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The IM Odion Aikhoje interview is finally out and its in three parts. We met him after a grueling 7 rounds tournament but he still had plenty of energy for the nearly two hours interview. IM Aikhoje is popularly called Odirov and is regarded as the greatest ever Nigerian player yet so anyone who knows Nigerian chess does not need a list of his accomplishments.The interview touches on his life, chess playing and some controversies. Rather not let the cat out of the bag, enjoy.
TO: Okay how can we increase the number of people playing and interested in chess in Nigeria?
OA: Well first of all the administration has to get it right. We have to define chess. Is it a game or a sport? Luckily it’s defined as a sport. The next thing the administration has to do is okay we have a certain budget every month, we have to publicize it, advertise it, we need to, we also need to monitor what the administration is doing.
TO: It’s too small, we need all of us.
OA: No, no the administration has to develop a plan, the administration sets the policy so what we need is a situation whereby the administration sets the policy, the administration, the NCF should not be the ones to be on the ground level. The NCF should be the ones licensing people, monitoring them, training them. To train the trainer effectively that’s what you do, you train the trainer. You train people that will now spread the gospel of chess not that the NCF on its own is the all and all which is what is happening, that is what is killing us because it’s a case of you cannot do anything without speaking to the NCF chairman, that doesn’t make sense.
TO: No but I think people like me have a responsibility. What can all of us do? It’s not just…
OA: No but no matter what you do, no matter what, you have an umbrella body. Your umbrella body has to legitimize you so if your umbrella body does not give you legitimacy there is a problem. So like the US Chess Federation for example has different continental chess associations so those ones now undertake their own activity.
TO: So if you want to increase the population of the chess market, the responsibility lies with the Nigerian chess Federation?
OA: The federation has to develop a plan and license people to execute that plan so first of all the federation as you say, for example the only time the federation even contacts the states from the best of my knowledge is when they want to do festival then they say come and bring your contribution, pay your whatever, that doesn’t make sense.
TO: Okay so you feel that it has to be coordinated by the Nigerian Chess Federation?
OA: Exactly the federation is a supervisory body but the chess federation has become an executive body similar to what happens In Nigeria between the senate and the executive.
TO: Look but don’t you think…, but people are showing initiative like Kasparov has his own initiative of developing chess. People can show initiative; Susan Polgar has her initiative for developing chess.
OA: All these people you are talking about have been licensed one way or the other by FIDE even Kasparov with his agro with FIDE is recognized by FIDE.
TO: He has relationship with FIDE.
OA: Yes so what that mean is that even if you are developing it, you must be recognized by the federation. If the federation is not in a position, if the federation is not recognizing you, you get to a point where you hit the ceiling and they now ask you the simple question okay you want to go far then what do I do next? I will give you the example, a young man came from England recently, he has a daughter, very talented girl in tennis. So he wants her to play for Nigeria, to represent Nigeria even though she has no citizenship so what now happened was that he came in, I said to him you have to get her registered in the state so that from the state she can represent Nigeria at the national level and he was having problem with that you see
TO: Agreeing with that?
OA: No not agreeing with that
TO: Getting it done?
OA: Because the people in the state were like no need for her to register because how can she represent Nigeria when she doesn’t have a state.
TO: No it’s not organized in Nigeria.
OA: Yes, you ask about improving chess in Nigeria.
TO: Increasing the market
OA: Increasing it, so the NCF has to be aware of its supervisory role, the NCF has to get people in charge. For example how many registered chess promoter do we have in Nigeria? Is there an official list with the federation? How do we know the legitimate, and again Nigeria struggles with issues of legitimacy, you don’t know who is fraudulent and who is not so where can you go to get an official list of people.
TO: How can there be a fraudulent chess promoter?
OA: There was a situation whereby somebody organized a tournament many years ago in Abuja. He collected a lot of sponsorship money and there was no prize at the end of the day, people came, played, he collected all their money and ran away.
TO: Can you suggest a training program for someone that wants to be an International master? If you want to be an International master how do you train?
OA: Well I can’t say a training program but the bottom line in chess is practice makes perfect, it’s hard work. I know my own chess is a bit natural but I’ve also put in the work. There were times I played hundreds, thousand of games against the computer, each game I played I’m learning something new so you have to develop your own what do you call it, develop your own strategy. Draw up your own the curriculum, draw up a work plan, where are the areas of your game you feel you are weak, if you need someone to assist you, you can get in touch with a coach or something but it’s not just like that, it doesn’t just happen, practice. You need to first of all say if I want to become an international master, I need to attend a number of tournaments, then get my rating up to a particular point, you now list the number of tournaments, you say okay in one year I would attend one, two, three tournaments either in Nigeria or outside Nigeria, you look for sponsorship, then you now prepare, in this tournament I’m likely to meet players of a particular rating and what would these players normally play, how good is their game, do they win in the opening, middle game or end game? How do I make sure that I’m not just going to lose tournaments games? You have to plan, you can get someone to plan it for you if you want but there is no magic fix.
TO: So you are not telling him to read through books or…
OA: No, that doesn’t work. It’s not about reading any particular book but the bottom line is understand the principles of chess, know your style, if you don’t know your style enlist a coach or somebody who can recognize your style and then the person can help you or you can even do it. Develop an outline, do these steps first of all, write okay I want to be an IM, what is your time frame, is it three years? Okay in three years. In those three years I need to get my rating up a minimum of 2400. I gain, if I score 5.5 out of 7 in a tournament of average rating of 2300 maybe I will get ten rating points or fifteen rating points that means I need to play xyz number of tournaments to gain to gain xyz rating points. It is logic, it’s not just luck. You have to get to a particular point before you can be awarded the title of international master. You have two ways of becoming an international master, you can play in zonal tournament in your zone, if you score 6 percent that is 6/9 you are awarded the title or if you win inter zonal. The other alternative is you win the African championship you can get the international master title. The longer route, what you do is that you…
TO: Get norms
OA: Get norms, three norms and your rating must also be at a minimum level before you can even be awarded the title and those norms mean you must score a particular
TO: Which way did you go?
OA: At the inter zonal 1998
TO: So you have to find your route and
OA: Yes, that is it. And plan it
TO: Okay, how can someone achieve financial success by playing chess, using professional chess playing as a platform for making money through other ways?
OA: Luke McShane is an example, Luke McShane was playing then he took a break. He went to go and study, came back. He is a financial strategist, financial expert in the city of London. You know chess has been able to improve his, his sense of mathematics is incredible, so Doctor John Nunn for example, great chess player but he is also a wonderful astronomer he is a world class …
TO: Doctor of mathematics
OA: Doctor of mathematics. So the chess has also enhanced his abilities but the chess itself cannot make you a living.
TO: A financial success
OA: It can’t. But chess can help you. It can assist you in your doing. It can assist you in what you are doing, if you are an engineer chess can make you a better engineer, if you are a banker chess can make you a better banker because your logic is incredible, your capability to make decisions that will promote your company, promote yourself will be enhanced. So chess is a means to an end, it’s a tool.
TO: Chess is a tool, it can’t give you financial success
OA: No, because it is not a spectators sport
OA: The only sport in which you can have a lot of return from the game is spectators sport
TO: Okay, so what would you say to people that call you the greatest Nigerian chess player ever, what will you say about that?
OA: Well I say thank you to them and I guess it’s their view and I’m happy to accept it.
TO: You agree?
OA: Well if they say so then I accept it. There have been a lot of great Nigerian players
OA: There have been a lot of great player but I think in terms of achievement because of that my single achievement and other achievement I also won gold at the all African games so I think those things have maybe put me ahead of a number of people for now because you know at the end of the day what they count is medals.
OA: You know you can be a fantastic chess player but achievements are recognized.
TO: What have you won?
OA: You know that is it and I think I have been able to win everything from university gold to all African gold
TO: National championship
OA: National championships, world, you know I have also done quite a lot you know
TO: How many grandmasters have you beaten?
OA: I can’t remember maybe two or three. I have drawn with about one or two of them also.
OA: I think the most impressive victory was over the grandmaster
OA: No, that was a draw, Mosvessian but the person was grandmaster
OA: Yeah Joe Gallagher
TO: Or is it John Nunn?
OA: Joe Gallagher. Yeah Joe Gallagher in England, That was a very impressive victory. We had the British championships
TO: He is a strong player
OA: Yeah in 1999
TO: What are your future plans in chess?
OA: Well I still play on and off but maybe in the long term I intend to start up an academy of chess so that I can be teaching people
OA: Because I think I should pass on what I know in chess
TO: You have the plan to start an academy?
OA: Yes I do at some point. A chess academy
TO: If you need support you know who to
OA: Of course, I will be in touch with people and I also want to do a lot of assisting chess in terms of organizational capability so I talk to people who have organizations
TO: Are you based in Nigeria now? You are working where?
OA: Of course I’m in the country, I’m working. Now i’m in the country, I’m with Federal Radio Cooperation of Nigeria (FRCN)
TO: But you still want to start a business, a chess business?
OA: Yes at some point I need to do that because it’s something which has given me so much so I need to really give back and I think where I can really help is in terms of, apart from training one or two people, but in terms of the organizers, I need to, I have written one or two articles over time and tips for organizers so I need to really help people to know how to organize better things
TO: Then also, okay we’ll talk about that, we’ll talk later. So we are true with my own, Chess Heights questions. The last question is what future do you see for Nigerian chess the way things are going?
OA: Well right now I think it’s quite difficult because Nigerian chess is, it’s difficult in the sense that Nigerian chess needs direction and it needs it soon because without that direction, I think Nigerian chess might just end up in a stand still. People are coming up but unfortunately, I mean I can come back to a tournament after how many years and I’m still on top so the people that used to play before me when I come to tournaments I will defeat them but you know I don’t think ehm, we need that plan, we need that long term plan in place and the sooner the better. We have talents; thse talents need to be nurtured
TO: Okay we have some questions from all over the world, these are not Chess Heights questions, I will read all of them to you one by one and you will be answering them. Jose Raul Capablanca, and he has some two names which I couldn’t get but he has also Jose Raul Capablanca as part of his names that he put there. He is from, probably from Zambia, said who is your favorite African player?
OA: It has to be Watu Kobuese
TO: Watu Kobuese
OA: He is a very creative player, very creative. I heard that he defeated Judith Polgar one time like that
TO: And drew Leko
OA: Yes, he is a very creative player
TO: Okay, then Ikenna Ilonuno asked that now that you see the pace of chess development in Nigeria, do you regret leaving the NCF board?
OA: Well of course this is a good question because all we’ve said so far, I’m a member of the board officially. I’m a member of the board, I cannot be removed from the board by the secretary and chairman, it is beyond their power to remove me so I’m a member of that board until the board is dissolved in two years time. So I’m a member of the NCF board, so there is nothing that can be done about it
TO: So it’s a mixed question
OA: It’s a good question. The only thing is that another reason I’m not so active is as a player representative, I spoke to players but I didn’t get support from players so but I get to ask some players
TO: Okay so you used to be heard? So you spoke to players, you didn’t get support from players that’s why
OA: At several forums I spoke to players but I didn’t get support the support from players. When I told players to choose, I gave them documents but they chose to believe the lies so I decided that
TO: You choose not to react
OA: Yes, because if players want to be helped my philosophy is this, if people need help and the ask for it then I can assist but you cannot force help on people
TO: Okay, so Boyo Paul Kehinde asked this question, have you collected the gold medal you won at the Elister Olympiad?
OA: No I haven’t, as I explained earlier
TO: Okay, Daniel Anwuli asked that why do you like the London system and the Alekhine defense so much?
OA: Well London system again, I developed it because it fits my strategic, my new strategic style. It’s a slow build up, it can also be active but I like the slow build up. The Alekhine, I’ve always played the Alekhine. The first time I saw it was Bola Dada in Ibadan in 1988 and since then I fell in love with the opening. I just love it
TO: Yeah there are some…, you want to say more on that?
TO: There are some other names but you know because my internet went down I couldn’t get the names but I got the questions. How can young Nigerian players become grandmasters?
OA: It has to be done by planning. We’ve spoken about this earlier on
TO: Okay I think this is Nnaemeka Nwosu I’m not sure. He says why are you not a grandmaster?
OA: Well unfortunately I didn’t follow the strategic plans to become a grandmaster and again as time as gone by I’ve been more involved in other things. When I travelled to the United Kingdom in 1999 if I had stayed behind and focus on my chess career maybe I might have been able to achieve the grandmaster title but since I have been more focused on working and you know it has been difficult but I still intend to for at least a year to play in Europe and America to achieve the title. In the next maybe three years I think I will do that
TO: Okay so the reason why you are not a grandmaster is because you didn’t focus on being a grandmaster?
OA: Yes because you need to have a plan, you need to play in Europe, you cannot become a grandmaster by playing in Nigeria or Africa so I need to take maybe like a one year program, get sponsorship and play several tournaments in Europe, America and achieve the title
TO: So you plan to do that in future?
OA: I plan to do that in the next three years
TO: Okay, thanks for the interview.