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Chess team departs for World Under-16 Olympiad Championship

A team of four chess players and one coach departed for Eindhoven, Netherlands, Thursday night to take part in the World Under-16 Chess Olympiad competition, that is set to begin on August 12 and end on August 19.

The Kenyan team will consist of Hawi Kaloki (Under 16 champion), Paul Olando (under 14 champion), Kuka (joint runner-up under 14), and Bernice Gikandi (under 18 Champion) and will be captained by Phyllis Ngigi.

Speaking to the press, Chess Kenya Chairman, Bernard Wanjala, said the Association was confident in the selection made for the competition as each of the team members exhibited their own individual strengths and had set their own individual records in previous competitions.

“As an association, we promised to invest in the high-level training of promising juniors towards International Master (IM) status and to sponsor the juniors to international tournaments and camps held outside the country. The team is well prepared and more than ready to take on the other global champions. We are confident in their abilities, and we know they will make us proud,” he said.

Bernice Gikandi, 12, who is the youngest member of the team, has an outstanding record, having moved from her current age to compete and win the under-18 category. She also opted to register in the boy’s section during the National Championship, a move that amazed the entire Association when she won first place.

Ordinarily, boys are considered stronger than girls in the sport, but her performance was an indication of changing tides with girls dominating the top positions. She is also highly experienced in international events, having represented Kenya in the Africa Youth Championship 2021 in Ghana, the Africa Youth Championship 2022 in Lusaka, Zambia, and the World Youth Championship in Batumi, Georgia. Bernice is a grade ‘A’ student currently studying at St. Peter’s Juja and is expected to rub shoulders with the world’s best.

Hawi Kaloki (15) has risen steadily and clinched the national title for the first time this year. His performance was also replicated in the Kenya Open after gaining the highest ratings.

This will be his first international assignment under Coach, Ben Magana, and he is a student at Brookside Preparatory School.

Paul Olando (13) has been a consistent player, winning the National Championship three times, the first when he was 12 years old. He represented Kenya at the Africa Youth Chess Championships in Ghana in 2022 and at the Africa School’s Chess Championship held in Kenya the same year. He will heavily rely on his international experience and is a student at Moi Educational Centre.

Kyle Kuka (13) is also a very consistent player, having finished as runners-up in several national competitions. His first international event was the Africa Youth Chess Championship in Lusaka, Zambia, last year. He has trained under Coach, Mathew Kanegeni, for the last 3 months and is a student at St. Bakhita Schools.

Kenya last participated in the Championship in 2017 and will be making a return with the sole aim of winning. The event has attracted teams from all over the world and will bring together the finest players from top chess nations such as Russia, India, China, and Israel, among others. Other African countries expected to compete include Angola, South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, and Uganda. The team is sponsored by Parents, Chess Kenya, and the National Olympic Committee of Kenya (NOC-K).

By Hellen Lunalo

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