Between 2005 – 2010, Downtown Town Pub & Restaurant located on Tubman Road (opp. Jamai Mosque Hotel, at Dev Towers) used to be the main chess hotspot in the city. Friday nights were especially lively. As many as 50 players would turn up and take over the whole place. There would be plenty of beer. Loud music (players would bring their own DVD’s and have them played). Sausages, samosas and mbuzi-choma for those seeking dinner. Ladies who played serious chess. After midnight, the barman, Mr. Wilsner, would put on a hardcore porno DVD. But the main attraction on Friday nights was the weekly Kenya Blitz Championship bout. The reigning champ would have to put his national title up for grabs against a chosen challenger. There would be a pot to play for (Anything from 2k-10k, winner takes all). Time controls — 5 minutes per player. A 12 game match. The music system would be turned off for the next 120 minutes. Everyone would pay attention to the big fight that ensued.
Downtown Pub & Restaurant has now shut down operations. The below is a report I did for the Kenya Chess Forum back then, and it details what went down at one of the Blitz Championship fights.
(Kenyan chess players work with nicknames, so in order to help you know who is who in the below report, here is a breakdown: Pheelweak – Philip Singe, Tricky Ricky – Ricky Sang, Wilsner – Barman Willy, McMathioya – George Mathea, Ken Maumau – Ken Kamau, Mike Rarua Da Guitar – Mike Rua, Don G or Duckinga – Githinji Hinga, Aweaktwoli – Akello, Gorilla – Mehul, Negz – Matthew Kanegeni, Soli – Solman Nyandiek, Renne Syndrome or Reinedeer – Renee Mboya.)
GORILLA’S PRE-MATCH DIARY
Thursday 11/11 – 7:21pm
I come into checkmates and do some ‘practice runs’. Everything is ok: My
moves are good, my play is smooth. Pheelweak talks a tongue twister of
bad moves, Tricky is weaky, I am winning all these friendlies.
I am perfectly ok for a Friday night.
Friday 12/11 – 5:47pm
Heading into city center after having played tom and jerry with godown rats
– I am surprising myself: Where in the world is my appetite for the fight?
For dark square murder and kung-fu kodiaga?
Friday 12/11 – 7:07pm
Enter Wilsner. I do not want his beers. Handshakes with Rarua Da Guitar,
Tricky, McMathioya – Checkmates club is overflowing its glass with the froth
of patzers – all tables are blitzing away – Ken Mau mau, G wa Don wa Duck wa
Hinga wa Chiken wa Winga, Aweaktwoli de Algiers et Cranky- I order coffee,
one teaspoon sugar – the adrenaline is just not pumping, this is the first
clear sign I aint ready for this thing. Gorilla feels like a mouse.
Matthew looks all pumped up with chess steroids. He looks scary. Guy is
crunching his jaw, veins on his forehead wanna burst with the secrets of
every goddamn chess opening. This guy could eat me alive. Am I gorilla or
am I mouse?
What Don G has done is unique. He has made a Barnebue out of the central
squares at Downtown. Don G has placed a single table and two
chairs in the middle. Board and clock. Then there are chairs arranged around
them for the spectators at a respectable enough distance. The guy has
actually manufactured a chessic Nou Camp. I aint seen nothing like this
before. It already looks like a showstopper.
GAMES 1 – 4: NEGZ! NEGZ! NEGZ!
The stadium is packed to capacity. And referee Don G blows the whistle. Off
Everything turns upside down for me. (One ogre of Siaya 4, called Soli,
suggested the fantastic “Renne Syndrome” aka I cocked up the first four
games due to “queening influence”…this is surreptitiously perceptive on
Soli’s part but in the final analysis total cock and bull. Very interesting,
but simply an attractive theory based on the principles of “foreplay and
multiple female organisms”. But it can crack you up!).
First, when I have the white pieces Negz flummoxes me by completely avoiding
his usual Taimanov/Paulsen Sicilian set ups. He goes into Caro-Kann mode. “Ok,
that’s not a problem, I’ll play my favoutire 3.e5 advance variation,” I say
to myself but he replies 3…c5 and I have forgetten everything here. Then
when I have black I find Negz knows just about everything in the …a6 Slav
I had ‘prepared’. I am made to feel uncomfortable right out of the opening
and to make it worse, stuff I have prepared is getting me nowhere.
Then to add blunders to the lost opening battles, I am dropping pieces and
exchanges and my very own marbles all over the place. Negz on the other hand
is playing precisely, making no mistakes, killing me.
This is like going through a ‘warm up’ the hard way. With every loss my
chess skills are going to the dogs. Game 2 is worse played then game 1, game
3 is worse played then Game 2 and so on. This is not Gorilla. Negz is
turning me into a diapered paper tiger with no tail. Not even half a tail.
After I resign game 4, Don G schedules a 5 minute break.
It feels like shit. 4 – 0. WTF?
Spectators are cracking jokes about me. I am headed for the biggest
character assassination in Kenyan blitz history. The critiques and Gorilla
detractors are sharpening their knives. I have to get out of here and
suddenly I feel the urge to pee and head for the toilets and consult my beloved
Fritz 1. The symbolism of the scoreline is crystal
clear: Negz is ahead of me and goes into the gents, I am too scared to
follow, so I dive into the nearest one, which is the ladies.
I am one shattered and shell-shocked guy.
There in the ladies I pee. And then, with my wee-wee ocutambula still held
in my right hand, I try to compose my heavily fractured psyche. I try to
gather my thoughts and calm down. I am simply stand there and stare at the white wall-tiles.
What am I doing wrong? I make a shortlist:
1. Bloody idiot! Imbecile! Why are you not using your ‘fleg!’ skills? Why
are you playing slow? The only things that are happening with slow moves are
blunders and piece hangings. Bloody Idiot, please use your small arms and
start shooting out the moves at lightning speed.
2. This stupid, very stupid, and even more stupider opening prep aint getting
you anywhere. It’s time for Bim Dhawo. There aint no other option left in
the world now. 1.d4 is how we’ll start and we’ll go back to the tried and
tested and tired old Queen’s Gambit with black, ok?
3. It’s the end of the world. It really is. So you got nothing to lose boy.
It’s time for rusha mawe, suicide bombing and Kodiaga Siaya now.
I become aware I need to zip it back in. I am so pissed off with myself. I
am getting angry. I get out of the ladies and what do you know – Negz spots
me coming out…I mean out of the ladies…how bad and very lost can this
get? This only pisses me off further and when I return back to the board I
am so so so mad with myself. Turns out that’s exactly how I need to feel for
the next phase of the battle…
GAMES 5 – 8: GORILLA WAKES UP
Game 5: I pull off, entirely by accident, my first opening surprise of the
match. It’s that a6 Slav line again but this time with colours reversed. It
turns out my opening prep now comes in useful since I play a4
preventing black’s b5 cock-blocking idea…and all this stuff was what I
had been looking at all week along from black’s point of view and here I am
playing it as white. Negz thinks. The next dozen or so moves I execute within
ten seconds. The guy has no clue what to do in this line and I end up in a
jolly good position out of the opening. With enormous time gap to
boot. Finally I draw blood! 4-1. Whatsmore I am now playing with more
passion, my tactics are now crisp and suddenly I am not making blunders. I
start to sense this is affecting Negz more then I thought it would. Gorilla
confidence is building.
Game 6: Queen’s Gambit. Negz develops bishop to f4…to me it looks like
this is an attempt to avoid lines I am familiar with but I always like the
immediate c5 push this allows me. Again I play fast and build up a
sizeable ‘fleg!’ advantage, and it hits me like a thunderbolt “Hey, this guy
is beginning to crack not because of bad moves but time pressure…he can’t
handle the opponent playing faster than him, he’s going nuts!”. Strangely
I am 3pts down but when I realise this I perk up. Needless to say I win this
game easily. 4-2.
Game 7: Same opening as Game 5. Kanengeni probably makes his first critical
match-strategy error here…he should have changed openings…instead he
ends up straight-jacketing himself into a set routine and it eventually proves
fatal…I again come out of the opening with an advantage but here I get hit
by a state of euphoria. It looks to me I am going to win a third game in a
row and practically close the gap in points. This makes me overoptimistic in
the endgame and I lose my advantage then I lose even the draw that is there
and go down in flames. Negz moves ominously close to victory. 5-2.
Somehow, the lose uplifts me! Bizarre! It sends me further into suicide
bombing mode and I suddenly feel more dangerous. I feel like my fingers have
fire breathing out of them and strangely start thinking if I touch Negz’s
pieces he will get burnt. Now, at this point, with me feeling like this,
Negz makes his second critical mistake of the match…he starts banging
pieces onto their squares when setting up the initial position. He probably
thinks he’s now got it in the bag, what with 5 more games to go and only
1.5pts required and me 3 pts behind. However, it has the opposite effect on
me. It galvanises me further. (I think if he had set up the pieces more
quietly maybe I wouldn’t have approached Game 8 with the level of
determination I did.)
Game 8: This is possibly the boodiest game of the match. Again a Queen’s
Gambit. I think the middle game is 50-50 and it comes down to the guy who
has the greater willpower. It gets kinda complex but I grit my teeth and
play bold moves, I have no idea if they will work, but it manages to scare
the opponent. I get my bishop pair, it’s now an endgame and I have cleverly
snatched a pawn, my passer wins. 5-3
Don G again calls for a 5 minute break. I have survived, and now at least I
am in a respectable situation regarding points. Furthermore, the match
initiative is with me. I am fired up.
GAMES 9 – 12: EXIT THE GORILLA, ENTER THE KODIAGA
Into the home stretch, Negz still sticks with the same openings. The inertia
of the previous phase ensures I bring the points gap down to 5-4. This is
when Negz should really think hard on how to approach the final 3 games. At
the end of game 9 I am sensing the next one is going to be a big game. (I
think the difference here came in match experience. Negz did not sense this.
I felt Negz was now well and truly shit-scared.)
GAME 10: Again a Queen’s Gambit. Just out of the opening, Negz plays some
mechanical moves fast…he’s trying to keep pace with my fast arms. Suddenly
I think for long, like 30-45 seconds, not about any moves but it totally
occurs to me that Negz has now well and truly cracked and my match
experience is screaming at me that something really bad is gonna happen to
his position. And what do you know, within 3 moves of this he drops a pawn
and then on the very next move he drops a whole queen! This is it. I have
won the match. I can tell it from a hundred miles. 5-5.
Games 11 and 12 turn out to be classic Gorilla blitz games. My two best
games of the match. But by this point Negz was a psychologically finished
man. There is not much to read into these games. They were like a
formality. The match ended at game 10.