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Friday, April 12, 2013

Mutesi Chess Tour: Inspiration all the Way

Chess blog for latest chess news and chess trivia (c) Alexandra Kosteniuk, 2013

Hi everyone, 

Local children create a living chess game at Lambert's Point Community Center in Norfolk Thursday afternoon, April 11, 2013 watched by chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi of Uganda.The game was hosted by the Norfolk Initiative for Chess Excellence and ODU art students. (Bill Tiernan | The Virginian-Pilot)

Sarah Hutchins has written a nice report on Phiona Mutesi's visit to Norfolk. Phiona's chess tours are inspiring everyone around the world, but hopefully more so in Uganda, her home country. You can read all Chess Blog posts on Phiona Mutesi at this Chess Blog link.

Here is what Hutchins writes: It was hunger that drove Phiona Mutesi to chess. And it was chess that drove the 17-year-old Ugandan everywhere else.

Mutesi, a rising female chess star, was in town Thursday, sharing with students at three area schools her story of overcoming poverty with perseverance. Mutesi grew up in the slums of Kampala. She was 3 when her father died of AIDS. A few years later, she dropped out of school to help her mother. She saw her first chess game while following her brother in pursuit of something to eat.

She started playing the game and slowly began to beat the boys. In 2010, she competed in the World Chess Olympiad in Russia. She has also won the Women's Junior Chess Championship of Uganda multiple times. The mouths of several Booker T. Washington students hung open in amazement when Mutesi told them how young she was.

"Dang," said a girl sitting near the chess champion.

During her visit, Mutesi rarely talked chess strategy. The high school students, some of whom play on the school's chess team, got wide-eyed when she told them she played Garry Kasparov, one of the greatest players of all time.

"Were you scared?" a student asked her about the hour-long match she ultimately lost.

"No," Mutesi said, smiling. "I wasn't scared. I was so happy."

She is the subject of the book "The Queen of Katwe." And Disney has even bought the rights to her story, according to Robert McLellan, marketing director for the United States Chess Federation, who joined her at Booker on Thursday.

Much of Mutesi's visit focused on how students could use chess to improve their lives. The game teaches decision-making, endurance, and problem-solving.

"I can't imagine an obstacle that you guys could face that you couldn't put those skills to work," said Kevin Monroe, Booker's principal.

The chess champion's success has helped Mutesi's family build a new home, one better protected from floodwaters. Still, when her trip comes to a close, she'll be going back to the slums of Uganda. One day, she said, she hopes to become a doctor.

Lisa Suhay, founder of the Norfolk Initiative for Chess Excellence, encouraged students to think about Mutesi's journey and how it could apply to their own lives.

"You can do anything from Booker T.," she said.

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