In the times of the pandemic, the OTB (over the board) competitions are sorely missed, however, the opportunity to play online has its advantages as well. While playing face-to-face is a unique experience, playing from home can spare time and finances for travel and accommodation.
Thus, many more players can participate in tournaments who otherwise may have been prevented. But, there is another hurdle to overcome – you need a computer and a reliable internet connection and you have to get familiar with the rules and peculiarities of online chess, such as the possibility to pre-move and the dangers of the dreaded mouse-slip.
The maiden edition of the Africa Online Individual Chess Championship 2021 was held from 1-6 February. A closing ceremony was held on the Sunday, the 7th February. It was a 9-round Swiss with a time control of 25 min + 10 sec increment per move. It was divided in five categories: Main Open, Women, Seniors, U20 Open and U20 Girls. The first prize for the Main Open was 3000 USD, 2000 USD for Women, 1000 USD for Seniors, 400 USD for Open U20 and 300 USD for Girls U20. The event was not rated and therefore norms and titles could not be achieved.
Until the 5th round, the 20-year-old Malagasy IM Fy Antenaina Rakotomaharo was in the lead with a perfect 5/5 score. In the the 6th and 7th round, played on the same day, he was paired against the two Egyptian heavyweights GMs Ahmed Adly and Amin Bassem and he lost to both! With these two consecutive losses his hopes for a victorious finale faded.
Fy Antenaina Rakotomaharo at the Batumi Chess Olympiad, 2018 | Photo: Africa Chess Media
Rakotomaharo had also claimed victory against GM Bilel Bellahcen, the top-ranked Algerian player, and with him and the CM Donaldo Paviafrom Mozambique he shared third with 6/9. However, on tiebreak, based on better Bucholz, the bronze medal went to Bellahcene.
Ahmed Adly, Amin Bassem and Bilel Bellahcen at the African Games in Rabat, Morocco 2019 | Photo: FIDE/ Mohamed Bounaji
The 2021 Africa Online Individual Championship was won by GM Ahmed Adly with 7½/9 (six wins, three draws). Half a point behind followed his compatriot, currently the top African player, GM Amin Bassem, who also remained undefeated with four draws and five wins.
The two Egyptian grandmasters have been dominating the African chess scene for quite some time. Adly was African Chess Champion in 2005, 2011 and 2019. Bassem was African Chess Champion in 2009, 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2018.
Ahmed Adly at his home during the Classic Sitges Online Tournament 2020
I found the set up of the photo interesting – why do you need a board when you play online? As Adly explained, for rapid online tournaments a PC is enough but for classic online tournaments you also need an electronic board.
Adly sent a written comment on his play in the 2021 African Online Championship:
Of course, I am very proud being the Continental Champion. Even though it’s not the first time, it always tastes good:). Also, I truly want to thank Fide and Mr Dvorkovich for the full support and the African Chess Confederation and Mr Lewis Nkube. I am proud being here during this era which sees a huge development for our beloved Royal Sport.
Adly singled out his 1st round game against Manuel Alberto from Angola as his most interesting of the tournament.
Probably the most exciting battle was played in the Women section where the best African players participated. WGM Amina Mezioud won gold with 8.0/9, while silver and bronze went to WIM Sabrina Latreche (7½/9) and WIM Khadidja Latreche (7.0/9), who are sisters. All three are from Algeria.
After the event I contacted Amina Mezioud via the internet, and she was happy about her success:
The organization of the 2021 Women’s African Championship online by Fide and ACC was unprecedented! I would like to thank FIDE and ACC for maintaining our annual African Championship despite the Covid pandemic, as well as the contribution of the Tornelo site, which provided us with the best playing conditions. We were very well guided and assisted by pleasant organizers and referees.
I won the title of African Women’s Online Champion under a great stress because we are less used to playing for the title online, with a mouse, instead of with the wooden pieces that we miss so much. But it was a rewarding experience and I am very happy winning the first place. Many countries were represented by very good players.
Amina Mezioud at the Chess Olympiad 2018 in Georgia | Photo: Kim Bhari
Amina was so kind to analyze a game from the tournament for this report.
My 6th round game against Egyptian WGM Shahanda Wafaa was the most interesting and most crucial. I was classified 2nd and I had no room for error in order to maintain my position and play for first place, which was only half a point away.
The top seed, WGM Shahenda Wafa from Egypt, two-time African Woman Champion (2017 and 2018), finished fifth with 6.0/9.
The surprise of the tournament was Linda Dalitso Shaba from Zimbabwe, an untitled, lower rated player (1642) who finished fourth with 6½/9.
Linda Dalitso Shaba | Photo: Zimbabwe Chess Federation
The winner of the Seniors section, South African FM Charles De Villiers, 7 times South African Champion, kept the lead throughout the tournament and finished victorious (8,5/9) with 2 points ahead the second placed, the Moroccan Zoheir Slami (6,5/9). He conceded only one draw against the third placed, the Kenyan CM John Mukabi (5,5/9).
FM Charles de Villiers | Photo: Bruvs Chess Media
It is disappointing to note that Zoheir Slami, who is otherwise an experienced international arbiter, was the only representative of his country in all sections. Could it be that the lamentable, disorderly chess state of Morocco (about which we wrote here and here) left the players lethargic and weary of competitions? Hopefully, Slami’s silver for the country will stimulate the Moroccan players not to miss future opportunities.
IA Zoheir Slami at the Chefchaouen International Chess Festival 2019 | Photo: Diana Mihajlova
U20 Open and U20 Girls
The Algerians had certainly a good tournament winning the top three places in the women’s section, bronze in the Main Open and gold in both Open and Girls U20.
The U20 Open African Champion is FM Lamine Brahami who had a better Bucholz in a joint first (7½/9) with FM Domingoes Junior from Angola. Mauritania’s Mohamed Abderrahim Taleb Mohamed (7.0/9) took bronze also thanks to a better Bucholz in a shared third place with Banele Mhango from South Africa.
WIM Lina Nassir of Algeria was the winner in the U20 Girls section (8.0/9). WFM Besa Masaiti from Botswana took silver (7.0/9) and the untitled Davida Strong from South Africa took bronze (6½/9).
FM Lamine Brahami, the U20 Open African Champion 2021 | Photo: Brahami’s Facebook page
On another note, as it is, sadly, highly expected at online tournaments, Beghriche Rami Tedjeddine, who started in the Open U20 was eliminated from the tournament because he was suspected to get assistance. This, as well as a dubious rule called ‘Fair Play methodology’ under which the player cannot appeal against the arbiter’s decision was reported in the Africa Chess Media.