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November 20, 2018

Kenyan chess coming of age

INSPIRATION : Gary-Kasparov.
INSPIRATION : Gary-Kasparov.

Chess Kenya pat themselves on the back after recent hosting of festival

Chess Kenya marked 1 year since taking over the management of chess in the country in style by successfully hosting the recent splendid East Africa Open Chess Festival, from the 18th - 21st April at the Kenyatta University’s Business and Students Services Centre.

In the words of a visibly exhausted but ecstatic CK chairman Githinji Hinga: “Successful is an understatement; what a tournament! Only superlatives describe it – richest, biggest and strongest! What a way to cap one year in office! Excellent stuff Chess Kenya team.”

The tournament, which attracted a strong contingent of players from South Africa, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Pakistan and all over Kenya, was sponsored by the Kasparov Chess Foundation (KCF) and its Africa director, Candidate Master (CM) Graham Jurgensen also doubled up as a player, finishing in a commendable 7th position out of 42 players in the rated section. He scored 4.5 points out of a possible 7.

Running concurrently with this was the open section for unrated players, which drew 90 participants.

And with a sponsorship of over US$ 5,000 the tournament took its place in the annals of history as the most lucrative ever in the region. The 4th grandmaster (GM) to visit Kenya after Nigel Short, Dimitri Reinderman and Garry Kasparov, Serbian Dejan Antic also graced the tournament.

He took on 36 players from the open section in a simultaneous exhibition (simul), winning on 30 boards, drawing 5 and his only loss was against Dr.Kevins Genawi Omondi, who couldn’t contain his excitement thereafter, at this rare feat! After addressing the press accompanied by the CK Chair, Mr. Hinga, KCFA director Mr. Jurgensen and the tournament’s chief arbiter Chris Turyahabwe at the Stanley Hotel, he again took on 26 players in another simul, winning 22 and drawing 4.

GM Antic also conducted 2 instructive but separate chess clinics for junior and senior players. “ I started playing chess at the age of 5 and it took me 9 years before becoming an International Master (IM) and another 9 years to be a grandmaster, so there is no shortcut, but hard work and focus pays” he intoned.

There’s no doubt that the partnership between CK and the KCF is destined for greater heights. Through the Chess in Schools initiative, the foundation is donating 5,000 chess sets (worth Ksh.7.5M) to be distributed in schools across all the 47 counties in Kenya.

Founded in 2002 by the legendary and former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, KCF’s mission is to bring the many educational benefits of chess to children by providing a complete chess curriculum and social development through enrichment programmes. In the words of Kasparov, “Chess in education is a dynamic tool that teaches many essential skills. It is also a perfect way to introduce technology into the learning environment.”

“Last year, Kenya was represented by 30 juniors at the World Youth Chess Championship in Al Ain, UAE, and CK plans to send a team to the same championship in Durban, South Africa, come September this year” said the CK chair, adding the roll out of Chess in Schools will be relentlessly pursued.

Jurgensen noted large corporate sponsors have realised the value of chess as an educational tool, and through its MiniChess programme, a pilot project will be launched in Kenya.

“We use a trained chess mentor to assist school teachers over 30 lessons of 45 minutes each once per week throughout the school term,” he added.

The programme consists of 4 levels, with each level accommodating the continual development of skills and capacity as the child grows, and it continually links chess concepts with mathematics, science and life skills.

With FIDE (the world chess governing body) elections due in August in Tromso, Norway during the 41st chess Olympiad, the field is ripe for harvest. Garry Kasparov is seeking to dislodge the incumbent, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, from the presidency of FIDE and this is being viewed as a good sign for African chess since he has shown tremendous support to their national federations. As GM Antic said “It would be very good for chess having a former world champion at the helm since he understands what the chess community needs, so I think it is a good time for change.”

Kenya will be represented by a team of 5 men and 5 ladies at this biennial event from the 1st - 15th of August 2014, that brings be best chess players from all over the world in one place for two weeks.

The participants leveled high praise on the organization of the tournament but lamented the dearth of such attractive cash prizes and high standards in the region. Fortunately, the KCF plans on making this Easter Open an annual event.

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