Jeddah International Youth Chess Festival: Impeccable

by Diana Mihajlova
2/10/2024 – The Jeddah Youth Chess Festival was held from 24 to 30 January in this Red Sea port in Saudi Arabia. It was a celebration of youth, chess and friendship while soaking the culture and hospitality of a welcoming nation that is opening its doors and hearts to chess and all sports. Diana Mihajlova reports.

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A celebration of chess and friendship

'Impeccable' is the word to be attributed to the Jeddah Youth Chess Festival that was held from 24 to 30 January in this Red Sea port in Saudi Arabia. It was a celebration of youth, chess and friendship while soaking the culture and hospitality of a welcoming nation that is opening its doors and hearts to chess and all sports. An electrifying energy was oozing throughout the Ramada Hotel in central Jeddah where the tournament took place. No wonder, as the protagonists were young guns, some of the strongest up-and-coming in the chess world at the moment, born in 2005 or later. It was a tournament for players under 18 years of age, but the ones that were truly making waves were 12 or 13-year-olds in the Masters section and barely 4 years old in the open section, 'Karpov Cup'.

Jeddah Young Chess Festival 2024

Hotel Ramada by Wyndham Continental

Jeddah Young Chess Festival 2024

The welcoming, attentive hotel staff led by the manager Abdulkader Omar Mussa (far right)

The excellent organisation and welcoming attitude were evident already at the airport, where Amine Alila's smiling face met the players and whisked them to the Ramada hotel that was to be home for nine glorious days.

Jeddah Young Chess Festival 2024

Amine Alila, meeting and greeting at its best

The Polish players and I arrived together in Jeddah after having spent a whole night at the Istanbul airport.

Jeddah Young Chess Festival 2024

At the Jeddah airport: Jakub Seemann, Jan Klimkowski and his father, Tomasz

At the hotel, a complementary coffee and dates await the guests. We may well associate coffee with Arabia, there is even a famous brand 'Arabica' coffee. However, the coffee served in Jeddah is nothing like the coffee we know. It is of dark, golden yellow colour with some fruity and nutty taste. It comes from Khawlani Coffee Beans that are grown in the Khawlan Mountains in the Jeddah region.

Jeddah Young Chess Festival 2024

Coffee and dates

Coffee is viewed as a symbol of generosity in Saudi Arabia. Khawlani tribes' techniques for cultivating their special coffee have been preserved for centuries and are practised until today. In 2022, "Knowledge and practices related to cultivating Khawlani coffee beans" was inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

Jeddah Young Chess Festival 2024

Khawlani coffee beans and tribes on the Khawlan mountain | Photo: UNESCO

According to Arab News, 'Khawlani coffee is one of the most luxurious and famous types in the world and has been cultivated in the south of the Kingdom for more than eight centuries. It is associated with the customs, poetry and songs of the people of the region'.

Dates are also an iconic symbol and a national staple of Saudi Arabia, where they grow naturally and survive the harsh desert climate because of their long roots.

Jeddah Young Chess Festival 2024

Various types of dates at the famous Al Balad market in the old town of Jeddah

The evening before the start of the tournament, players, staff and guests were treated to an open-air traditional dinner in the desert where the drawing of colours was also performed.

Jeddah Young Chess Festival 2024

A joyous dinner among friends, eating on the floor like the bedouins did

Jeddah Young Chess Festival 2024

Andy Woodward from the USA draws his colour from a small local craft cup, looked on by Raunak Sadhwani and Pranav Venkatesh from India

Jeddah Young Chess Festival 2024

Calm before the storm: a group photo of all masters in a tent in the desert on the eve of the start of the tournament — from left: Yagiz Kaan Erdogmus, Andy Woodward, Jakub Seeman, Jan Klimkowski, Volodar Murzin, the organiser, Chokri Saidi, Raunak Sadhwani, Pranav Venkatesh, Candela Francisco Guecamburu, Faustino Oro, Jaime Rey Martinez

Jeddah Young Chess Festival 2024

A dignified atmosphere in a superbly appointed playing hall

Jeddah Young Chess Festival 2024

Chokri Saidi, the organiser and sponsor of the Jeddah Youth Chess Festival and the Djerba Chess Festival 

The Jeddah International Youth Chess festival is of particular significance for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, confirming its integration on the world scene of chess and sports.

The Festival is welcomed and supported by the Saudi Chess Federation.

Jeddah Young Chess Festival 2024

The president of the Saudi Chess Federation, Abdullah Al-Wahshi, performing the ceremonial first move

A seal of approval was also given by the Saudi royal family. Two royal princes participated in the Open Karpov Cup, Al Saud, Khalid Bin Talal (U10) and Al Saud, Faisal Bin Talal (U8). They started the tournament as unrated but, as they both earned points — Khalid, 3½ /9, and Faisal, 2½ /9 — they have achieved their first FIDE rating.

In the sixth round, the two princes were paired against each other. On this occasion, the older brother, Khalid, won, but who knows what the future holds.

Jeddah Young Chess Festival 2024

Al Saud vs Al Saud: Khalid Bin Talal vs Faisal Bin Talal, 1-0

Their mother, Aseil Alshehail, every day would bring them to the playing hall and would collect them at the end of the game.

In a youth tournament, parents are equally 'participants'. They live their children's anxieties, fears, pride and joy. As a mother of two young children, gripped by the magic of chess, Aseil shared her thoughts and concerns:

When my children expressed interest in playing chess, I must admit, I did not fully understand the depth and complexity it would entail. As any parent would do, when I realised their interest, I wanted to support and nurture their passion. Little did I know it would take me to a new world of valuable learning experiences for myself.

I learn so much about themselves by observing them and their behaviour. When they come back from a game, I look into their eyes to guess whether they have lost or won. Chess teaches children critical thinking, strategising, and patience at a very young age. It is exposure to real life. It teaches them resilience as well. They learn to lose and accept the loss. My sons have been playing chess for over a year. It is a bit challenging to know the right approach when I realise that they are spending too much time on chess on the internet, but then, I am happier that they do not spend their time on other on-screen activities!

Aseil is very supportive of the festival and hopes there will be more international chess events in the Kingdom:

The Jeddah International Youth festival is a significant event that showcases Saudi Arabian dedication to sports and international collaboration. We are very thrilled to welcome all international players and provide them with a world-class, exceptional chess experience. The festival is a testament to our commitment to foster a thriving chess community and promote its values. I am very much looking forward to attending future local events in Saudi Arabia.

Jeddah Young Chess Festival 2024

A promenade along the Red Sea in central Jeddah

To be continued...

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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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