Joachim Okoth Credit: Daily Monitor
[/media-credit] Joachim Okoth Credit: Daily Monitor

Uganda Chess Federation [UCF] Vice President Isaac Otim and the General Secretary Henry Ategeka are set to host a dinner, and the purpose of this banquet is to commemorate the legends of the brainy game.

Dr. George Zirembuzi, Mpeka Muhumuza, former UCF Presidents Joseph Kaamu and Enoch Barumba, current national team coach Joachim Okoth, Emmanuel Kabuye, Jasper Pikwiyuli, and Andrew Naimanya are among the legends that will be honored on 25th November at Kati Kati Restaurant.

The aforementioned broke ground for chess and it’s only wise for the current generation to express gratitude.

A brief history of some of these legends

In the early 70s when the game was officially introduced to the country, these were some of the young men who ensured it didn’t die a natural death at its introductory stage as they paved way for the future of the game in the country; and later, represented the country at the various World Chess Olympiads.

Uganda’s maiden appearance at the Olympiad came in 1980 in La Valleta, Malta. Represented by the late Willy Zabasajja, the late Silver Kamuhangire, Wilson Kisubi, Musasira, Kiiza and the late Amos Mungyereza, Uganda collected 17.5 points.

Uganda finished second last, only ahead of Angola, but they were just debutants with no experience at this stage hence the position. Kamuhangire and Zabasajja impressed though, with each picking up 4 points.

With a record nine National Chess Championship titles to his name, Zabasajja become the first East African to earn the Fide Master [FM] title, and although deceased, is regarded as the strongest chess player the Pearl of Africa has ever had.

The evergreen Zabassajja, Kamuhangire and Mungyereza were later joined by Zirembuzi and Mpeka in the national team, and the quintet represented the country at the 1982 Olympiad in Switzerland where Uganda garnered 25 points to finish 77th out of the 91 teams.

Uganda scooped a silver medal in this edition thanks Mungyereza who collected 8.5 points on the 2nd reserve board. It was Uganda’s first ever medal at the World Chess Olympiad.

At the 1984 Olympiad in Thessaloniki, Greece, Barumba, Okoth and Mathew Kibuka joined the national team, and alongside the unfading trio of Zabasajja, Mungyereza, and Kamuhangire led Uganda to a 60th finish with 26.5 points. This remains Uganda’s best ever performance at the Olympiad.

National team debutants Okoth and Barumba each scored four points, and Kamuhangire was the best performer that year, with seven points followed by Zabasajja with six.

Okoth became a mainstay at the national team, featuring five times in 1984, 86, 88, 90, and 92 which was his best year as he scored seven points in Manila, Philippines. He was named the national team coach early this year when the new executive assumed power.

Kabuye the Pan Paper beast

After returning home from Kenya where he had lived and played chess with fellow Ugandans Kaamu and Patrick Tumwine, Kabuye won a slot in the national team in 1988. His maiden appearance at the Olympiad saw him score 4 points, and in his second appearance, Kabuye registered a team best 6.5 points in 1990 in Yugoslavia the present Serbia.

His last show in the national team, however, was a disappointing one as he failed to score a single point in Philippines in 1994.

While in Kenya though, Kabuye was the invincible in that part of the region. He won the Pan Paper tournament which was also called the Kenya Open Chess tournament four consecutive times in 1986, 87, 88 and 89.

Zabasajja and Edward Sentongo won the event in 1990 and 1992 respectively, but Kabuye reclaimed the crown in 1993 making him the record winner with five. No other player won the event more than twice; in fact with exception of Kabuye, only Belgian Richard Polaczek won it more than once. He won the inaugural in 1979 and the fourth edition in 1982.

Eng. Naimanya joined the team in 1992, which remains his last appearance at the Olympiad. He got a decent 5.5 points in Manila. He was the first East African to earn a 2300 plus rating. Currently, only International Masters Arthur Ssegwanyi, Elijah Emojong and FM Patrick Kawuma are rated above 2300 in the region.

With the emergency of young blood in Shadrack Katinti, Stephen Opio, Godfrey Bisereko, Stephen Kisuze and Godfrey Makumbi who won gold aged 17 years at the 1996 Olympiad in Armenia, the old generation slowly faded away in the late 90s.

Only Zabasajja featured in 1996, and it was a tournament to forget for the FM as he managed only one point. That appearance meant he became the most capped Ugandan. He was part of the national team for eight years.

For their exhibitions in the national team and their continued service, love and support for the game, these legends truly deserve to be honored.

Dr. Zirembuzi is known to have supported many players in their chess journeys. Among them is FM Harold Wanyama who has never shied away from expressing his gratitude.

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