On the 12th of July 2021, the FIDE Chess World Cup officially kickstarted. The tournament, that just recently implemented a new total number of participants, is set to be hosted in Sochi, Russia. Several top-seeded players are in line to participate in the showpiece event. Including the Mozart of Chess and current World Champion, Magnus Carlsen. With a prize pool of $1.9 million, many players from around the globe look to get as large a cut as possible.
Nigeria, a nation yet to produce a chess grandmaster, also took part in the 2021 event through her lone player, IM Ajibola Olanrewaju. The nation’s number 2 (as of July 2021), faced Russia’s number 24, 21-year old GM Sarana Alexey who is rated 2640. Papa, as he is popularly called played with the white pieces. His opening was quite conservative, with Alexey going for the Indian defense (Spielmann Indian; 1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 c5).
IM Ajibola lost the initiative from the outset with GM Alexey continuously cranking up the pressure. The first blunder came when the International Master went for a wrong intermezzo on move 17 with cxd6. This was a capture that threatened his opponent’s queen, but his queen was hanging on b3. The Russian grandmaster accepted the Queen exchange offer, and it was all downhill from that point for IM Ajibola. The c file was blown wide open after the exchange and Black wasted no time to create a rook battery on the file. A battery that was immediately neutralized by the Nigerian gladiator.
Black’s maliciously advancing e pawn proved to be the decisive factor in the game. As soon as the pawn hit the second rank, the game was all but lost, as this brought about Papa’s second blunder of the game. White’s retreat in the 30th move to f1 was the blunder that made checkmate inevitable. Black’s 30…Bd3+ was followed by a resignation. Checkmate in two moves was to follow if Black responds to White’s compulsory Kg1 move with Re1+. Another forced move for white with Rxe1 would see the malicious passed pawn bag its promotion to a rook or queen and close the game due to White’s vulnerable back rank.
How did other Africans fare?
Zambian IM Mwali Chitumbo fell to Armenia’s number 8, GM Martirosyan Haik.
Angola’s FM Miguel Sergio lost to World Number 91, GM Saric Ivan from Croatia.
Malawian Candidate Master Chipanga Chiletso was overpowered by the “beast”, India’s number 4, GM Adhiban Baskaran.
Also in the first round of the Chess World Cup, IM Arthur Ssegwanyi from Uganda was put to the sword by GM Nihal Sarin, the in-form prodigy from the fast-rising chess federation, India.
South Africa’s 21-year old FM Daniel Barrish slipped against 2017 World Junior Chess Champion, GM Aryan Tari of Norway.
North Africa, the more chess-dominated region on the continent, wasn’t spared from the brutal conk to Africa as Moroccan IM Tissir Mohamed also got beaten by Russian Grandmaster, Paravyan David.
Soon-to-be birthday boy, Egyptian GM Essam El-Gindy was slammed with an early tournament loss by German Grandmaster Svane Rasmus with Elo rating 2615.
Leading African chess player from Algeria, Grandmaster Bellacine Bilel couldn’t cope with the heat from current Armenian chess champion GM Gabuzyan Hovhannes.
Of the 13 players that played on Day 1 of the Chess World Cup, only GM Ahmed Adly was able to seal a victory with the white pieces against fellow Egyptian, GM Hesham Abdelrahman. Another impressive performance by an African came against Russia’s Alekseev Evgeny. Another Egyptian named Fawzy Adham(21) was behind the inspiring draw.
With the majority of Africa’s representatives putting up a performance to forget on the first day of the FIDE Men World Cup, more emphasis is placed on the need to improve the chess culture in the continent. More individuals ought to be exposed to be game, and chess federations have to ensure that youth players are efficiently trained. In the meantime, Africa hopes for better results in the next games of the tournament and wishes her players the best of luck!