By: Ashok Purohit

Oman is set to host its first FIDE-rated chess tournament at the International Chess Academy Oman (ICAO) premises from September 4-6.

The three-day ICAO Oman Chess Championship will begin with a one-day rapid and blitz championship, which will be followed by the classical format over the next two days.

Ismail Karim, a FIDE trainer and an International Master (IM), told Muscat Daily on Tuesday, “We have received the go-ahead from the world chess governing body, FIDE, to host the first ever rating tournament in the sultanate. The hosting of a FIDE-rated tournament will help players from Oman earn Elo (international ratings) points.”

He added, “It is a big step towards the development of the mind sport in the country and we expect to have 40 players, Omanis and expatriates, competing for the top honours.”

Karim, who is the chief trainer at the ICAO, the only FIDE-affiliated academy in Oman, said ‘this is the start of a long journey towards hosting FIDE international tournaments in the future’.

The Frenchman recently returned from the 41st World Chess Olympiad in Tromso, Norway, where he accompanied the Oman team as its head coach. Karim was satisfied with the team’s debut at the worlds as three of the five Omani chess players – Amer al Maashani, Mohammed al Mashikhi and Salem al Amri – earned FIDE titles at the event.

Maashani became the first Omani to hold a FIDE Master (FM) title, while Mashikhi and Amri received FIDE Candidate Master (CM) titles. An experienced trainer, Karim has had coaching stints with NAO Chess Club of Paris, France (2003-2006), the Karpov Chess School of Rabat, Morocco (2006-2007), the Chess Club of Malaga, Spain (2007-2009), a premier club in Grasse, France (2009-2010) and the Bahrain Chess Academy in Manama, which he had helped set up in 2012.

Among his high-profile trainees have been France’s Jules Moussard, the U10 world champion in 2003, and Carole Forestier, the U20 French national champion in 2010. The ICAO, which is Oman’s only exclusive chess academy, caters to people of all nationalities.

Located in Jibroo, it currently has 25 students on its roll. Karim said the ICAO plans to open more centres in Muscat before expanding in other parts of the country. Having earned his IM title in 2008, Karim had previously represented Morocco at the World Chess Olympiad in 2004 and 2006, and also the world youth championships, in 2002 and 2003.

He counts his victory over Indian Grandmaster Sandipan Chanda during Morocco’s 3-1 shock win over India at the 2006 Olympiad in Turin, Italy as one of his biggest achievements as a player.

India’s No 5 Chanda was one of former Indian world champion Viswanathan Anand’s ‘second’ during the World Chess Championship 2013 against Norway’s Magnus Carlsen in Chennai, India. Musallam al Wadhahi has been named the chief arbiter of the competition in Muscat, the first Omani to be assigned that role in a FIDE-rated event.