Al Ain has already made a significant contribution to high class chess events in the Gulf region. Currently it is hosting their third international open tournament, Al Ain Classic, on 18-27 December.
Al Ain Classic had started as a side event to the 2012 World Cities Chess Team Championship. On that occasion, it had introduced a unique format: players eliminated from the knock-out team competition could join carrying over their points to the individual Swiss.
The following year, the Al Ain Classic ran along the World Youth Championship, at the impressive Al Ain football stadium. Being always annexed, as a shadow, to a bigger chess event, the Al Ain Classic may have died out if its Tournament Director, Tarek Al Taher, had not persevered to convince the authorities to give it a go as a separate chess competition, to run in its own right, as an individual international open tournament.
The first two days of the tournament contained all signs that Al Ain Classic is going to become a leader among the strong open tournaments in the region, on par with the already established Dubai Open, Abu Dhabi Chess Festival and the recently incepted Qatar Masters.
An impeccable organisation brought together an impressive field of 43 Grandmasters, 14 International Masters and 9 Woman Grandmasters among the 153 players, from 27 countries, vying for a chunk of a $50,000 prize fund, the top prize being $11,000.
The tournament is a 9-round Swiss System.
After the host country, India has the largest delegation with 31 players, followed by Azerbaijan, 23 and Ukraine and Iran, 11 each.
17 players are in the high rating category above 2600, namely Ukrainians Yuriy Kryvoruchko, Kuzubov Yuriy, Alexander Areshchenko, Mikhailo Oleksienko, Evgenij Miroshnichenko and Vladimir Onischuk, Armenians Tigran L. Petrosian and Arman Pashikian, Indians Abhijeet Gupta and Vidit Santosh Gujrathi, Rauf Mamedov (AZE), Sergei Zhigalko (BLR), Ivan Sokolov (NED), Samuel Shankland (USA), Constantin Lupulescu (ROU), Mikheil Mchedlishvili (GEO) and Viorel Iordachescu (MDA).
The tournament is held under the patronage of the Sheikh Sultan bin Khalifah Al Nahyan, who is President of the Al Ain Culture and Chess Club and also of the Asian Chess Federation.
Sheikh Sultan bin Khalifah Al Nahyan at the press conference before the final preparations of the big chess event. With (on the left) Dr. Rashed Al Dhaheri, chairman of the UAE Chess Federation Constitutional Commission and Dr. Saif Al Nuaimi, General Secretary of the Al Ain Chess Club (Photo: Al Ain Chess Club archive)
Diana Mihajlova and Indian grandmaster Abhijeet Gupta, winner of the last year’s edition, at the airport in Dubai, met by representatives of the Organization of the Al Ain Classic.
Away from the bustling opulence of Dubai, approaching Al Ain, we are already met with a quiet, typical architecture of residential buildings, neatly preserving the tradition of Islamic geometric art, with the usual wall-fence surrounding the house.
Al Ain is at 120 km south of Dubai. It is the second largest city in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and the fourth largest city in the United Arab Emirates. It is known as the Garden City due to its greenery. It is actually the biggest Oasis in the region with thousands of date palms.
Al Ain is the birth place of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the first president of the United Arab Emirates.
The official hotel, where the playing venue is also found, is the 5-star Hili Rotana.
The facilities, elegance and hospitality the Hili Rotana hotel provides will be long remembered by the participants at the 3rd Al Ain Classic. For ten days, they will live in the lap of luxury coupled with exemplary hospitality and kindness of the personnel who would attain to any whim of their guests.
Probably the most memorable will be the restaurant and its abundant, delicious, varied buffet food – a real feast, three times a day.
The desert section is rich with delicacies, among whom the national pudding – ‘ummali’. It is the favourite desert of our tournament director, Tarek, who told me a folk story about how it came to existence; actually, one of many versions connected to the making of ‘ummali’: a poor family had an unexpected distinguished visitor. They welcomed him and shared their food with him, but the wife was dismayed that she had nothing to offer as a sweet. So, the resourceful woman used the most basic ingredients found at their home: bread and milk. She concocted a sweet, baked bread and milk pudding, with some nuts. The satisfied guest inquired who made the excellent to which the proud husband replied: ‘Umm Ali’, the mother of Ali, their child.
Adjacent to the hotel is the Hili mall with many shops, boutiques, restaurants and banks. Its entrance is covered with a huge banner with the UAE past and present leaders’ portraits to mark the National Day, 2nd December, when the Emirati nation celebrates their independence from Great Britain and the spirit of the union.
On the first day, 18 December, a 7-round rapid tournament was held. Seventy players from 17 countries participated including 25 Grandmasters. As Tarek said, it was to serve as a tester, to make sure everything functions properly before the start of the main tournament the following day.
The symbolic first move before the start of the rapid tournament was performed by the organisers Tarek AlTaher and Dr. Rashed Al Dhaheri (Photo: Al Ain Chess Club archive)
The organisers with the chief arbiter, Ashot Vardapetyan, who also arbitrated at the 2013 World Championship Match, Carlsen-Anand.
A group photo of all the winners of the rapid tournament and the organisers (standing from left): Dr. Rashed Al Dhaheri, GM Ter-Sahakyan (ARM), 2nd place, GM A.R. Saleh (UAE), winner, GM Oleksienko (UKR), 6th place, Tarek AlTaher, the arbiter Vardapetyan, Esam Amir (front row from left) Mokal Amruta Sunil, best woman prize, Mchedlishvili (GEO), 4th, GM Kryvoruchko (UKR) 3rd, Martin Kravtsiv (UKR), 7th, GM Babujian (ARM) 5th and GM Moskalenko, 8th (Photo: Al Ain Chess Club archive)
The Opening Ceremony
A grand Opening ceremony took place in the hotel’s garden, by the swimming pool, on 19 December, before the start of the first round.
Video projections depicting the UAE culture and history, children’s performances, poetry reciting, wonderful traditional songs and dances were performed on a purpose built stage.
Traditionally clad young men were offering plenty and varied sweets and teas to the large audience throughout the evening.
School children took to the stage to express national heritage values through dance and song
Armchairs reserved for the dignitaries have covers with printed portraits of the founders of the nation
Le-ge-matt (sticky syrup dough balls), a famous national sweet
Aisha and Meitha, the ‘mascots’ of the evening, wearing dresses and accessories in the Emirati national colours
On this occasion, I have learned about the Arabic ‘stick dance’ or ‘cane dance’, which is performed by a group of men, positioned in line, who sing and make short rhythmical movements holding long sticks with a hook at the end, resembling a cane (‘assaya’). The music is only vocal.
The man, who later appeared on the stage as the main singer, is showing the dagger used in the dance as a symbol for love for freedom
At one point, teenage, long haired girls joined the stage and started gyrating their heads, their hair flowing freely up and down in rhythm with the music. It was a powerful image to behold. The long-hair-dance is an old tradition symbolising female beauty and power.
I would warmly recommend listening to the following extraordinary musical number:
Mariam Hamad AlShamsi, a school principal by profession, was responsible for the very enjoyable, high level Opening Ceremony through which we got acquainted with some elements of the Emirati culture for the first time.
The Opening Ceremony was attended by representatives of the Royal Family, delegated by the Sheikh Sultan as he was prevented, at the last moment, to attend the ceremony in person.
After watching the performances and observing the Emirati National Anthem, the Royal Family representatives made the 1st move, thus officially opening the 3rd Al Ain Classic. On the board, the highest seed GM Kryvoruchko (UKR) and the Emirati young chess hope FM Mayed Alrashedi (Photo: Al Ain Chess Club archive)
Diana Mihajlova with the brother of the Sheikh Sultan bin Khalifah Al Nahyan
Report by Diana Mihajlova