The Rise of Deborah Quickpen

In the aftermath of the “Battle of the Ages” match between Nigerians Tunde Onakoya and rising star Deborah Quickpen, we are possibly witnessing the beginning of a new era in African chess. While many are raving about the top-level prodigies from around the world (specifically Asia), Africa has yet to see a bright star with a mixture of youth, talent, and charisma—until now.

Deborah Quickpen

Deborah Quickpen

Nigeria Nigeria Nigeria

Twenty-five years ago, there was excitement when Amon Simutowe was destroying continental competition and making Africa proud at the 2000 World Junior Championships, placing 6th (ranked 42nd). He would become a Grandmaster in 2009, the 8th in Africa and 1st in the Sub-Saharan region. Africa has produced other GMs since then but has not been able to generate a global buzz. That may be in the making. Starting June 22nd, Quickpen will be in Batumi, Georgia, for the first FIDE World Cup (for youth). She will be ranked second in the under-12 section with an Elo of 2048.

One striking aspect of Quickpen is her confidence and poise. Having just turned 12, she is set to make a breakthrough. She won the under-10 title, with 9/10 at the African Youth Chess Championships. At age 11, she won the Nigerian women’s championship and placed 4th in the 2023 African Individual Championships earlier this year. These types of accomplishments at such a young age must be taken seriously. Nigeria has to put together a set of resources that will put Quickpen in a position to succeed.

Bayelsa State Govenor Douye Diri of  with Quickpen after winning African under-10 with 9/10. Photo by Bayelsa State Government

Bayelsa State Governor Douye Diri with Quickpen after winning 2021 African Under-10 with 8/9.
Photo by Bayelsa State Government

A Champ Begets a Champ

From Bayelsa State in southwest Nigeria, Quickpen learned to play chess at the age of three under the direction and guidance of her family and the initial mentorship of former national champion FM Bomo Kigigha. Kigigha is a seasoned veteran with four national championships and six Olympiad appearances for Nigeria. He is one of the leading promoters of youth chess in Bayelsa State and noticed something in the young Quickpen. She mentioned that she appreciated the confidence he instilled in her.

FM Bomo Kigigha
Photo from Wikipedia

Quickpen played in her first tournament at age five. After winning several medals in local and national events, she won Africa under 10. Then came her crowning moment, winning the National Championship at age 11 with a sparkling 9.5/11. What is even more significant is that Kigigha and Quickpen won the titles in the same championship year.

Video by Channels Television (Nigeria)

Onto the World Stage

More recently, Quickpen participated in a kind of coronation in the “Battle of the Ages” match with Tunde Onakoya. It was a fantastic affair drawing global appeal. Daniel Ford International also announced a five-year sponsorship. It demonstrates the kind of support Africa needs to develop talent. During the match, her current coach, Edward Evbuomwan, was lending a watchful eye, along with her proud mother, Vera Quickpen.

Quickpen's coach Edward Evbuomwan watching the match along with her mother at the

Quickpen’s coach, Edward Evbuomwan, watching the match along with her mother, Vera Quickpen, at the “Battle of the Ages.” Photo still from OVTV Online

Africa’s most populous nation is known to have prodigious intellectual talent, and nations worldwide have been the beneficiaries as the Nigerian Diaspora is famously prosperous. However, there is certainly a message to be sent when talent is homegrown and not imported from London, Berlin, New York, or Houston. It sets a standard for other African nations. It may also answer the elusive question of how to convert young talent into its maximum potential.

African chess is not regularly covered by media houses, except those focusing specifically on African events (i.e., Africa Chess Media, Bruvschess, Kenya Chess Masala, The Chess Drum). Players from Africa lack the opportunities and face tremendous financial and logistical barriers to competition. In this Olympiad year, we will witness a few African upsets of Grandmasters, but to have a special talent can serve as a catalyst for an African revolution. With its tremendous resources, Nigeria is poised to start a trend most recently seen in Asia.

Another Queen?

Honestly, there has not been an African story that has captured world attention since the movie “Queen of Katwe” hit theaters worldwide in 2016. Maybe Africa will get its “Queen’s Gambit” moment. Such a story of a girl coming from a small region and rising to national prominence is worthy of attention. There may be a new queen on the African horizon. Her name is Deborah Ebimobo-ere Quickpen.

Photos by Babatunde Ogunsiku/OTHIMS Photography


  1. Note: Simutowe’s unexpected World Junior performance caught the attention of none other than Garry Kasparov, who commented on the Zambian’s potential. Simutowe was regularly featured on English-language in articles written by South Africa’s FM Mark Rubery. In the early 2000s, the key to Simutowe’s exposure was the English-dominated Internet, the Zambian press and also The Chess Drum. Players from the Saharan region were more oriented toward the Arabic press thus less exposure for Egyptian GMs Bassem Amin and Ahmed Adly.

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