GM Bassem Amin: “Games won with black make all the difference in open events!”

Egyptian GM Dr. Bassem Amin is in the form of his life. The 28-year-old, who recently won the prestigious Abu Dhabi open, has had a string of successes in recent times. These victories have taken him within striking distance of the magical 2700 mark, a feat yet to be achieved by an African player.

Bassem graduated as a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery in 2012. Since the completion of his Army service in 2016, he has been playing chess professionally, and that with great success.

We caught up with Bassem for a quick chat post his triumph in Abu Dhabi. Catch Bassem talk about his journey to this coveted title, the key to success in open events and his chances at the upcoming World Cup in this concise interview.

(Picture: Abu Dhabi Chess Festival’s Twitter)


Shubham Kumthekar: A victory in the African Individual, then Lake Sevan and now Abu Dhabi. Congratulations! How do you feel about winning three strong tournaments in a short span and nearing 2700?

Bassem Amin: It feels great to win three strong tournaments in a row. Winning each of these tournaments is considered a big achievement, so winning all three of them was really unexpected!

Also, my expected September rating is 2699, including the African Clubs Tournament which was played in the end of July. Taking all this into account, I can say that the last 2 months have been the best in my chess career.

What were your expectations before the start of the Abu Dhabi Open?

I was seeded second behind Nigel Short. I knew I was one of the favourites to fight for the tournament title. But in a field as strong as we had in Abu Dhabi, each round is tough, right from round one!

You started with a hard-fought draw against a much lesser-rated player, but then scored five consecutive wins, including four against GMs. How did you get over the draw and stage such a powerful comeback?

Not just much lesser-rated but much younger as well – just 11 yrs old! However, I wasn’t too disappointed with the result as I thought I played quite a good game and so did my young opponent, who found some good moves. So I thought he deserved that half point.

11-year-old Gukesh D of India held Bassem to a draw in the very first round of the Abu Dhabi open. The game can be found here.  (Picture: Priyadarshan Banjan)

The second round victory against another young Indian (Ed. – Gaurav Kumar) was very important in terms of making a comeback. And when I started facing GMs, it felt less stressful – I think it is easier to face GMs in such tournaments!

You scored an important win over Salem in the penultimate round. A crucial round and such complicated calculations on the board, how did you manage to hold your nerves?

It was an intense game. We both were leading the event, so a win would give me the sole lead and a draw would mean going into the last round tied with Salem and Nigel, and having to play black in the last game. In light of this, I knew I had to take my chances against Salem and I think I played a great game. Of course, I was happy to find such a good move as 17. Qd2 over the board!

Bassem’s precise and powerful 17. Qd2!

I believe that being in good shape and good form made me feel confident and less stressful.

Going into the final round requiring only a draw to win the tournament is always a tricky situation. What was your strategy for the final game against Short?

Well, I don’t think I am too good when it comes to playing for a draw. Even my openings don’t help with that. So I decided to play a normal game but not risk too much. Unfortunately, I misplayed the opening and got a worse position. Thereupon, I defended very well and the Be4 sacrifice was the turning point of the game!

Which game of yours from the event is your personal favourite?

Actually, I was happy with more than one game of mine from the event – the game against Aryan Chopra, then the one against Indjic, and of course the crucial one against Salem. I consider the latter to be the best of the lot.

What, in your opinion, is the key to winning a strong open tournament like Abu Dhabi?

I think the most important factor is to win games with the black pieces. In open tournaments, the games won with black make all the difference!

From a seasoned campaigner (winner!?): Games won with black make all the difference in open events.

For many years, you and Adly have been leading the way for Egypt.  How is the chess scene back home?

Unfortunately chess in Egypt isn’t doing very well. Our federation has very little support from the ministry of sports. We do not have a coach or any sponsors for the national team.

You will be playing in the upcoming World Cup. What are your goals for the event?

In the opening round, I am paired against GM Viktor Erdos. I believe we both have a 50% chance of qualifying to the next round. If I do so, I will most likely face GM Peter Svidler. And if I make it to round 4, then I will be up against the World Champion himself!

Bassem will be spearheading the Egyptian as well as the African challenge at the upcoming World Cup. (Picture: Abu Dhabi Chess Festival)

But of course, I will be taking it step by step. For now, my first round match-up is of utmost importance.

Wishing you all the best for the World Cup, Bassem!

Thank you very much!

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