Joseph Nzabanita topped rankings with a tie break advantage against reigning national champion, Dr Ben Karenzi, at the end of round four Sunday evening in the open section of the 2018 National Chess Championships.
The annual tournament which will be wrapped up next weekend after a break is being played at IPRC-Kigali, in Kicukiro.
Nzabanita has 3.5 points after dispatching erstwhile frontrunner, Florent Niyongira, in round four. He is followed by Karenzi who also tamed Methode Twizeyimana.
According to Elysee Tuyizere, who is not playing, the open section is still unpredictable as “there is still a 50% chance for either Joseph, Ben or Valentin.”
“But if Joseph wins, his chances will be approximately 90% to be the next champion since he has already played Ben and [Eugene] Kagabo.”
Candidate Master (CM) Alexis Ruzigura said “we have reached a critical stage” as Niyongira, having played both Nzabanita and Rukimbira, has to beat Karenzi to stand any chance.
“A reverse score will see Ben closing in on winning this title deepending on the result between Joseph and Valentin, going in his favor. Then all will be sorted as the remaining players won’t give him trouble,” Ruzigura said.
“The chances of winning have been narrowed down to only four people at this stage. After round five it will be three people.”
Next weekend, in round five, Valentin Rukimbira – currently fourth in rankings with 3.0 points – will tussle it out with Nzabanita. Should the latter win this tie, Karenzi who will be versing current number three, Niyongira, will have a mountain to climb in the next rounds if he is to retain his title.
At the moment, however, there are no signs that the former commandant of Rwanda Military Hospital is giving up without a fight.
Reigning champion Sandrine Uwase, 16, overpowered Anna Ngarambe, 16, captain of the Lycée Notre Dame de Cîteaux (LNDC) chess club, in round four.
Karenzi, and Sandrine Uwase, 16, were crowned 2017 male and female National Chess Champions, respectively, last December.
But while Karenzi huffs and puffs in the open section’s eight-round contest, Sandrine has been on a surprising winning streak.
The 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.
Tuyizere, who has coached both girls, said: “For the ladies, it is clear that Sandrine has 75% chances to retain her title.”
Sandrine now leads the ladies section with four straight wins. She is followed by Joselyne who seems determined to at least maintain second place all throughout the remaining three rounds.
Ruzigura said: “Sandrine is one strong game away from winning the title. I am very impressed by how she has displayed brilliant chess without playing time. She is the player of the tournament for now.”
Joselyne had been billed to be the reigning champion’s main obstacle especially after her good performance at the September-October 43rd Chess Olympiad in Georgia where the World Chess Federation (FIDE) confirmed her WFM title – the first in Rwanda.
Sandrine who missed the Olympiad last played competitive chess during the March qualifiers and was considered too rusty to defend her title but she has fought back convincingly.
After stopping the WFM she went on to win all her other games including the round four encounter with Anna Ngarambe, 16, captain of the Lycée Notre Dame de Cîteaux (LNDC) chess club, on Sunday.
Earlier, during last week’s U-18 championships, Sandrine escaped by a whisker when the LNDC captain played daringly in their round six meeting.
Their second competitive meeting, in a space of seven days, was something different. Having seen what Ngarambe is capable of, the reigning champion played cautious, set traps and waited.