Chokri Saidi: “I like to believe that God invented chess”

by Diana Mihajlova
2/11/2024 – Two tournaments focused on attracting the strongest promising talents in the world are devised, organised and sponsored by Chokri Saidi, an entrepreneur in love with chess, arts, travel, philosophy, psychology and spirituality. In an interview conducted by Diana Mihajlova, the chess enthusiast asserted: “I like to believe that God invented chess”

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Chess and spirituality

Two tournaments with some of the most promising players of the moment, taking place with only a couple of weeks between them, are devised, organised and sponsored by Chokri Saidi, an entrepreneur in love with chess, arts, travel, philosophy, psychology and spirituality.

The Jeddah International Youth Chess Festival already took place in Saudi Arabia on 24–30 January (find here a first report on the event). The Djerba Chess Festival kicks off next week and will run on 17–25 February, on the 'Island of Dreams', in Tunisia.

In an interview during the Jeddah Youth Festival, in a traditionally set corner of the Ramada Hotel's lobby, a relaxed Chokri Saidi spoke with a visible enthusiasm of his love for chess and his intentions to make his own impact on promoting chess internationally, with a special desire close to his heart: to strengthen the chess development in the African and Arab regions.

Diana Mihajlova, Chokri Saidi

Diana Mihajlova interviewing Chokri Saidi | Photo: Patricia Claros Aguilar

"This is a trial", Chokri says. "In this first edition we envisaged a format to give a chance to young international emerging talents. Omissions are possible but will be corrected, and better events will be organised in the future".

Does that mean that the Jeddah Youth Festival is to continue as an annual event?

"Of course, I do nothing short term. A program has been drawn for the running of the festival until 2030".

This is Chokri the businessman talking. A successful entrepreneur, owner of GO-Makkah, a high-end travel and events agency, Chokri is professional but friendly with a calm, down to earth approach. After a talk and a closer observation, it becomes evident that he has a vast knowledge and a range of interests — particularly philosophy and spirituality.

Of Tunisian origins, he lives in Paris, where he has spent most of his life. In recent years, his life consists of endless travels, keeping track of his growing business.

The choice of Jeddah as the venue for his first International Youth Festival is connected to a section of his business that caters for high-class travel services to pilgrims visiting Mecca and Medina. Jeddah, being only 66 km from Mecca and 327 km from Medina, is the nearest port through which pilgrims pass while journeying to the holy cities. Because of this, he spends lots of time in Jeddah and knows the city well.

Chokri Saidi

Chokri Saidi giving a welcome speech at the 1st Jeddah Youth Festival's Opening ceremony

GO-Events, his other business, comes handy when organising chess tournaments. Travel and tourism coupled with chess events is an obvious, happy marriage. But where did the idea and love for chess come from?

Chokri has always been fascinated by the game and its intricacies. He plays whenever possible and rarely misses an opportunity to participate in a blitz tournament. But what particularly attracts him is the philosophical aspects of the game.

Two books, by Dr Abdelaziz Aouni, have awoken in him a profound interest in chess: The Hidden Meaning of Chess (Edilivre, 2015) and The Game of Chess, History and Spirituality (Edilivre, 2018).

Dr Aouni Abdelaziz (b.1976, Oran, Algeria) is a medical doctor and researcher in personal development and memory. In The Hidden Meaning of Chess he invites the reader to review their vision of life through the sixty-four squares of the noble game.

The Game of Chess, History and Spirituality

The Game of Chess, History and Spirituality traces the history of chess, its various versions, the logic of the transformations that the game has undergone, the influence of ancient and modern civilizations and the specific interaction of the game with various societies. Looking at chess as a civilizational dialogue, Dr Aouni researches the contribution of each nation, thus bringing to the fore the spiritual side of the game.

Chokri gets animated describing the content of the books and his own passion and understanding of chess, its juxtaposed complexity and simplicity, and declares: "I like to believe that God invented chess".

Chokri Saidi

Chokri Saidi: "God invented chess" | Photo: Patricia Claros Aguilar

Another person who pushed him into closer involvement with chess is his Russian wife. She is not an active, competitive player but spends a large portion of time playing chess on the internet, having kept her love for chess since her school days in Russia.

His two sons both play chess. He is happy for them to be closely connected to the game because of the benefits it provides for their mental development but, he adds: "I don't think I want them to be totally immersed in chess. The younger son has a musical talent, plays guitar and other instruments. The older one is more science and IT oriented. I would prefer them to keep a healthy balance and nurture their talents in a practical way".

Anatoly Karpov

A poster of Karpov promoting the Jeddah International Youth Tournament

His good friend and mentor, the former world champion Anatoly Karpov, was instrumental in Chokri's dedication to promoting young stars. When Chokri invited Karpov to be his front personality of honour for a tournament that would be named 'Karpov Cup', the former world champion said: "Yes, but under one condition: it has to be exclusively for young players, U18". That is how the Jeddah Youth Festival was born. Next to the 'Karpov Cup', which is an Open tournament, Chokri added the invitational 'Young Masters' for up-and-coming international young stars.

Unfortunately, Karpov could not attend because of health reasons, but he sent his personal secretary, Oxana Jacque, and, in a video that was aired at the opening ceremony, he greeted the participants and expressed his regret not to be among them in person.

Oxana Jacque

Oxana Jacque with women players who participated in the 'Karpov Cup': (from left) Laura Toquero (ESP), Cristina Sureda (ESP) and WCM Eman Sawan (PLE)

Oxana pesented Chokri with a gift that Karpov sent: three large volumes, monographs on Karpov, entitled Climbing the Chess Olympus.

Chokri Saidi

Chokri with his cherished gift from Karpov

On par with the new stars that he is promoting, Chorki Saidi is himself a new star on the international chess organizing circuit. His ambitious program, his dedication and generosity are likely to pave the way towards successful careers for many promising players.

Chokri Saidi

Chokri Saidi and the elegantly elaborated cups for the Young Master's winner, the Karpov Cup's winner and best woman representative

Jeddah International Youth Chess Festival

All masters in the first edition of the Jeddah Youth Festival with Saidi and the Saudi Chess Federation officials: (from left) Andy Woodward (USA), Pranav Wenkatesh (IND), Jan Klimkowski (POL), Jakub Seeman (POL), Volodar Murzin (FIDE), Yagiz Kaan Erdogmus (TUR), Faustino Oro (ARG), Jaime Rey Martinez (ESP), Candela Francisco Guecamburu (ARG) and Raunak Sadhwani (IND)

Chokri sponsored trial tournaments in Monastir and in Sousse, in Tunisia, before confirming the Island of Djerba as home to his international Djerba Chess Festival. Only a few days separate us from this already established festival that will run for the fourth time from 17-25 February. Hans Niemann, Jules Moussard, Marc'Andria Maurizzi, Daniel Dardha, Aryan Tari, Bilel Bellahcene, Vaishali Rameshbabu and Vasily Ivanchuk (to be confirmed) are the invited grandmasters.

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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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