Kenyan Chess Prodigy Eyes Success At World Event

16 January 2021

Fifteen-year-old Viraj Shah has a full in-tray as he seeks to excel in two different fields - academics and sports.

Apart from studying hard to score good grades at Peponi School in Nairobi where he is in Grade 11, Shah is also training hard as he aims to be among the top performers at the forthcoming 2021 World Individual School Chess Championships in Halkidiki, Greece.

The championships will take place from May 2 to 11 and for Shah, whose rating is 1377, a lot is expected from him since he won the Under-15 boys 'category of the Africa Schools Online Individual School Chess Championships held last December.

To become Africa's male Under-15 top seed out of the nine rounds of the qualifiers that was organised by Chess Kenya Federation, under the auspice of Africa Chess Confederation (ACC), Shah won seven, drew and lost in one.

"I feel very happy to hold my name along with other top Kenyan athletes. It has given me the confidence of performing well at the World Youth Chess Championships. My target is to finish within the medal bracket, and to keep the name of my country (Kenya) high," said the Anchor Chess Club player, whose other compatriot at the global contest will be Elizabeth Cassidy.

Cassidy emerged top in the Under-9 girls' category.

By the virtue of topping in their respective categories, Shah and Cassidy are among the 20 players across the continent who will receive economy class air tickets sponsorship by ACC to the global championships.

Determined to achieve his target of finishing within the medal bracket at the Halkidiki's event, every day, Shah ensures that he creates time to hone his skills, despite his tight academic schedule.

After returning from school, he trains individually from 5pm to 7pm.

The training entails playing several games on various chess websites, and studying different chess variations, strategies and tactics online by watching previous matches of some of the top chess players in the world.

The late American Grandmaster Bobby Fischer and the reigning world chess champion Magnus Carlsen, who is also a grandmaster, are some of the players that Shah looks up to and borrows a lot from by watching their previous matches.

In the local scene, he looks up to hold his coach Moses Andiwoh because of his "very unique and aggressive style of play" and Kenya's top seed Joseph Methu because "he is humble and the best Kenyan blitz player".

"Every day, I motivate myself to become better and that is why I train very hard... .I have learnt a lot by watching their videos (Carlsen and Fischer).They are some of the best chess players to have ever lived," said the teenager, who started playing chess when he was six.

"I got into it (chess) mistakenly as a school activity and within one week of learning, I started beating my own teacher. It is then that my mother realised I had potential in the game and together with father, they started supporting me," says Shah, whose dream is to one day earn an International Chess Federation (Fide) Masters title.

Apart from the most coveted Grandmaster accolade, the other titles in chess, which are based on one's performance at Fide competitions are International Master (IM), Fide Master (FM) and Candidate Master (CM).

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