It seems like only yesterday that I had first interviewed Graham Jurgensen on the launch of Kasparov Chess Foundation’s African arm for Chess Events EAC. Well, CEEAC is no more but KCF-A celebrated its third year anniversary last month and this is what the director had to say about their journey so far:

Graham Jurgensen at the Zimbabwe Easter Open 2015 with a junior player

Graham Jurgensen at the Zimbabwe Easter Open 2015 with a junior player

Paras: Congratulations on Kasparov Chess Foundation Africa’s 3rd year anniversary! How would you summarise the organisation’s achievements since its launch in March 2012? What has been the biggest of them and which has had the largest impact on chess players in Africa so far?

Graham: Thank you. Time has actually flown by and I didn’t even realise that we had been operating for that period of time but you are absolutely correct. We launched at the end of March 2012 and marked our 3rd anniversary last month.

I’m very proud of what we have managed to achieve to date and it is hard to single out a single achievement. Our approach has always been to try and address the holistic needs of the continent and we have probably focussed most on equipment supply, introduction of chess in schools and top level tournament support during our first 3 years.

We have probably donated in excess of 12,000 boards and sets to various African countries in the last year alone and I know that we will be running at least 20 FIDE rated events across the continent in 2015.

KCF-A chess sets arrive in Rwanda

KCF-A chess sets arrive in Rwanda

In time, our biggest contribution will probably be through the introduction of formal chess in schools programs across the continent however. This remains the focus of our operations as it impacts both grass-roots chess development and broader educational needs of the continent.

We are already operating in 5 countries and, in conjunction with our parent organisations, we currently reach in excess of 50,000 learners a week. We have also created stable and sustainable employment for a number of individuals in each of the countries we operate in and this is also something we are very proud of.

Paras: The 2014 FIDE Presidential elections saw African federations divided between the two candidates like they have never been before. Rumour has it that the federations which voted for Kirsan Ilyumzhinov where KCF-A previously had projects have seen support for them withdrawn from KCF-A. How true is it?

Graham: The issue of selecting projects and partner federations is always sensitive and it is true that we have been forced to make some cuts post the election results in Tromsø. Had Garry won the election in Tromsø, I have no doubt that the Foundation would have been in an even better financial position then we are in at the moment. Whilst most of our foreign based donors have continued to support us irrespective of the result in Tromsø we have been forced to rationalise our spending to some extent due to the disappointing result in Tromsø.

Garry Kasparov with the Ethiopian and Tanzanian teams at the Tromsø Olympiad

Garry Kasparov with the Ethiopian and Tanzanian teams at the Tromsø Olympiad

We have certainly not withdrawn from any projects where we had contractual commitments in place. There have however been a few cases where we have elected not to proceed with potential projects that were in the pipeline prior to the elections. We assess all our projects on a case by case basis and we continuously assess whether we feel that a national federation is genuine in its desire to work with us or not.

Moving forward, the KCF Africa board has made a conscious decision that we will be concentrating our available resources on countries where the local federations have clearly indicated that they wish to partner with the Foundation. This makes both business and financial sense as it is critical that we maximise the use of every Dollar we have available.

There are simply less overheads in countries where politics are not constantly at play and where the federations are genuinely happy to embrace the opportunities we are trying to provide.

Paras: Which countries does KCF-A currently have chess projects in?

Graham: This depends what you mean by projects.

MiniChess is currently running in the following countries with estimated numbers of kids in brackets:

  • Madagascar (~1000)
  • Lesotho (~2000)
  • Rwanda (~1500)
  • South Africa (5000+)
MiniChess in Madagascar

MiniChess in Madagascar

Tournament-wise we have run events in Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, DRC, Gambia, Lesotho, Ethiopia, Rwanda, South Africa and Zimbabwe. We also have new events planned in Madagascar and Sao Tome & Principe this year.

On the equipment front,  Zimbabwe, South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Sao Tome & Principe, Somalia, Lesotho, Madagascar, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Sudan and Tanzania have benefited from equipment donations to date.

Paras: Since Kasparov’s visit to Kenya in June 2013 and the very visible support his Presidential campaign received from Chess Kenya and its Chairman Githinji Hinga, it has increasingly been felt by the Kenyan chess community that KCF-A runs Chess Kenya and without financial and material support from the foundation, local and international activity would be at a standstill. What is KCF-A’s take on this? Does the foundation have any criteria that national chess federations need to meet in order to receive continued support from KCF-A (such as transparency in communication with players)?

Graham: Kenya has never been short of individuals willing to express their views but I personally feel that a statement like this is unfair on CK team. Chess Kenya has made incredible strides over the last 2-3 years and I often feel that the executive does not get nearly enough credit for the role they have played.

Whilst KCF-A has certainly been active in Kenya there is no way we would have been able to achieve a fraction of what has been done without the support of the individuals on the ground. Kenya is experiencing a chess revolution and the game is benefiting from more media coverage and exposure at both a grass-roots and government level than ever before.

The number of FIDE rated players has been multiplying annually at an almost exponential rate and the number of rated tournaments being run in the country is similarly increasing every single month. Anyone that wishes to comment on the performance of the current CK executive team should take a critical look at what has been achieved over the period of their tenure and then let the results speak for themselves.

Our only criteria for continued support is that a national federation should maximise the value of the funding we are able to provide them with for the benefit of their players. We will continue to support all federations who in turn use the money given wisely.

Paras: What are KCF-A’s plans in East Africa for the rest of 2015 in terms of tournaments and projects? Do you have a calendar that you could share with readers of this blog?

Graham: The 2015 KCF Tournament Calendar has been available on both our facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/KCFAfrica) and on our main website (http://www.kcfafrica.com/) since the start of the year. These are continually updated as more events are added.

We have already held two major events in East Africa this year. The first was the 40th year TPLF anniversary event in Ethiopia and the second was the Rwanda vs Kenya challenge match. Both were designed to help the local federations increase their number of rated players and both were highly successful in doing just that.

Participants of the 40th Year TPLF Anniversary Tournament organised by KCF-A in Ethiopia

Participants of the 40th Year TPLF Anniversary Tournament organised by KCF-A in Ethiopia

Our major event in Kenya is obviously the Millionaire Open Satellite tournament that will run in Nairobi from 30th April – 3rd May. This event will offer the winner the incredible opportunity to participate (all expenses paid) alongside the likes of GMs Hikaru Nakamura and Wesly So at the 2015 Millionaire Open in Las Vegas in October 2015.

East African chess is progressing rapidly and I am sure this event it is going to be significantly bigger than the 2014 East Africa Open which already set attendance records for a FIDE rated tournament in the country.

Paras: What has the journey for you as a director of KCF-A been like these past 3 years?

Graham: I consider myself very fortunate to hold the position as I get to work on something that I am passionate about every day. Whilst I only accepted the post on a full time basis from June 2014 I have obviously been actively involved from the outset.

Juggling my KCF Africa responsibilities whilst trying to hold down a full time role at one of the largest corporate banks in Africa ultimately proved to be unsustainable and I definitely feel we have moved forward in the last year since I have been able to devote myself full time to the operations of KCF Africa.

I am enjoying the role at the moment and it is definitely rewarding to see the efforts paying off slowly but surely.


(Photo credits: Courtesy)