Kenyan team to Dresden Olympiad selected
By Lt. Edwin Korir
After 3 gruelling phases to select the Kenyan chess Olympiad team, it was finally chosen last weekend. Peter Gilruth, Ken Omollo, Martin Gateri and Ben Magana make up the team with Ben Nguku as first reserve.
The qualifiers started last December during the national championships where the top 20 finishers advanced to the next phase. Phase two of the qualifiers took place in march and ten players were eliminated with the remaining ten players (Peter Gilruth, Ben Magana, John Mukabi, Martin Gateri, Githinji Hinga, Mehul Gohil, Ken Omollo, Ben Nguku, James Apiri and Nathan Ateka) playing in the last round robin phase.
The final phase took place at the KCB sports club from 1st may to 4th of May 2008. Drama and disappointments were a hallmark of the matches. Peter Gilruth proved once again that he is class above most other players with his convincing win. Ken Omollo rebounded back to the heart of Kenyan chess in a spectacular manner. Martin Gateri proved his critics wrong by once again qualifying for the Olympiad. Ben Nguku struggled in the competition and mehul gohil handed him his place on a silver platter after losing his final game when he had a winning position.
But Mehul Gohil taught us all what it means to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. In more than 3 games Mehul had winning positions but threw them away. This was Mehuls real chance to qualify he was playing exceptional chess but it seems the psychology part of his game still let him down. Nathan Ateka days as a Kenyan chess giant seem to be over his performance in the 90s seem to be his best moments.
But after playing in 6 consecutive Olympiads John Mukabi finally gave in to new blood. Mukabi has been playing chess actively since 1983. He has seen the ups and downs of Kenyan chess. Mukabi stands on per with other Kenyan chess greats for his dedication to Kenyan chess. But don’t write the beast off yet for he promises to bounce back and play in the next chess Olympiad in Siberia.
The selection process locked out some of Kenyas big names notably Mathew Kanegeni who did not make it to the final phase. The young duo of Akello Atwolli and Obutu were also outplayed by their senior players. After the maiden appearance of Atwoli at the African games last year much was expected of him this time round. Steve Ouma, George Mwangi and Ricky Sang are other notable absentees.
So what are the chances for this Kenyan team? Bleak if you ask me. The highest rated Kenyan in the team Gilruth probably is around Elo 2200 and the lowest FM Gateri has Elo 2089. This team can not obviously trouble the big boys but what should be interesting is how many GM and IM scalps they can get and obviously finish above Uganda and other African teams.
But the experience of playing in the Olympiad is obviously great for these players. In places like Kenya chances of playing against a GM are so slim. The interaction with the big boys of chess should be fun. Who knows maybe round 1 pairing Kenya vs. Russia? Gilruth vs. Kramnik?
(Lt. Edwin Korir is a military officer working with the Kenyan army. He also runs a blog on Kenyan chess at http://www.kenyanchessblog.blogspot.com)