Former Makerere University Chess Club player Fred Okiring announced his name on the big stage when he came out a surprise winner in the Open category of the just concluded Mombasa International Open Chess Championship.
Okiring put up consummate displays at the annual event, convincingly winning his first six games before drawing against James Madol Panchol in the last round as he left Kenyans in complete disbelief.
Having been out of competitive chess for over two years, the 33-year-old entered the event ranked 39th and was considered a weak opponent by Kenyans who flocked the category, but to their surprise, the Ugandan not only proved a hard nut to crack, but emerged champion.
“To be honest with you, I went for the Open category knowing I would handle the guys in it,” Okiring told Kawowo Sports. “My biggest challenge would have been Ugandans but all the top guys went for the Prestige section so I was confident I could handle the Kenyans. Majority of them didn’t know me so they must have expected an easy ride.
“I had been out of competitive chess for a long time, but I still had the basics. I never stopped reading chess literature and I would always play leisure chess which kept me sharp.
“I remember two years ago being called by my team to come and help them in the league. I had taken some good, good time without playing, but my team needed me to play against Arthur [Ssegwanyi] because I was the only one who had faced him before. I was upcountry but I had to travel to Kampala for that game and I drew with him.
“For as long as you have the basics, you can’t go wrong with chess. That helped me against Arthur and the same in Mombasa. I played some good chess in Mombasa. I was never under pressure, I controlled all my games and not at any time did I feel I was losing. It was extraordinary.”
Like Fide Master Harold Wanyama, OKiring says he was motivated by the prize money. His main reason to take part in the competition was money although he says that changed in the due course of the tournament.
“The main reason I participated was money. I looked at the prize money and it was too enticing. I had gone for the money but after winning my first games, I realized I was actually going to win the tournament. I had never won an event in my life so this was an opportunity for me.
“When I realized I was about to win one of the biggest tournaments in the region, I started thinking this is now bigger than money. It was going to be some great achievement for me so it was no longer about money. At this stage, it had surpassed money because I was just a game away from becoming the champion.”
Okiring returned home with KShs 50,000 as prize money.