National Chess Championships: Karenzi draws with Nzabanita as Uwase continues to shine

LNDC chess club captain, Anna Ngarambe, is buoyed to surprise champion Sandrine Uwase on Sunday afternoon. Courtesy

Round two of the ongoing 2018 National Chess Championships at IPRC-Kigali in Kicukiro produced the first shock of the tournament late Saturday.

It saw Dr Ben Karenzi, former commandant of Rwanda Military Hospital, slip and share the spoils with Joseph Nzabanita while Sandrine Uwase, 16, continued her winning ways by taming Nice Isimbi, 18, in the ladies section.

Karenzi and Uwase were crowned 2017 male and female National Chess Champions, respectively, last December but now face tricky ties in an attempt to keep their titles. 

In the open section, round three starts Sunday morning with Karenzi, paired against youngster Rongin Munyurangabo, 19, who lost to Valentin Rukimbira in round two.

Unbeaten, Rukimbira – one of the leading challengers – has two points and jointly leads the table with Florent Niyongira.

Should Rukimbira steer clear of snares ahead he can run away with the title.

But much remains to be seen in this eight-round contest played in the Swiss format. Rukimbira is now paired against Niyongira in round three and both know what snatching an early lead implies. Theirs could be another show piece since Rukimbira now knows that Niyongira is capable of anything.  

Eugene Mugema Kagabo, Karenzi’s other potential challenger for the trophy, and title, in this tournament set to be played over two consecutive weekends, is facing an uphill task after unexpectedly being put to the sword in round one by Niyongira.

Kagabo faces Nzabanita in round three in what is another hard battle of the tournament given their strength.

In the ladies section, a single round robin format is being used and all eight contenders know who they are to face in each of their seven rounds.

Sandrine Uwase, a teen from the Kigali suburb of Gikondo, on Saturday defied the odds when she defeated her neighbor, Woman FIDE master (WFM) Joselyne Uwase, 15, in round one. Most observers had put their money on the WFM to win the tie considering her recent form.

Fresh from the 43rd Chess Olympiad, in Georgia where the World Chess Federation (FIDE) confirmed her title – the first in Rwanda – Joselyne was considered to be the biggest threat to the reigning champion but it was not to be.

In round two, Sandrine blew Nice Isimbi, 18, away and is now set to play awfully cautious against easy prey, Francoise Uwimana, in round three. But Sandrine will undoubtedly be tested by Anna Ngarambe, 16, captain of the Lycée Notre Dame de Cîteaux (LNDC) chess club, in round four later Sunday afternoon.

During last week’s U-18 championships, Sandrine escaped narrowly when the LNDC captain nearly snatched a win in their round six meeting. Their second competitive meeting, in a space of seven days, will be entertaining. Psychologically, Sandrine will be under pressure. But she will also be ruthless and, should Ngarambe find a way – as well as patience and courage – to weather the storm, anything will be possible.

During round two, WFM Uwase recovered to squeeze a win out of her game against fellow Olympiad, WCM Christelle Uwamahoro. In round three, the WFM faces Happiness Mutete, 12, before facing Isimbi in round four. Both are winnable games but she has to keep calm or again risk losing her footing as her opponents today are expected to fight hard.              

In both sections, round three started at 10am on Sunday morning. Round four would start at 3pm, after which players will take a week off and resume next weekend.