Local chess players turn to virtual tournaments

Wednesday May 13 2020
By VICTOR OTIENO            

With sports activities still on halt globally due to coronavirus pandemic, Kenyan chess players are turning to virtual tournaments to remain active.

Unlike other sporting disciplines, chess can be played virtually.

The tournaments that take place daily are organised by Prox Chess House, a company involved in selling chess equipment, training players and organising chess events in the country.

Through a link, players from across the country register and compete in various tournaments, where they also get an opportunity to win cash prizes. Chess Kenya is among the organisations that sponsor some of the virtual tournaments.

Prox Chess House Chief Executive Officer Titus Kirega said they introduced online tournaments in 2017 but many local players are just embracing them now because of the disruption caused by the pandemic.

“Things have changed. We can now have up to 200 players competing in just one tournament. Before, foreign players were the ones who dominated tournaments, but now, we have many local players taking part,” said Kirega.

The tournaments are categorised into individual and team games, with a round lasting six minutes only. The time restriction is meant to curb cheating, which is made possible through the use of a separate computer or a phone with a chess engine. An arbitration committee is always on standby to listen to complaints before a winner receives the cash prize.

Kirega said his team has since banned two players for cheating.

Kenya’s top-seed Joseph Methu said virtual competitions played a role in his journey to the top.

“Since board tournaments are expensive, I preferred playing online and it helped me a lot. Online competitions give one more exposure because you can play all types of players across the world,” said Methu.

Kenya’s fourth seed Ben Nguku, who is also honing his skill through online competitions, said: “The online tournaments take place daily, unlike in board chess where they happen like once a month. This is very helpful in making one a better chess player.”

The players noted the other benefit of playing chess online is that players can analyse the mistakes they make after the game, thus they get better.

The Kenya Premier Chess League was suspended after the first round due to the coronavirus pandemic. Covid-19 has also led to the postponement of the World Chess Olympiad planned for August 5 to 18 in Russia.