Africans at the FIDE World Cup 2021: Preview

The Chess World Cup is one of the most exciting events for chess enthusiasts on the calendar. The biennial knockout event is always filled with drama and excitement as the top players challenge each other to secure spots for the Candidates Tournament. And this year will be no exception, as FIDE, the world body, has increased the number of participants from 128 to 208 and they have also added a Women’s World Cup with 103 participants. Many of the world’s top players will descend upon Sochi, Russia from the 10th of July 2021 till the 8th of August 2021. The expansion of the event has allowed a record of 22 players —sixteen in the open and six in the women section— from the African continent to participate in this prestigious tournament. In this article, we will take a look at who will be representing Africa at the World Cup and who they will face in the first round.

FIDE World Cup 2021

With the winner and runner-up qualifying for the 2022 FIDE Candidates, the event will be tightly contested. World Champion Magnus Carlsen and his 2018 challenger Fabiano Caruana are the top seeds in the event. The winner of the 2019 edition, Teimour Radjabov from Azerbaijan, will not be playing, but several previous winners will attempt to recreate their success, including two-time winner Levon Aronian, the 2016 World Championship Challenger Sergey Karjakin, eight-time Russian Champion Peter Svidler, and the 2012 World Championship challenger Boris Gelfand. As mentioned before, we have sixteen participants in this tournament, including the current African Champion Ahmed Adly, and the highest rated African, Bassem Amin. Let us see who our African brothers will be facing the first round:

Dr GM Bassem Amin (24th seed) has a bye

GM Bassem Amin will be leading the African delegation | Photo Alina L’Ami

By virtue of being one of the top 50 seeds in the event (with a rating of 2703), the 5-time African Champion will automatically advance to the second round, where he will face the winner of the Hovhannes Gabuzyan (2590) and Bilel Bellahcene (2499) match. Bassem Amin will be hoping to improve on his previous performances in the World Cup (this will be his seventh appearance). He is the only African to have advanced to the second round back in 2015, when he beat Ivan Saric from Croatia, only to be knocked out by Dmitry Jakovenko in the next round. Having already matched that feat, I am confident that he can go even further and continue raising the bar for Africans.

GM Ahmed Adly (75th seed) vs GM Abdelrahman Hesham (182nd seed)

Winning his fourth African title over a month ago in Malawi, former World Junior Champion Ahmed Adly (2603) will take on his Egyptian compatriot and 2016 African Champion Abdelrahman Hesham (2397). Adly will be playing in his seventh World Cup (although he qualified for eight, he was unable to travel to the 2013 World Cup due to obligations with the Egyptian Army), while Hesham is making his debut. Although this is the most unfortunate pairing of the lot, as we will already have to say goodbye to one of our Grandmasters in the first round, it also means that we will have another African advancing to the second round! The winner of this match will face either Allen Chi Zhou (2193) or Lupulescu Constantin (2656), who recently participated in the Grand Chess Tour as a wildcard. Adly is the rating favourite, but anything can happen in this battle between two African giants.

GM Bilel Bellahcene (152nd seed) vs GM Hovhannes Gabuzyan (105th seed)

Bilel Bellahcene (2499), the 2018 Algerian champion and one of the most promising players on the continent, will take on the current Armenian champion, Hovhannes Gabuzyan (2590). Bellahcene made his World Cup debut in 2019 where he drew both classical games against Hikaru Nakamura before losing in the tiebreaks. If he manages to improve on his last performance, he will take on Bassem Amin, who, as we have already mentioned, has a bye in the first round. Bellahcene stands a very good chance to upset his higher rated opponent, and in doing so confirm that an African will advance to the third round for the first time ever.

GM Adham Fawzy (161st seed) vs GM Evgeny Alekseev (96th seed)

Our youngest grandmaster, Adham Fawzy (2485), will take on former Russian champion Evgeny Alekseev (2605). Fawzy, who recently came 3rd at the Africa Individual Chess Championships in Lilongwe, Malawi, will be making his debut in this event. This will be a great opportunity for the former African Junior champion to show that we can compete against the world’s best! If he manages to win, he will face the strong, Polish grandmaster Radoslaw Wojtaszek (2687).

GM Essam El Gindy (175th seed) vs GM Rasmus Svane (82nd seed)

In addition to the four Egyptian players that qualified via the Africa Individuals, Egypt also nominated the experienced grandmaster, Essam El Gindy (2420). He will be playing in his 7th World Cup against Rasmus Svane (2615) from Germany, who will be making his debut in the event. El Gindy’s best performance at the World Cup came in 2007 when he was paired against former FIDE World Champion, Ruslan Ponomariov. The 2003 African Champion managed to scalp Ponomariov in the first game , but unfortunately could not keep the lead and went down in the tiebreaks. This match-up of experience versus youth will certainly be one to watch.

IM Arthur Ssegwanyi (179th seed) vs GM Nihal Sarin (78th seed)

Arthur Ssegwanyi (2409) from Uganda is the only representative from East Africa and he will be up against one of the hottest talents in the chess world, Nihal Sarin (2620) of India. Nihal will come into this match in good form after winning the recently concluded Silver Lake Open in Serbia, but so will Ssegwanyi who recently crossed the 2400 mark. The Ugandan number one can also draw encouragement from his previous World Cup appearance where he scored a famous draw against the Candidate Anish Giri. The winner of this match will face the victor of the battle between the lowest seed Elmer Prudente (1998) and the highest seed without a bye (51st seed) Sanan Sjugirov (2661).

GM Amir Zaibi (183rd seed) vs GM Bogdan-Daniel Deac (74th seed)

Africa’s latest Grandmaster, Amir Zaibi (2396)

Africa’s latest Grandmaster, Amir Zaibi (2396), will take on the Romanian talent Bogdan-Daniel Deac, who recently performed very well in the Superbet Chess Classic. Zaibi won the 2019 Arab Chess Championships and with it his grandmaster title. He will be hoping to implement the lessons he learnt from the last time he played in the World Cup to increase his chances against this former chess prodigy. The winner of the match between Grigoriy Oparin (2654) and Ranindu Dishan Liyangage (2203) awaits Tunisia’s third grandmaster, if he makes it over the first hurdle.

IM Mohamed Tissir (186th seed) vs GM David Paravyan (71st seed)

Former African Champion and Olympiad gold medalist, Mohamed Tissir (2379), will be taking on the 2019 Gibraltar Masters winner, David Paravyan (2629) from Russia. Tissir will be making his debut in the modern version of the World Cup, but he did participate in the 2000 Chess World Cup, which some call the first Chess World Cup. The event was similar to the format we see in the Football World Cup, where they have a group stage and then a knockout stage. Tissir also participated in the 2004 FIDE World Chess Championship, which was a knockout event, where he was knocked out by the Russian grandmaster, Alexey Dreev in the first round. Tissir will be counting on his wealth of experience to upset his talented adversary.

IM Rodwell Makoto (190th seed) vs GM Vladislav Kovalev (67th seed)

The South African based International Master, Rodwell Makoto (2352) is paired against Vladislav Kovalev (2637). Kovalev has won many prestigious tournaments in his career and will be looking to see how far he can go in the World Cup this year, but Makoto is his first obstacle in the event. Makoto is well-known to be a grandmaster-slayer in the African chess community and will not take it easy on the Belarussian Grandmaster. Makoto just missed out on a grandmaster norm at the 2018 Olympiad and will hope to bounce back stronger. On paper this might look like a mismatch, but I think this battle between the two World Cup debutants could contain some surprises.

FM Daniel Barrish (193rd seed) vs GM Aryan Tari (64th seed)

Along with Adham Fawzy, the reigning South African champion Daniel Barrish (2313) is the youngest player representing Africa in the event. He will face another young player, and former World Junior Champion, Aryan Tari (2639) from Norway. Barrish has been a prominent name in the African chess community ever since he drew against former World Champion Garry Kasparov in a simultaneous event at the age of 11. Since then, he has gone on and continued to make great strides in his chess journey and will be hoping to collect the Norwegian number two’s scalp in this match. Interestingly, the Norwegian number one, Magnus Carlsen (2847), is in the same bracket and all that Barrish has to do is beat Tari and either Evgeny Bareev (2638) or Daniel Quizon (2319) in order to secure a match against the World Champion (assuming he wins his second round match). Easy right?

FM Abobker Mohamed Elarabi (194th seed) vs GM Alexander Motylev (63rd seed)

Libya’s nomination for the event is FIDE Master Mohamed Alarabi Abobker (2307), who is also the highest rated player of Libya. He will take on the legendary Alexander Motylev (2639) from Russia, who is one of the most well-known coaches in the world, but also a great player in his own right having won both the Russian and European Chess Championships. It will be a tough task for Abobker, but I am sure he will be up for the challenge. The winner of this match will face either Bashir Eiti (2340) or Rinat Jumabyev (2637) in the next stage.

Olanrewaju Ajibola (195th seed) vs GM Alexey Sarana (62nd seed)
The Nigerian representative is IM-elect Olanrewaju Ajibola (2303), who we recently spoke to here at Africa Chess Media and that article can be found here. His opponent is Alexey Sarana (2640) from Russia, who played in the 2019 World Cup, but was knocked out by his compratiot Alexander Predke in the first round. Ajibola will be hoping to be one of the players who shocks his higher-rated opponent. If he manages it, he will advance to play against the winner of IM Makoto and GM Kovalev. Could we see another all-African battle in this event?

FM Miguel Sergio (197th seed) vs GM Ivan Saric (60th seed)

Miguel Sergio (2286) is the Angola’s highest rated player in history with a peak rating of 2377. He will have to try and best Ivan Saric from Croatia (2645), who is another former European Champion. This will be a tough challenge for Sergio to overcome, but if he defeats the Croatian number one, the winner of the match between Alan Pichot (2630) and Sergio Minero Pineda (2365) will be waiting for him in the second round.

IM Chitumbo Mwali (198th seed) vs GM Haik M Martirosyan (59th seed)

IM Chitumbo Mwali (2281), the “Copper Eagle”

IM Chitumbo Mwali (2281), who is also known in the African circles as “Copper Eagle”, will take on Haik Martirosyan (2648) from Armenia. Former African Junior Champion versus Former Armenian Champion, this promises to be an interesting fight. Mwali is the fourth Zambian to participate in the World Cup, after IM Stanley Chumfwa, IM Gillan Bwalya and IM Richmond Phiri. He also won a silver medal at the 2009 All Africa Games on board 4.  The Copper Eagle will hope to fly the Zambian Flag high in Sochi, as he has done so many times in the past.

CM Chiletso Chipanga (205th seed) vs GM Adhiban Baskaran (52nd seed)

Qualifying via a controversial wildcard from the FIDE President (which we covered here), Chiletso Chipanga (2103) will be hoping to record the biggest upset of the tournament against Adhiban Baskaran (2660), “The Beast” from India. Chipanga is not unfamiliar with representing Africa and Malawi on the world stage. In 2018, he came 6th at the World Amateur Chess Championships after having won the African Amateurs Chess Championships the previous year. Can he write his name in the history books once again in this clash, which has the highest rating difference of all the matchups we have covered so far?

FIDE Women’s World Cup 2021

The women’s event will also take place from the 10th of July 2021 till the 4th of August 2021. There are three spots for the 2022 Women’s Candidates up for grabs. This is the first edition of the Women’s World Cup, although the Women’s World Chess Championship has used the knockout format several times in the past. The 2020 Women’s World Championship Challenger Aleksandra Goryachkina is the top seed, and there are several former World Champions in the field, including Antoaneta Stefanova, Alexandra Kosteniuk, Anna Ushenina, Mariya Muzychuk and Zhongyi Tan.

WGM Shrook Wafa (87th seed) vs IM Laura Unuk (42nd seed)

WGM Shrook Wafa is the highest rated African Female in the tournament

Four-time African Champion, WGM Shrook Wafa (2182) will play against IM Laura Unuk from Slovenia. Wafa participated in the 2015 Women’s World Championship which was also held in Sochi, Russia. She was knocked out in the first round by Ju Wenjun, who would go on to become the Women’s World Champion. Wafa is the highest rated African in the event and will be hoping to advance to the second round where Gunay Mammadzada (2443) from Azerbaijan is waiting.

WGM Shahenda Wafa (90th seed) vs IM Almira Skripchenko (39th seed)

The younger Wafa sister Shahenda will be making her debut at the World Cup 2021 | Photo by Amruta Mokal

Shahenda Wafa (2106) is a two-time African Champion from Egypt. Her opponent is former European Women’s Champion, Almira Skripchenko (2411). Shahenda Wafa is the younger sister of Shrook Wafa. She will be making her debut in this event. I am sure the two sisters are aiming to advance to the second round together. They would be the first African women to advance to the second round in this knockout format since WIM Marany Meyer from South Africa in the 2000 Women’s World Championships.

WIM Sabrina Latreche (92nd seed) vs IM Nataliya Buksa (37th seed)

Sabrina Latreche (2076) from Algeria will take on Nataliya Buksa (2413) from Ukraine. Latreche is a very experienced player and is a multiple national women’s champion, as well as a two-time Arab Women’s Champion. This match has the potential for a great fight, as her opponent is a former Women’s World Junior Champion. The winner of this match will play against the victor of the battle between IM Carissa Yip (2430) and WIM Sharmin Shirin Sultana (2011).

WGM Amina Mezioud (95th seed) vs IM Iulija Osmak (34th seed)

Africa’s latest Women’s Grandmaster, Amina Mezioud (2076), is facing Iulija Osmak (2418) from Ukraine. Osmak was in the global chess news recently when she was disqualified after winning the Women’s Rapid section of the FIDE World Online University Championships, but the Fair Play Panel of the event did not claim that they have “proof of actual cheating”, so she will feel like she needs to prove something in this event. However, I am sure that this will not faze Mezioud, who is a strong player and has played in several Women’s World Championships in the past and has won the Arab Chess Championships three times.

WIM Ayah Moaataz (99th seed) vs GM Anna Ushenina (30th seed)

Ayah Moaataz (2015) from Egypt will have the opportunity of a lifetime to play against a former World Champion. She will play against GM Anna Ushenina (2429) from Ukraine who won this very knockout format back in 2012 to become the Women’s World Champion. Although this might seem like a daunting task, I am sure that Moaataz will not just crack from the sheer magnitude of the challenge but will prepare diligently and give her all on the board. She came 3rd in the recent Africa Women’s Championships and will hope to take that momentum into this match.

WIM Jesse Nikki February (102nd seed) vs GM Valentina Gunina (27th seed)

2021 African Women’s champion, WGM-elect Jesse February will hope to make history

And finally, the last match-up that we are concerned with in the first round will be between the current African Women’s champion, WGM-elect Jesse February (1863), and three-time Russian and European Champion, Valentina Gunina (2436). This match could not come at a better time for February as she is in top form and full of confidence. Having already experienced the difficulty of a knockout event in the 2018 Women’s World Championship, she will be better prepared to take on such a high calibre opponent. Can she follow in the footsteps of her compatriot, Marany Meyer, to become only the second African woman to advance to the second round of a prominent knockout event?

As we can see, our African brothers and sisters have a tough challenge ahead of them. Most of them up are up against former national, continental and even world champions! It will definitely be a great experience for all of them and a great chance for them to make a name for themselves in the chess world. We wish them all the best and will follow their games with great attention. Continue making the African continent proud!

2 comments

  1. I am proud to see that the picture of GM Dr. Bassem Amin featured in this article, and the gorgeous trophy the GM is holding are from the « African Knights » tournament held in Abidjan (Côte d’Ivoire) in July 2018!

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