From the online encyclopedia Wikipedia we have the following: ‘The history of chess spans some 1500 years. The earliest predecessors of the game originated in India, before the 6th century AD. From India, the game spread to Persia. When the Arabs conquered Persia, chess was taken up by the Muslim world and subsequently spread to Southern Europe. In Europe, chess evolved into roughly its current form in the 15th century’.
A question we get asked very often is who and when was chess introduced in Kenya? A review of Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography, My Experiment with Truth, indicates that he learnt how to play chess on a ship from South Africa to Zanzibar, around April 1893. The first port of call was Lamu where he got onshore and spent some time. Unfortunately there is very little information on who really brought this game to Kenya.
Nairobi Chess Club was officially registered on 26 February, 1958 and is the oldest chess club in Kenya, and probably in East Africa. Records however indicate that the club was in existence even before that. An extract from the British Chess Magazine volume 62 of 1922 had an article about a Noel James Roughton who died on 4 July, 1953. He was the European Champion of Kenya in 1951 and was chair of Nairobi Chess Club for a number of years.
Various events were held under its umbrella but unfortunately there are no photos or records for this period of the club.
Cynthia Salvadori’s amazing book, Settling in a Strange Land – Stories of Punjabi Muslims brings out an interesting story of a certain Abdul Malik Butt. At the age of 27 in 1935, he won the Kenya Indian Chess Championship when he defeated Barkat Ali. Shortly after that he defeated the European Champion, G W Davidson, to win the overall title of Kenya Champion.35!
Digging into the archives of the Nation Newspaper revealed that chess was big in Kenya in the 1960. Various entries indicate that there used to be regular chess matches between Nairobi Chess Club and Sir Ali Muslim Chess Club.
On 12 August, 1961 the finals of the Asian Sports Association chess event was held between the late Peter Le Pelley and N J Raval in an event which was won by Le Pelley. An extract of the Daily Nation newspaper of 17 August, 1961 captures this amazing match.
Sir Ali Muslim Club was probably the first club in Kenya to invite a Chess Master by the name Zahirduddin Farooqui of Pakistan to Kenya, November 1963. He played 25 players simultaneously at the Sir Ali Muslim Club and this amazing event is captured in a Daily Nation story dated 22 November, 1963. On 2 December, 1963 Farooqui played the top 10 players of Nairobi Chess Club.
The club used to meet on a weekly basis at the French Cultural Centre and at the Devon Hotel; and played a key role in the development of chess in Kenya. Chess Kenya (formerly Kenya Chess Association) was only formed about18 years later on 22 September, 1976.
The biggest event Nairobi Chess Club organized for a number of years was the Kenya Open which used to be sponsored by Pan Paper with the first edition being held in 1979, and won by 14 year-old Richard Polaczek.
Richard Polaczek receives his prize of KShs2900 from the Managing Director of Pan Paper Mills Ltd, Eric Knott. In second place was well known (late) Percy Baretto and in third place was Saif Kanani. Richard is an International Master and resides in Belgium and has represented Belgium in a number of international events. Nairobi Chess Club continued to organize the Kenya Open until 1993 when Pan Paper Mills withdrew its financial support; as well as various events over the next couple of years.
Nairobi Chess Club winning team in a 1980 competition.
L-R is Joseph Kaamu; Richard Polaczek (currently an International Master and plays for Belgium); Nazir Lome (played in the 1976 Olympiad); Managing Director of Robbialac Paints (sponsor), Aslam Adam (resides in London, UK); Saif Kanani (Silver medallist in the 1980 Chess Olympiad played in Malta); AWL Turner; Hofelick (in wheelchair) worked with the German Embassy.
Photo courtesy of Aslam Adam, UK
Prominent players from the past include Saif Kanani who represented Kenya at a number of Olympiads, and obtained a silver medal for Board 1 at the 1984 Olympiad held in Malta with a score of 9.5/12. This to date has been Kenya’s only medal at the Olympiad.
Nairobi Chess Club Kim Bhari (left), competes in a Club encounter sometime in 1988
On 29 January, 1994 Kim Bhari was elected chair and up to 1997 a number of events were held. 1998-2007, the club was basically dormant. It was re-activated when the Nairobi Gymkhana Invitational was hosted at the Nairobi Gymkhana Club, 6-7 October, 2007. The event attracted a total of 28 players and was won by Akello Atwoli. The club eventually found a suitable place at the Goan Gymkhana. It then launched the first speed chess league in April 2009 where a record 11 teams participated. The second edition was held in 2011 and the third in 2012.
Nairobi Chess Club on 3 October, 2009 then organised Kenya’s first ever internet match against the prestigious Wageningen Chess Club of Holland. The Nairobi team was christened ‘Kenya Simbas’ and the result was a 6 nil loss to Kenya. Ben Magana, Ben Nguku, Mehul Gohil, Githinji Hinga, Akello Atwoli and Peter Gilruth were the players. This event was covered by local and overseas newspapers as well as websites like www.chessbase.com and www.chessdrum.net.
During the 2009/2010 National Chess League, Nairobi Chess Club came out 4th in the final standings. The team was represented by Mehul Gohil, Dr Nikolai van Beek, Kim Bhari, Chris Kolenberg and John Hadley. The match was won by the National Bank of Kenya.
On 19 February, 2011 the club organized the Fizza Blitz Invitational Chess tournament sponsored by long time supporter, Aslam Adam. It was won by Martin Gateri who collected a top prize of KShs10000.
Nairobi Chess Club ranked 5th out of 14 teams in the 2010/2011 Kenya National Chess League. Team members were Peter Gilruth, Mehul Gohil, John Hadley, Jules Daproza, Kim Bhari and Paras Gudka.
Nairobi Chess Club then organised a chess clinic with G M Dimitri Reinderman from Holland who came to Kenya for a visit between 21-28 July, 2011. Dimitri held a 35 player simultaneous match on 23 July in a match dubbed ‘Dimitri Reinderman v The Rest of Kenya’; in which he won 33 and drew 2 games. He then played a blindfold match against Ben Nguku on 24 July, 2011 in a match that he won. He also conducted four high intensity training sessions for five top players.
The club then held its 53rd Club Championship on 27 and 28 August, 2011 in which Ben Magana was the overall winner. The 54th Nairobi Chess Club Champion was Peter Gilruth who won the event on 19 August, 2012.
The club now meets every Saturday afternoon from 2-6 pm at the Goan Gymkhana Club, Ngara Road, Nairobi.
Kim Bhari: Over the years he has been involved in various aspects of chess organization in Kenya as Vice Chairman of Kenya Association in the 1990s and is the current Chairman of Nairobi Chess Club.