Chess might not be very popular in Liberia but nothing has stopped the country from preparing for the prestige of being a chess champion.
The African Junior Chess Championship, which Liberia has heavily invested in opens the country's top five players to a vibrant, colorful, and multicultural experience as they meet international stars.
The championship, ongoing at the Monrovia City Hall, since December 28 will see Liberia chess players compete against more than 100 chess champions from Angola, Egypt, Cameroon, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Botswana, among others for the grandmaster title.
This Championship is Liberia's first participation and the country is eying the title with five chess players, with the possibility of seven.
The championships are organized by national federations affiliated with the African Chess Confederation. They are open to chess players who are under 20 years of age as of January 1st of the year in which the championship is held. The championships are organized as a round-robin or a Swiss-system tournament depending on the number of participants. Since 2001, the open championship has been a nine-round Swiss and usually kickoff with two sections – the Open Section for players aged 20 years or less and a Female Section for talented African girls 20 years and below.
Each African Federation is allowed to send 3 participants for each section but the host nation (Liberia) will field five players with an option of registering up to 7 participants.
The winners of the open and girls' championships earn the right to participate in the next year's World Junior Chess Championships.
This year’s African Junior Chess Championship is the second major chess event that Liberia has hosted. The first was the West African Zonal Chess Tournament hosted in 2017 although the country performed poorly.
In a remark, the President of the Chess Federation in Liberia, Williams Thompson said hosting the ongoing games is a blessing for the fact that it comes amidst global international travel restrictions due to COVID-19.
Thompson added that the country's chess federation is very young, and the 2018 Olympics in Batiyah was the first Olympics for Liberia to participate in and came second to Nigeria in West Africa.
“If we invest more into chess development in Liberia, our country will do better in the tournament,” he added. “But we are also eying winning crown for the championship. We trust our players to get us the crown.”
Meanwhile, Kemo Sambola has disclosed that in 1985, the first unofficial chess tournament in Liberia was held between two of the country’s oldest chess players which were won by Oman Essah.
Since then, he said chess has been continually played in an unstructured manner in and around Liberia until the Liberia Chess Federation (LCF) was founded in 2014.
The Championship was initially planned for 2020 but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It runs from December 28, 2021, thru January 5, 2022, at the Monrovia City Hall in Sinkor.
In remarks, at the opening of the game, Minister Zeogar Wilson of the Ministry of Youth and Sports pledged the country committed to a successful hosting and the Chess Federation.
“I remembered in 2018 when I took over at the Ministry of Youth and Sports, I moved into a new position along with my colleagues at the ministry and met a new federation and association, which the chess federation was one of those and through our intervention, we resolved problems in the chess federation that brought Thompson to the leadership of the federation and today we are experts using a good working relationship,” Minister Wilson disclosed.
He added that the government feels proud hosting the Chess Championship for the first time and declared it officially opened.
Min. Wilson noted that chess under his watch would be fully supported and promoted to the fullest.
“I can delay in signing any other paper but when it comes to chess I don’t delay," the minister added. "If I delay I will get delayed on the other side because I know the interest of the finance minister lies within the chess game.”