Jambo Commonwealth!

3/29/2005 – Mombasa, a town with almost a million inhabitants, has just one chess club – with ten members. Recently Super-GM Nigel Short visited Kenya and met with chess players of the country. Nigel is determined to improve the situation. For this reason he is running for President of the Commonwealth Chess Association.

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Jambo Commonwealth!

In early January I took my family on safari to Kenya. As I wanted to avoid being eaten alive in the forthcoming Corus tournament, it made sense to study some serious predators close up. While the ostensible purpose of my visit was strictly touristic, it also seemed like an excellent opportunity to make contact with the Kenyan chess community.

But first the animals, which we saw at Nakuru, Lake Naivasha and the Masai Mara national parks.


This is a so-called white rhinoceros. The word “white” is a misnomer as it comes from the Dutch word “wijd” meaning “wide” – referring to its mouth, which is well adapted for grazing. They eat a lot: males are pretty big, weighing up to 2300 kg.

“If you hear a loud 'whoosh'
In the African bush
And an animal comes to the fore,
Who is basically pig
But more hairy and big
You will know you have met with a Boar.

You are glued to the spot;
Will he kill you or not?
No need to have fears about that.
Now he's made you stand fast,
And you're cornered at last,
All he wants is a nice little chat.

But don't be misled;
Soon you'll wish you were dead,
That instead he was after your gore,
For Oh, Oh what a bore he is, what a thundering thumping bore!”

I was keen to include these superb lyrics from Flanders and Swann – an English comedy duo who were very successful in the 1950s. I cheated a little – the animals in the picture above are in fact warthogs.


Aren’t they lovely – mother and child? We saw lots of zebras during our trip.


If these buffaloes give the impression of squinting it is because they have poor eyesight. They have an excellent sense of smell though.


Perambulating pachyderms


They are not bothered by tourists in elephant-sized vehicles


A lioness in the savannah


A Masai giraffe


This buffalo met an unfortunate end. Vultures were waiting their turn nearby for the remnants of lunch.


The ubiquitous Thomson’s gazelles.

“Mud! Mud! Glorious mud!
Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood.
So, follow me, follow, down to the hollow,
And there let us wallow in glorious mud. –
Hippo song
by Flanders and Swann

Despite their benign appearance, hippos are rather dangerous. Even crocodiles (of which we saw half a dozen) are wary of them. We had an armed escort for this part of the trip.

The official part of the visit

Safari over, we headed for the historic port and formal capital, Mombasa, for a few days’ relaxation. Here is a house in the old town.

While there in Mombasa, the second largest city in Kenya, with a population of close to one million, I met with James Apiri, a local chess player. "How many chess clubs are there in the city?" I asked. "One," he replied. "How many members does it have?" – "Ten". It was obvious that a lot needs to be done to promote chess in Kenya.

On our last day we flew to Nairobi where I met with Stanley Luruti , the Chairman of the Kenya Chess Association. Stanley seemed genuinely surprised when I mentioned that I was the Commonwealth Chess Champion. During our meeting we were joined by Lawrence Kagambi, the Secretary, and a former national champion himself and two other members of the KCA.

At least 20 people, including most of the national team, gathered at very short notice in a bar. I took on all-comers at blitz. Above I am playing Olympian, Nguku Namale. I would later publish an attractive attacking game of his in my Sunday Telegraph column.


All eyes intently watching the battle...


Being a professional chessplayer I, of course, never do anything for free. My evening’s payment can be seen standing up to the left of the board.


With the Kenyan Champion and John Mukabi


The KCA dignitaries: Stanley Luruti, Isaac Babu and Lawrence Kagambi and myself.

It was a most convivial evening. I was greatly impressed with the enthusiasm and warmth of the players and officials. It was certainly an experience I will not forget in a hurry. I think it is necessary to do much more to promote chess, particularly in places like Kenya, where the game is not so firmly entrenched. For this reason, a few weeks ago I made the decision to run for the presidency of the Commonwealth Chess Association.


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