Chess on the "island of dreams"

by Diana Mihajlova
3/11/2020 – A successful tourist company in Tunisia has organized, for a second year, an impressive tournament promoting both chess and tourism in the country. The winner of the Master tournament, scoring 7½/9, was GM Maxime Lagarde (pictured receiving the prize of €2,500 euro and a medal from Anatoly Karpov). DIANA MAHAJLOVA has the details.

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Djerba, North Africa's largest island

Tournament posterThe tour operator GO-Makkah has set up a well worth goal of putting Tunisia firmly on the chess map, while at the same time bringing up to the shore significant tourist spots that this beautiful country abounds with. Last year, the 1st GO-Makkah tournament was held in Sousse, the Tunisian pearl on the Mediterranean Coast, also famous in connection to chess for the 1967 Interzonal, which was a first FIDE tournament to take place in Africa.

The second edition, from February 15th to 24th 2020, took place at yet another attractive tourist spot, the small island of Djerba, in the south of Tunisia. Rich with natural wonders and legends, it's known as "the Island of Dreams". It is where Homer's Odysseus stopped over on his odyssey and met its inhabitants, the lotus-eaters.

The organizers pride themselves for creating the biggest chess festival in Africa and aim for it to become a regular yearly event. Judging by the success of the second edition, GO-Makkah’s Director, Mr Chokri Saidi has proven that he is well-placed as a dedicated organizer, sponsor and promoter.

The largest island of North Africa, located in the Gulf of Gabès, off the coast of Tunisia

Judit Polgar was a guest

(L-R) The Tunisian Minister of Tourism Mr. René Trabelsi, Judit Polgar and the organizer, Chokri Saidi

This passionately organized tournament paid attention to every detail and was marked by a professional, aesthetic touch: arbiters and assistants clad in matching uniforms.

Arbiters and assistants

Arbiters and assistants

Four  main tournaments were played: A Master tournament and three Opens: Open A (>2000), Open B (1500-2000) and Open C (<1500), a blitz tournament and several side events including two simultaneous exhibitions by two leading chess personalities, Anatoly Karpov and Judit Polgar.

Simul with Polgar and Karpov

Karpov and Polgar at their simultaneous exhibitions

A local artist, Karina Gassem, made paintings while the simuls were taking place. The paintings were composed of a figurative style and a calligraphy and were presented to Karpov and Polgar.

Artist rendition of simul

Karina Gassem at work and Judit Polgar with her painting | Photo: Patricia Claros Aguilar

On rare occasions, some participants in the simul managed to ‘steal’ a draw or even a win. It is considered a great feat and not surprisingly, the Tunisian player who made a draw with Judit Polgar, splashed his scoresheet on the social media.

simul scoresheet

Abdelaziz Bouhamed (2064) and the scoresheet of his game signed by Polgar

The support and cooperation by a French contingency was evident, led by the President of the French Chess Federation, Bachar Kouatly, who attended several happenings at the festival and addressed the participants praising the organization.


(L-R) Bachar Kouatly, French IA arbiter Nadir Bounzou and his Tunisian counterpart IA Mohamed Ali Baktach 

As it turned out, the winner of the Masters was also a French player, the young GM Maxime Lagarde, the 2019 French champion.

The Masters tournament was composed of ten players hailing from ten different countries: (in the order of the final standings) GM Lagarde Maxime (FRA), GM Tiviakov Sergei (NED,  GM Pichot Alan (ARG), Gagunashvili Merab (GEO), GM Cuenca Jimenez Jose Fernando (ESP),  GM Heberla Bartlomiej (POL), GM Sumets Andrey (UKR),  GM Kotronias Vasilios (GRE), IM Zaibi Amir (TUN), IM Oussedik Mahfoud (ALG).

Final standings

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Lagarde Maxime 7,5 0,0
2 Tiviakov Sergei 7,0 0,0
3 Pichot Alan 6,0 0,0
4 Gagunashvili Merab 5,0 0,5
5 Cuenca Jimenez Jose Fernando 5,0 0,5
6 Heberla Bartlomiej 4,5 1,0
7 Sumets Andrey 4,5 0,0
8 Kotronias Vasilios 3,0 0,0
9 Zaibi Amir 1,5 0,0
10 Oussedik Mahfoud 1,0 0,0

All available games


Photo gallery

Zaibi and Oussedik

Neighbourly friends: the local IM Zaibi Amir, representing Tunisia and IM Oussedik Mahfoud from the neighbouring country of Algeria

Jean-Marc Degraeve

The organizer is presenting the prize (2000 euro) and a medal to the winner of the Open A, another French player, GM Jean-Marc Degraeve (Elo 2526)


Tunisian young hopes greatly benefit from the opportunity to play at such a class international tournament on their doorstep


The guests were entertained throughout the tournament by performers presenting typical folklore of the island

Khalil Chahbani

An accomplished local musician, Khalil Chahbani, performed on ‘kanun’, a traditional Arabic string instrument

A full day was dedicated to a sight-seeing. Museums, a crocodile farm, a synagogue and other beauty spots were visited for which participants were provided with buggies. 

Riding ATVs

An original way to explore the beautiful island


The synagogue La Ghriba (‘Wonderworking’) supposed to be the oldest synagogue in the world dating from the time of the second temple in Jerusalem

Karpov and Polgar

Karpov and Judit Polgar soaking the light and sun of Djerba | Photo: Judit Polgar Facebook

The two distinguished chess personalities contributed to another worthy cause while in Djerba: They opened the first school chess club on the island named after the 12th World Champion. 

Karpov amd Polgar with kids

Karpov and Judit Polgar surrounded by enthusiastic school kids on the occasion of the opening of the school chess club on Djerba | Photo: Judit Polgar Facebook


A former university lecturer in Romance philology, she is currently a painter as well as a chess journalist, and reports regularly from the international tournament scene.


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