A lot has happened, and changed, ever since Dr Ben Karenzi, the former commandant of Rwanda Military Hospital, and Sandrine Uwase, a 16-year old girl from Gikondo, a Kigali suburb, were crowned 2017 male and female National Chess Champions, respectively, last December.
They were crowned after a contest played over two consecutive weekends at the University of Rwanda’s Gikondo campus (formerly SFB), in Kigali.
This weekend, the national championship tournament returns. It will, again, be played over two consecutive weekends. Only this time, the venue is different, at IPRC-Kigali in Kicukiro.
Rwanda Chess Federation (FERWADE) president Kevin Ganza admitted that it will be hard, but not impossible, for the reigning champions to retain the titles “because other players have been practicing a lot.”
“So, in both categories, the incumbent champions have strong challengers.”
According to Elysee Tuyizere, it will be “very difficult” for the two champions to pull it off.
“It is very difficult for Ben as it will equally be for Uwase,” Tuyizere said, before adding that, “I think Joselyne will be the strongest opponent for Sandrine.”
Tuyizere has coached both Sandrine Uwase and Joselyne Uwase, and knows what each is capable of. He also knows that Sandrine, who is most of the time in boarding school upcountry where there is no chess activity, lacks game time and this will be her Achilles’ heel.
In late September, when 10 players, including four teenagers, left Kigali for the Chess Olympiad 2018 in Batumi, Georgia, neither Karenzi nor the girl from Gikondo was on board.
While Sandrine who qualified for the team in March was unable to get her travel documents ready on time, Karenzi failed to qualify in March.
In the open section, Rwanda’s Chess Olympiad 2018 team then comprised; Joseph Nzabanita, Candidate Master (CM) Maxence Murara, Fidele Mutabazi, Ian Murara Urwintwari and Alain Niyibizi.
The women team had Joselyne Uwase, Aline Niyonsaba [as replacement for Sandrine Uwase], Layola Umuhoza Murara, Odile Kayitesi, and Christelle Uwamahoro.
For most, even before knowing who has shown interest in the championships and the girls who battled in the annual U-18 championships last weekend, the Olympiad was their last contest.
CM Alexis Ruzigura, who is in Uganda, is likely not to partake as the tournament as it is spread over two weekends. As much as he does not underate the defending champions, Ruzigura believes the tide changed too.
“Due to lack of tournaments, or game time, it will be every hard for both or any of them [Karenzi and Uwase] to keep the title. Those [other players] that have had more playing time stand a higher chance of winning,” Ruzigura said.
Ruzigura is one player who would have given Karenzi – and any other top contender – a good run for his money. The CM has just participated in the strong 2018 Rwabushenyi Open Chess Championship in Kampala, Uganda where he garnered 5 points out 8 rounds.
“For the girls or women, I highly think the WFM girl stands out. But for the open section, any one of the active players will have an equal chance.”
At the end of the 43rd Chess Olympiad, the World Chess Federation (FIDE) confirmed the title of Woman FIDE master (WFM) to Olympiad debutante Joselyne, 15, who showed force by winning seven out of her nine games.
Unlike her neighbour Joselyne, Sandrine has not played competitive chess since the March Olympiad qualifiers. Only her grit and stubborn self-confidence can save her.
In the U-18 championships, the WFM garnered 4.5 points and only lost once in the six-round contest. But the reigning national woman champion lost twice.
Ganza tipped CM Godfrey Kabera and Eugene Mugema Kagabo to pull off a surprise.
The two never qualified for the Olympiad and, if they compete, could be unpleasant opponents as they will be eager to prove a point.
Ganza said: “If they turn up for the championship, they would constitute a big challenge for the champions.”
In the women category, he puts his money on Anna Ngarambe, 16, and Divine Amen Ikamba, 14, to challenge for the title.