We bring you part one of an exclusive interview with Kenya’s most famous chess players. CM Benjamin Magana affectionately called “Big Ben” spoke to our correspondent Anoushka Bhari.
CM Ben Magana has won the Kenya National Championship 4 times (2006, 2013, 2014 & 2017)!
Tell us a little about yourself & where were you born.
My home town is Maseno, the bastion of education that is between 2 counties – Kisumu and Vihiga. Though I was born and bred in Nairobi)
How old you were when you first started playing chess?
My late brother Owino taught me the royal game in mid primary, when I was 9 years or so. At the time junior events did not exist. This meant we had to make do with playing versus the seniors, and learning from the bruises and black eyes they gave us.
What languages do you speak?
English – immaculately, Swahili – very well, Luopean – well, French, Ugandan – passable, and I know how to offer draw, say checkmate and resign in Russian and Afrikaans.
What was the first Kenyan tournament you played in?
I played events like Pan Paper Kenya Open at age 9 and 10. The aim then was always to finish on 50% score out of 6 or 8 rounds played, and to win the junior title.
Do you remember what it felt like?
Scary! As a kid, adjusting to playing adults was hard, especially since there were not that many other kids playing.
My first major success came at an event organised by one Fred Nabangi, when I was 13 years old. I came joint 2nd in the senior section. I played my most brilliant miniature (Danish Gambit) to date against veteran Francis Ngesa in that event.
How many countries have you visited as a chess player and which one has been your favourite?
Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria, Turkey, Italy, Germany and Norway. So 13 countries in total of which 9 are in Africa.
I have fond memories of many, but the most congenial would be Mozambique. I was accompanied by my wrecking crew, Maputo Maporomoko – the national team to the 2011 All Africa Games.
(Editor’s note The team for the 2011 All African Games included the following; Martin Gateri, Mehul Gohil, Ben Magana, Githinji Hinga & Akello Atwoli). You can find more on this event by clicking on 2011 All Africa Games Maputo.
From eating octopus disguised as tilapia, to eating pizza as a team, to visiting the wildest disco in Africa [Copa Cabana], to being anchored brilliantly by Mehul Gohil’s on-board performance, Mozambique is a home away from home.
Part two will be coming up next.