Tanzania: Breaking preconceptions (part 1/2)

6/25/2013 – After an epic story of overcoming adversity, the one-time handmade soap maker, Vinay Choudary, now owner of Tanzania's top internet provider, organized the Spicenet Open Chess Championship in Tanzania, and invited chess ambassadors GM Nigel Short and WGM Alina L'Ami to honor the event and give it a touch of class. Here is part one of a large illustrated report by Alina L'Ami

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Tanzania: Breaking preconceptions (part 1/2)

By Alina L'Ami

I'm not a big fan of patterns. I like the unexpected. Where else on earth could someone like me be more ‘wowed’ than in Africa, with A from Adventure?! You can imagine then my impatience to seize an unexpected opportunity: an invitation to the Spicenet chess tournament in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania!

The hotel where we stayed

The view from my window

As excited as I was, I cannot deny I was not aware of possible disruptions of my beautiful plan – better to be prepared than caught in offside. But any scepticism I had, regarding the Tanzanian expedition coming true, vanished literally over night: in less than two days, every detail was setup by the organizers, including my flight ticket. Not even in my best dream scenario did I imagine this, certainly not coming from a country which I thought to have no visible chess strings whatsoever! And that was only the first step of a continuously amazing, or I would call it even shocking (in the good meaning of the word) experience.

Being no tabula rasa before setting foot on Tanzanian soil, I was ‘ready’ for anything that might arise, whether good or bad. Anything except what actually happened, and nobody warned me about: almost all my preconceptions will be healed, even the ones I had no idea lived within myself.

The press conference

A friendly game with the tournament organizer and sponsor, Vinay Choudary;
unfortunately for me, he has a very strong souffleur.

Nigel teaching chess - the knight moves always give trouble...

Straight from the airport I’m given a hint I should drop my heavy baggage of a priori knowledge. As a Romanian citizen, I cannot say I have been often advantaged, quite the contrary. Here though, at the customs of Dar es Salaam, I passed more or less instantly, since Romania is exempted from the entry visa requirements, the only European country to have such a diplomatic agreement with Tanzania. I reckon I don’t have to describe the triumphant grin hoisted on my face while I was silently making my farewells to all the poor and tired citizens from prestigious countries like the USA, France or Germany, queuing at the kilometre-long rows for their visas.

The Spicenet Tanzania Open chess Championship is officially open, the first move being made by the Fide vice president, Lewis Ncube from Zambia! It seems they have a preference for 1.Nc3 in Eastern Africa...the same move Vinay Choudary played against me.

The tournament hall, located in a brand new building

The purpose of my visit to Dar es Salaam was not a touristic one, so I didn’t have the time to see all the cultural and natural jewels that Tanzania can be so proud of. Nevertheless, the major city and capital in everything but the name was an incredible experience, with its mix of African, Arabic and Indian influences yet still keeping close ties to its Swahili roots. But not matter how insatiable I was to absorb a culture as alien to me as the Martians, I should admit I was again ‘surprised’ – instead of a hole full of plague, famine and violent crime, I discovered a fantastic, enlightening and intriguing city.

Your reporter, finding herself healed of preconceptions she did not realize she had

It was a warning for me that I shouldn’t blindly believe everything that’s on TV, which most of the times is just partially true. Most people live in the 21st century (including Tanzania!), with everything that means, so maybe this is the moment to mention that the main sponsor of the tournament, Spicenet, is an important Internet provider…

The problem with Nigel's position, to paraphrase a certain music-loving emperor,
is that he has too many pieces.

Alina, Nigel and Purity: all born on 1st of June!

We had a delicious and informal lunch during the Tanzanian Rotary club's meeting,
thanks to the invitation of its president, who is none other than Vinay Choudary!

Chess in Tanzania was dormant for more than 15 years, present but not in the spotlight; it was time for something to be done. And once again, things happened differently than what one (or his preconceptions) might expect. This is the first time I hear that a sponsor goes to a chess federation and not the other way around. And probably for the first time in the history of FIDE, a tournament is held before the organizing federation was asking for affiliation. In fact, the tournament was held under the patronage of the chess federation of Uganda, which is a FIDE member already and has previously allowed Tanzanian players to participate in various tournaments under the Ugandan flag as well.

One cannot fault their sense of style

Some players prefer a more traditional garb

Purity Maina from Kenya

In Nigel's footsteps: Laurie Beebee from UK

The brain behind the entire operation is the Indian Vinay Choudary, the owner of Spicenet. His personal story is as tumultuous and surprising as the sudden Tanzanian chess wakening and I believe it deserves a brief sketching. At 16 he left home, driven by his enthusiastic and creative business ideas: making soap according to a certain formula was one of them – he failed.

The first grandmaster to have ever played in Eastern Africa:
top seed and winner of the tournament Nigel Short.

Nigel checks out the competition. "1.Nc3.... and 1.Nc3.... hmmmm."

Returning home, he found himself in debt and with a family to look after. But not everyone is allergic to the idea of failure; he switched to a completely new field: dairy products, then teaching, then heard about a job in Tanzania which proved to be nonexistent… Once here though, he fell back on a vertical position, like a tumbler toy. Today Spicenet, his internet provider company, is one of the most stable and reliable on the market.

Power outage: despite the incredible natural resources Tanzania has in its grounds (minerals, precious stones etc), the country has a serious problem when it comes to electricity. We experienced that as well but the organizers did everything that was in their power to overcome the light loss.

It is said that chess mirrors life

A last round encounter between Nigel Short and Elijah Emojong from Uganda.
Both players were on maximum score, five out of five, but the experience
showed its strength and Nigel won the battle.

The event's trophies

The winner takes all

Nigel with our wonderful hosts, Choudary and his family

The timeless group shot

Vinay's daughter looking into her career as a chess grandmaster

Reminds me of football matches for some reason

Final Ranking after six Rounds

Rk.
Tit
Name
Fed
Rtg
Pts
1
GM
Short Nigel D
ENG
2682
6.0
2
IM
Emojong Elijah
UGA
2301
5.0
3
Chumfwa Kelvin
ZAM
2172
5.0
4
Nsubuga Haruna
UGA
2169
5.0
5
Deepthamsh Reddy. M
IND
2120
5.0
6
IM
Mwali Chitumbo
ZAM
2256
4.5
7
Bwalya Gillan
ZAM
2354
4.5
8
Magana Ben
KEN
2047
4.5
9
Kangwa William Chibesa
ZAM
0
4.5
10
WGM
L'Ami Alina
ROU
2345
4.0
11
Ateka Nathan
KEN
2147
4.0
12
CM
Wachira William Wachania
KEN
2073
4.0
13
Buti Raphael
UGA
0
4.0
14
Kidula Brian
KEN
0
4.0
15
Isaac Babu Odiah
KEN
0
4.0
16
Mwanyika Geoffrey
UGA
0
4.0
17
Collins Young
KEN
0
4.0
18
Mdoe Yusuf
UGA
0
4.0
19
Luggya Vianney
UGA
1881
4.0
20
Hamoulhadj Fouad
ALG
2128
3.5
21
Singe Phillip Mbawala
KEN
1971
3.5
22
Raju J.K.
IND
2124
3.5

Complete standings

The time control was 90 minutes plus 30 seconds per move for the entire game. We played six rounds in three days - so two rounds each day.

Photos by Alina L'Ami


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