Liberia Chess Federation Unveils Full Squad for 44th Chess Olympiad
The names of 10 qualified players have been released by the Liberia Chess Federation (LCF) for participation in the 44th Chess Olympiad, expected to be held in India, following the country's qualification for the event.
The Olympiad is scheduled to take place from July 28 to August 10, in Chennai, the Capital City of the Tamil Nadu region, located on the southeastern coast of India. The ten players include five males on the Open Section Team and five females on the Female Team who will represent the country in this captivating historical, cultural and sporting event.
According to a release from the LCF, the Open Section players are the current National Champion, Bobby Ballah, Candidate Master (CM) Daniel Kolliemenen, FIDE Master (FM) Barcon Harmon, Joel Ebiekuta and Arnold Smith, while qualified from the female National Team are 13-year-old Abigail Karyah (Female Chess Champion since 2019), Teta Thompson (Former Female Chess Champion, 2018-2019), Attorney at Law Windor Tarplah (Former Female Chess Champion, 2016-2018), Meleh N. Davis and Princess Banney.
Other members of the Liberian delegation to the competition include Thomas Karyah, President Of the Liberia Chess Federation and FIDE Congress Delegate, Tamba William Saa, Captain of the Open Section Team, Foday Kondoh, Captain of the Female Team and Thomas Kojo Roulhac, Freedom FM Sports Editor.
The selection of participating players was done based on an eleven-round classical tournament in the Open Section and a six-player ten-round double round-robin classical tournament in the Female Section which were held in the A. Nanuh Manly Memorial Library at the William V.S Tubman High School Campus on 12th Street, Sinkor, from May 28 to June 5.
During the qualifiers in which the LCF exempted the two champions, 26 strong Liberian chess players contested fiercely for four slots on the Open Section Olympiad Team while 6 female players competed in a separate tournament for only four seats on the Female Team. At the end of the tournament, champions Bobby Ballah and Abigail Karyah joined their respective section and were certificated as Liberia’s 2022 Chess Olympians.
Presenting certificates to the players, the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of UBA Liberia, Madam Nkechi Joyce Arizor, congratulated the ten Olympians but warned them about the magnitude of the responsibility they have to represent their country at an elite sports competition. She admonished the players to keep working hard because “...it is easier to get to the top but very difficult to remain at the top.”
The Chess Olympiad Qualifiers, sponsored by UBA Liberia, ended with surprises, heartbreaks and notable omissions. One of Liberia’s most popular chess players, Former National Chess Champion (2018-2021) Thomas Saah, was knocked out of the Olympiad Team in the last minute of the last round by youth player William O. Wallace who learned Chess just before the first COVID-19 lockdown in 2020.
This result opened slots for both Anthony D. Waylea, Jr., who is the highest-rated Liberian chess player (peak ELO 2040), and Joel O. Ebiekuta, a sensational young player who was one of Liberia’s rising chess stars until he plateaued in 2018. Unfortunately for Mr. Waylea who works as a project engineer for the Liberia Rural Renewable Energy Agency (RREA), he forfeited his game in Round 11 against Former Champion (James S. Tondo, II) on June 5, while Joel got an easy win with Black against Kennedy Zinnah Kengo thus clinching the seat on the Olympiad Team.
Liberia Chess Federation full team
The biggest surprise of the qualifier, however, was not the dramatic elimination of Thomas Saah by a rookie, the absence of the strong Jallah brothers (CM John and FM Jacob) from the top four, or the trend of events that caused for Former Champion James Tondo to miss two rounds after Tuesday’s Rest Day. The surprise of the tournament was that CM Daniel Kolliemelen, who was never considered in all of the LCF’s TOP FOUR predictions going into the qualifiers, finished the tournament at spot # 1 with 9 wins, no defeats, and 2 draws after 11 rounds.
Barcon Harmon, one of the only two FIDE Masters Liberia has, is the only member of the 2018 Batumi, Georgia 42nd Olympiad Team (Thomas Saah, Tom Sawyer, James Tondo & FM Jacob Jallah were the others) who qualified to return to this prestigious global chess event. Arnold Smith, a player that has thrust himself into Liberia’s TOP FIVE in both the National Championship 2021 and on the International Chess Federation’s monthly ranking since the resumption of Over-the-Board Chess, finished 3rd and will be representing his country on the international stage for the first time.
Recognizing what she called “amazing changes” at the top of Liberian chess, the UBA boss said that these changes are indicators of growth. “The fact that you could not tell who would have qualified to represent Liberia shows that Chess in Liberia is improving.” Madam Joyce Arizor noted. She challenged the chess federation to sustain this pace by engaging the private sector more and by reaching out to primary and secondary schools with chess programs as a way of discovering and nurturing chess talent.
Making remarks at the Closing Ceremony the President of the Liberia Chess Federation, Thomas Karyah, commended the Liberian chess community for hosting an event that met international standard and for displaying a brand of chess that the world enjoyed watching. He conveyed messages of congratulations to the players from both Hon. D. Zeogar Wilson, Minister of Youth and Sports, and Hon. Samuel D. Tweah, Jr., Minister of Finance and Development Planning who could not attend. He thanked UBA Liberia for the sponsorship of the event and ongoing partnership aimed at chess development in Liberia. Mr. Karyah extended special gratitude to the President of the Republic of Liberia, H.E. George M. Weah, for the unflinching commitment to developing the capacity of Liberians through sport and for the enormous support that has enabled chess to blossom under the current regime.
While in India, Liberia will participate in the 2022 FIDE Chess Congress and General Assembly, which is scheduled to be held from July 31 to August 9, 2022.