Mohammed VI Prize - The players (part 2)

by Diana Mihajlova
12/2/2023 – As described in the article "The Never Ending Saga of Moroccan Chess" (Part 1 and Part 2), the International Prix Mohammed VI tournament had an unfortunate end, as the winners did not receive their prizes. That incident did not take away from the players' efforts and performances, though, as shown here by Diana Mihajlova. | Pictured: Rising star Kevin Michael George with his parents and his coach, GM Bassem Amin

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To find out more about the top performers in the event, read Part 1 of this report!

The three Lithuanians at the Prix Mohammed VI who represented their country at the 43rd Olympiad in Batumi: (from right) Pultinevicius, Laurusas and Stremavicius | Photo: Lithuanian Chess Federation

Titas Stremavicius was a bronze medallist at the 2015 European Youth Chess Championship in the under-18 category. He won the Lithuanian Chess Championship in 2021.

At the 2018 Olympiad in Batumi he was undefeated and made his second GM standard. He broke the 2500 barrier at the 2019 Southwest Open in Texas and completed his GM norms in the same year after winning the St Louis GM Invitational tournament.

A screenshot of Titas, taken from a video interview made during the St Louis Spring Chess Classic, 2022

Titas spent time in the USA as a student at the University of Texas at Dallas, where he graduated with a BS in Finance and Economics. He was a chess instructor at the UT Dallas Chess Summer Camps.

His stay in America was crucial for both his chess and academic career. He is currently on a visit to Kaunas, his hometown in Lithuania, but is preparing for life in the USA as his green card is due next year.

It seems that Titas is disillusioned with chess and has his eye on poker. "I have only one chess goal left - to get over 2600. After that, there is a good chance that my professional chess career will come to an end and I will move on to another activity, most likely poker."

Titas (left) playing against Viktorija Cmilyte-Nielsen, the famous Lithuanian chess player turned politician, at the traditional Seimas Cup of the Republic of Lithuania, 2014 | Photo: Made in Vilnius

Titas with cup and the Basque beret after winning the San Sebastian Open, April 2023 | Photo: Basque Chess Federation

Titas did not win the Prix Mohammed VI, but he considers it one of his best chess experiences. "I played against the former world number 2 in this chess event, and it was my best tournament ever. I want to go through the games and share my experiences and thoughts from my time in Casablanca". He is doing this in a series of YouTube videos covering his own games from the first six rounds. He plans to add the remaining games by the end of the year.

The round-5 game was against Mamedyarov. It ended in a draw, but is probably the most instructive because of a single, elusive 'g4'. He regrets not having played 20.g4, a crucial move that could have given him a win against the top seed and one of the best players in the world.

The round-5 game against Mamedyarov

Titas Stremavicius vs. Hikaru Nakamura, 1-0

I came across a fascinating post on Titas' Facebook page. Having won a game against Hikaru Nakamura on a Titled Tuesday, he was immediately considered a 'suspect'. The post read: "I guess anyone who beats Hikaru at TT is immediately flagged as a potential cheater and needs to be inspected during a 3-minute game. Thank you for ruining my event".

GM Daniel Fernandez replied: "Yeah man, if I'm paired against Hikaru, I just automatically resign. It's a lose-lose".

Does this mean that considers Hikaru to have a monopoly on winning all the time and whenever someone wins against him they are considered cheaters?

Titas explains this incident:

After my win against Hikaru I was 'randomly selected' for a fair play check. That was the exact message: 'Hello, this is Georges Saba from staff. You have been randomly selected for a fair play review. Please join this Zoom call and turn on your screen sharing. Failure to do so will result in you being kicked out of the tournament'. I have a problem with two things: firstly, the next game had already started, but due to the urgency of the message, I prioritised joining the Zoom call, which resulted in me being flagged in the game. Secondly, the wording "random fair play screening" - I do not think it was random.

Here is the game against Hikaru:

Another player that stood out at the Prix Mohammed VI was Kevin Michael George. A 14-year-old FIDE Master from Egypt, Kevin won or drew games against grandmasters at least 200 rating points above him, scored 4 /9, added a whopping 100 Elo points to his rating and achieved his final IM norm!

Kevin Michael George receiving his IM norm certificate

Round 5: GM Tomas Laurusas vs Kevin Michael George, with IM Roberto Carlos Gomez Ledo (CUB) in the background

Kevin's impressive CV lists numerous cups and medals, including 1st place at the Egyptian National Championship U10 (2019), 1st place at the African Youth Chess Championship U10 (2019), 1st place at the Arab Youth Online Chess Championship U12 (2020), 1st place at the African Youth Chess Championship U16 (2021), 1st place at the African Youth Chess Championship U16 (2022), 1st place at the 1st, 2nd and 5th Int. EGY Chess Academy Rapid Championship (2021/22), 1st place at the African Youth Chess Championship U18 (2023).

He was coached by GM Shereif Ashraf, the coach of the Egyptian national team and founder of the Egypt Chess Academy, who played a crucial role in Kevin's early training.

The coach and his pupil: Kevin and Shereif Ashraf | Photo: Kevin George's Facebook

Kevin started playing chess at the age of 8, has competed in over 80 tournaments and played over 600 rated games with a winning rate of over 65%, and has steadily improved his rating to be ranked 14th in his country. This would not have been possible without the sacrifices and help of his supportive family.

His mother, Nermen, who has taken on the role of his manager, diligently updates his CV and keeps track of his achievements. She points to the usual difficulties faced by young prodigies at the start of their careers, the most obvious being financial: training fees are exorbitant, and she struggled to make ends meet. Undeterred by the financial obstacles, Kevin decided to take matters into his own hands. He turned to online resources, relentlessly studying and practising chess on various platforms, determined to improve his skills independently.

Kevin with his parents and his current coach, top Egyptian GM Bassem Amin | Photo: Kevin George's Facebook

With a rating of 2317, Kevin is certainly close to completing his IM title. He still needs a few more international opportunities and, of course, a sponsor would speed up this coveted title. But Kevin's ambitions do not stop there. In the words of his mother: "Kevin wants to make his mark on the international chess scene. His dream is to become a grandmaster and join the world's chess elite".

Sophie Milliet, the French International Master, multiple French Champion and member of the French Olympic Women's Team, was the best woman in the event (5/9).

IM Sophie Milliet vs GM Elshan Moradiabadi

Iranian-American GM Elshan Moradiabadi was a co-winner (with GM Aleksey Sorokin) of the 2022 US Open. With his partner, WGM Sabina-Francesca Foisor, they make original contributions to the study of chess. After their Sherlock's Method, a popular chess book for players who want to improve their rating from around 1700 OTB to 2300+, they have recently created the ChessEvolve Academy, which offers online chess lessons in small groups for all levels.

The President of the African Chess Confederation, Tshepiso Lopang, who was present throughout the tournament, receives a local handicraft gift

A heartwarming photo on Shirov's Facebook reminds us that tournaments forge friendships and are meeting places for long-lost friends.

Shirov: 'Cherish the memories and enjoy the present'; paired against Hichem Hamdouchi at the U16 World Championship and 35 years later, at the Prix Mohammed VI

The open section

In the open section, 490 players took part. Obviously, most of them were Moroccans. For many of them, it was a rare opportunity to play in an international tournament, perhaps for the first time. Some of the players who started as unrated finished the tournament with an international rating. A notable result in this category is that of Fariat Marouan, who started the tournament unrated but finished second with a 2153 performance. He scored 11/13 points and remained unbeaten, with only two draws.

Fariat Marouan obtained a first FIDE rating of 2081 in classical chess

Nidal Ghanui is another local player who is well known in the Moroccan chess scene. He is making steady progress and did not disappoint this time. He came third with the same number of points as the winner and the runner-up.

Nidal Ghanui in the Mohammed VI open section

Nidal Ghanui, the champion with 7/7, a few months earlier, at the Casablanca Chess Week | Photo: Casablanca Chess Week

The large number of female participants was particularly striking.

Girls in the open at the Prix Mohammed VI

Nadezhda Valerevna Marochkina was a guest at the tournament as the African Chess Confederation's vice-president. She also participated as a player and, with 8.5/13, she was the best woman.

Nadezhda Valerevna Marochkina

Nadezhda is Russian but she is based in Senegal. As an entrepreneur, she is 'dedicated to making a positive impact on the continent', as her LinkedIn entry states. Most importantly, she has assumed a role of ambassador for chess in Africa. She is a Founder of the Dakar Chess Academy and its Fund Raising, Strategic Partnerships and Marketing Director.

It runs in the family: Adam Hamdouchi, the 12-year-old son of WGM Adina-Maria Hadouchi and GM Hichem Hamdouchi

The first seed in the Open, IM Isaac Chukwudalu Okeke from Nigeria

The winner of the Open section was a Palestinian Candidate Master, Mohamed Allam. He was 13th seed but emerged victorious with 11/13 points. He made a draw with the second-placed player and lost only to Nidal Ghanoui. This was obviously a good year for Allam. He also won the national championship with a perfect score, 9/9.

Mohamed Allam with his winner's cup

The troubled Palestinian nation cultivates chess in spite of all obstacles. Allam is ranked third nationally. The best Palestinian player is IM Christian D Michel Yunis, followed by 14-year-old FM Mohammed Seder.

Top Palestinian players: IM Christian D Michel Yunis and FM Mohammed Seder | Photos: FIDE

We are numb before the unhappy events that befell on Israel and Palestine. Mohamed Allam expressed his feelings on his Facebook page with this bittersweet photo.


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.