Bassem Amin: "Reaching 2750 is my next goal"

by Dhananjay Khadilkar
6/4/2019 – Bassem Amin has many firsts to his name. The Egyptian Grandmaster is a five-time African chess champion and the only player from Africa to have ever crossed the 2700 Elo mark. He serves on FIDE's Global Strategy Commission. Besides being a top chess player, he is also a doctor. Amin recently played for the club Clichy Echecs 92 in the French Top 12 championship in Brest in western France. DHANANJAY KHADILKAR caught up with Amin to talk on a range of issues from his performance in the first leg of the Grand Chess Tour to juggling chess career with medical studies.

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Turning something you love into a profession

Bassem Amin is the reigning African Champion and number one player on the continent. He lives in Tanta, Egypt, about 90 km from Cairo, or 90 minutes by train, a city of 5 million people. After completing roughly fifteen months of mandatory service in the Egyptian army — during which he was able to play in some competitions — his recent results have catapulted him to international attention. Among them, his first place in the Cote d'Ivoire Rapid Invitational, a precursor to the Grand Chess Tour's 2019 season inaugural event, also held in Abidjan. Later in the year, he took clear first at the strong Hoogeveen Open in the Netherlands, which also included a "Final Four" knockout.

He played in the German "Bundesliga", the Swedish "Elitserien" and most recently the French "Top 12" team championship, which is where we caught up with him for this brief interview.

A transcript of the video follows and you can also replay all Amin's recent games below via Players.ChessBase.com


DK: What are your impressions of the French Top 12 competition?

BA: This is the second time I am playing in the Top 12 event in France. I had played earlier in 2014. It is one of the strongest leagues in the world, which also has a unique system. The matches are played eleven days in a row unlike in Germany or Sweden, where they are held on the weekends.  It’s a good opportunity to play against eleven strong players.

Bassem Amin

Amin at the French Top 12 | Photo: French Chess Federation

How was the experience of playing against the chess elite in the first leg of the Grand Chess Tour leg in Abidjan?

It was a very good experience. I learned a lot from it. It was the first time in my life that I played in such a high-level tournament. To play 27 games — notwithstanding that it was rapid and blitz — against the world’s best chess players was something special. 

I am glad for having got this opportunity. Of course, I would have preferred to get better results, which I could have. Especially in the blitz competition, I had many winning positions which I couldn’t convert. But overall I still had some good results especially against Hikaru (Nakamura) and (Veselin) Topalov.

The tournament highlight for me was my performance against Hikaru, who is known for fast chess. So to beat him by a margin of 2½:½ is something big. Also, if you add the points I took from him, that is if he had won against me, he would be sharing first with (Magnus) Carlsen. So it also affected the tournament situation.

What kind of an impact can big tournaments like the GCT leg in Abidjan have on chess in Africa?

The Grand Chess Tour coming to Abidjan is a big step for Africa. The crowds in Abidjan were very happy to see the world’s best players, including the world champion. If other such tournaments are held every year, it will greatly help in improving and making chess more popular in Africa. It’s very important for the African continent to have such tournaments both for the players and for the people interested in chess. I really hope it continues.

How important was it for you to reach the 2700 Elo mark, which you did in October 2017?

It was a goal for me for a long time. No one from Africa even came close to do it. Attaining this landmark didn’t seem possible considering that I worked on my own and back then I didn’t play many tournaments. And I had very little support from my country.

So, it wasn’t easy. But I had set a goal and I knew I could do it. In March 2016, I started playing chess professionally after finishing my medical studies and army service. Reach the 2700 mark became my goal, and I am glad I did it. The first time I crossed 2700 was more than a year ago. Later, I lost some points but managed to cross the mark again and from the beginning of this year I have been above 2700. 

My next objective is to try to get to 2750 over the next two or three years. It is a difficult task. But one should always have a goal because, if you don’t, there’s no point in playing. I feel I can still improve a lot, for which I need to put in a lot of effort.

Bassem Amin (2017)

Amin in 2017 at the World Cup in Baku | Photo: Amruta Mokal

You are one of the rare professional chess players who is also a doctor. How did you juggle these extremely demanding disciplines?

It was very difficult. Studying medicine is very tough and so is pursuing a career in chess. You require a lot of time and energy to practice and to play in tournaments. I tried to play whenever I could. But two months before exams, I would stay at home and study medicine to compensate for what I missed. 

It worked out quite well during the academic years but after I graduated I had to make a choice. To work as a doctor, you need full time dedication. I knew I had to choose one. I couldn’t do both any more.

I have been playing chess for more than 25 years. I couldn’t just say 'no more chess'. I really love chess and enjoy playing it. It’s always good to turn something you love doing into a profession.

Bassem Amin's recent games

 

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Dhananjay is a Paris based journalist and a chess enthusiast. While he enjoys playing the game, he is more fascinated by the drama and history associated with it.
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TWCAOnline TWCAOnline 6/7/2019 10:07
Congratulations GM Amin Bassem, We are watching and we are inspired.
decepticus decepticus 6/7/2019 07:47
He reminds me of Anton Chekhov, the great Russian writer, who was also a doctor. When asked about the place of literature and medicine in his life, he used to say: medicine is my legal wife, but literature is my mistress.
Lavanda Lavanda 6/4/2019 11:50
Interesting interview, thanks!
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