The chess brain – on the road to Siberia

by ChessBase
2/23/2010 – When did the chess brain develop? Turns out that Caissa made it some 50 km south of Nairobi, Kenya, in the pre-historic wastelands of Olegersaille. She called the bipedal primate Homo Sapiens. Today, 200,000 years later, the Kenyans are picking a national team to join their cousins from all over the world at the Siberian Olympiad. Spectacular pictorial by Mahul Gohil.

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The Road to Siberia

By Mehul Gohil

Not many people in the world know of John Mukabi. That kind of name is easier to pronounce than the hard to chew on “Khanty Mansiysk”, but it wouldn’t ring a bell or invoke the nostalgia of an old masterpiece… surely it cannot be the Alekhine-Mukabi 1-0 boilover (Bad Pistiyan 1937, Queen’s Gambit Declined, Orthodox Defense) as annotated by Harry Golombek? That’s fiction.

Kenyan history is steeped in vivid story telling in the form of oral literature. Here is an example – Caissa made the first chess brain some 50 km south of Nairobi in the pre-historic wastelands of Olegersaille. She called it Homo Sapiens. Then from here, a couple of hundred thousand years ago, Homo Sapiens spread out of Africa and took the chess brain to all the other countries of the world.

The first chess brain? Fragment of a Homo Erectus skull at the Kenya National Museum

The Olegersaille fossil site. Littering the ground are stone tools our pre-historic
ancestors used. This is one of the candidate areas for where man emerged.

At 18:00 hrs on some odd day in September 2010, the journey will begin all over again: five Homo Sapiens will board an air-o-plane at JKIA, out of Africa they will fly and into Russian airspace will enter the specie Homo Sapien Chessus Caissa… and onward to Siberia.

The Nairobi Khanty-Mansiysk Express!

Kenyan economy is experiencing a boom – another highrise goes up on Tom Mboya

Just kidding – the players had this spectacular view of downtown Nairobi

John Mukabi or “The Beast”, as he is more affectionately called in Kenyan chess circles, made the last moves of the Kenya National Olympiad Qualifier on a dramatic first February 2010 weekend and booked his ticket to Siberia and to what will be his seventh Olympiad appearance.

Dolf Beltz (right) digs deep for a solution against John Mukabi (left)

The shadow of the beast

Kenyan chessers love their Olympiad. It’s everything. It’s the fight, it’s the mad scramble on the preliminaries, it’s the blood war with chess friends over the board, it’s the phone calls to relatives “I’ve made it into the team!” Or it’s the drowning of yourself in sorrow amidst the many bottles of Tusker after you have suicide bombed your winning position. The after game “Donner” kebabs and nyama choma fail to digest, misery abounds in the developing constipation, and everything becomes “the hell of hells… Gehenna… the vale of Kai Hinnom”.

Action at the Goan Gymkhana chess club

Dr. Nikolai Van Beek, a Dutchman who fell in love with Kenya and is involved in many local chess projects

Many around the world would not understand reasons for such strong passion and madness. After all, here is a Kenya that lacks Elo pedigree, its chessmen do not pawn-storm international events, the Guioco Piano is weaker this side of the Indian Ocean than it is on the Vishy washy Chennai shores. But every two years comes an opportunity to go on pilgrimage – the Olympiad. This is the Chess Haj where a forgotten chess world pays homage to the familiar one – as Anand stares into the complex depths of the Olympiad hall, looking back at him from the far and lost aisles will be Kenyan variations. Indeed, Caissa’s chosen ones – the Carlsen, the So, the Giri, the Nakamura and et al – sometimes forget or are unaware of the exact proportions of their fame – they have a worldwide fan club, right down to Nairobi’s chess hotspots: Sandton Palace in the Tom Mboya Street neighbourhood, South C “Golden Gate”, Downtown Pub & Restaurant, Sippers, Goan Gymkhana…

Qualifying for the Olympiad is tough! Dolf Beltz sweating

The agony of Philip Singe

Gwyen Jumba in deep thought

Liz Minayo carefully records her move

The cut throat Universities Championships

University of Nairobi players see humour in the position

Steve Ouma looking for the Siberian Tiger

The intense George Nderitu

Akello Atwoli studied the remains of his game against Steve Ouma. A clinching swindle had put him through. I watched as Akello trapped a queen on g8, drew invisible patterns around the board, translated his post-mortem reverie into finger dance.

Peter Gilruth is fascinated by the shenanigans in the Akello-Ouma game

Mehul Gohil relaxes with some blitz after having qualified

Larry Khaduli shows how it's done in Kenya

The Kenya No. 1 Peter Gilruth

Akello (right) having his morning nightmares against Gilruth

The Zebras, wearing their black and white chessboard costumes, return back home
to the Nairobi national park after watching the action

Later on the two of us speculated on what would be the nature of our debut Olympiad. As we bounced off each other one appealing chess-tourism idea after another, Peter Gilruth, Kenya’s long standing No. 1 and our Board One, interrupted our Russian day dreaming. Around a chess board he gathered us two and the others (including the candidates for the board five playoff, Singe, Ouma, Nderitu and Dolf), like a wise old Luo elder of ancient times having the young inexperienced warriors sit around a fire, and he told us the Olympiad was more than mere hero-worship of Kramnik. It was a responsibility, to keep the legacy of Kanani, Andolo, Nguku and the other Kenyan Olympian giants who went before us alive. To make the best of our little Elos and big spirit.

Our photographer Kim Bhari dissects the action with Chess Kenya committee member Mary Kanyua

The author, Mehul Gohil, who provides live reports for a local chess forum

Reports about chess: tournaments, championships, portraits, interviews, World Championships, product launches and more.


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