Monastir – the chess hub of Tunisia

by Diana Mihajlova
9/9/2014 – Tunisia is one of the most active chess nations in the Magreb and Africa. Today, the country's enthusiasm for the game has not diminished, and a lot of efforts are being made to strengthen the position of chess and give it an important place in the cultural and sport activities of the country. Diana Mihajlova reports on the big chess festival in the beautiful city of Monastir.

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Monastir – the chess hub of Tunisia

By Diana Mihajlova

Chess has a long tradition in Tunisia. The Interzonal Tournament of 1967, played in the famous Tunisian resort Sousse, is among the most important historical chess events. It was Bobby Fisher, in his prime but already in frequent dispute with organisers, who abandoned the tournament after the tenth round when he was leading with seven wins and three draws. (The eventual winner was Bent Larsen followed by Viktor Korchnoi, Efim Geller, Svetozar Gligoric, Lajos Portisch and Sammy Reshevski).

We wrote about a very nice chess festival in El-Haouaria a couple of years ago, but its continuation is yet to be revived. However, not far away, on the central coastal tip, the beautiful city of Monastir has persisted for four years hosting an International Open, which has been steadily growing in number of participants and sections. By this year, it has became a large Chess Festival, with four Opens according to a rating strength, a Youth Tournament for the U- 12, an International Blitz tournament and two Master Tournaments for GM and IM norms. For two weeks, from 31 August to 14 September, 224 players from 22 countries are being offered a memorable chess experience.

Among about 30 titled players are international grandmasters Kiril Stupak (BLR), Davorin Kuljasevic (CRO), Aimen Rizouk (ALG), Mohamed Haddouche (ALG) and Attila Czebe (HUN).

The tournament is called ‘Mohamed Slama Memorial’ and is dedicated to the late Mohamed Slama, a respected local businessman who generously donated funds for cultural and social expansion of his hometown, including the main hospital ‘Ksibet El Mediouni’.

Photo: Mohamed Slama (1921-1986), the Monastir’s benefactor.

The festival is organised by Jawhar Ben Fredj in co-operation with the chess club ‘La Tour Blanche’ from the Monastir’s locality Ksibet El Mediouni. The Slama Brothers Group provided a generous sponsorship.

The chess team ‘La Tour Blanche’ of Ksibet El Mediouni, Tunisian Club Champion
in 2009 and 2010 with the organiser, Jawhar Ben Fredj, forth from left, standing.

The organizer with the chief arbiter Amira Marzouk, a local chess player
and the first Tunisian woman to qualify as an International Arbiter

The playing hall in the official hotel ‘Monastir Center’

The Youth Tournament U-12 in progress

Seriously at work at the Youth Tournament

Wonderful to see the number of girls participating

A Monastir girl, Mayssa Ben Fredj, is the Arab Youth Champion

The host hotel was the **** Monastir Center. This centrally located, seaside hotel, close to the medina and the ribat (fortress), with outdoor swimming pools and an adjoining sandy beach, offered its guests a lap of luxury for a mere 30€/night for accommodation and full board.

The unspoilt beach by the hotel

Before we get to tournament and results, hopefully with some norms that might be achieved at the IM and GM tournaments that are still in progress, we would like to invite you to savour some more of the beautiful city of Monastir – in pictures.

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Traditionally a fishing port, today a major tourist resort, it is situated in the Sahel area, 20 km south of Sousse and 162 km south of the capital, Tunis.

A panorama of Monastir

Monastir is an ancient city dating from Phoenician times. It includes a city fortress or ‘ribat’, which was the usual defensive feature built along a frontier during the first years of the Muslim conquest of North Africa (ca. 632 AD). The ribat houses an Islamic museum. This impressive fortification has been used as a location for many international movies including the miniseries Jesus of Nazareth and Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

A dominant monument in the city is the Mausoleum dedicated to Habib Bourguiba (1903 – 2000), the Tunisia’s first president who was born in Monastir. The Mausoleum stands imperiously at the city’s Sidi el-Mezeri cemetery, near by the ribat.

A close-up of the Mausoleum’s dome [photo: HolidayCheck]

The Great Mosque (9th century)

The long central beach and the city’s marina

Rocky formations along the sandy beach

In the middle of the tournament, a very enjoyable Tunisian party was held,
with typical folk music, dances and plenty of local delicacies

Don't try this at home: a tricky number during the party

Cous-cous, the most famous dish of the Magreb

Chillies are a customary accompaniment to the Tunisian cuisine…

…as are the sticky sweets

The tournament participants and guests had a choice of various tourist excursions including tours of the city’s historical monuments, boat trips and scuba diving. The Monastir’s seaside is known for its colourful and rich marine life that can be explored in guided, diving expeditions.

Diving into the Monastir’s sea world

The wonderful sea life at an easy reach to the more adventurous

Tournament website – part two to follow soon –

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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