Ghana is a place that many decide to choose for their initial visit to Africa. The reasons are many, but typically Ghana has a intricate blend of qualities that make it a very lovable place… the energy and happiness of the people is perhaps the most noted. Ghana is also a very important country on the African continent. It was one of the first countries to fight vigorously for self-rule and the throw off the yoke of British domination. It became independent March 6, 1957.
This effort was lead by Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, a man whose works I had reviewed deeply in my doctoral studies. His “Africa Must Unite” text is an ode to Africans’ ability to assert themselves politically, socially and economically and to join the other nations and equals. It was a bold statement and perhaps one ahead of its time, but one that has gained a greater currency in retrospect.
I took my third trip to Ghana. All have been related to some academic matter. I conducted Ph.D. research in Ghana while looking at how Internet Commerce could help aid sub-regional trade in the ECOWAS region. Ghana was vibrant, the citizens were embracing the new technology with gusto and you could see the fortunes were about to change.
I returned two years ago on a visit with other educators and was able to see a bit more of the vibrant electricity of the people. It only confirmed my kinship with Ghana and Ghanaians. I reported on my trip on these pages. However, I did not meet any chess players after constant attempts. That had to be the low-point of a fascinating trip.
This time it would be different. I had met Ghanaian players in 2008 during the Chess Olympiad in Dresden, Germany. They were easy to spot in their bright-colored shirts and equally bright smiles. During my reunion with Ghanaian players at the 2012 Chess Olympiad in Istanbul, Turkey, again I met the national team. In addition to reuniting with John Hasford and Edward Lamptey Thompson, I met Kwadwo Bonsu with whom I kept in contact over the past year on Facebook. It was he who began to put the word out that I was coming to Ghana.
Edward Lamptey Thompson and John Hasford at the 2008 Chess Olympiad.
Ghana delegation at 2012 Chess Olympiad. From left to right: George Arko-Dadzie (President), Kwadwo Bonsu, Francis Andanquah, Christiana Naa Merley Ashley (Delegate), Evans Mawuko Kpodo and Kojo Hasford. Not pictured was Edward Nii Lamptey Thompson.
After arriving in Ghana and spending several days attending meetings and touring Accra, I was told by Kwadwo that there would be a tournament held and that the president would contact me. Sure enough, George Arko-Dadzie called and left a message with my host. We were staying at the University of Ghana at Legon. A few days later, the president stopped by the campus and happened to find me outside socializing with my travel-mates. He confirmed the tournament and we scheduled a pick-up time.
George had been the president since 2009 and later stated in an interview that there were about 200 players nationwide. However, on this Saturday afternoon I would meet most of Ghana’s “top brass”. He picked me and we collected Kwadwo along the way. I told Kwadwo, “We finally meet in Ghana.” We headed toward “Robi’s Dutch Pub,” a place that Ghanaians frequent to play off-hand chess games. On cue, several players had already assembled and were gripped in blitz battles, a common site in any chess nation.
Robi’s Dutch pub where Ghanaian players play.
We then assembled upstairs and tables had already been prepared for the tournament. The president conducted an opening ceremony and graciously introduced me to the players. He mentioned that most of the top players of Ghana was present except Francis Andanquah, the defending champion.
Dr. Sekou Nkrumah is the son of the late Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. He is the namesake of Sekou Toure’, Guinea’s first president and the man who made Dr. Nkrumah co-president after he was deposed. He certainly inherited his father’s charisma.
The tournament was to be a rapid times of 15 minutes per side and six rounds. I intended to monitor the top board. After a few rounds, it was clear to me that Kojo Hasford would be the man to beat. His play appeared to be in good form seeing how he had dismantled his first three opponent so effortlessly. However Edward Thompson and Kwadwo Bonsu were also battling for honors. Unfortunately Thompson was upset by Richard Gabah in a very entertaining slugfest. That left Hasford and Bonsu set for a last round battle with 4.5/5.
There was also a very intriguing ending on one of the lower boards. This game featured a good knight versus bad bishop, but then transformed into a pawn ending. White, a pawn down, somehow queens first, but black gets two pawns rolling. The queen was unable to stop the pawns, but it was still a book draw. However, black made a horrible blunder!! What a roller coaster!
Now for the finale’! Out of a Queen’s Gambit Declined, Bonsu-Hasford built up slowly in a positional struggle with intricate piece play. Bonsu went on a tour with his king’s knight… f3-e5-d3-e5-f3-d2-b3-a1-c2-b4-a6-c5-e4. While the major pieces were still on the boards, so were the pawns. This made it difficult for either side to gain momentum. So, Hasford decided to make a move. The gallivanting knight I mentioned? Watch the game!
Finale’… Kwadwo vs. Kojo, 1/2-1/2.
So Hasford’s sacrifice of an exchange for play on white’s weakened light squares was a good, practical choice, but he missed 57…c5! with chances. However, both players got into a time scramble and by that time, the advantage slipped away. Bonsu offered a draw and Hasford agreed. They split first place, but Hasford had better tiebreaks. Well done! Each player got a Wilbert Paige Memorial commemorative booklet and the both Hasford and Bonsu got Chess Drum t-shirts.
Winners… Kwadwo Bonsu and Kojo Hasford. Incidentally, both names are pronounced the same. Also pictured is Carlton Hushie, the young upstart.
Pictured from left to right: Sekou Nkrumah, Henry Boadu, Edward Sosu, Edward Lamptey Thompson, Carlton Hushie, Kwadwo Bonsu, Kojo Hasford, Philip Ameku, George Arko-Dadzie, Evans Mawuko Kpodo.
After the rapid tournament, there was an impromptu blitz tournament in which most of the rapid participants played. Mawuko Evans and myself were added. The six-round tournament was won by Hasford with 5/6 managing to lose our individual encounter. However, it didn’t help my case as I had hallucinated against Hushie. After sacrificing a queen for a bishop on d7, I plan to fork on f6 after Qxd7. Problem… my knight was on d4. I also lost to Thompson and ended on third with 4/6. Disappointing, but at least I got a chance to play chess in Ghana.
Me with Kojo Hasford in the last round of blitz tournament.
All in all, it was a good day and I was able to secure an interview with the president afterwards. He discussed among other things, the beginnings of chess in Ghana, its current progress and plans for expansion. Ghana is yet another country seeking a Chess-in-Schools model. Here is the complete interview…
Me with George Arko-Dadzie, President of Chess Association.
Photos by Daaim Shabazz.
Let us hope that Ghana as well as many developing federations get the support they need both locally and through FIDE initiatives to develop chess. Apart from that, Ghana is a wonderful country full of promise, one with such as prideful history and a place where the warm sun welcomes its friends and guests.