The Road to Olympiad… from Nairobi to Siberia

Kenya has a budding chess community and recently finished its Olympiad qualifying tournament. Thus, they have named the team that will travel to the Olympiad in Khanty Mansiysk, Siberia. Mehul Gohil writes an intriguing account of the qualifiers and sends a collection of very captivating photos. Enjoy!


THE ROAD TO SIBERIA
By Mehul Gohil

Not many people in the world know of John Mukabi. That kind of name is easier to pronounce then the hard to chew on “Khanty Mansiysk” but it wouldn’t ring a bell or invoke the nostalgia of an old masterpiece…surely it cannot be the Alekhine – Mukabi 1-0 boilover (Bad Pistiyan 1937, Queen’s Gambit Declined, Orthodox Defense) as annotated by Harry Golombek? That’s fiction.

The shadow of “The Beast”

But it doesn’t matter. John Mukabi or “The Beast”, as he is more affectionately called in Kenyan chess circles, made the last moves of the Kenya National Olympiad Qualifier on a dramatic first February 2010 weekend and booked his ticket to Siberia and to what will be his seventh Olympiad appearance.

Kenyan chessers love their Olympiad. It’s everything. It’s the fight, it’s the mad scramble on the preliminaries, it’s the blood war with chess friends over the board, it’s the phone calls to relatives “I’ve made it into the team!”; or it’s the drowning of yourself in sorrow amidst the many bottles of Tusker after you have suicide-bombed your winning position. The after game “Donner” kebabs and nyama choma fail to digest, misery abounds in the developing constipation, and everything becomes “…the hell of hells…Gehenna…The vale of Kai Hinnom”.

Tom Mboya Street, the busiest in Nairobi. Also the neighborhood of a chess hot spot.

Tom Mboya Street, the busiest in Nairobi. Also the neighborhood of a chess hot spot.

Many around the world would not understand reasons for such strong passion and madness. After all, here is a Kenya that lacks ELO pedigree, its chessmen do not pawn storm international events, the Giuoco Piano is weaker this side of the Indian Ocean than it is on the Vishy washy Chennai shores. But every two years comes along an opportunity to go on pilgrimage – Olympiad. This is the Chess Haj where a forgotten chess world pays homage to the familiar one – as Viswanthan Anand stares into the complex depths of the Olympiad hall, looking back at him from the far and lost aisles will be Kenyan variations.


It was a responsibility to keep the legacy of Kanani, Andolo, Nguku and the other Kenyan Olympian giants who went before us alive.


Indeed, Caissa’s chosen ones – the Carlsen, the So, the Giri, the Nakamura and et al – sometimes forget or are unaware about the exact proportions of their fame – they have a worldwide fan club, right down to Nairobi’s chess hotspots: Sandton Palace in the Tom Mboya Street neighbourhood, South C “Golden Gate”, Downtown Pub & Restaurant, Sippers, Goan Gymkhana.

Peter Gilruth is fascinated by the shenanigans in the Akello - Ouma game.

Peter Gilruth watching an intense Akello – Ouma game.

Steve Ouma looking for the Siberian Tiger.

Steve Ouma looking for the Siberian Tiger.

Akello Atwoli studied the remains of his game against Steve Ouma. A clinching swindle had put him through. I watched as Akello trapped a queen on g8, drew invisible patterns around the board, translated his post-mortem reverie into finger dance. Later on the two of us speculated on what would be the nature of our debut Olympiad. As we bounced off each other one appealing chess-tourism idea after another, Peter Gilruth, Kenya’s long standing No.1 and our Board One, interrupted our Russian daydreaming.

The article’s author Mehul Gohil of the species, Homo Sapien Chessus Caissa 🙂

Around a chess board he gathered us two and the others (including the candidates for the board 5 Playoff, Singe, Ouma, Nderitu and Dolf). Like a wise old Luo elder of ancient times with young inexperienced warriors sitting around a fire, he told us that the Olympiad was more than mere hero-worship of the Kramnik. It was a responsibility to keep the legacy of Kanani, Andolo, Nguku and the other Kenyan Olympian giants who went before us alive. To make the best of our little ELOs and big spirit.

Kenyan history is steeped in vivid story telling in the form of oral literature. Here is an example – Caissa made the first chess brain some 50 km south of Nairobi in the pre-historic wastelands of Olegersaille. She called it Homo Sapien. Then from here, a couple of hundred thousand years ago, the Homo Sapien spread out of Africa and took the chess brain to all the other countries of the world.

Homo Erectus Skull from Kenyan National Museum... the first chess brain?

Homo Erectus Skull from Kenyan National Museum… did it contain the first chess brain?

At 1800hrs on some odd day in September 2010, the journey will begin all over again: Five Homo Sapiens will board an air-o-plane at JKIA, out of Africa they will fly and into Russian airspace will enter the specie Homo Sapien Chessus Caissa…and onward to Siberia.

Kenya
Kenya

6 Comments

  1. PHOTOS FROM KENYA
    by Kim Bhari

    Downtown Nairobi

    Downtown Nairobi

    Tom Mboya Street, the busiest in Nairobi.

    Tom Mboya Street, the busiest in Nairobi.

    Kenyan economy is experiencing a boom...another highrise begins to go up on Tom Mboya.

    Kenyan economy is experiencing a boom…
    another highrise begins to go up on Tom Mboya

    Stop!! Olympians crossing!!

    Stop!! Olympians crossing!!

    The cut throat universities championships.

    The cut throat universities championships

    University of Nairobi players

    University of Nairobi players

    The view outside Sandton Hotel which hosted the final phase of the Kenyan Olympiad qualifiers.

    The view outside Sandton Hotel which hosted
    the final phase of the Kenyan Olympiad qualifiers.

    Steve Ouma looking for the Siberian Tiger.

    Steve Ouma looking for the Siberian Tiger.

    The shadow of the beast... John Mukabi.

    The shadow of the beast… John Mukabi.

    A tense encounter between Akello & Ouma!

    A tense encounter between Akello Atwoli & Steve Ouma!

    Peter Gilruth watching.

    Peter Gilruth watching.

    Ladies battle for Olympiad spots!

    Ladies battle for Olympiad spots!

    Gwyen Jumba in deep thought.

    Gwyen Jumba in deep thought.

    Liz Minayo carefully annotates her move.

    Liz Minayo carefully annotates her move.

    Peter Gilruth inflicting punishment on Akello.

    Peter Gilruth inflicting punishment on Akello.

    The agony of Philip Singe.

    The agony of Philip Singe.

    George Nderitu (right) casts an ominous look at Mehul Gohil

    George Nderitu (right) casts an ominous look at Mehul Gohil.

    Our photographer Kim Bhari (right) here dissecting the action with Chess Kenya committee member Mary Kanyua.

    Our photographer Kim Bhari (right) here dissecting the action with Chess Kenya committee member Mary Kanyua

    The Zebras, wearing their black and white chessboard costumes, return back home to the Nairobi national park after watching the action.

    The Zebras, wearing their black and white chessboard costumes, return back home to the Nairobi national park after watching the action.


    Still looking for the Siberian Tiger?

    You'll find this tiger at the Olympiad in Siberia!

    Grrrrr… see you at Olympiad!

  2. Mehul,
    Thanks for the article and pictures. I know my brother-n-law is from Kenya. I’ll linked it to him. He will enjoy it.

  3. Glenn, lots of non-chess players I have come across back here in Nairobi like it as well!

    Daaim, nice ‘tiger’ jumping onto the chessboard at the end there!

  4. I once beat Peter Gilruth. It was in Berchtesgaden around 1976. Remember? Hello from Ohio ….

    Joel Schinke, former Hamburger Louie, Skytop Lodge

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