It was a battle filled final two (2) days at the African Junior U20 Chess Championships in Accra, Ghana, and everyone wanted to end on a high note for their respective nations and their futures.
At the end of the championships, winners emerged, and even though they were the favorites, it was definitely not an easy ride for them, because they would give their reports that things have changed on the continent. There were moments of intense scare of losing their games, but with some persistence and thanks to their opponent’s not finding the correct continuations, they thrived at the face of danger to be crowned African Junior Champions for the year 2019.
After the 7th round, the battle for top place was between Nigeria’s Okeke Isaac and Malagasy IM Fy Rakotomaharo, but the unlikely event happened. Just like in 2013, when GM Ivanchuk defeated both Magnus Carlsen and Vladimir Kramnik, in the last two (2) rounds of the Candidates tournament, to hand Carlsen the opportunity to become World Champion, it was Algeria’s FM Djabri Massinas, who came from behind to deny both the Malagasy IM and the Nigerian prodigy, a place at the top of the standings.
FM Djabri defeated IM Fy Rakotomaharo in the penultimate round, to put a halt on the brilliant tournament of the 20 year old Malagasy, and deny 16 year old Okeke Isaac a spot as joint 1st in the final round, after handing the young Nigerian a career changing defeat in the last round. These victories made the young Algerian finish as joint 2nd with the Malagasy IM Fy Rakotomaharo at the end of the tournament, with an impressive 7/9 points.
After the scare in the 7th round, GM Fawzy breezed through his final two (2) games, showing immense strength and finishing half a point ahead of the chasing Malagasy and Algerian. His win against Libya’s Elier Ali in the last round was a type of grinding, which was played with precision and understanding, to finally claim the title of U20 Champion, after being denied in his last attempt by Angola’s IM Silva David.
The Nigerians who started well, and gave their all at the tournament, knowing how much they needed the top positions for prospective sponsors, faltered along the way and finished the tournament from joint 4th to 7th position. It has now become a trend, after the older guys finished joint 4th at the African Individual Chess Championship and at the African Games chess event, the under 20 boys also finished joint 4th (5th on tie break), 6th and 7th at the end of the event.
The best 12 year old at the event was none other than Cote d’Ivoire’s Niamkey Elijah Pharell, who played some brilliant games to finish the tournament with five (5) points after nine (9) grueling games. The Ivorian showed immense understanding in his opening ideas and attacking instincts, which put his opponents under pressure and force them to give up at some point in the game. The games he lost were against higher rated oppositions, who have more experience and have better understanding of the endgame ideas, where he was being outplayed.
And the best player under the age of ten (10), is none other than Ghana’s 9 year old Amoako Selikem Philip Yao, who finished with four (4) points at the end of the event. Even though he was unable to defeat his higher rated opponents, watching his games were a huge joy and one that shows the heart of a champion. Selikem is one kid that is believed would be one of West Africa’s first few grandmasters, if the parents can give him the support and get corporate sponsorship for him. He could actually break the record for the youngest grandmaster in the world with good financial backing.
After the round 7 draw against Togo’s De Souza Ivana Claudia, Angola’s WFM Pires Luzia finished on a high, with back to back wins in the final two (2) games of the tournament and claimed the gold medal and trophy with a brilliant 8/9 points. She helps Angola maintain their dominance of the junior tournament, as the country always find a way to pick up a medal at every event, and if you read our preview to this championship, you would see that Angola has won it the most times, as they have now added another champion to the list.
In second place was the super impressive 1400+ rated Algerian, Djerroud Chahrazed, who held the champion to a draw and defeated the Nigerian second seed at the tournament to give herself a major shot at the championship, only to fall to Botswana’s 14 year old WCM Gabatshwarwe Refilwe in their round 6 encounter.
She was on the hotseat in the last round against Ghana’s female prodigy, Maud Benson, but the young Ghanaian did not know how to finish up the game, and in her thinking to find the right move, forgot about the time and lost a hard fought game on time, which eventually handed Chahrazed a huge finish to the championship and a title, once the rating band is met.
Botswana’s WCM Gabatshwarwe Refilwe finished in third place with some impressive displays at the championship. Being the only representative of the country that boasts of several young and promising talents, Refilwe did not disappoint the country with her performance at the championship and she amassed 48 ELO rating points at the event, losing only against the eventual champion and securing a draw against the second seeded player.
She held forth against WCM Felix Tobi to come out victorious in the penultimate round and secured an easy win in the final game of the tournament, ending on 3rd place via tie break, as she joins Algeria’s Chahrazed to pick up the Woman Fide Master title, once the rating needed for the title is achieved.
The most impressive girl at the championship is none other than Togo’s De Souza Ivana Claudia, who finished with a super impressive five (5) points of the nine (9) games played and would be gaining 42.4 ELO points. After her impressive draw against the champion, she breezed through Barnor Rebecca and played to Ghana’s WCM Felix Tobi to a draw in the last round.
The closing ceremony was graced by the Deputy Minister of Education, who’s life was changed by Disney’s “Queen of Katwe”, and in his speech, he promised to make chess a household name in his district.
The African Chess Confederation, represented by Sierra Leone Chess President, Mr Ansumana Kamara, mentioned the fact that they were very pleased with the organisation of the event and are proud of the fact that Ghana Chess Association took the championship a notch higher with the quality of the championship.
With the African Individual Chess Championship being organized by Nigeria in 2020, the question on everyone’s lips is “Can Nigeria Do Better Than This?”. This question will be answered at the turn of the year, when the Nigeria Chess Federation comes out with their plans for the year and the championship.
Can we successfully say that “The West is Arising in Africa?”