Text: Mehul ‘Gorilla’ Gohil
Photos: Kim Bhari
Don’t say this was from me.
The SMS on the phone screen read: “Hi wanted to inform u that NBK already has 2 delegates kwa hivyo musikuje. Pls inform George too. Good day.”
The sender of this 1pm, Sunday 30th January 2011 text was allegedly Dom Vumilia.
Don’t say this was from me.
Dom Vumilia is allegedly an errand boy of Chess Kenya (CK). In early December 2010, when a number of active and frustrated senior players lodged a petition with Kenya National Sports Council (KNSC) detailing the various evils of CK officials, Dom Vumilia allegedly called up the petition leader Akello Atwoli and told him if he didn’t stop pursuing the matter a letter would be sent to his employer stating he, Akello, was an Al-Shabaab sympathiser.
You never read this SMS. I didn’t show it to you.
They looked ahead with their smug faces and unlocatable smiles, trying to show that some of us were more powerless than others.
The Olympiad shenanigans ticked us off. We had been getting ticked off for a decade now but at the Dubai Airport they went and had a 30 dollar per person buffet lunch and we didn’t, we couldn’t. Chessers attack until they become broke people; Chess officials defend until they transform into buffet people.
The rumour at home was they pocketed hundreds of thousands of shillings from evils like Olympiad stipends (the Ugandans got theirs, where was ours?), junior ‘training fees’ and so on. They sent some of us emails that a ‘lesson’ would be taught.
After RD 11 when we and they came back, we prepared a petition and they sent like half a dozen lawyer’s letters, asking us to grovel and apologise and beg for forgiveness. Or else…
Agenda (iii) of the ‘Chess Kenya AGM 2011’ was ‘To appoint the auditors for the society’. They gave us each a paper called ‘Chess Kenya Unaudited Jan-Dec 2009 Income & Expenditure Account’.
One line went: Total Income – 2,384,814.10 (2008)…2,640,035,38 (2009).
Sure there was the Dresden Olympiad in 2008 so the millions there may be justified. 2009 nobody went out for anything international. They said the ‘juniors’ went out.
In Uganda, in the last 4 years, their top 5 juniors have graduated to become half their top 10. They didn’t even need a hundred thousand Kenya shillings for this. For crossing over the border and turning our Accelerated Dragons into instant mashed potatoes.
In Kenya, any over 40 vagabond in the top 30 can take on 50 of the ‘best’ Kenyan juniors simultaneously.
These accounts were unaudited. Since the Ndombolo office took charge there have never been auditors. Of course that is the excuse; there has never been an AGM since 2008.
And vagabond is not just a word inserted for effect. It is a real word and Kenyan chess has real vagabonds.
Backward pawns roaming and prowling the Nairobi backstreets day and night, looking for bars to sleep in by pretending to extreme drunkenness.
…we didn’t give a shitty zugzwang about that. It was a crude petition, something like out of our schoolboy years, and Githinji came around to make everyone sign. I signed at Wimpy in Sarit Center. We shipped it to KNSC. I remember seeing that round circle of ink saying ‘RECIEVED’. We were serious. We had no clue where we were going with this. I mean these were ‘big men’, dictators and power hungry Kirsan Ilyumzhinov wanabees, or so we thought, we had made them bigger than they were in our imaginations and calculations. It happens over time. You forget you were drinking soda with them in Kim’s house when you were an under 14 champion.
The KNSC was interested. There was this Koffi Annan thing Nyaberi started doing between our Raila hedgehog stance and their Kibaki cooked Fried Liver Attack. One afternoon petitioners would go spar with Nyaberi and discuss the post-mortems and on another afternoon we would be at Checkmates speculating on the lies they would be stuffing into his ear orifices.
Then the year moved into deep December and Nyaberi told everyone he was going to kill the baby like King Solomon. We thought he said King Soulman but anyways an EXTRAORDINARY AGM date was set for the 30th of January 2011 A.D. Even at the AGM we loved this word EXTRAORDINARY and everyone kept saying it. EXTRAORDINARY. It went together with AGM like how The Najdorf went together with Kaspy’s black…
Victor Ngani got up, goose stepped to the end of the inner circle table, grabbed the bastard with both his arms and threw him out of the board room. The bastard was an imposter delegate. His fellow imposter delegates descended on Victor Ngani.
Victor Ngani’s voice sent a weird shrill shooting through the AGM audience. We felt his cry physically. It leaped in our blood and bonded us.
The Doctor proved he was made of strong stuff. He clipped one bastard on the chin and another one backed off.
Victor Ngani walked back to his seat at the almost edge of the high table and sat down.
This was the revolt of our chess psyches, an idlike bang of the clock from our chess souls, the desperate buried square where we demand recognition of primitive rights and needs. Listen up you ‘visionary’. Listen up you ‘manifesto’.
A compressed spring of patzers waiting in cramped confines behind their a4-h4 rank, ready to uncoil dangerously, Ruy Lopezly.
…there was something rotten in the Danish Gambit. Especially when the Secretary General started disrespecting deadlines. We knew the monster was now starting to grow extra heads and we didn’t want to be like Michael Adams going headlong, very stupidly, into the head of Hydra. So Githinji went KGB too. I even thought he was cheating me and everyone else but I understood my orifice was too much of a loud mouth for stealth bombing operations. In some bunker him and Akello and Mike Rarua Da Guitar and Victor Ngani and maybe Cow-boot-two and maybe Georgie Porgie and maybe Paul Maballs and Peter Munyasi and maybe Regional Champ and maybe even SuraMbaya…
Finally we were all there in the Sports Council Boardroom. Gor Mahia was playing Ghana all around us on this Sunday.
I mean the halt in the chairman’s orificing sometimes allowed the great crowd to rebuild its noise. We all paused to let the sound collect. Then a rumble of a magnitude we had never heard before. You couldn’t call it kibitzing or orificing. It was a territorial gorilla roar. The claim of the Kasparovian Ego that separated Ghana vs Gor Mahia from Extraordinary AGM – from everything outside Nyayo.
Early Sunday afternoon burned under a spotless blue sky. Kim’s Opel smashed through empty Nairobi highways. Open windows, soft city sounds, and the calm before the pawnstorm.
Kim’s Opel slungshot around the Langata Road roundabout and moved into Nyayo.
Kim stood observing outer structures of the stadium bowl. Bounding staircases and frozen poses of avalanching spectator terraces. The inside-out view of their naked concrete. They looked like grey Lego.
The triton sky reflecting off his burnt pistachio shades.
DSLR Canon in his hands and he is ready. To overthrow the colossus of stadium architecture. With lens and zoom.
We funnel in at the KNSC entrance.
It gets darker as you move further in. The first offices are the toilets. This one we are used to. Kenyan tournaments are in the majority small scale affairs designed by hard up clubs and therefore the venues are low grade and not like those nice photos on Chessbase. We have smelt worse toilets. And once in a while some guy grabs a big one like Safaricom and the thing gets held at a spot like Jacaranda and you make your toilet move and proceed accordingly to the Twyfords and linger there for a wee-wee second longer, holding your limp ocutambula like a chess piece, and you go back to your board feeling confident and uplifted.
The innards of this KNSC headquarters are like a proper dungeon. The aesthetic of the lighting is masochistic. Dark brooding shadows spank your fear. The path narrows into a single long hallway. It’s a prison now and you definitely feel you have been trapped in some kind of ‘tomba-chamber’ on an h-file where your king can’t run from the direct fire of an Alekhine’s gun.
Then to the right an open door signals the boardroom. But on this Sunday to the left is a busy office with all those bad guys jostling in there with fists of paper and packed in so close the 6 of them look like conjoined pairs of tripled pawns. They hate us. Those bad guys hate every goddamned serious chess player in the country. In short they hate chess. They only put up with it because it leads them to the kudos.
Two muscled guys stand at the entrance of the boardroom and as soon as we approach they start to shove us back. Just like that. They are dressed casually in t-shirts and jeans and they have those cheap 50 bob haircuts on them. But there are too many of us. And honestly it’s an aggressive game played by aggressive personalities/mentalities. Nobody is going to get scared by the other patzer’s muscles. The world lies when it says this is a game played by gentlemen. It’s a game for hooligans played by hooligans. Brains? You need killer instinct more.
This is the biggest gathering of senior patzers since that infamous day in 1999 when the Rodrigo ship went down, so anybody get out of our way.
The conjoined tripled pawns then play the first of their only moves. They call in the riot police.
Sometimes the action ‘fleged’ and it became more like waiting then anticipating. This gave me time to dip into the Socratic dialogue of Evgeny & Ilya in ‘From London to Elista’:
LEVITOV: And I remember that I was communicating with you at that moment. I was doing exactly the same thing that Petya was doing – nervously watching the monitor. What’s more, I even called you for the first time in the whole match, and apparently this was immediately after Petya’s call. You said in a rather deathly voice: ‘That’s it, we lose by force.’
BAREEV: Petya put this position into the computer for about 30 seconds. A very powerful computer will say that this is won for Black within 90 seconds to two minutes. The fact is that it won’t tell you this within 10-15 seconds – and during analysis you rarely give it more than that, everything happened in a situation where there wasn’t enough time, and there were a lot of positions to check.
LEVITOV: But can you say that if you’d used a more powerful computer it would’ve shown you this?
BAREEV: No. The capability it had was more than enough, we just needed to hold on a little longer. But anyway, no one would have left it for 90 seconds. We would’ve have given it another 15 seconds, and again it would have shown that it was won for White. We needed to give it 90 seconds, and the game would have ended in a draw.
LEVITOV: What happens is that people try to lighten their own burden by putting it on the machine.
BAREEV: But what can a person do here? The position can be calculated, you have to trust your equipment.
LEVITOV: A surprising thing happened. Volodya lost a game without having made a single move of his own.
Fifty of us. That’s it. That’s about every serious chesser in the country.
My first chess tournament in 1993 had 300 chessers attending. The Goldenberg economy was better for Kenyan chess than the KKK one is. Every subsequent office since 1993 has been worse. Sometimes chessers don’t know how, when and for what reasons to kick out incumbents. Maybe this time we have gotten it right?
Ok, here they come marching into Kenyan chess. 6 Armed Policemen fitted with riot gear – helmets, shields, batons, AK 47s. The Special General Meeting in December had Mr. Nyaberi clearly state that this was going to be an ‘all inclusive’ Extraordinary AGM, so we all turned up. Now why have the bad guys decided to send in Armed Policemen fitted with riot gear?
Just a scare tactic. The 6 stood around and looked at us and asked themselves what the hell are we doing here? Strangest thing – as the riot police came in and hung around for a while, the bad guys at the high table did not even once look at them. Instead, they looked down at their tables and their papers and documents, sometimes talked to each other, laughing at each other in fake ways. Okay, maybe a couple of them stole a glance but nobody’s scared of Mubarak nowadays.