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On Chess: St. Louis showcases chess in Africa

Grandmaster Bassem Amin of Egypt won the Cote d'Ivoire Rapid and Blitz Invitation in July, 2018.
Graham Jurgensen

Inspired by the Grand Chess Tour, the FIDEC (Ivory Coast Chess Federation) teamed up with the Kasparov Chess Foundation (KCF) to bring out the best of African chess. These efforts culminated in the Cote d'Ivoire Rapid (25+10d) & Blitz (5+3d) Invitational that took place July 25–29. The field included 10 players from 10 different African nations, each of them being the top-rated player from their respective countries. The field was as follows:

With a total prize pool of $15,000, the event also brought the largest purse for a rapid/blitz event in the history of Africa. But of arguably greater consequence is that it provided the ideal stage for some lesser-known players to showcase their skill and prove what many already suspect: that African players are alarmingly underrated.
This was also a historic moment for African chess, because the St. Louis Chess Club provided live commentary. This was my first time doing commentary, and it was thrilling to play over games where I had to articulate what went through my mind on the spot.

First, as it pertains to live commentary, I would not be surprised if this quicker-time-control format overtook classical chess in the future. Blitz chess, in particular, allows for a much more engaging experience with the viewer. When I first learned that I would be the commentator, I quickly turned to one of the most entertaining chess events I ever saw: the 1988 World Blitz Championship in Saint John, New Brunswick. Not only was the event top level, but so was the production value and the commentary. The fact that I still hold it in such high esteem and have watched the whole thing several times speaks volumes. I would not go so far as to say that blitz will rule the chess world (as Vladislav Tkachiev proposed in a very interesting interview), but it could definitely be carved out and perfected as a niche.

Secondly, I am impressed by the raw talent and uncompromising style of the participants — which I assume is a microcosm for the continent, as it was a truly representative event. I am optimistic about the future of African chess and hope the players, especially the youngest ones, get the needed support and opportunities to work and perfect their craft. At the end of the tournament, it was grandmaster Amin Bassem who came out on top of both the rapid and blitz portions. As African chess continues to grow and prosper, I am optimistic that we will see more top-level events like this one.

Even though the Cote d'Ivoire Rapid & Blitz has come to an end, the St. Louis Chess Club will start up another round of commentary for the last two stops on the Grand Chess Tour: the St. Louis Rapid & Blitz, and the Sinquefield Cup. Don’t miss all the action live, starting Aug. 10 on grandchesstour.org.

Robert Hungaski is a grandmaster from New York City. He has won several medals at the Pan-American Junior Chess Championships and served as the coach for the U.S. team at the World Youth Championships in 2013 and 2014. Hungaski has been Grandmaster in Residence at the Saint Louis Chess Club once before and recently joined the broadcast team for the Cote d'Ivoire Rapid & Blitz. 

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