By Paras Gudka
Two years and seven months ago I started Chess Events EAC out of frustration at not receiving timely information on upcoming tournaments and missing quite a few because of that. Since then, the website has evolved into an online magazine of sorts offering information on future events, reports on past events, first-hand accounts by Gorilla, interviews with GMs and a lot more.
Over the past 6 months, I have struggled to keep the information on this site flowing with my many responsibilities and struggles with health and so I have finally decided to bring on board someone with more energy and time to dedicate to chess journalism.
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Mehul “Gorilla” Gohil as Chess Events EAC’s new Executive Editor. Apart from being one of Kenya’s strongest chess players, he is also a writer of note having been chosen for last year’s Caine Prize Workshop in South Africa and has contributed a variety of entertaining reports to Chess Events EAC (CEEAC – pronounced ‘see-AK’) since its inception.
I caught up with the effervescent new editor to discuss the future of CEEAC and talk about the current chess scene in East Africa.
Mehul ‘Gorilla’ Gohil the chess reporter at the 2012 World Chess Olympiad in Istanbul, Turkey
Welcome to Chess Events EAC as its Executive Editor. Now that you are in charge of all content published on the website, what is the first thing you are going to change about the site?
Mehul: A change in philosophy. The website has followed a conservative route so far. Chess news has been reported in a dry and detached manner. It’s like the pieces that have come off the board are talking about an attack on the long dark squared diagonal. The pieces have to be a part of the actual game to know what is really going on. Chess is drama. Chess is emotions. Chess is a lifestyle with a rich history to boot. Everyday a Kenyan chess player thinks one hundred thousand chess thoughts. He or she reads the forum, eats passed prawns for lunch, cheats on his girlfriend or her boyfriend by hooking up with fellow addicts, on a Tuesday evening at WeCC, to play some blitz or tell stories about what happened in Elista 1998. I want to capture these things in the style of reporting.
Mehul with top chess journalist Dirk Jan Ten Geuzendam at the Istanbul Olympiad
I would also like to change the visual presentation. Currently, the website has a mono-dimensional theme. News items are presented piece by piece, one has to scroll down to the next item. I would like to see a multifarious style of presentation. The front page capturing a long shot made up of news, game analysis, videos and other royal game miscellany; allowing the reader to take in the whole chessboard in a single glance. But I am no IT expert and will be relying on the original creator of the website to help me out. This change will be a gradual process.
You come in at a time when chess is witnessing a rebirth of sorts in East Africa. Do you have a strategy in place for taking advantage of this increase in activity and publishing regular reports for readers of CEEAC?
Mehul: A six pronged strategy:
NEWS COLLECTION POINT – I will continue the excellent tradition the website has had of gathering news from various chess hotspots in the region. I will continue to urge national federations, clubs and individuals in the region to show what is happening where they are.
GAMES ANALYSIS: Dissecting moves is a largely uncharted area when it comes to chess websites, blogs and social media pages in the region. I believe this has played some role in sinking Kenya into the bottom regions of the world rankings. Nowadays, it is vital for a competitive player to keep up to date with the latest trends in the openings. Even the middle and endgame phases are undergoing constant re-evaluation. Chess is an information-heavy game and chess thought is constantly evolving. Constant practice and updating of skills and increasing one’s store of chess knowledge are vital for improvement. I want to introduce columnists who can regularly discuss chess moves on a website. I want players at large to contribute to this process. One does not need to be a titled player in order to talk about chess moves in an instructive way.
GAMES DATABASE: I want to makes CEEAC a depository of local chess games. Kenya has no games database to speak of. This has been a woeful omission on the part of previous Chess Kenya regimes and current and past tournament organisers. Kenyan players are made to keep score of their games but what happens to the scoresheets tournament after tournament? It’s time we started building a database of local games. It will help upcoming players get into the habit of scouring through a database, filtering out what is important, analyse the selected games and develop one’s own pathway from opening to middlegame and so on. These are permanent habits any upcoming player must develop in order to eventually tackle international competition.
CHESS LIFESTYLE: Chess reporting should not be only about bare tournament statistics and PGN files of chess games. I want to have CEEAC reports that show the chess life that exists beyond the board: Ben Magana scratching his beard as he thoughtfully looks across the tournament hall, the humidity levels in Dar-es-Salaam, the bus-ride to Kampala, the hairstyles of the Kenyan chess queens outbound to Norway, Gorilla’s bad and very right-slanted handwriting on the scoresheet, the chat over lunch as Machakos road runner drumsticks are destroyed, players discussing Zambian chess politics and the bad manners of Egyptian grandmasters, the player smoking his cigarette outside Jericho Social Hall.
EXPLOITING CEEAC’s EXISTING INFRASTRUCTURE: As the new Executive Editor, I inherit a 4 lane dual-carriage internet highway running from here until Vision 2030. CEEAC has presence on Facebook, Google+, Twitter and YouTube. But this infrastructure needs to be put to use. No point of that internet highway existing if no chess players are going to drive on it. Fully utilising this highway will mean greater outreach. I would like to see CEEAC becoming one of the best chess websites in the world. This is very possible. Kenya might not get a World Champion or three super grandmasters by 2030 but the internet gives us the chance to beat first world chess nations in the reporting game. And, for starters, we have a whole niche called Africa all to ourselves.
GETTING THE PLAYERS INVOLVED: It will be impossible to achieve the above without support from players at large. They will need to step in and provide the reports, the game analysis and help with developing the local games database. Clubs and the National Federation will also have to get involved. The increased activity will automatically generate interest in CEEAC. If players, clubs and the National Federation see that CEEAC is regularly churning out news they will want to be a part of the action. One of the positive traits of Kenyan chess is that the players like to be involved in constructive things. It’s a trait that has been hidden in the fog of the chess mess of the last decade or so. The sun is now shining, the fog has lifted. Time to rediscover this trait. Furthermore, the East African chess rebirth will widen the chess networks. This will create possibilities of getting reports from Zambia and Nigeria and so on. The idea is to one day turn Chess Events East Africa into Chess Events Africa.
What do you think of recent developments at Chess Kenya and the new team that took over from the ICKC? Will they deliver?
Mehul with then teammate Githinji Hinga (now Chess Kenya Chairman) at the Istanbul Olympiad
Mehul: I would not like to call it ‘the new team’. I would like to call it ‘the new era’. We have basically deleted our past. The problem was never the Chess Kenya constitution or so on. It was the people running Chess Kenya. You can have the best constitution but with the wrong people in charge only bad things happen. We are starting afresh. Chess Kenya is now all of us. This was not the case before. Before it was them and us. It is not a question of ‘will they deliver?’ It is a question of ‘will we deliver?’ I do think we now have the right people in Chess Kenya. The institution is now totally accessible and a difference can already be felt. Chess politics is no longer the main topic of discussion. Today, players are more interested in seeing the game grow rather than fighting a pawn chain of congambits. The congambits have been checkmated. They are no longer the world champions.
The entire chess community of East Africa was abuzz recently with talk of Ugandan Elijah Emojong’s fantastic performance at the Zone 4.2 Africa Chess Championship in Egypt where he finished second overall with 7.5 points in 9 rounds after defeating 3 Egyptian IMs and two other titled players from Egypt and Sudan. Now that his IM title has been confirmed, what does that mean for other strong players from the region?
Mehul: As East African chessplayers, we have always underestimated ourselves. Now Emojong has shown what we are really capable of. This will fire up aspiring players in the region and they will sooner or later build on what Emojong is doing.
Rumour has it that GM Nigel Short will be participating in the Spicenet Tanzania Open Chess Championship on 14-16 June in Dar es Salaam. Your thoughts on this?
Mehul: It is no longer a rumour. He is going to play. People are going to travel to Dar-es-Salaam just because Nigel Short is playing. Chess has made me understand why people would engage in idol worship. Why they would make statues of gods and bow down to them in respect. People like me have gone through Nigel Short games, have read and reread stories of his exploits. He has become a mythical chess super hero. And now we get a chance to play in the same tournament as him. There is something magnetic about this. Just like that I feel the need to make a pilgrimage to Dar-es-Salaam. I could light-up an incense stick in front of a Nigel Short book and pray to it. There is no logic to it but at the same time it makes complete sense. This is like going out for beers with your gods. And I will soon be having beer with Nigel Short, the god of English chess.
I wish you all the best in turning CEEAC into one of Africa’s premier chess websites as you take over the reins from me.
To get in touch with Mehul, write to info[@]chesseventseac[.]com.