Alain Patience Niyibizi, Eugene Kagabo Mugema, Candidate Master Maxence Murara and his son Ian Murara Urwintwari, Asad Ndangiza and Fidele Mutabazi, respectively, on Sunday night made it through to the final phase of the Chess Olympiad qualifiers set for late March.
They were among 16 contestants in the first phase of the qualifiers that started last Friday at IPRC-Kigali to choose Rwanda’s flag bearers for the 43rd Chess Olympiad scheduled to be held in Batumi, the second-largest city of Georgia, from September 23 to October 7.
The Chess Olympiad is a biennial chess tournament where teams from all over the world compete. The federation plans to send two teams – in the open section and the women section – to the Olympiad. Each team comprises five players.
Starting Friday evening, contestants played seven rounds in a Swiss-system, a non-eliminating tournament format which features a set number of rounds of competition and each competitor does not play every other.
The Rwanda Chess Federation (FERWADE) president Kevin Ganza said: “The first phase of qualifiers was run smoothly and was very tough, as I earlier predicted. We are happy about the general picture."
“But everyone was particularly amazed by the performance of young Ian Murara who turned out to be an unshakable rock to all his opponents.”
The rising star, the only contestant under 23 years of age in the contest, battled hard to earn the highest count of additional rating points (83.6) in the total seven rounds played. He lost only one match.
He started by humbling his own father and coach CM Maxence Murara in the first round of games, then battled for a draw in his second round encounter with Niyibizi, before surrendering to Kagabo in the third round played Saturday afternoon.
In the fourth round, despite fatigue late that evening he refused to bow to Elyse Tuyizere and snatched his second draw.
On the final day of games, Sunday, there were three very decisive games but Urwintwari had good fortune and strength of mind on his side. His first challenger of the day, Sulayman Barakamfitiye, was easy prey as the youngster bagged another point and waited for pairings of the sixth round to be published. His game with the unsuspecting Barakamfitiye was a good warm up, apparently. The youngster then went on to pull a double shocker by defeating Ndangiza and Ben Tom Zimurinda in the sixth and seventh rounds respectively.
While his father is the country’s the most capped Olympiad player, if lucky to qualify in March, Urwintwari will be playing in the world event for the very first time.
“The final phase will be much tougher, as the players who made top six will give a hard time to the already qualified four. All players are going to train hard in preparation for the finals since no single player in the 10 is so certain about easily making the top five,” Ganza said.
In March, the six players will join the top four winners – Dr. Ben Karenzi, Joseph Nzabanita, Valentin Rukimbira and CM Godfrey Kabera, respectively – of last month’s 2017 National Chess Championship, in what will then be the toughest battle to select the best five.
Qualifiers for the women team will be played in two consecutive weekends starting March 3.
The Chess Olympiad, a global chess tournament, is organized by the world chess federation (FIDE) and comprises open and women's tournaments, as well as several events designed to promote the game of chess.
In 2016, after qualification, the national team did not make it to the 42nd Chess Olympiad in Baku, Azerbaijan, due to financial difficulties and hitches in travel preparations.
Ganza last week told Times Sport that “this time around we planned” to complete the qualifiers early so that preparations go on smoothly. According to him, by end of March, the teams’ composition will be known and “we shall continue looking for funding to enable us to participate.”