2014: An encouraging year for Chess fraternity

As the year came to a close, it was announced that the inaugural FIDE rated chess tournament will be staged in Rwanda as early as January 2015.
A young boy playing chess in a tournament early this year. Many children embraced the game this year. (F. Mugisha)
A young boy playing chess in a tournament early this year. Many children embraced the game this year. (F. Mugisha)

As the year came to a close, it was announced that the inaugural FIDE rated chess tournament will be staged in Rwanda as early as January 2015. This announcement came as an early Christmas gift for the chase fraternity which had a successful 2014 as far as the game of chase in the country is concerned. Kasparov Chess Foundation Africa (KCFA) in collaboration with the Rwanda Chess Federation (Ferwade) and Chess Kenya will sponsor the tournament.

With most sports federations struggling to get sponsorship, and run smoothly, the importance of KCFA’s presence cannot be overlooked. Ferwade lacks money and infrastructure yet the former knows “how to attract sponsors and build organisations.”

This year, Ferwade revived the vital annual national championship tournament, which had been disregarded for over 10 years.

Chess is a game that can have beneficial effects on learning and on development, especially when it is played from a young age. Wendi Fischer, the Scholastic Director of America’s Foundation for Chess, says it’s not about Kings, Queens, and Rooks, but rather, quadrants and coordinates, thinking strategically and foreseeing consequences. Fischer notes that chess might just be the perfect teaching and learning tool.

To ensure that Rwandan kids start playing at a young age, this past year, Ferwade fast-tracked efforts to launch Mini-Chess programme. Mini-Chess was, in the past, developed for entry phase learners (5 to 9 year olds) as part of the school curriculum and is basically an educational programme that isn’t about teaching chess as such but an ingenious and efficient way of teaching mathematics using chess materials.

A visit by the then vice president of the World Chess Federation (FIDE), Ali Nihat Yazici, and African Chess Confederation (ACC) President, Lakhdar Mazouz, in March left a mark too as “we discussed a lot about ways chess could be developed in Rwanda, and how Chess in Schools could be effective,” Ferwade vice president, Kevin Ganza said in an interview at the time.

Yazici was then the Chairman of the FIDE Chess in Schools (FIDE-CiS) programme that Ferwade is promoting. The former President of the Turkish Chess Federation had “so much to share with us,” Ganza quipped. What is equally worth mentioning is that the pair as well did lend a hand in clearing a batch of chess materials that were then stuck at customs.

Later, in March, the first 18 Mini-Chess teachers were trained. If all goes well, a second session – before the roll out – is scheduled in January.

Mini-Chess will start, hopefully, in February 2015, in five pilot primary schools – GS Ste Famille, GS Akumunigo, both in Nyarugenge District; GS Kimisange and GS Masaka I, in Kicukiro District; and EP Mayange B, in Bugesera District.

Among others, Rwandans enlarged their horizons and participated, for the first time, in the AIDEF (an international francophone event) Chess Championship held in Lebanon in June. Like in other games, one of the ways to improve performance in chess is exposure to more tournaments, and that is taking shape.

But the highlight of the year came in August when Rwanda sent two teams [males and females] to the 41st World Chess Olympiad in Tromsø, Norway. The Olympiad is a biennial world chess tournament.

Ganza says the performance was “not so bad” because Rwanda advanced seven places in the world rankings and, two of players (Alexis Ruzigura and Maxence Murara) obtained Candidate Master (CM) titles.

“It is an achievement. Again, for the first time we had a ladies team. They also surprised us.

They performed way beyond our expectations; all we had asked them is to learn from others, gain experience and enjoy the game,” Ganza said.

“No one had expected them to win a game since we had a very short time for preparations.”
Lingering setbacks

However, not everything went well in 2014. The fact that none of the seven recognised chess clubs acquired legal personality continues to dog the federation. They are not capable of having legal rights and duties – say, entering into contracts, suing, and being sued.

The underlying hitch in this is arguably related to a lack of money to get papers notified, but it can also point to another disturbing predicament – the clubs’ inexcusable lack of commitment.

With a legal status, Ferwade would ably look for sponsors and the requisite financial support to eases its work especially taking the game to rural areas, in addition to organising more competitions.

As they say, the will to win means nothing if you don’t have the will to prepare. With Rwanda Chess determined to go somewhere in 2015, it’s now a question of how far and how fast.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

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