Interview: GM Bassem Amin, Egypt and Africa’s Top Chess Player

GM Bassem Amin is Egypt’s highest-rated (2634) and Africa’s top chess player. His most recent success came at the 2014 Africa Zone 4.2 Individual Chess Championships held in Cairo last month where I was attending the FIDE trainers’ seminar. Pinning him down for a face-to-face interview proved difficult owing to our conflicting schedules but thanks to modern technology, I was able to ask him a few questions about his chess career, nevertheless. Read on to know how he started out, his views on the importance of social media and future goals.

GM Bassem Amin waiting for his opponent during the Zone 4.2 Individual Chess Championships
GM Bassem Amin waiting for his opponent during the Zone 4.2 Individual Chess Championships

Who introduced you to chess? How old were you then? What were your early years as a chess player like?

My father introduced me to chess when I was about 4.5 years old. He wasn’t a professional player; he just knew how to play the game. I started playing with him and other family members and he noticed I was very interested in the game so he started to look for trainers to improve my level. I started playing in tournaments and my first tournament was the Egyptian youth under-12. I was aged below 6 and finished second in that tournament!

Photo from a newspaper story when Bassem was a child
Photo from a newspaper story when Bassem was a child

You’ve been a Grand Master for 8 years now. How difficult was the journey from an untitled player to GM? Where did the financial support come from to enable you to play in so many international tournaments throughout your career?

Of course it has been a very long and difficult journey especially with very little support from the country to chess, so of course when I first started playing my father had to pay for trainers and to play in open tournaments all around Egypt and so on…for the international tournaments usually the Egyptian Chess Federation pays the expenses but sometimes I pay for myself too if they have financial problems!

What is your training regime like before/during any major tournament?

Before tournaments, I try to work a lot, of course, on chess. Recently, I’ve been working more on openings which is becoming more important especially in top tournaments as good preparation can help you through the entire game. Also, if possible, I play some training games either online or with friends from the Egyptian team.

During the tournament, usually it is about analysing the game that has just finished and preparing for next opponent!

Winner of the 9th Mediterranean Individual Chess Championships in Greece / Photo by Elena Boric
Winner of the 9th Mediterranean Individual Chess Championships in Greece / Photo by Elena Boric

Congratulations on winning the Zone 4.2 Individual Chess Championships! Of all the players you faced in the tournament, who gave you the toughest challenge? What did you think of your East African opponents and how can they improve their game to get to IM/GM level?

Thank you. 🙂 I scored 8.5 out of 9 so of course the game I drew with IM Ezat Mohamed was a tough one. Also, some of the games I won weren’t that easy especially the one against Uganda player Haruna Nsubuga in Round 8 where I played some bad moves and he played some very good moves. He was close to getting at least a draw, but luckily for me he played a bad move and then it became winning again.

Apart from playing in the zonal tournament, you also attended the trainers’ seminar in Cairo. How come? Are you thinking of becoming a trainer or do you think it’s just useful?

The seminar was held in the same hotel where we stayed and it started after 6 rounds of the tournament. I was already leading the tournament so I thought it would be possible to attend the seminar and play the rounds after. Of course it was very long 2 days but luckily I managed to attend the seminar and still won my games at the tournament so everything went well. 🙂

The reason, as you said, was in case I decide at some moment in the future to become a trainer I will need the official title from FIDE. Second reason is: I thought it will also be useful for my chess as am working on my own; I have no coach so it’s good to know what I should be working on. Especially since the lecturer of the seminar is one of the best and most successful coaches in the world.

You’re one of very few top players in Africa to have an active presence on Facebook and Twitter. How important do you think it is to be active on social media these days? Does it help with corporate sponsorship? What was the main reason for you to create your own Facebook page and Twitter account?

I think the main problem with chess in Africa and even worldwide is related to media and low coverage of chess tournaments, that’s why I think nowadays social media gives us very good opportunity to spread the game and make more people to know about chess. For my Facebook page and Twitter account, both weren’t my idea I have to admit! It was a friend of mine, Dr. Mina Nissem, who told me that I should have a Facebook page and Twitter account and he created them for me and then I started using both regularly.

 

 

Lastly, what does someone who has already achieved so much at such a young age aspire to? What are your chess goals for the future?

I like to take it one step at a time so my current chess goal is to reach 2700 rating but that requires a lot of hard work, so I am trying my best now especially after graduating from faculty of medicine which has been taking so much of my time!

(Photo credits: Andreas Kontokanis, Paras Gudka, Elena Boric and courtesy)