WGM Shrook Wafa is Egypt’s second-highest rated (2061) female player and winner of the 2014 Africa Zone 4.2 Individual Chess Championships (women’s section) held in Cairo. During a break between rounds, I caught up with her to discuss her many achievements in just 5 years of playing chess competitively, challenges facing chess in Egypt and her future ambitions.
When did you start playing chess? What got you interested in the game?
When I was 12. My father used to play with us and he taught me and my sisters but we weren’t very interested in chess until someday the club near to us needed a young player for the under-12 team and they had no one so they had to ask my father because he was the one who created the club in the first place. The manager of the club played with me and he saw that I could play in the team so I started training since then and I went to the first Egyptian Youth Championship and took first place in the Under-12 Girls category.
What is the name of the town where you live? Do you have lots of people playing chess there?
It’s called El-Mahalla El-Kubra. No, no, no, chess is mainly not very famous in Egypt. Only few play it. Compared to other sports, it has no popularity. I’m the only one in my town who has introduced people to chess and now they know that this is something: it’s a sport, we play leagues for it, we travel, we thought it was like dominoes and things like this.
Tell me about your WGM title. How did that happen? How many other WGMs are there in Egypt?
I got it last year in the African Individual Chess Championships in Tunisia. I took first place and the first place automatically gets the Woman Grand Master title. There’s only one other WGM in Egypt: Mona Khaled (2125).
How do you feel about being a WGM at such a young age?
I don’t feel like I’m young for my title because I’ve seen players from all over the world who are better than me and they want to play in the world championships. I want to take first place in the World Youth Chess Championship next year in the under-18 category before I turn 18.
What next after WGM? What are your goals?
First, I want to get the IM title because my furthest priority is to get GM.
Since you started playing, how many countries have you visited to play chess?
I don’t know. I’ve travelled about 20 times but to some countries more than once. For example, I’ve been to Tunisia 3 times, South Africa 3 times, etc. Then I travelled to Norway for the World Chess Olympiad this year.
How did that feel like—representing your country in a team event?
It was very good and also we got a gold medal in our section. We were standing on the stage and the whole world’s champions were clapping for us. It felt good.
How does travelling for chess affect your studies?
It sure affects me because when I get home I’ve missed a lot of lessons so I try to study them on my own when travelling or when I get back teachers teach me in private.
Does your school encourage your chess?
No, no, no, my school doesn’t care at all. I’ve won a lot of tournaments and they haven’t even honoured me in school.
When you travel for tournaments, how do you fund your trips? Do you have a sponsor?
The Egyptian Chess Federation sponsors me. All expenses are paid by them.
What is it about Egyptian players—both men and women—that makes them so strong even without much support from the government?
I think, maybe, it’s our dedication to chess and because we want to do something we work very hard for it.
(Photo credits: Paras Gudka & Courtesy)