From first to the last the story of Kenyan chess is a tale of hopes deferred, of disappointment, of estimates unfulfilled, of talent unrealized, of coping with unpredicted and often unpredictable difficulties. It is a tale of a group of Kenyan men and women who will do it all for the passion of the game they so much love. It is also a tale of uncooperative officials who will use every chance to put hurdles in the way forward for the game. It is a complex interaction of factors financial, egoistic, passion and many more that make us still believe in Kenyan chess.
For us to realize the future we must go back to the past. The history of Kenyan chess is history! But in comparison to the present the past may have been brighter. I remember when I started learning chess both major dailies in Kenya, Nation and Standard had weekly chess columns there was also a magazine called Executive that carried a monthly chess column. Chess clubs were vibrant mostly in Nairobi but had its fair share in other towns as well.
The number G+90 tournaments were exceedingly high and the caliber of play ( I stand to be corrected on this) was above par. The number of juniors coming through the ranks was impressive. Chess could at the time attract huge sponsorship and players from as far as South Africa used to participate in the Kenyan open. The game had its fair share of politics probably it was more fired than today’s but events on the board overshadowed those off it.
Looking at the state of Kenyan chess today one has to wonder where the rain started beating us. For a start let us begin our postmortem by dissecting chess Kenya. When I looked at the membership of chess Kenya I was horrified, with less than 100 paid up members and over 90% being kids something is really amiss with chess Kenya recruitment procedures. Optimists may argue that this is good for development of young players but obviously this argument does not hold water.
Aside from membership chess Kenya does not seem interested in holding chess tournaments frequently; the last long tournament was months ago and such great traditional tournaments like the Kenya open may soon face the axe. To complicate things even more chess Kenya does not know the dates of the two ‘grand slams’ of Kenyan chess, the Kenya open and the national championships. The Kenya open was usually held during the May Day weekend but we have outsourced this to Uganda.
The return of the national league last year was a welcome relief to many. After years of being MIA the chess league resumed with a lot of players showing enthusiasm. The usual big sponsored teams walked away with the trophy but the entry of other teams including Maseno University was a welcome development. Kenya commercial bank team won the event.
On promising side chess Kenya continued with its process of featuring teams in international events. For more than ten consecutive years Kenya has always featured a team to the chess Olympiad. The Kenyan youth have also become ambassadors of great repute and participated in many international events.
But the real problem with chess in Kenya has it has been for many years is politics. Siasa mbaya maisha mbaya as the former president aptly put it does not only apply to the general Kenya but specific areas in Kenyan society like chess. The leadership wrangles of today are child play compared to the antics of yesteryears but still play a big role in digressing the game of chess.
Apart from chess Kenya the other part that influences chess are the players themselves. To start us off majority of Kenyan chess players myself included are not paid up members of chess Kenya. The argument has been why should players pay up when the chess organization cannot do anything in return?
The other worrying factor is the number of young players advancing to the senior level. If we still call the likes of Atwoli and Obutu upcoming we need to rethink our chess seriously. The other major setback for Kenyan chess is that Kenya is probably the only country in the world that does not have a major chess column in its national dailies.The standard used to have a column until two years ago when it was ceased to be published.
But through everything, through thick and thin, through financial crisis and chess highs we must struggle to maintain the standards of chess in Kenya. In the second part of this eassy I will continue with the state of Kenyan chess and give recommendations on what may be done.