Chess: When AUCA student outplayed old guard

Maranatha Nduwayesu (R) and Alain Niyibizi attended a training session in Kigali last year. File.

A little-known Adventist University of Central Africa (AUCA) student, Maranatha Nduwayesu, on Sunday night surprised chess enthusiasts when he outplayed unsuspecting top players to win a tournament.

Nduwayesu won five games of the six-round contest, a new chess tournament initiated by reigning national champion, Dr Joseph Nzabanita.

The contest, dubbed Knight Chess Club Open, was held over the weekend at University of Rwanda’s Gikondo campus (former SFB). Knight Chess Club, Nzabanita’s club, organised the tournament.

The 20-year-old, who was playing in his first major national tournament, only lost to Valentin Rukimbira – in round four.

By and large, the young man’s sudden appearance has a bittersweet test to it.

Candidate Master (CM) Godfrey Kabera, who was put to the sword in round three, on Saturday, noted that if he stays the course in the next few years, he could be destined for greater things.

Kabera noted that “we need new faces in the game” and that if “Maranatha keeps playing 10 solid years in tournaments he will be on his way.”

“But in fairness, the guy is a breath of fresh air.”

Rukimbira was impressed by his opponent’s achievement on his first appearance in a local tournament. 

Rukimbira noted that there is no doubt that Maranatha can become a great player.

“We hope he is going to work harder to bring much more input in the game.

According to Rukimbira, the attitude and “desire of playing stronger chess players than you” has to be much higher than the fear of losing games.

Rukimbira said: “It is just his first tournament. We cannot confirm his real playing strength right now, but winning the tournament shows that he might become one of great chess player.”

It now remains to be seen how Nduwayesu will perform in bigger upcoming events including the annual Genocide Memorial Chess Tournament (GMCT) in June as well the subsequent qualifiers for the 2020 Chess Olympiad.

The 2020 Chess Olympiad, a big world chess show, will be held in the Russian city of Khanty-Mansiysk.

Over the past weekend, the First Year Finance student tamed Eugene Kagabo in round one, Rwanda Chess Federation (Ferwade) president Kevin Ganza in round two, and CM Kabera in round three, on Saturday.

On Sunday, following his round four defeat, he recovered quickly to beat the man who initiated the new tournament – reigning national champion, Nzabanita, in round five.

By round six, it seemed that fatigue had set in as the youngster struggled against Cameroonian opponent, Kevin Larry Fotso. Mid-way through this game, Nduwayesu blundered and gave his opponent an advantage. Suddenly, they both had equal pawns, Queens and two Rooks. But Fotso had an extra Knight and everyone thought the game would be over soon. But Nduwayesu did not give up. His opponent was forced into blunders too, in the end, and gave the match away.

Nduwayesu told Times Sport that: “This was my first rated tournament ever. So, I am very excited and happy for winning the tournament because I had tried to prepare for it adequately. I would have been totally disappointed if I had not made the podium.”

“I hope to keep improving and earning chess titles in the future and to represent Rwanda well.” 

 Nduwayesu said playing chess online helped him experiment and practice new move variations “since I don’t get chances to play other people on the board.”

“My rapid improvement is mainly through watching chess grandmasters streaming their games, explaining moves, openings and endgames on internet and replaying famous games.”

At the end, CM Kabera was second and Rukimbira third.

Nzabanita emerged fourth.

Nzabanita, a senior maths and statistics lecturer at University of Rwanda’s College of Science and Technology, is the reigning national chess champion since dethroning Dr Ben Karenzi last December.

Fifteen players, including two Nigerians, a Cameroonian and a Kenyan participated in the six-round contest.

Ganza praised the reigning champion’s initiative as “very commendable”, noting that it sets a good example for fellow senior players. The idea behind his initiative is to add another rated tournament to the local chess tournament calendar so as to contribute to the development of chess in Rwanda.




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