Martin Njoroge: Chess star wants to conquer the world

Martin Njoroge

Kenya National Chess Champion Martin Njoroge during the interview at Nation Centre on March 22, 2022.


Photo credit: Chris Omollo | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Initially, Moscow, the home to several Unesco world heritage sites and Russia’s rich architectural display was to host the Olympiad this year from July 26 to August 8
  • Njoroge, the dreadlocked KCB Chess player had been longing to experience Moscow’s awe-inspiring beauty during Team Kenya’s visit for the championships
  • At the upcoming Games, he has set himself a target of bagging Kenya’s second ever medal at the Olympiad

Kenya National Chess Champion Martin Njoroge regrets so much the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.

This not only because it continues to claim thousands of innocent lives, but also since it has led to the relocation of the 44th World Chess Olympiad from his preferred city  – Moscow to Chennai City in India.

 “It (the conflict between Russia and Ukraine) is really unsettling],” quips a visibly upset Njoroge. “Definitely I preferred Russia to India [to host the 44th World Chess Olympiad].”

Initially, Moscow, the home to several Unesco world heritage sites and Russia’s rich architectural display was to host the Olympiad this year from July 26 to August 8.

However, in protest over Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine, the World Chess governing body, Fide moved the global championships to Chennai City. 

Located in Southern India, Chennai City is prominent in cultural, economic and educational centres. Fide has since re-scheduled the biennial event, which brings together top chess players globally from July 28 to August 10. 

Njoroge, the dreadlocked KCB Chess player had been longing to experience Moscow’s awe-inspiring beauty during Team Kenya’s visit for the championships. 

The 26-year-old is among the 10 players (five men and five women) who in February bagged tickets to represent Kenya at the Games.

Being his Olympiad debut, definitely a dream city like Moscow would have been the perfect place for him to announce his arrival at the biggest stage in the game of wits.

Martin Njoroge

Kenya National Chess Champion Martin Njoroge during the interview at Nation Centre on March 22, 2022.

Photo credit: Chris Omollo | Nation Media Group

He, however, reckons that moving the competition to India is better than calling it off, since such a move would have dealt another heavy blow to his dream when he is on the verge of achieving it. 

Initially, the final year Computer Science student at the South Eastern Kenya University (Seku) in Kitui was supposed to make his first Olympiad appearance in 2020 in Moscow. 

But owing to Covid-19 pandemic that then disrupted sporting activities globally, Fide rescheduled the championships to 2021.

With most countries then still in the abyss of the pandemic, Fide again deferred the event to 2022 in Moscow from July 26 to August 8. 

“Playing in the Olympiad is something I have dreamt of for about eight years. I qualified in 2020 but then Covid-19 struck shattered that dream. I am so happy to be on course to making that dream come true,” beams the first born in a family of three siblings (two boys and a girl). 

Having stunned several big guns among them; Fide Masters (FM) Martin Gateri and Stephen Ouma, Candidate Master (CM) and multiple Olympiad Ben Magana for the national crown in December last year, it was expected that Njoroge would have an easy stroll to Team Kenya for the global showpiece. 

That, however, was not the case. 

He had a slow start to the Games and qualified as the fourth best player in the open section. Only top five players in the open and ladies sections qualify for the Olympiad.

“I struggled in the final phase of the Olympiad qualifiers because I was not pushing myself hard like before. I was still carried away by the national title. Going into the competition, I thought I would just make a few moves and win,” says the KCB man.

“What I did not know is that everyone was eyeing my scalp. They wanted to rejoice in stunning the national champion. I was lucky to be able to make amends and qualify for the Olympiad.” 

At the upcoming Games, he has set himself a target of bagging Kenya’s second ever medal. Saifudin Kanani is Kenya’s best performer ever at the Olympiad, having scooped a silver medal at the 1980 competition held in Valleta, Malta.

Njoroge knows too well what he needs to do to achieve that impressive feat.

He plans to review his previous matches to identify his weaknesses and work on them with top players Philip Singe and Methu, playing and winning as many tournaments as possible and analysing higher rated players’ tactics. 

He is also working on his physical and mental fitness by doing physical exercise and eating a lot of proteins to help build the brain cells are his other plans. 

To avoid stage fright, he says he will be consulting more with former Olympiads. 

The final computer Science student is also eyeing history by being the holder of the highest FM title in Kenya. FM titles held by Gateri and Ouma are the highest in Kenya. 

Grandmaster/Woman Grandmaster is the highest Fide title.

It is followed by International Master/Woman International Master, FM, National Master, CM, Woman Fide Master (WFM) and Woman Candidate Master (WCM) respectively.

Driving licence

Apart from the two FMs, Kenya has seven CMs, three WFMs and nine WCMs.
For his triumph in the national championship, the Bernard Wanjala-led Chess Kenya Federation gifted him a brand new, Mazda Demio car and a personalised trophy. 

But four months down the line, Njoroge is yet to test proper his driving skills with his car since he does not have a driving licence.

He was almost completing his driving course when the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) on February 15 suspended its services to driving schools after losing a case in the High Court. 

Justice Anthony Murima on January 27 suspended the implementation of the Traffic (Driving Schools, Driving Instructors and Driving Licences) Rules 2020 so that the Senate and the National Assembly could review them. 

Njoroge says he can’t wait to get hold of his driving licence and have a feel of the car over a longer distance. 

The car is the top prize he has ever received in a chess competition since he took up the sport while in class five at Hospital Hill Primary School in Nairobi. 

He credits his glowing career in the game of wits to coach Moses Andiwoh.

“Immediately after high school, he (Andiwoh) enrolled me at Technical University of Kenya Chess Club where, despite being a junior, I got the opportunity to play and stun senior players. That is when I knew I could compete,“ he recalls. 

He later joined Strathmore University Chess Club before KCB signed him in 2018. 

Apart from chess books, the dreadlocked chess player says his desire to be a star in the sport was motivated by the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Movie.

He says the numerous online chess tournaments he competed at in 2020 and 2021 during the Covid-19 period, including the inaugural Online Chess Olympiad prepared him “mentally” for the tough duels in the national championships and Team Kenya selection for the Olympiad.

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