Nakabo Peninah: The African Chess Queen from Uganda!

Interview By: Paul Kafuko

In March 2018, a relatively unknown Nakabo Peninah took the African continent by surprise, when she emerged as the undisputed champion of the Africa Amateurs U2000 women’s category. She carried her podium finish to Cagliari, Italy, where she won a bronze medal at the World Amateurs U1700 category in April 2018. She sat down with Paul Kafuko, and gave him the opportunity of a lengthy interview about her chess journey to the top and her personal life.

Who is Nakabo Peninah?

You can call me Penny. I am a humble, determined and daring lady, born on 3rd of Sept, 1992, to Mr. Sekiziyivu Sammy Jones and Mrs. Nalugo Mary Margaret Sekiziyivu of Mukono. I am a statistician with a Bachelors in Statistic honors from Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. I went to Kasawo Secondary School for A-level, St. Michael High School, Sonde, for O-Level and Satellite View Primary School for my Primary education.

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What inspired you to play chess?

From way back, logic has always been dear to me, and seeing people brainstorm on the chess board was enough to get me interested. Plus, teasing my brain is a hobby and chess gives me exactly that.

Please take us through your chess journey

My first contact with chess was in December 2013, at Makerere University. I joined Kafuko John Paul, Ntende Edgar and other students who were training at Mary Stuart hall, for Inter-University Games. I was allowed to play only one single game during the competition, which I won.

In 2014, I joined Mulago Rooks Chess Club and participated in the National League, where I won a silver medal on board 5. In the same year, I played for Makerere University ladies team during the East Africa University Games, which held at Uganda Christian University, where I won a gold medal for best board one, and as a team we won the team gold.

In 2015, I participated in the National League again, and came 2nd on board 5 still representing Mulago Rooks Chess Club.

In 2016, I moved to Kireka Chess Club, where I joined Ampaire Shakira on board 5, and we contributed to the team win in the National League.

In 2017, I decided to concentrate on improving my chess. I participated in the Uganda Open Chess Championship, where I came third amongst the ladies. During the Kireka Open and Rwabushenyi Open, I put up an outstanding performance (as mentioned by many), and surprised some highly rated players and former Olympian.

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In 2018, I represented Uganda at the Africa Amateur Individual Chess Championship in Zambia, where I got the title ‘Africa Amateur Woman Chess Champion 2017′ and ‘Woman Fide Master (WFM), which is still in waiting’, and along with this, came a gold medal for my first place at the event.

In April, 2018, I represented Africa and Uganda at the World Amateur Chess Championship, which took place in Cagliari, Italy, where I finished 3rd in the Women’s U1700 section and brought a world bronze medal home.

Congratulations upon those achievements. What do you mean you got the Woman FIDE Master Title, but it is still in waiting?

According to the new FIDE rules, which took effect from last year, I must attain a rating of ELO 2000, in order to claim the title.

You mentioned that in 2018, you represented Uganda at the Africa Chess Amateurs and you were crowned Africa Amateur Woman Chess Champion 2017, how is that possible?

The event was supposed to happen in 2017, but for some reason, it was rescheduled to hold in 2018.

Let’s talk about your achievement at the world Amateurs, what was your strategy going into this tournament? Did you expect a podium finish?

It was not only an expectation, but a goal. I was determined to finish in first place. My strategy was to leave that place unbeaten. Hahahaha, crazy, right? But it was a fact. Although, somewhere in the middle of the tournament I got stuck in position 4 for quite some time. I had miserably given up on the podium finish especially after losing to Irina, until the good Lord performed a miracle for me in the penultimate round. I did not turn back, but finished on a high.

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In your round seven game at the world amateurs tournament, against Vilena Popova, the top seed at the event, and eventual gold medalist, apparently you let a winning chance slip through your hands, in an endgame many commentators thought was completely won (Actually one of your trainers asserted that you went through such endgames as part of your preparation for the tournament). This win would have turned the corner for you in the tournament and would have probably guaranteed you a silver medal. Please tell us what went on in that game.

Follow link here: http://chess-results.com/partieSuche.aspx?lan=1&art=4&tnr=326835&rd=7

We went through rook endgames with FM Harold Wanyama days before the world Amateurs championship, but I did not think of the Philidor position during my game with Popova. In my mind, I knew that she was lost however badly I play. Popova is such an experienced Russian girl. She was versing a Penny with no experience at all. When I was two pawns ahead, I thought it would be a clear win without any technicalities. So, I played haphazardly because I wanted her time to drop, so that she starts panicking in the most important endgame tactics. Unfortunately, she seemed to be a master of rook endgames.

By the way, I had trained for Popova with my coach IM Arthur, way before the tournament and I was determined to secure a win against her. I do not regret having drawn that game, I played really well and I take it as part of my learning experience in chess.

In your round 6 game against Hambardzumyan Irina of Armenia, you played strongly against the tournament leader’s Carokann, and by move 28, Stockfish (a chess engine) gave you a +4 advantage, because you were an exchange up with an opportunity to grab a free knight on the e4 square by playing 29. Re1 but then you pushed 29. f3, which meant you either lost your queen or get mated after black’s Rd2. What was going on through your mind?

Follow Link: http://chess-results.com/partieSuche.aspx?lan=1&art=4&tnr=326835&rd=6

That game against Irina is the worst game I ever played throughout my four-year chess career. Actually, if I could use a boda-boda back to Uganda, I would have been in Mukono shortly after that game. I just played badly when I pushed f3, I had the move Re1 on my mind but lazily pushed f3. It was Irina’s lucky day and to me it was a learning curve. Big thanks to everyone who consoled me after that game especially Mr. Mulwana, Patron, Kireka Chess Club, Eng Mwaka Emmanuel, President, Uganda Chess Federation and Mr. Ncube Lewis, President, Africa Chess Confederation. I would have died of misery.

In the last round game against Manca Maria of Italy, you scored a brilliant win saccing with 18…B×h3 and 19…B×g2, eventually mating your opponent in style. In your assessment, where did she go wrong?

Follow link below to view the game: http://chess-results.com/partieSuche.aspx?lan=1&art=4&tnr=326835&rd=9

Manca had an attack on my king side earlier in the game but she seemed naïve, and afraid of attacking. While I was busy attacking her king side, she played so many unnecessary moves in the middle game like move 15 when she played Bc2, I was expecting Bb5 to attack my knight that was protecting a pawn at e4. I believe all these moves culminated to give me the boost I needed to go all out and convert the full point.

How did you find life in Italy, and how did you cope with the change of environment?

It was obviously beautiful, I made quite a number of friends, the excitement and nice environment. I wish we played that tournament for a full year.

This is part one (1) of a three fold article on The Rise of Nakabo Peninah….. Watch out for Peninah’s domination of Africa and a few other personal details into the life and walk of Nakabo Peninah.

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