Phiona Mutesi was hungry one day when she went to a mission for food. She learned how to play chess there is not an international chess champion. Its really one of the amazing things about chess, it has no geographic or economic borders. It doesn’t require a large budget or fancy equipment, but merely the will to study, practice, and get better.
At nine she stepped foot into the US-based Sports Outreach ministry to get some free porridge and began her journey to chess stardom. At this point she had dropped out of school and was selling corn on the streets.
“We were evicted out of our house because we couldn’t afford that money. So when I heard that, I was like, ‘maybe I can also get there to know about chess and then I get a cup of porridge’, because I was hungry [at] that time,” she explained.
Many people in Uganda have the impression that chess is a man’s sport. Phiona Mutesi proved them wrong, showing from the beginning that she is a chess prodigy. She talks about how growing up in the slums has had a unique and positive effect on her chess game.
“I very much believe that having gone through all they go through right from childhood, figuring out how to survive on a daily basis, they do easily identify themselves with the board because when they come to play, they have still to face challenges,” Katende noted. “Devise moves, think what will be the next step, what will come after that. Which I think somehow makes them understand it better.”
The kids in Uganda don’t have chess computers and books to study from. They learn from playing each other and trying to find the best moves in any given position. They play on used chess sets and the rest of their chess equipment is far from new. This makes their style of chess playing very unique. She talks about it when she says:
“No combinations, no memorizing lines, nothing whatsoever. It’s always, think at the situation and devise the best move. Many people actually lose games to these children, simply because of that, I believe,” said Katende. “Because they expect them to play certain lines, and they don’t. They end up playing their own game.”
This is very different than how most other chess players achieve such great heights in the game. They use a lot of help from their predecessors. They study books that other chess players have written and use computers that chess players and programmers have designed to analyze their games.