Save for a few tournaments, chess activity in 2017 was low largely due to the fact that in December 2016, the Ministry of Sports and Culture suspended nine national sports federations including the Rwanda Chess Federation (FERWADE) for operating without legal status.
The chess federation only started operating legally in September 2017 after the Rwanda Governance Board (RGB) issued it with the requisite certificate.
At the time, FERWADE president Kevin Ganza was triumphant, saying that, “We are very happy to be back on track after a long time of inactivity.”
Ganza and his colleagues proceeded to publish the annual calendar of chess tournaments “and hit the ground running” even without the earlier halted inter-club championship despite the fact that clubs had already played the first round of games.
Despite the silence on the tournament, the federation carried on with promotional activities and was able to take the game to more than 10 schools.
For more than five months, some students in schools including Riviera High School, Green Hills Academy, FAWE Girls’ School in Gisozi and Lycée Notre Dame de Cîteaux, in Kigali, have been learning chess in a project expected to further boost talent development.
This, as expected, will also be a real shot in the arm seeing that the federation plans to launch the maiden inter-schools chess competition in February.
The inter-schools, if well organized, will provide a much needed spark for the thinking game, as chess is often referred, to take root in the country.
The long period of inactivity throughout the past year notwithstanding, the few competitions that were organized, there was reason for hopefulness as regards the future of chess in Rwanda.
At the end of a thrilling 2017 National Chess Championship, mid last month, Dr Ben Karenzi, former commandant of Rwanda Military Hospital and Sandrine Uwase, a 15-year-old girl from Gikondo, a Kigali suburb, were crowned the men and women national champions.
It was a good comeback for Dr Karenzi, who had been away from the competitive chess for years. Dr Karenzi’s return was sure to throw a spanner in the works as the few top players would not have it their way anymore.
On the flip side, however, it was good news as few will rest on their laurels and this only means the resulting hard work by individual players will sooner or later help to raise Rwanda’s flag in international tournaments.
The rise of Uwase is another highlight of 2017. In the women’s section, the youngster, who was playing in the championships for the first time, won all her matches – including her encounter with outgoing national champion Marie Faustine Shimwa.
Kids, who play chess in her slum neighborhood, were overjoyed. They got extra confidence boost seeing one of their own make it happen at the big stage. And this can only promise more good things in 2018.
For the second year in a row, since their feat in 2016, the newly crowned women national champion and her neighbor, Joselyne Uwase, who also turned 15 on Christmas Day, will in March, look to get spots on the national team for the 43rd Chess Olympiad to be held in Batumi, Georgia, from September 23 to October 7.
2017 youth chess championship a success
The National Youth Chess Championship held in early December 2017 at Kagarama Secondary School in Kicukiro district was a success. It saw 63 youngsters – compared to 54 in the previous year – compete in three categories: U-12, U-15, and U-18.
The federation maintains that young players are the future of Rwanda’s chess.
In October, Ian Urwintwari Murara, 15, a grade 11 student of Wellspring Academy in Kigali won the individual Rapid Open Chess Tournament.
Again, in November, five youngsters participated in the Championship Qualifiers, with one of them – Rongin Munyurangabo, a 17-year-old from Gikondo – convincingly battling his way into the top six, who would eventually play in the final in December.
Munyurangabo had emerged second after trouncing unsuspecting opponents including Ganza, and two other strong senior players.
2018, year of tangible achievements
“I foresee a year of tangible achievements now that we are properly registered and allowed to work legally. We have an ongoing schools chess program, which will continue to run, and for the very first time, we shall organize the Inter-Schools Chess competitions,” Ganza told Saturday Sport.
He added that, “We also look forward to advance in world rankings with our participation in the 43rd World Chess Olympiad. Our players are improving their games and we are very proud of it.”