What Anand’s Visit Means to Africa

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Tomorrow Viswanathan Anand will set foot down on the African continent. This is reportedly his first visit which is significant for a number of reasons.

  • First, no other sitting World Champion has visited the continent in recent memory (or perhaps ever). This is revolutionary for a number of reasons and may represent a “homecoming” of sorts for a hero of humble beginnings. Certainly as a player from a developing country, there are a number of social similarities that Anand can identify with and he will come with sincerity and humility.
  • Second, Anand is admired widely on the continent from north to south, east and west. India of course has a sizeable Indian population in places like Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa, so there is certainly a precedent for the India-Africa detente. IM RB Ramesh visited South Africa in 2003 and was warmly welcomed. In fact, Anand will stop in South Africa and will no doubt want to see a cricket match.
  • Third, India and Africa are experiencing increasing cooperation on the economic front and Anand’s visit can perhaps result in a chess diplomacy. Perhaps a chess exchange can develop between the continents with Africa gaining access to one of the most successful models in recent chess history.
  • Fourth, this will represent the legitimacy that chess needs for future sponsorship. Botswana’s NIIT branch can be a major player in chess sponsorhip and perhaps other African branches can make an investment to chess on the continent. Other corporations may study the success that NIIT’s investment has brought to India. Of course, this is publicity worth millions of dollars. Anand’s blazers and shirts with “NIIT” have already become a familiar fixture in tournaments he plays in.
  • Fifth, this is a fantastic coup for chess. It demonstrates the universality of the sport and the fact and people around the world can be intrigued by a game that crosses so many geographical and social boundaries. Forever the statesman, Anand’s visit will bring legitimacy and may inspire a generation of players. Despite the one billion people in Africa, it is a sparsely populated land mass (80 persons/square mile). The continent is so vast that China, Europe and the U.S. can fit inside of her borders. Imagine chess catching fire on such a massive scale. African federations should be planning to capitalize off of this special event.

GMs Viswanathan Anand and Judit Polgar battle in Mainz Rapid 2003. Photo by Franz Jittenmeier (www.echecs.international.com)

Elite players and chess media typically pay little attention to the African continent. Thus, chess struggles for attention from sponsors. However, Anand will not be the first elite player to visit Botswana. GM Judit Polgar visited Botswana back in 2001 and gave a couple of simuls and a workshop.

Unfortunately, there was little fanfare in the international media of Polgar’s visit. African media was equally abysmal in the coverage despite Polgar’s prodigious and historic accomplishments. GM Nigel Short has also visited Botswana as well as Zambia, but both were for political reasons and in ended controversy. Short had visited Kenya earlier and was warmly accepted.

Let us hope African continent will not miss this opportunity and that Anand will get a rousing welcome and African hospitality! Congratulations Botswana for bringing a chess hero to Africa!


  1. I appreciate the points made; his egalitarianism and his warmth play well on the Continent, as they do elsewhere. His strength and quiet confidence may well inspire youth and give them an additional connection to the game. I would hope that sponsors follow suit, because what is good for Africans in chess is good for the chess world. Thanks, Shabazz, for your continued attentions to this important aspect of International Chess.

  2. Yes. Vishy is the first non-arrogant contemporary chess champion. He is a very good face for chess (although I am going for Topalov in 2010).

  3. It appears as if chess media has fallen asleep on this story as have the African media outlets. No reports on the World Champion traveling to Africa except for Mmegi (Botswana) and this site. Is this not newsworthy?

  4. visvanathan anand came to Botswana and played chess against 40 of the best young students from all over Botswana and beat us all simultaneously Wow isn’t it amazing.

    To everyone who likes chess.

  5. Anand also visited Durban and I wrote a report on his visit – see https://mysite.mweb.co.za/residents/keithru/anandvisit.html for this. However, he is definitely not the first World Champion to visit the African continent.

    I remember playing against Dr Max Euwe when I was still a schoolboy, in a simul held in Durban in 1974 (my game ended in a draw). In 1974 Dr Euwe was touring Southern Africa on a fact finding mission, when he was the president of FIDE. Dr Euwe also played at the Johannesburg international tournament in 1955 and gave numerous simuls throughout SA in 1955.

    Then there was Karpov, who visited South Africa in 1993 as a guest of the ANC. He played a number of simuls in Johannesburg.

    Looking at the wider continent, how could you forget that Fischer played at the Interzonal in Sousse 1967? More recently, both Kasimdzhanov and Topalov played in the FIDE Wch 2004 held in Tripoli. They are both FIDE world champions.

  6. Yes… the Durban trip was known, but there was no schedule on when he was traveling there. Thanks Keith!

    I suppose your account proves an important point. Where was the coverage of these earlier visits???? Of course, the visits of Fischer, Topalov and Kasimjanov are slightly different. They did not come with the express purpose of visiting a community, but to play in a tournament. It is doubtful they had much interaction with the locals and that is the point.

    However, Euwe and Karpov certainly were firsts in that regard. However, Euwe’s visit deserves mention here. He was investigating the charges of “chess apartheid” in South Africa and was on a fact-finding mission to determine the truth of this allegation. Euwe’s report did not support this contention, but South Africa was suspended and they had to withdraw from the 1974 Olympiad in France. Here is the account from Olimpbase:

    At the FIDE congress meeting in Helsinki, 1973, the decision had been made to investigate whether or not the treatment of coloured chess players in Rhodesia and South Africa was in violation of the principles of FIDE. Dr. Euwe went to both countries and prepared a report which was circulated at Nice (France). Nowhere in his report does he offer any evidence of discrimination against coloured players in either country, neither does he even suggest that he feels either country should be excluded from FIDE.

    On the agenda of the Congress meetings at Nice was a proposal introduced by Moroccan Chess Federation to exclude both countries. Their proposal was signed by the representatives of Tunisia, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, USSR, Hungary, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Mongolia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Argentina and Cuba. From reading Dr. Euwe’s report one might have expected him to be completely opposed to this proposal and he is a powerful enough figure for his views to carry much weight with Congress. But there was another issue at stake. The office of president was open to re-election and opposing Dr. Euwe was vice-president R. Mendez from Puerto Rico.

    At the start of the Olympiad it was thought that Euwe was likely to lose the election as Mendez had the support of many of the smaller countries. But the Soviet Federation saw a way to use the situation to their advantage – they offered Euwe a deal whereby he would get the votes of the Eastern Bloc countries if he supported the exclusion of Rhodesia and South Africa. Euwe agreed. As soon as the exclusion was announced South Africa withdrew from the Olympiad.

    Source: https://www.olimpbase.org/1974/1974in.html

    I’d like to hear more about that 1974 simul. Were there any pictures? It would be good to know if World Champions visited any other African nations besides South Africa and Zimbabwe?

    I raise this issue because of the following statement from Euwe in 1975. Mark Weeks of Belgium had found the following statement in the back of an Informant. It was titled, “Chess in Africa.”

    My African tour at the beginning of this year had quite a different character than previous visits to other continents. The reason is obvious. To a certain extent chess is already developed in other continents, while in Africa one has to start from the bottom, from scratch. However, before continuing, let me first state that when speaking about Africa in this article, I have in mind the central part of the continent. So I exclude South Africa, Rhodesia, and the northern part of Africa. • INF-19 (1975-H1) p.278

    Source: https://chessforallages.blogspot.com/2009_03_01_archive.html

    It appears sub-Saharan African (excluding South Africa) has been largely ignored… and Dr. Euwe attested to this. It is wonderful that Anand has decided to visit Botswana.

  7. I just found a video when Bobby Fischer went to the Philippines. You will notice the lasting impact Fischer had with the Filipinos. THIS is the type of visit I’m talking about… going with the express purpose of interacting with the local chess community. This is what makes Anand trip to Botswana different.

    I read on the Kenya Chess Board that Garry Kasparov was invited to Kenya. What was his response? He laughed. Anatoly Karpov has been geniune and also has a chess club named for him in Sri Lanka. World Champions can have an impact in developing countries. Watch this touching video. He is playing the late GM Rosendo Balinas.

    Photos of Bobby Fischer’s first visit to the Philippines in 1967. This album was a gift from the sponsor of the tournament (Meralco) to Bobby Fischer, and was part of his estate that he left behind in Pasadena when he left the country. His only official visit to another country after becoming world champion in 1972 was the Philippines in 1973, and that was because of this 1967 prior visit where he was treated like a world champion even before he became one. This is according to an article titled “A Month in Manila with Bobby Fischer” by Casto Abundo.

    See article, “Rare Bobby Fischer Images

  8. I would not think the idea of Anand visiting without donating anything will help anything in Africa.It would be far fetched ,India probably has bigger problems itself.Hope he enjoyed the holiday.

  9. We should not be shortsighted in thinking that people will always come from their pockets and donate money or equipment to Africa. That is a poor image for Africa.

    Besides he is donating his time and his stature. The point of his visit is so that his sponsor NIIT will be encouraged to become a sponsor of Botswana chess. NIIT is a billion-dollar corporation and is in a much better position to donate than Anand, a private citizen of chess. Why would he come from his pocket??

  10. I have also visited South Africa, Angola, Namibia, Mozambique and Malawi and was warmly welcomed everywhere (not forgetting Algeria and Libya). Indeed after I met the Malawian Sports Minister in 2006 and put the case for the necessity of supporting chess, the country was represented at the Olympiad for the very first time in Turin. I might add that even in the two places where I received a mixed reception – Botswana and Zambia – I was welcomed by the players.

  11. Nigel,

    Yes… I do remember the South African trip (and pictures with Jackie Ngubeni) and I also remember the Malawian connection. I’m glad you reminded me. I’m not sure if these were on the “African Tour” for the Bessel Kok campaign or separate trips. African federations have to do a better job of telling their story. Otherwise, when chess dignitaries (like yourself) visit, the opportunity is lost. I used to get so many reports from Africa, but the news spigot has dried up.

    The Kenyan trip was publicized on ChessBase and it was a goodwill trip and it had a touching story. In the Botswana and Zambia cases, I believe politics brought out unfortunate circumstances that would not have occurred otherwise. It’s not important to point fault, but only to note that Africa, with so little footing in chess, hurts the most when the embroglios unfold. I won’t even begin to talk about visa issues. Appalling! There are certainly issues that Africans need to face head on to gain credibility.

    Anyway… congratulations on your return to 2700!

  12. Kawaguchi Inamoto
    No no no, you are missing the point. Anand’s visit was not about charity. The only donation that Botswana sought was about his knowledge in chess, but that he delivered. Botswana and South Africa are not that desperate for material donations.

    Nigel Short.
    Your visit to Botswana was for political campaign, different from what Anand came for.

  13. I have now found my old newspaper cuttings! The 1974 visit of Dr Euwe was reported on in both of our local newspapers in Durban. Both papers had a photo of the simul as well as some interesting comments on the FIDE/South Africa situation. Email me if you would like a copy of the cuttings.

  14. Mr. “Record breaker Bolt”, perhaps you would be so kind as to divulge your anonymity, if you are going to make snide comments . As to your remark:
    “Nigel Short.
    Your visit to Botswana was for political campaign, different from what Anand came for.”
    Quite correct. I wasn’t asked to go by my large corporate sponsors, for the simple reason that I don’t have any. I would have done so gladly (and no doubt more meritoriously, in your view) if I had.

  15. Nigel,

    I just saw the piece of you on ChessBase. I’m not sure I agree so much with Jeff Sonas’ idea of rating inflation. There are simply too many intangible factors that we cannot account for. We may think ratings are inflated because there are more 2700s, but there are so many reasons for that. Firstly, the rating system was still young and had to gain momentum. There were few high-rated players and thus, rating points were much harder to earn. You must have experienced this pre-1993.

    Secondly, I believe players today have access to more data and are learning in more impactful ways. Maybe not better methods, but they seem to be getting stronger at a faster rate. The amount of books, databases and DVDs is staggering. These talented young players also have coaches and personal trainers. Also the influence of national role models like Viswanathan Anand have made some impact. Sonas cannot account for this in his stats.

    Of course it’s hard to compare players in different eras because the conditions are different, but I do believe that players are gaining strength much faster than they did before. People of Magnus Carlsen’s and Parimarjan Negi’s generation will not study chess the way Fischer (with his carefully-written notebooks) and Anand (with his hybrid approach).

    The key for rising stars now is S-P-E-E-D. We know Hikaru Nakamura gained his strength by a tremendous amount of trial and error in thousands of blitz games. He saw millions of positions, sharpened his intuition, pattern recognition and is blessed with a fantastic memory. Is this an effective method? Perhaps for him it is, but may not be the best employable method for the masses. We know that going over annotated games thoroughly is a tried and true method, but is it practical? I can say that the Soviet pedagogical approach to chess has lost its edge. Russia still has elite players, but they get to a good level and then grow stagnant.

    We have seen a couple of successful models since… the Chinese model and the Indian model. Both are producing talented players and a fast rate and using different methods. The Philippines and Vietnam have “rising stars” (e.g., So and Truongson) while Egypt is the best example in Africa (e.g., Amin and Adly).

    Nevertheless, it is an interesting debate.

  16. Nigel is a childhood hero of mine .Nice to see his posts here and congratulations for retaining number 1 spot in UK.
    I would love to see more Grandmasters visit countries like Chad,Guinea,Togo,Mauritania to promote the game in future .

  17. The May 1974 issue of “The South African Chessplayer” says that Dr Euwe played 12 simuls on his visit to Southern Africa, scoring almost 91% (+259=34-11). The venues were as follows: Johannesburg (3), Pretoria (2), Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, East London, Durban, Salisbury, Bulawayo. His tour lasted for about 3 weeks, so he would have spent only a couple of days at each venue. I cannot find a detailed itinerary, but it is doubtful that he had time to visit the Cape townships.

    After Dr Euwe’s visit I bought his 2 books “The Middle Game” and they kept me busy for months. He was certainly a great teacher.

  18. That’s quite an ambitious schedule and it’s good he did that. I’m trying to determine how he reached his conclusions in this report. It would be good if FIDE made the same efforts to promote chess in developing regions. I’m on a couple of African discussion groups and they talk about local politics and feats, but the nature is isolation. On these groups, they are not discussing the impact of Anand, nor discussing solutions.

  19. I remember the Nigel Short visit to Kenya. I was an eye witness and got the privilege of playing a blitz game against him (in fact he dismantled the entire Top 20 Kenyan contigent 20-0 or something like that.)

    I did not see him as a controversial person. In fact I was amazed that he would spend a couple of hours blitzing with a bunch of ELO 2000-2200 players and in between instructively pointing out improvements and suggestions. It was pretty cool. I don’t think he was paid to come to Kenya. This mingling wth the Kenyan players was a good gesture from him. He was friendly and easy to get along with. At some point we even forgot he was a celebrity and just treated him like one of the local players.

    I think African chess, especially the less developed African chess countries, have a predeliction toward politicising chess issues very strongly. It happens alot in my country as well. Maybe that’s what happened in Botswana. My hunch is that it was not the Botswana players who ignited the politics…most likely it was the local chess officials.

  20. Mehul,

    It was during a hotly-contested campaign (Bessel Kok vs. Kirsan Ilyumzhinov) and I think there was a cross-cultural clash of sorts. However, the issue is what lasting effect can a chess master have in these countries. I felt Anand’s visit was not given any attention whatsoever in the African press. This is the World Champion visiting!

    In these cases, African chess players have to use this opportunity to show that Africa is not isolated and part and parcel of the chess community. This will help when pitching sponsors for assistance. Imagine if other sponsors saw NIIT backing chess and able to host the World Champion.

  21. Some 5 years back the mainstream newspapers in Kenya took out all the chess columns. They were of the opinion that the game was not of much interest to the Kenyan public. It is only recently we have managed to get chess back into the mainstream media.

    Maybe the local federations need to work on the image of chess in their countries. I think it starts with them. The media, newspapers etc will start to pick up on the stories once they see the local man is interested.

    If Anand came to Kenya and strolled around all the major sites in Nairobi everyday for a whole month, chances are he will not be recognised at all! The number of chess players here is so small. So how is the media going to pick up on his visit?

    I also wonder apart from Botswana and S.Africa how many other media houses on the continent actually knew Anand was in Africa.

  22. Players need to push these activities into the press. That’s the only way media houses will be motivated. Kenneth Boikhutswane writes articles about Botswana chess and has established the contact with the press. It doesn’t matter if Anand were in Botswana, Kenya, or the Seychelles. He came to the continent of Africa.

    Media houses have “stringers” who feed them information about events. There are also “wires” where this information is distributed. There are also Internet “alerts” and filters used. African media houses knew about Anand’s arrival, but did not pick up the story. We have to ask why.

  23. Mehul is correct in his assessment of Nigel Short. Yes, his visit to those African countries was on behalf of Bessol kok (in a Bessel Kok vs. Kirsan Ilyumzhinov election). However, in life, it takes some kind of strong conviction to make us do what we might otherwise not venture into in a million years and that is the way these things work. Whether it’s for chess promotion or for politics, or the combination of both, what Nigel did was commendable.

    Personally, I like men who take a stand on issues and pursue what they believe in. Nigel Short and Jackie Ngubeni of South Africa together supported Bessls Kok with the kind of passion that I am yet to see anywhere in the chess world. At least everyone knew where they stood during that election and that is what was important. They did not stand on the fence like some did. They gave their all to what they believed in.

    Even though Nigeria supported Ilyumzhinov during that election, some of us felt impressed by the issues and the courage exhibited by Nigel and Jackie that we were compelled to stand shoulder to shoulder with them for their spirited fight during that election. After all, we are all Gens Una Sumus – one family.

    Having said that, judging from his actions above, if Nigel believes in a cause, we can be sure that he will purse it energetically as he did during that election. So don’t be surprised if he comes back to Africa someday to promote chess. I guess what he will need is some kind of invitation and proper planning. We definitely need Grandmasters like him to work with visionary chess officials in Africa .

    And yes, to quote Mehul in 22 above.. ” He was friendly and easy to get along with. At some point we even forgot he was a celebrity and just treated him like one of the local players”. That is the way Nigel Short is from the little I saw of him at the Turin Olympiad. This is an accurate assesment of the man.

    As for the question posed by Daaim, ” ….. the issue is what lasting effect can a chess master have in these countries. I felt Anand’s visit was not given any attention whatsoever in the African press. This is the World Champion visiting” . My answer to this is proper planning….

    If I am on the ground somewhere in an African country (I do live in Houston, Texas for now) and a big GM or a world champion for that matter is coming to town, you can bet that all the schools and all the media in that country will be aware of this. I will even arrange for the GM to have a simul right in front of the national assembly where the law makers are or somewhere near the Presidential palace if it’s in Nigeria. What’s the point of this? Take advantage of the visit while you can. Bring the chess master in front of those who can do something about chess in that country. Make it easy for them to interact with the chess master and more…… Again my short answer to this is proper planning and promotion galore.

    Now this is not saying that the Botswana chess officials did not plan well for this event (and they did very well for even organizing this visit in the first place and i dont have all the facts to even say much here) but just articulating what I will do if I were to plan such a visit. It’s a sport that is at a disadvantage already. We just have to maximize our efforts at every opportunity that opens up to us. That is my point.

  24. Kunle,

    We should be looking forward at this point. Be that as it may, what did Anand’s visit do to help the promotion of chess in Africa? Let us speak on what happened and what it means to the continent. Botswana did Africa a great service.

    However, we also need more reports on what else happened in Botswana. While I would certainly like to believe in GENS UNA SUMAS, I know from the last Olympiad that we are far from reaching this goal. Anand’s visit may have provided some attention, but ultimately Africans (and the Diaspora) are responsible.

    We cannot hope that elite GMs are going to save chess in Africa. However, if they do a goodwill visit or play in a tournament, there has to be an apparatus in place to publicize these events and follow-up with a cogent plan of action.

  25. Yes, I remember that Max Euwe gave a simul in Salisbury, Rhodesia, and gave up I think 3 draws. GM/Count Alberic O’Kelly de Galway also visited around about the same time.

  26. Does anyone know the history on why an individual giving a simul has all white pieces? FYI: I have emailed Fide, Chessbase and blogged Susan Polgar’s site requesting a flip feature to provide all chessplayers with the chance to analyze the game from the Black point of view and i have begun the necessary work off the board to change this discrimination in case an adequate response is not given, which of course should be anticipated,we are living in a time of change, right? Peace.

  27. Brother Shabazz thanks for a most interesting response, i looked up the idea of choice and it is defined as the process of thinking -process of judging-for merit of multiple options and selecting one for action. Historically the “traditionalist have invariably “chosen” the white pieces so this behavior leads one to believe or conclude that this “choice” may in fact be an “opprotunity” which means a chance for advancement or progress{i.e. Whites advantage of the first move.} .As chessplayers we are hopeful that the World Champion 2800+ wouldnt need such a huge advantage in a simul or would fall prey to “conditioned behavior” or what Fischer termed “the old chess”.

  28. Choice in a chess simul is defined as the exhibitionist gets to choose the color they want. Simple. They can choose all black as well. In my opinion, having the first move is not a huge advantage in chess… it is a perceived advantage. Advantage depends on so many factors. Anand has the advantage simply because he’s stronger. If he had black, he would still have the advantage.

    With best play between two elite players, chess games are primarily drawn. Moving first (regardless of what color the pieces are) does not constitute a concrete advantage. After playing 1.e4 or 1.d4, you do not have an advantage… chess is not that concrete. It’s subtle. Tempos are lost and gained throughout the battle.

  29. “Mahindra sponsors Botswana Chess League”

    “One of our aims is to have the league running,” Sitale emphasised. He said chess is played in about 80 percent of secondary schools in Botswana and now their aim is to take it to primary schools. Like any other sport, chess is very strategic, hence it would help develop strategic planning towards the attainment of some Vision 2016 goals.

    He reiterated that the coming of Anand last year inspired the committee and set chess on the route to revival.

    In his first official speech since taking office this year, the Botswana National Olympic Committee (BNOC) Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Tuelo Serufo also applauded Mahindra for “ploughing back into the community” in which they operate.

    Source: https://www.gazettebw.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=5615:mahindra-sponsors-botswana-chess-league-&catid=16:sports&Itemid=2

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