Raising a potential chess champion

Wednesday, July 20th, 2022 07:44 | By
Skylar Amor emerged position five in ther recent African Youth Chess Championship held in Lusaka, Zambia. PD/COURTESY

Eight-year-old Skylar Amor is amongst the 20 Kenyan students who recently returned from Lusaka, Zambia where they represented the country at the African Youth Chess Championship 2022. The 10-day-competitions saw Skylar emerge fifth position in her category — Under 10 girls’ category.

“The competitions were tough, and everyone was at their best. But I also did my best,” shares the young champ who hails from Kisumu City.

In 2021, her parents transferred her to Mudasa Academy in Vihiga as a Grade Two pupil. While she had taken interest in chess a year earlier, she had no idea that she was walking into the most interesting part of her life. At her new school, chess was a compulsory lesson.

“I had already developed a liking for the game, but having an opportunity for classes every week was a welcome move because I wanted to know more about the game. I like the game because it encourages critical thinking. You have to think before you make any move,” she says.

As her mother, Naomy Ochola shares, Skylar immediately took interest in the game over the rest of the children in her class. As much as she was just a newcomer in the school, their teacher took it up to personally coach her, and on February 19 this year, she participated in her first tournament where she qualified for the nationals held in Mombasa’s Khadija Primary School from April 2 to April 6 this year.

“In the nationals, out of the eight games played she managed to win five of them and that’s what made her qualify for the Zambia trip on July 2. Now we are looking forward to the next competitions — African Chess Schools Championship, which will take place in Liberia from December 22, this year” shares Naomy.

Financial and travel hitches

While he had been earlier uncomfortable with the thought of having his little girl travel across the continent for the games, Skylar’s  father, Fred Odawo, now shares that he relaxed  knowing that his daughter is chasing her dreams. The entrepreneur who runs a second hand bags business in Kisumu, shares that as much as they are proud and supportive of their daughter’s passion, it has not been exactly a smooth ride, especially financially. 

While the Chess Kenya Federation had agreed to sponsor her Zambia trip, they pulled back two weeks to the games.

“The Chess Kenya Federation was really unfair with us parents — they left us on our own in terms catering for tournament costs, which included registration fees, air tickets and accommodation. We basically paid everything out of our own pockets. I had to part with close to Sh300,000. As parents, we have complained about this and we hope that the federation will not disappoint us in the next tournament, which she will be taking part in this coming December in Liberia,” says Odawo.

The game of the mind 

Chess is among games that have been proven to give the brain a rigorous, exhilarating workout that is great for both children and adults. The game of chess requires a lot of “if this, then-that” scenarios, requiring players to imagine all the potential moves, alternatives and outcomes of each possibility. Studies have shown that children who play chess regularly significantly improve their visual memory and concentration.  A fantastic aspect of chess is that the game rewards you for concentration and penalises you for losing it. Lose focus and you lose a piece, or worse, the game! Maintain focus and you are likely to win!  This aspect of the game of chess gives a child’s brain a fun incentive to stay focused while playing.

With the amount of screen time children are exposed to these days affecting children’s ability to concentrate and focus, experts argue that chess is a powerful way of counteracting the negative effects of this digital era by engaging them in an activity that improves concentration while giving them a fun activity to enjoy off screens. 

As Skylar’s father shares, balancing the sport and her studies has not been a challenge for her at all, in fact she has grown even better. “She’s managing it well. Actually, last term she topped her class, she was number one overall in her class,” he shares proudly.

And while she had not had much interest in the game previously, Naomy has been her daughter’s biggest fan and as such, taking time to also learn.

“I am her number one fan. I try to learn too during her training sessions, so that I also get some knowledge about chess,” shares the mother fondly.

Skylar’s bigest dream is to hold the title of a Grandmaster. Grandmaster is a title awarded to chess players by International Chess Federation (FIDE). Apart from World Champion, Grandmaster is the highest title a chess player can attain. Once achieved, the title is held for life, though exceptionally it has been revoked for cheating.

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