counter-play, but} (15... Nxe3 $1 16. Kxe3 exf4+ 17. Qxf4 Bc6 {A positional sacrifice, where I would surely take Black, as White has a vulnerable king in the middle of the board, b5-b4 is coming, the black bishop pair is quite a strong asset as well etc.}) 16. Rxa1 Qb6 17. Rb1 ({Better was} 17. Kc2 exf4 18. Bxf4 {preventing some Bxc3 ideas. I would take White.}) 17... exf4 18. Bxf4 Be6 19. Kc2 Rd8 { Black won a complicated game further on but analyzing all the moves is beyond the scope of the example. You can do so if you wish by downloading the pgn games at the end of the article!} 0-1

The Egyptians like dynamic, aggressive chess, which makes them very dangerous opponents to face. They play is as if their very life hung on those moves, and it is such a sight, not to mention inspiring! I somehow feel that “Chess Fever” was shot in the 'wrong' country...



When I was little, and trying to solve math problems, my mother used to
tell me: “Better scratch the right ear with the right hand”, meaning: stop
complicating your life and find the shortest route to the solution. Somehow
chess feels similar, but I keep forgetting her advice.

Vsevolod Pudovkin and Nikolai Shpikovsky would surely create another masterpiece here and if not Capablanca, then perhaps Carlsen wouldn't mind visiting the pyramids either?!

Pyramids and more in the 2nd part...

Alina is an International Master and a very enthusiastic person in everything she does. She loves travelling to the world's most remote places in order to play chess tournaments and report about them here on ChessBase! As chance would have it Alina is also an excellent photographer.


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