"My opponent left a glass of whisky 'en prise' and I took it 'en passant". - Henry Blackburne | SINCE 2007

Sunday, March 1, 2015

This year I shall be occasionally introducing to
you chess players from Kenya, so that you get
to know them better. To start us off is the
immediate former 3- time national champion CM
Ben Magana, who started playing chess at the
age of 11 years old while in class 5, after being
taught by his elder brother Owino Magana,
himself a former national champion!
A member of KCB Chess Club, an outfit he has
turned out for for slightly over a decade and
won many national accolades with, Magana,
popularly chided as Big Ben for his towering and
imposing frame, is a well-known player both
locally and in the wider East African region for
his sharp style of play on the chessboard.
He was the national champion in 2006, 2013 and
2014 and he is also a 5-time Olympian having
represented the country in the world chess
Olympiads of 2000 (Istanbul, Turkey); 2006
(Turin, Italy); 2008 (Dresden, Germany); 2012
(Istanbul, Turkey) and 2014 (Tromso, Norway).
He was the Kenya Open champion in 2000, 2004
and 2005 and captained KCB in dominating the
local scene by winning numerous league and
tournament titles, apart from his individual
trophies and medals that fill his cabinet.
Magana lost his national champion status in 2014
by default, while still the pundits’ favourite to
retain it. “In the 1st week of December, the
Africa Chess Confederation President, Zambia’s
Lewis Ncube, offered me a nomination to go and
play in the 2014 Africa Individual chess
Championships (AICC) held in Namibia, from
December 12-23. This was a very tempting offer,
as during the past AICC 2007 in which I played, I
beat the then world junior champion,
Grandmaster Ahmed Adly of Egypt. I felt a
blood rush when considering the renewed
opportunity to do battle against Africa’s best
over 64 squares,” he opines.
“My participating in AICC 2014 would mean I
automatically skip the 2015 Kenya national
championships that was being held from
December 12-14. Considering that I was national
champion 2013 & 2014, it would be sad for me
to miss the 2015 edition. In 2013 & 2014
editions, I played a total of 16 games, going
undefeated,” he adds and would have wished to
make it 3 in a row.
“I decided to play in AICC 2014. The initial
departure date was 12th Dec (Nairobi-
Johannesburg-Windhoek), but due to transit visa
hitches, I actually left on 14th Dec (Nairobi-
Lusaka-Windhoek). As a result, I missed the first
2 of 9 rounds of the event. Of the 7 games I
played, I scored 4.5 points with a Tournament
Performance Rating of 2216 and finished 17th
out of 29 participants,” he adds with a tinge of
Magana has also played in other continental
events but for lack of adequate exposure, he
hasn’t realised his dream of being amongst the
best in the continent.
“I have trained students both privately and
institutionally (like Makini Group of Schools,
2006-2009) and I am considering going into
retirement to give newer players a chance to
qualify and play for the national team as I
immerse myself into chess management, with a
bias towards youth development,” says the 38-
year-old trainer at Terrian Chess Academy.
Magana attributes the upsurge in the levels of
chess locally to the current Chess Kenya
leadership, which has a more accommodative
brand of leadership vis-à-vis previous regimes.
The partnership with the Kasparov Chess
Foundation-Africa in supporting the Chess in
schools initiative has also witnessed an
emergence of new players on the junior scene.
The local player he admires most is the veteran
CM Peter Gilruth, purely for his longevity and
passion for the game. Internationally, he is a GM
Veselin Topalov (Bulgarian) and GM Baadur
Jobava (Georgian) die-hard fan and believes that
Uganda’s FM Harold Wanyama is the biggest
wasted talent in Africa! “He would be a
Grandmaster by now, with proper exposure!” he

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