The knights of Africa (part 1)

by Alina l'Ami
8/10/2018 – The Egyptian GM Bassem Amin won the Invitational Rapid & Blitz event held in Abidjan, July 24th to 30th. We previously reported on the results but now give it the ALINA l'AMI treatment. | Pictured: From left to right: (top row) GM Bassem Amin (EGY), GM Kenny Solomon (RSA), IM Mokliss El Adnani (MAR), IM Andrew Kayonde (ZAM), IM Fy Rakotomaharo (MAD), (bottom row) IM Arthur Ssegwanyi (UGA), GM Slim Belkhodja (TUN), IM David Silva (ANG), GM Mohamed Haddouche (ALG), IM Oladapo Adu (NGR) | All Photos: Alina l'Ami

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Ivory Coast Rapid & Blitz Invitational

The tournament was organized by the Fédération Ivoirienne des Echecs (FIDEC) in conjunction with the Kasparov Chess Foundation Francophone and the Kasparov Chess Foundation Africa. The strongest tournament of its kind on the African continent has been made possible through the generous sponsorship of Vivendi SA, the French mass media conglomerate and main sponsor of the Paris Grand Chess Tour event. A prize pool of USD $15,000 was distributed based on the combined standings of both the rapid and blitz events, with formats played in line with the GCT time controls and standards.

Abidjan is a coastal city about 100 Km west of Ivory Coast's border with Ghana

The field consisted of 10 specially selected participants, showcasing the very best of Africa’s chess talent in the luxurious setting of the 5-stars Tiama Hotel. Unquestionably the most prestigious African Rapid and Blitz invitational tournament, the chess competition played in Ivory Coast was a success, with thousands of spectators worldwide tuning in to live commentary provided by the producers from St. Louis. 

On sight chess fans hanging on Oladapu Adu's lips (click or tap to enlarge all photos)

I suspect that such pertinent information sets down the major aspects in black and white, revealing a genuine African chess diamond. But I also wonder whether the very same black and white jewel will soon be placed in an ivory tower by the pandemic news machinery? A lost story among so many others about a tournament like so many others, buried in the mass of Carlsen & the top ten squad scoop...

arbiter intervenes

Stop the clock!

Come closer, you'll have to trust me on this.

Behind every player from Abidjan there is an untold, true story:

The Pawn

Somewhere in a landlocked country, southeast Africa

He is the current national champion, thrilled to represent his country in the upcoming African Junior Championship. Excited with anticipation, he steps in the bus, ready for the first tournament ever outside his native land. But the inconsiderate life game starts taking sudden twists and turns, shoving him passed war-ridden countries, passed borders crossed on bicycle or on foot, passed banana plantations, interrogation chambers and refugee camps, testing him to the nth degree. More than four days had gone with no money, no food, no sleep and the final destination is still nowhere in sight. Eventually, he made it just in time for the 6th round!

I believe we all agree here that the odds are not exactly stacked in his favour for a tournament win.

The love for chess cannot be tamed by trivial unpleasantries

He is young, ambitious and as chance would have it, absorbed by chess. Life can be hard in Africa, or anywhere for that matter, but nothing can stop him from becoming a grandmaster. Nothing can stop him from fulfilling his dream. Nothing...wait, someone's knocking at the door and before I'm able to finish this sentence there's a metal around his wrists. Handcuffs, police, havoc and confusion... One hour later in the pestilential air of the prison cell, he's still trying to understand what just happened. They said he hasn't served his military duties but he did have all the right papers, signed and stamped! It must be just a simple misunderstanding. One day goes by and then one more and then another.

Day 7: let's be honest, the odds are not exactly stacked in the player's favour in this scenario either.

Through the looking glass

How does it feel being like a green leaf on a dead tree? To be born in the African slums, having a passionate heart and energy for three but no visible opportunities? What chances does one have living on the gang-ridden streets where “to take” (else you will be taken) is the main code of ethics?

Coming from a large family, he's about to shape his future in the midst of violent gangsterism...

Kenny Soloman

A tough upbringing for a brutal sport

The Knight

I don't know about you but I am spoiled to be descending from a place where life is not exactly like a chess game, changing with each move. The players in Abidjan however, have stories to fill at least ten novels and an equal number of blockbuster scripts.

The three nonfictional excerpts on the rickety roads, unsympathetic political systems and complicated histories on both personal and continental scales are just a small sample of the hydra-headed African chess life. 

How can one grow in chess given the circumstances?

children

A wise mind once said that the secret is to make stepping stones out of stumbling blocks

But still, overcompensation is not an easy process on a continent with little chess culture, with too little guidance and far from enough events (incidentally, obtaining a visa alone is an adventure in itself).

Welcome to the world of difficult choices, where giving up would be the easy path

That is not an option for the participants in Ivory Coast though, all holding African records and a fathomless love for the game. It is not music nor dancing flowing through their blood, it is the chess rhythm.

dancing and drums

Get into the groove!

The lively conversations we had during the every day engaging dinners made your author understand that the wind may blow off the candle but it intensifies the fire too. Each of the ten self-taught players faced challenges (to use a euphemism), and yet they all picked themselves up with unwavering determination to win against all odds, promoting from a pawn into a full functioning piece.

Fy Rokotomaharo

The kindhearted IM Fy Rakotomaharo (MAD) moved all the way from Antananarivo to Paris in order to finish his studies and get closer to the epicentre of chess

For five days though, the heart of African chess was beating in Côte d'Ivoire's economic engine, revealing Abidjan's:

Tropical mood on the chessboard as well

Combined standings

The final combined standings (Rapid & Blitz) | Courtesy St. Louis Chess Club

Here's a selection of games from players at the top of the leaderboard:

 

The King

True, Carlsen is Carlsen, a superman. But sometimes what inspires us is not the “super” but the “man” underneath it all. The top ten can be a magnet hard to beat but it is those African players that I actually relate to.

Intense games were followed by intense analysis

Some of the players started their chess careers at an age one could officially drive a car, which is very late if you ask me. The weirdest part of all is that the heroes don't realize they won the first and greatest victory: the battle with themselves. To build an aeroplane with no tools and no materials and to still manage to take off is a big deal. 

Bassem Amin

The pride of Africa
The tournament winner, GM Bassem Amin (EGY)

It is not my intention to construct an image of echoing empathy due to race, circumstance or age, especially when the players themselves are "aiming to be a big fish in a big sea and not a big fish in a small pond" (Andrew Kayonde).

It is about placing the tournament in a context, spotlighting the progressive chess movement started by the KCFA through its director, Graham Jurgensen, and beautifully conducted by the African Chess Confederation Candidate, Essoh Essis, and his devoted team.

Andrew Kayonde

“I thank KCFA for the consistent high-quality events that have afforded players an opportunity to experience what a properly organized event feels like.” -IM Andrew Kayonde, 6-time Zambian Chess Champion

The Grandmaster

Being intelligent and possessing a character of tempered steel is great indeed but not enough to make the progress you need. To get smarter...

(Continued in Part 2...)


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Final standings - Rapid

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Amin Bassem 7,5 29,00
2 Haddouche Mohamed 6,5 24,50
3 El Adnani Mokliss 5,5 22,00
4 Rakotomaharo Fy 5,5 17,75
5 Kayonde Andrew 5,0 24,50
6 Solomon Kenny 5,0 16,00
7 Silva David 4,0 12,00
8 Ssegwanyi Arthur 3,5 9,50
9 Adu Oladapo 1,5 7,75
10 Belkhodja Slim 1,0 1,50

All games - Rapid

 

Final standings - Blitz

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Amin Bassem 14,0 113,25
2 Silva David 12,0 94,25
3 Haddouche Mohamed 11,0 87,75
4 Solomon Kenny 10,5 84,50
5 Belkhodja Slim 10,0 79,75
6 El Adnani Mokliss 8,5 66,75
7 Kayonde Andrew 8,0 61,50
8 Adu Oladapo 7,0 59,50
9 Rakotomaharo Fy 5,5 50,25
10 Ssegwanyi Arthur 3,5 23,50

All games - Blitz

 

Links




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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Philip Feeley Philip Feeley 8/13/2018 01:27
And who is the guy in the centre of the Stop the Clock photo?

And while I appreciate the photos of dancing and singing, or other active events, I will there were small videos of such things instead of static photos.

Thanks for all you do, Alina!
Philip Feeley Philip Feeley 8/13/2018 01:23
So who is the player in the story of traveling difficulties?

I look forward to part 2.
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