The tale of the Indian siblings that rock in Kenyan chess

Back in 2004, when he arrived from India to start a new job in Kenya, Satish Deshpande probably had two things on his mind: a good career for himself and a great education for his children. But God has been more than just merciful, as his children have also hit gold in chess.

Starting up life in the solitude of a foreign land, perhaps the only pastime that could make the Deshpande family feel at home and connect with the native Kenyans was chess. No wonder, Satish thought it wise to teach his daughter Sanjana Deshpande the game of chess at the age of 12, so that he could have a sparring partner. However, Sanjana’s brother, Sumit Deshpande, who is 5 years younger, has a fable like story about how he learnt to play chess. He learnt it from watching his sister and dad play the game.

So, armed with the benefit of having a ready sparring partner within the house, Sanjana Deshpande, now 22 and her brother Sumit Deshpande 17 years old, have made themselves a name within the Kenyan chess circles. Needless to say, their mother Sandhya Deshpande is a proud mother because of their achievements.

Now a Woman Fide Master, Sanjana Deshpande has a very impressive chess resume and her introverted character is reflected in her style of play on the chess board, which she described as ‘passive aggressive’.

WFM Sanjana Deshpande

She played her first local tournament in 2009 at a Hotel in Nairobi, but real great journeys start away from home. Sanjana played her maiden international tournament in Singapore in 2010 at the Singapore Chess Festival, barely a year after being introduced to the mental sport.

She has several chess achievements glittering to her name, but perhaps the mother of all her chess achievements was when she won the Kenyan Ladies National Championship in 2014. But the excitement of winning this majestic crown was short lived, as she was to be stripped of her title a few months later, after it was ‘discovered’ that the ultimate title was only reserved for Kenyan citizens.

To sum up her other important chess achievements. She earned her WFM title at the 2016 Africa Youth Chess Championship in Lusaka, Zambia, where she defeated some well known players, also finished in 3rd place at the Zone 4.2 Chess Championship held in Jimma, Ethiopia in March of 2017, which are enough achievements to make her walk one shoulder high.

However, she singles out her earning of WFM title in 2016 as her most memorable achievement, while she idolizes Woman Grandmaster Wafa Shrook of Egypt.

At the Miss India Kenya show in 2018 Sanjana was amongst the top 5 contestants.

Sanjana, who has a body size and height of a model says, losing the last game at the 2014 African Youth Chess Championship in Tunisia, which made her miss a golden opportunity to attain the WFM tittle earlier than she did, was the worst nightmare in her almost spotless chess history.
However, she says her lowest moment in life was when she was stripped of her Kenyan Ladies Championship title in 2015.
‘That was a hard pill to swallow’, she said.

As she went about pushing the chess pieces, Sanjana did not forget to push school too. She holds a qualification in Fashion Designing, Diploma in Graphic Designing and Diploma in Cabin Crew Management as well as a chess qualification of National Arbiter.

Right now, she has chosen to major in fine arts, as well as putting one of her diplomas to work as she is now an airline cabin crew member for Silverstone Air Services Limited. Quizzed on how she managed to combine chess and school, she says “being an introvert by nature, she spent most of her after school life learning and playing chess.”

Apart from chess, Sanjana also plays Badminton. Sanjana, whose immediate prime goal is to play in the Kenya ladies team and become Kenya’s first Woman Grandmaster, says her philosophy of life is to be kind to all living beings.

Sumit focused at the chessboard (2016)

But it is a different story for her brother Sumit, who was born in Mysore, India in July 2002 and moved to Nairobi in 2006 when he was only four years old. After learning the mental sport from watching her dad and sister play, he became Kenyan under 8 Champion in his very first tournament, back in 2008, to leave an indelible mark in the Kenyan chess circles.

Like a magic boy, he went on to get 6 out of 9 in his first International tournament in Singapore 2 years later.
As it stands now, he can boast that he has been Kenyan under 8, 10, 14 and 18 champion in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2013 respectively.

Sumit, who is also an exceptionally bright student in class, says his most memorable win was against Kenyan chess cyborg Joseph Methu at the 2015 Kenyan National Championship, a game he recalls with fond memories.

‘I did not know Joe’s (Joseph Methu) strength, so I just played my game with full aggression. In the first 10 moves, I already had a fair advantage… more space and better developed pieces. I did not expect it…I checkmated him on move 28’, he said sounding like a pupil narrating his favorite action movie.

He admires USA Super grandmaster Fabiano Caruana, about whom he said: ‘His style is incredible and mesmerizing to watch and learn from’, this time sounding like a school boy talking about his favourite hip-hop artist.

Sumit at the popular Village Market Game Night organized by Terrian Chess Academy sometime in 2018

At only 17, he says he has not had a lot of low moments in life. But since the journalist insisted he should not leave anything blank, he said, his lowest moment was when he had to leave chess for academics.

He says his lowest moment was when he went on a losing streak for some time (between 2017 and 2018). But as the saying goes and he reechoed, “form is temporary but class is permanent”, so he made his way back to winning ways.

This temporary slump could also be because in that period, Sumit became a FIDE Arena International Master in 2018 and in 2017 he also won top prize in the Nairobi Regional Round of the World Scholars’ Cup in Debate and Quiz and his team got the Top in Africa Team Award during this time.

Outside of chess he plays football and is a defensive midfielder for his school team. He says he is also the Vice captain for cricket and is an all-rounder. Though he said he also plays basketball, but it is not as much as the others. He is also a gamer who plays Call of Duty for a clan called Claw and FiFA for the same clan.

Sumit says he believes in God and believes God gives us opportunities to get what we want and we must make good use of the opportunities.

On combining chess and school, he says he usually plays chess during weekends. He also touted chess to make one intelligent.
Sumit says his ambition in chess is to make it to represent Kenya at National level.

Sumit, who is currently studying Advanced Subsidiary, dreams to pursue a career in Mechanical Engineering.

The siblings with GM Vishy Anand at their house when he visited Kenya in 2016

Both kids of the legendary Satish Despande have decided to put in more efforts to attain great chess goals this year and it is hoped that they are able to make great use of the talents they hold deep within themselves as they look to give Kenya their best.