Friday February 12 was a dark day for chess players as news trickled in of the passing on of Owino Magana. It was as if time had stood still, for barely a month ago, we had a brief phone conversation and I later gathered he had spoken to quite a number of chess players this year.
I remember the first time I met him was in the early nineties, that time known to many of us as Jeff, (a name he would later advise me to drop as he preferred to be referred to as Owino Magana), though he would fondly call himself Zero Magana!
A one time national champion, Owino was a larger than life being. As a novice player, I was more attracted to his running commentary as he played in blitz (5 minutes per player chess). To say that he had an admirable command of the Queen’s English would be an understatement. Listening to him, either trash talk his opponents or try to analyse the game as it unfolded before my untrained eyes was just as mesmerising as it was entertaining.
Boy wasn’t he also lethal in literally executing his verbal threats on the chess board! At times in tournaments he would carry a book and ask his opponent if he had read it. One such book was Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War”—the ultimate guide to combat strategy on how to engage opponents in order to win the battle of wits.
I have interacted with many people and if I was to count the exceptionally gifted ones, Owino would be first among equals. An IT expert by training, he epitomised excellence in service delivery when tasked with the responsibility. He was a brilliant man and often times dared to take on anyone on any subject under the sun. And this aura of confidence in his abilities was not misplaced.
While a student at the University of Nairobi, he also played rugby and drabbled in martial arts. Not one to sit on the fence when the moment called for someone to stand up and be counted, he helped shape the chess landscape when he formed ROCK (Revitalization of Chess in Kenya) to fight the then chess administration office Kenya Chess Association (KCA).
He also nurtured his younger brother, CM Ben Magana, who has ruled the roost locally and played in the national team. Fare thee well Owino Magana, till we meet again on the other side. Check. And mate!