Debutants Nairobi Academy and Club was the surprise team of the season after finishing third with 42 match points in the just-ended 2015 Kenya National Chess League.
They won 13 out of a possible 17 matches played, drawing three and losing one. Going to the last round of play at Stima Club over the weekend, they were fighting for a podium finish with Deadly Bishops who finished third last year but dropped to fourth with 36 match points.
Notably, Nairobi Academy and Club capitalized on their junior structures, regular training and strong players across boards to get out the positive performance.
Defending champions Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) beat rivals Equity Bank to the title on the last day.
An unexpected loss to lowly-ranked Kenyatta University for Equity ensured that KCB retained the title. The tight competition between the two teams not only pitted the bankers but two of the top teams locally boasting of the best players in the region.
Equity and KCB drew their matches head-to-head and the former’s arithmetic was changed by the 2-3 loss to KU.
Equity Bank team manager Bernard Wanjala said the scoreline that buried their title chances came from nowhere. “We did not expect to lose and they did not expect to win. It was a real surprise for both sides.”
KCB finished with 45 match points, two points ahead of Equity with both teams winning 14 matches each from 17. KCB were unbeaten and drew three times while Equity lost twice and drew once.
Wanjala who is also the league secretary said competition was taken a notch higher by the new teams that caused major upsets.
Apart from Nairobi Academy and Club, other new clubs were Kisii County Chess Club who won five matches and collected 15 points, University of Nairobi who won three times and had 10 points as well as Kenya Alliance Insurance Company Limited with two wins and collected six points.
Sponsorship was a major issue this season with many teams experiencing financial difficulties leading to walkovers being awarded.
The biggest casualties were Mombasa Chess Club, Kisii County Chess Club and Eastlands Chess Club.
Edwin Mugi from University of Nairobi was one of the outstanding young players after beating East Africa’s highest rated player International Master Arthur Ssegwanyi from Uganda. “This demonstrates that there are talents in Kenya that remain unexploited,” Wanjala observed.
The league that run for six months and attracted 17 teams from across the country was played on a round-robin format with each team hosting at least one fixture.
The closing ceremony to double up as the National Championship will be held on Sunday at Strathmore University. The winner will walk away with Sh100, 000, first runner-up Sh50, 000 and second runner-up Sh30,000.
The best board performance will also be awarded with a player required to have played at least nine games to qualify. The board winner will walk away with a trophy, Sh10, 000 and a board while the two best juniors will be awarded a shopping voucher of Sh5, 000.
League Standings: 1. KCB (45 points), 2. Equity Bank (43), 3. Nairobi Academy and Club (42), 4. Deadly Bishops (36), 5. Kenyatta University (36), 6. Checkmates (32), 7. Prox Chess House Club (32), 8. Nairobi Chess Club (31), 9. Eastlands Chess Club (31), 10. Strathmore University (27), 11. Technical University of Kenya (19), 12. Mombasa Chess Club (19), 13. Tritonite Stars (16), 14. Kisii County Chess Club (15), 15. University of Nairobi (10), 16. Mt. Kenya University (6), 17. Kenya Alliance Insurance Company (6), 18. Nairobi Gymkhana (0).
Board Performance: Board One- 1. Peter Gilruth (Nairobi Chess Club, 97%), 2. Arthur Ssegwanyi (Equity Bank, 83%),3. Ben Magana (KCB, 82%); Board Two: 1. Kenneth Omollo (Equity Bank, 89%), 2. George Ochieng (NCA&C, 83%), 3. Mehul Gohil (Nairobi Chess Club, 81%); Board Three: 1. Kamadi Akidiva (Checkmates, 95%), 2. Brian Adorwa (NCA&C, 82%), 3. Joseph Methu (Deadly Bishops, 77%); Board Four: 1. Martin Oyamo (Deadly Bishops, 77%), 2. Brian MMata (NCA&C, 75%), 3. Moses Andiwoh (Deadly Bishops, 70%); Board Five: 1. Jane Wambugu (Prox Chess House, 95%), 2. Ivy Amoko (KCB, 91%), 3. Isabella Asiema (Strathmore University, 85%); Junior Ranking: 1. Saloni Karania (Tritonite Stars, 83%), 2. Sanjana Deshpande (Equity Bank, 78%), 3. Dorcus Wanjala (Eastlands Chess Club, 63%).