Team Rwanda had a mammoth task after two losses and one draw on July 31, its first day of action in the ongoing FIDE Online Olympiad 2020 that started July 25 and ends August 30.
On day one, the national team lost to Syria (1.5-4.5), drew with Kuwait (3-3) and lost to Namibia (2.5-3.5). These results implied the national team had to win most of its remaining six fixtures so as to qualify for the next round.
So much was at stake on Saturday. The tension was high. The young team – only two players in the squad of 12 are above 21 years of age – knew that the three mid-group games of the day were a do or die affair.
To make things worse, the players also knew that opponents from Qatar, Uganda and Malta would definitely be intent on taking no hostages.
In round 4, high school graduate Rongin Munyurangabo and data scientist Marie Faustine Shimwa pummeled their Qatari opponents. But the latter's two wins and 18-year-old Ian Murara Urwintwari's hard-fought draw – 2.5 points in total – were not enough as the Qatari team won the tie 3.5-2.5 and deflated the Rwandans' hopes.
The next tie versus a resuscitated Ugandan team would be something the players will want to forget so fast. Uganda, the strongest chess nation in the region, had earlier lost all its first three games, ending up on the bottom of the table and no one doubted how deadly they would be considering the stakes. Eventually, Rwanda was whipped 5-1, the only consolation being registered by a still stubborn Urwintwari who simply refused to be bullied by the neighbours.
"This was a tough tournament but a welcome experience as we explore chess from an online perspective and we hope to get better results in the 2021 chess Olympiad," Urwintwari told Times Sport at the end of the event.
Come round 6, it seemed, despair set in. They were demolished 6-0 by Malta.
On Sunday, the last three rounds in Division 4, Pool B, were against Pakistan, Mozambique and Cyprus. Despite a consoling win by 18-year-old Sandrine Uwase and the draw by Munyurangabo, Rwanda lost 4.5-1.5 against Pakistan. In round 8, Urwintwari again stood out by grabbing a win as his team was put to the sword by Mozambique, 5-1. In the final round 9, only WFM Uwase managed a draw as Cyprus won the tie 5.5-0.5.
In Division 4, Pool B which comprised 10 countries, Syria, Malta and Mozambique qualified to the next round of games – Division 3. To qualify for the next stage, a country had to make it to the top 3.
The Division 4 rounds came to an end on Sunday, August 2. The upcoming Division 3 contest will run from August 7 to 9.
The FIDE Online Olympiad 2020, the first of its kind, consists of two main stages: a division stage and a playoff stage.
The new tournament comes after the main 2020 Chess Olympiad, a biannual event earlier scheduled for August 5-17, was moved to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Data scientist Marie-Faustine Shimwa, a former two-time national woman champion, told this publication that her team's performance gives hope that Rwanda can do better in future events.
She said: "There is hope if we maintain momentum and get requisite support. We have a new generation of young players who love the game and have what it takes to shine."
Ben Tom Zimurinda, the acting chess federation president, noted lessons were learnt and they are now going back to the drawing board.Follow https://twitter.com/KarhangaJames