Joseph Methu & WFM Sasha Mongeli crowned 2023 Kenya Champions.
Joseph Methu and WFM Sasha Mongeli were crowned the 2023 Kenya National Open Champion and 2023 Kenya National Ladies Champion, which ended on 30th December 2023 at Charter Hall in Nairobi.
The five-day event that started on 26th December 2023 saw just over 200 participants in the Open Section and 50 in the Ladies Section.
The Chess Kenya Federation had once again put up a car as the first prize in the Open Section, which saw the African Whatsapp groups explode with interest and comments. Incidentally, this was the fourth car the federation had put as the first prize (2019, 2021, 2022 and now 2023).
Kenneth Omolo, a two-time National Champion (2001 & 2015), was the top seed player with a rating of 2088. FM Martin Gateri returned from retirement and was the second-ranked player with a rating of 2048.
For Joseph Methu, it was a crowning moment in his short, illustrious career. He scored 8.5 points out of nine rounds to grab his maiden title, which has somehow eluded him despite being one of Kenya’s top players.
At the event’s start, all eyes were on three-time National Champion Mehul Gohil, who has already won two cars (2019 & 2022). However, Day 2 saw the fortunes of Mehul Gohil dim when he drew against the renowned chess coach Moses Andiwoh in round 3.
Mehul Gohil’s subsequent baptism of fire came in round seven when he faced his perennial rival, CM Ben Magana. A loss or a draw to Magana would end Mehul’s hopes of winning a third car. However, Mehul played exceptionally well to defeat Magana and set up a mouthwatering clash with Joseph Methu in round 8.
Joseph Methu, in the meantime, was in crushing form with seven points and perched at the top of the ranking all by himself.
Thrilling round 8 game between Joseph Methu & Mehul Gohil
Fans were not disappointed with the thrilling game, with both sides playing with enthusiasm and energy. A win in the penultimate round by one of them would undoubtedly clinch the keys to the available car.
Mehul Gohil held the advantage for most of the game, and by move 37, it seemed that Mehul’s dreams of a third car were over.
Methu had two Queens on the board against Mehul’s Queen and Knight and a couple of pawns for both players. Ten moves later, after a series of consecutive checks, it appeared that all Mehul had was to push for perpetual check and force a draw before Methu brought both the Queens into the game and delivered a knockout blow. With Mehul’s clock running out of time, he gladly offered a draw and quickly left the stage.
Here is the board’s final position, and it appears that Mehul made the right decision.
However, Fritz had other ideas, giving White an evaluation of +22!! Of course, we are mere mortals playing the game, unlike Magnus Carlsen!! One of the key ideas is to move the King to g4 and play the pawn to h4 to try and create a mating net around the Black King.
Final round 9
The pairing for the 9th and final round opened up several possibilities.
If Joseph Methu beat Martin Njoroge, then Methu would win the title with 25 Bilbao points.
On the other hand if, Elvis Likoko defeated Kimingi Kimani and other boards ended in draws, Elivs Likoko would become the 2023 Kenya Champion with 24 Bilbao points.
If Kimingi Kimani defeated Elvis Likoko and the other boards ended in draws, then Kimingi Kimani would be crowned champion with 24 Bilbao points.
If Mehul Gohil defeated Steve Okeyo and the other games ended in a draw, then both Mehul Gohil and Joseph Methu would have a Playoff match for the keys to the car.
The final round was an anti-climax, with Joseph Methu defeating Martin Njoroge to clinch the title and the car.
Kimingi Kimani seemed shell-shocked by the high stakes and crumbled to the rapid-playing Elvis Likoko, who took the runner position and KES 100,000 (USD 800).
Mehul Gohil easily defeated Steve Okeyo to grab the bronze medal and go home with KES 50,000.
The rise and rise of junior players
The Kenya National Championship can be dangerous, with several talented juniors lurking in the playing hall. Hillary Sagwa found out the hard way when 12-year-old Davidson Mugo Waweru correctly made an exchange sacrifice to win the game in refined style in round one!
Another junior 14-year-old, Kyle Kuka, stunned 2022 losing finalist Hugh Misiko by snatching a draw in their round eight encounter.
On the other hand, 15-year-old, Jerry Simiyu, humbled Yours Truly in just 16 moves in the last round with a spectacular Greek gift! The junior players have fired their arrows across the bows of the senior players – warning us that they will be back in the 2024 Kenya National Championship, and this time, they want the car!
WFM Sasha Mongeli was in superb form and won the Ladies Section with a perfect 9 points out of 9 rounds to win her second title to the one she won in 2021. In addition, she took home the cash prize of KES 100,000.
WCM Joyce Nyaruai was second with eight points, while Triza Mwenda was third with 7.5 points.
Bernice Gikandi was the top junior, ending with 6 points and 11th in the ranking, while Shakira Shukri from Kisumu was second best with 5.5 points and ending in 12th position.
Olympiad Team Selection
The 2023 Kenya National Championship is the first phase of the Olympiad Team Selection. The top 24 players (apart from the National Champions) from the Open & Ladies Sections will now proceed to Phase Two.
The six-round Phase Two will select the top seven players who proceed to the Final Phase.
The National Champion, the top junior players, plus the two top-rated players, will then participate in the Final Phase to select the Olympiad team. The final phase is a round-robin event over two weekends in February 2024.
Article by Kenya Chess Masala.