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Junior chess team looks to break jinx at World stage

Kenya is ready for the World Youth Chess Championship slated for December 17 to 29 in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates.

A squad of 12 players, six girls and six boys (aged between 8 and 18) will represent the country. The team is confident of performing well.

Even though a number of players will be competing in their first international championship, they remain bullish about their chances.

Head coach John Mukabi said the team is aiming for better ranking after participating in the event for the last 10 year s with poor results.

“We now have the technical support and skills required to achieve the results we have been yearning for so long,” Mukabi said.

In the past, Kenya has performed dismally at the World Youth Chess Championship, finishing last at every appearance. But coach Mukabi is upbeat that this time round lady luck will smile on them.

Weak points

“Our target is to reach 50 percent of the 11 rounds. We are keen to grow and can only do that by winning,” he told Nairobi News.

Mukabi said the team needs to work on their end games which he singled out as the team’s weakest point yet a crucial part of any chess contest. The team will polish up in this area before heading out to the Middle East.

Kenya will face stiff opposition from defending champions Russia, Armenia, China and Serbia who are the favourites. In Africa, Mukabi said Egypt, South Africa, Nigeria and Zimbabwe are the main stumbling block.

The coach is banking his hopes on Kenya Commercial Bank’s Dave Shah, Darshan Shah, Moses Maina, Gerald Mugo and Lwanda Aguda who are outstanding.

However, the team is facing difficulties of raising funds for the trip. Chess Kenya Marketing and Public Relations Officer Purity Maina said the team required Sh2,096,000 for airfare, accommodation, organisers’ fees, training and logistics for the contingent of 12 players, two coaches and an official.

“We are appealing to well-wishers to support the team which is full of promise,” Maina told Nairobi News.

Chess has been through a rough patch over the years. In the past, there has been in-fighting between players and officials resulting in the boycott of tournaments.

Recently, the local governing body cancelled all youth events to work out modalities that will ensure equality in participation at championships.

After a series of meetings, Commissioner of Sports Gordon Olouch ordered that all youths representing the country at international events must be Kenyans. Previously, Kenya was represented by participants who are not citizens.

Rough patch 

More young people are learning the sport, with children as young as five years taking part in the just-concluded Kenya National Chess league.

A youthful Equity Bank side won this year’s league in their debut appearance, underlining the competitive nature of the sport.

The team comprising Daud Mowlid, Victor Hongo, Jackton Mony, Benard Wanjala, prolific junior player Sharanya Iyengar and Rehema Khimulu clinched the crown after outsmarting University of Nairobi 3.5 – 1.5. Equity had earlier beaten Eastlands by a similar margin.

Equity topped the standings with 18 match points and a total of 41.5 game points.

Mukabi urged parents to encourage children to take up the game. He said chess is one disciplines that helps children improve their knowledge. Mukabi added that anyone can play chess and the notion that it is an elite sport is inaccurate.

“Children expand their knowledge when they take part in mind games such as chess. Our dream is to ensure that the game grows in all areas in Kenya. Chess is open to anyone willing to learn,” Mukabi said.

He appealed to the government to set aside funds to support needy but talented students.