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Checkmate! Like a king seated in a castle, KCB rule Kenyan chess

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VICTOR OTIENO             

By VICTOR OTIENO            
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Isaac Babu, the Team Manager KCB Chess Club is confident of one thing — that the bankers will rule the Kenya Premier Chess League (KPCL) for the next five years.

“With the current team spirit, I don’t see any team beating us. KCB Chess Club should have a smooth run for the next five years,” says Babu.

In March, when Chess Kenya released a list of 10 players who had qualified for the 44th edition of World Chess Olympiad, that was planned for Russia from August 5 to 18, one thing stood out — all the five men’s representatives were from KCB.

They were Candidate Master (CM) Ben Magana, Kenya’s top seed Joseph Methu, Ben Nguku, Jackson Kamau and Ricky Sang.

Ben Magana ponders his next move at a past
Ben Magana ponders his next move at a past chess competition. PHOTO | FILE

CM Joyce Nyaruai is the banker’s female player who made the cut for the Olympiad squad in the women’s category.

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Because of the coronavirus pandemic, World Chess Federation postponed the Olympiad to next year.

And as a result, Chess Kenya will in the coming days make a decision on whether or not to hold a new team selection.

Even as chess players across the country await that decision, Babu is walking with his head tall, boasting that the club is ready for another selection if matters come to that.

“We will welcome the decision that Chess Kenya will make. We are not afraid of a new team selection, and in fact if it happens, we might have many of our female players qualifying for the Olympiad,” said the former chess player.

Already, the bankers have cut a niche for themselves in the local competition, with six league titles in the 10 seasons held since 2003, with their last victory coming last year.

KPCL did not take place in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2011, 2012 and 2016 due to lack of teams.

For the league to take place, a minimum of 14 teams are required.

Only Equity Chess Club and National Bank of Kenya have challenged KCB for the title.

In the last 10 years KCB have won six titles, Equity three and NBK one.

KCB's Ben Nguku ponders his next move during a
KCB’s Ben Nguku ponders his next move during a past match. PHOTO | FILE |

Last year’s competition was a memorable one for KCB and the chess fraternity. The bankers won the title unbeaten in the 27-team league becoming the first team to achieve such a feat in the history of the competition in Kenya.

They bagged maximum points in all the 26 matches, to lift the trophy with 78 points, nine ahead of Anchors Chess Club of Nairobi.

Equity emerged third on 63 points.

Babu links that outstanding performance by KCB to team work.

“When we realised that we had gone 70 per cent of the league unbeaten, we convened a meeting with all the players and our sponsors and discussed how we could make it a 100 per cent record,” said the team manager.

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“Everyone committed to play their part and that is how we ended up making history as the first team to win the league without a single loss.”

KCB’s dominance has also been witnessed in individual competitions, with Methu and Nyaruai winning the 2019 Kenya Open Chess Championships men’s and women’s titles respectively.

Methu also won the Nairobi and Tanzania Open Chess Championships, while Nyaruai added the 2019 Kenya National Chess Championships women’s title to her accolades.

Nguku and Nyaruai triumphed in the men’s and women’s Olympiad qualifiers held in March.

The team has a policy of recruiting players with fide rating of not less than 1,800 for locals and 2,000 for foreigners.

The contracts last one year only, with the renewal being subject to one’s performance in the previous season.

According to Chess Kenya regulations, each team submits names of 12 players to represent them in a season.

But teams can only field one female player to play on any board of the five during a league match.

Normally, teams do prefer having their most experienced players competing on board one, while the least experienced contest on board five.

For their 2015 victory KCB earned the right to represent Kenya in the 2016 Africa Chess Championships in Egypt, where they finished fifth out of the eight nations that competed.

Equity Chess Club were Kenya’s other representatives in the continental competition.

This year’s competition is unlikely to take place because of the coronavirus pandemic.

KCB did not feature in this season’s opener on February 29 and March 1 because most of their players were competing in the Olympiad qualifiers.

The were scheduled to kick-off their title defence campaign in April 4 and 5 but the fixtures were suspended because of the covid-19 pandemic.

However, the team was very intent in dominating the competition in the coming years, as they have resorted to individual and Internet training.

Babu admits that their financial muscle over the rest has worked to their advantaged.

“KCB team is well maintained above all others. It will be hard to beat this team because the players are well motivated, and they know how to play chess,” he said.

National team player Sasha Mongeli. She
National team player Sasha Mongeli. She competed in 2018 World Chess Olympiad in Batumi, Georgia. PHOTO | COURTESY |





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