FOLLOW US ON TWITTER
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: Odion good evening
OA: Hello, good evening
TO: We have a couple of questions for you, we are glad for the interview. So the first question is this, please can you briefly introduce yourself in terms of your early childhood experience, primary, secondary and university educations?
OA: Okay, well my name is Odion Aikhoje. I was born early 1970 in Ibadan
OA: Right, my dad was a lecturer in the University of Ibadan and so I grew up on the university campus and went to the university school, then secondary school. I went to boarding
TO: Primary school you went to was what? University school?
OA: Yes, University Staff School
TO: It’s not International School?
OA: No, primary is staff school, International is the secondary school
OA: So primary school was the staff school in University of Ibadan then I went to Federal Government College, Odogbolu for my secondary education and from there to the University of Ibadan for my BSC in Physics and afterward I eventually did a Masters in Sports Management and the Business of Sports in the United Kingdom in 2007
TO: What university?
OA: Birkbeck College, University of London. It’s Birkbeck College. It’s University of London. It’s one of the colleges.
TO: University of London
OA: Birkbeck College of University of London.
TO: Okay, so is there nothing memorable that you want to share to us about your upbringing
OA: Ehm, I will say the good thing about growing up in the university environment is that I was exposed to a lot of ehm, how would I say it, foreign attitude because you know university environment is a very structured environment so we get used to certain things. You get used to supermarkets, you get used to, every once in a while you travel out and then also we had this kind of community whereby the lecturers, when it’s your birthday all the other children of lecturers will come together, give you gifts. We got used to this type of situation whereby everybody is like a big community.
TO: It’s a big community in university, it’s a world on its own
OA: I guess so
TO: So how did you become a chess player
OA: Well, one of my friends in Ibadan where I grew up, he is half Canadian so he had a number of games and we were learning these games together and so we learnt games like judo, games like monopoly, and also chess around the same time, that was when I was about eight years old
TO: Oh, you were eight years old?
OA: Yes, so I just picked on the game you know and it was interesting and for sometime I didn’t play again.
TO: But most people when they learn chess, they don’t learn the moves properly, they learn it abnormally, some people play chess like draught, some play bishop like rooks or things like that so did you learn properly.
OA: What happened was that I learnt draught separate and I learnt chess.
TO: You learnt chess from a coach?
OA: No, not from a coach because we had a book so we saw the moves, the arrangement of the pieces so from there at least I understood the basic movements of the pieces however when I got to my secondary school boarding house, there was a functioning chess club there. At the chess club I now started to learn a bit more and what also happened was coming back home from school on holidays, there was a friend who was also into chess so whenever I got back from school I would go to his house on campus and we would play, so we were learning things together
TO: So you have been active, you can say you were active since you were eight
OA: Well maybe like ten because after I learnt at eight, when I got to secondary school then I started picking up again, ten, eleven, twelve
TO: So you became an active chess player at the age of ten?
TO: Okay you were in secondary school at?
OA: Ten going to eleven
TO: Ten, eleven, okay that was your Jss1
TO: What is your most memorable moment in chess? What moment in chess you know gives you the greatest joy?
OA: Ehm I don’t know, there are a lot of things. Ideally, I should say of course my victory at the Elista Olympiad, the gold medal I won at the chess Olympiad. I should say that because of the fact that you know it was a kind of unexpected however I can also point to the fact that the first time I travelled to represent Nigeria In 1997 at the African teams championship in Cairo, I won a bronze medal and I was not expected to win at all in fact there was one particular game we were playing Morocco, Morocco had already won three games and I was the last hope and I was playing against a highly rated player and I won that game and you know it gave me a lot of satisfaction
TO: Can you remember the name of this player?
OA: Rizuk, Aimen Rizuk.
OA: But overall I mean I would have to say the victory at the Olympiad is probably the most satisfying.
TO: Can you describe what you regard as the ideal chess style? What would you regard as the correct way to play chess, the ideal chess style?
OA: In answering this question I think I have to refer to what Susan Polgar. There is a quote where she goes “chess is just like life, you know in a playful manner you arrange the piece, you try different things, the only difference in life is that you get to start again. So what that means is that
TO: The only difference is that in chess you get a chance to start again
OA: Yes sorry in chess you get the chance to start again. So the thing there is that you know every individual is unique in this world because of that you can’t say one particular style fits everybody, some people love to play expansive attacking chess, some people love to play defensive chess, some people love to play positional chess, some people love to play speculative chess, you know so you can’t say one particular style is best however if you say principles, there are basic principles of chess but style is not the same as principles, your style is determined by who you are, your temperament but the principles remain the same so I wouldn’t say there is any specific style, I would say learn the principles, learn the basics of chess
TO: But Fischer said that according to style, Morphy was the best. That is what Bobby Fischer said, according to style
OA: So maybe he felt his own style of attacking
TO: That Morphy’s style was the best. You know first of all rapid development then lunch an attack on the king because you are better developed, keep the initiative, things like that
OA: But you know chess has metamorphosed, you have people like Petrosian who believed in, you know playing structures and also Karpov so at times it’s not too much about rapidly developing your pieces, it might be creating a small advantage. You know some people might say they want to win in 50 moves, some other people want to win in ten moves, it’s your choice.
TO: So what’s your own chess style? Can you describe your chess style?
OA: My chess style has metamorphosed over the years. Initially my chess style was wild attacking, I used to love playing intuitive, I think that’s the correct word because originally when I used to play I would play a combination without realizing you know what it was, I would just make a move you know maybe play something then afterwards I would realize that in all ramifications, the move was the right move to make. So I was very instinctive earlier on, so my style was kind of like playing on instinct. Over time that instinct was molded into more of an attacking style whereas I now knew what I was doing but I still had the instincts and now I think I have now become more of a slow positional player so my style is now more of a case of, I play what I call small chess, you make little moves.
TO: Okay, your style, what would you say, why did your style change? Is it that you got physically weaker so you had to, you couldn’t think as deeply as before so you had to change your approach to the game or is it that this positional style you just developed is more effective to winning, you know is it superior or is it just changes in your body or what?
OA: I think that is actually more, that point on changes in my body because I would go back to life. You know as time goes by, you know when you are young you do lots of things, you jump, you run, as time goes by you adopt a more, a more discerning outlook to life, you know you think before you do certain things so to speak. So it’s not as if you don’t remember those things you used to do but now you have a lot more things to think about so I think over time my style has changed just like life I have also changed
TO: Okay, What would you call the secret of your success in chess? What made you so successful?
OA: I think maybe a natural affinity for logic. That is it, in the sense that chess is logic. You know even if your intuition tells you that okay you may come to a fork in the road and your intuition tells you okay this particular junction take the left, it appears to be better then maybe later you analyze it and find out it’s better but you know instantly that instinct and that instinct is based on logic. When you see two particular roads, something tells you that logically this appears to be better because maybe there are no features on the road; there is something at the beginning of the road that just clicks and let you know that okay in that particular instance this is the more logical path to go
TO: So you have the tendency to look at things logically quickly? You are always looking at things very logically
OA: Logic and also at speed, you know because the intuitions which I originally had is kind of super speed logic. Let me put it like that. So I see things, I see like ten options automatically, I select one option so the difference between someone like me and the computer, a computer will analyze 200 possible moves and arrive at the number one move. I would see two hundred moves and automatically choose one and nine out of ten that one will probably be the correct one.
TO: Okay, so we would go to something else now. What was it like to be a coach which you were in Delta State, what was it like to be a coach?
OA: ehm it was interesting and it was very rewarding. It was rewarding in the sense that you know I had the opportunity to see people develop and you know reach their potential. It was also challenging because you know I had to change people’s mindset you know when you are teaching people they might feel that they want to do things in a particular way so you have to try to find a way to convince them, maybe you tell them to practice and they don’t see the need to practice you find a way to convince them practice Is what makes it work, that somebody doesn’t just become a good chess player just like that. You know so it was challenging and it was rewarding, I think the coaching experience was very nice.
TO: How can coaches bring out the best in their wards?
OA: I think what coaches need to do is they need to recognize each individual’s characteristics. Teach them the principles but then now try and understand what is it that makes a person think. For example you might have a student and on move two he wants to sacrifice a piece, move three he wants to sacrifice a piece, don’t stifle that guy by saying that from now on I’m not going to teach this guy you know attacking chess anymore. So instead of doing that what you do is that you find a way to say okay you teach the guy how to moderate his attacking instinct but you don’t stay focused on this so when you are coaching a student, you find out what is it that makes that person think, what is the persons inner chemistry and adapt.
TO: You don’t take them stereotypically, you take them for who they are.
OA: As a group you give them principles as a group you give them principles but when it comes to individual style you now try and find out what each one of them is about because not everybody plays the same kind of chess.
TO: Okay, what happened at the Elista 98 Olympiad? Why was your medal seized?
OA: Well I don’t know if the word seized is actually the right word, okay what happened was that unfortunately
TO: Okay so what is the right word?
OA: Why have I not been able to collect it?
TO: Okay not seized, he has no right to seize it?
OA: I wouldn’t say seized, seized is not correct. So it got somewhere and the person it got to did not release it, so you may say seized but I don’t know if that’s the correct word in the sense that… See what happened at Elista
TO: What happened?
OA: Okay like many things you know in Nigeria we have to, we have to do a lot of planning at the last minute right. So if we are going for a competition most times there is no release of funds so we had to plan our travel you know at the last minute and what we normally do is that because we go for two weeks competitions we try and look for the shortest possible time frame so you find out that Nigeria is going for a two week competition we’ll book our ticket to arrive on day one and depart on day fourteen not allowing for the option of maybe staying behind to attend the closing ceremony because we don’t expect to win. So going to Elista with these last minutes arrangements, our plan was to get to Elista on the day of the competition and leave on the last day right because I don’t think there was really that hope from the administrators that we were going to do so well.
OA: So we got to Elista, the trip itself is another story entirely but we got there and as things will work out I won, winning the gold medal on board two by scoring 6.5/8. The first round I drew against a highly rated Czech international master, he is now a grandmaster Mosvesian almost 2700
TO: He’s Armenian.
OA: Yeah he was Czech Republic then but he is now relocated to Armenia but as at then he was Czech republic, we played against them
TO: Yes highly rated
OA: Yes, so we now won. I now won the gold medal, unfortunately our return date to Nigeria was like let’s say Friday for example in the evening and the closing ceremony was going to be that same Friday evening so we had to leave Elista in the morning on that Friday so we could catch our flight because Elista to Moscow is about 1.5 hours before we will now catch our flight to Belgium then back to Nigeria. So that was the problem we faced. One option was to stay behind and try to catch a later flight which unfortunately the federation did not make provision for or nominate somebody and luckily Mr. Emmanuel Omuku was then on the executive board of FIDE so I nominated him to collect the medal on my behalf and send it to Nigeria which he said he would do. So we departed Elista before the closing ceremony, ironically when we got to Moscow due to problems with our transit visa, we couldn’t leave Moscow so we ended up staying in Moscow for two days in the airport so the people that stayed behind for the closing ceremony met us in Moscow and left us and went back to their country so we could actually have stayed in Elista.
TO: It was quite an unfortunate incident
OA: So we now got back to Nigeria be that as it may and then after about two weeks I was at the national stadium and the secretary then was one Mr. Pius Iyalobe or something so I was in the office with him and DHL arrived with parcel and in the parcel was my medal, my gold medal from Elista, I saw it and I even held it.
TO: Your gold medal, you held your gold medal?
OA: Yes I held my gold medal from Elista
TO: You were thrilled, abi? How was it?
OA: It was nice, small, very lovely, lovely gold medal and it was accompanied with a letter that was addressed to the honorable minister of sport. Mr. Omuku had prevailed upon the FIDE president to write a letter with glowing recommendation to the minister of sports so that he could reward the team and also me for the great performance we had in Elista.
TO: Yeah, for the great honor done to Nigeria.
OA: Yeah but as things will happen now instead of the secretary as the civil servant to forward the gold medal to the National Sports Commission, well then it was the Ministry of Sports it was not the National Sports Commission, instead of him to forward the medal together with the letter he called the chairman and the chairman said, the chairman was in Bayelsa, he was on a project. He told the secretary to send the medal to him that he will personally take it to Abuja so the secretary instead of forwarding it to Abuja sent it to the chairman and it turns out that the chairman actually wanted to use the medal as a leverage to get a refund from the ministry because he committed some money towards the trip so it seems he thought that if he could personally take the medal he’ll be able to get extra funds from the ministry to say look, we have gone, we have won, apart from approving the trip just basically give us our money and give us our worth but fortunately when the chairman got to Abuja with the medal, there was a bit of a cash crunch there so what I gathered was that they were not able to give the amount which you know would have covered the whole trip
TO: But they gave something?
OA: No, but the chairman now apparently said that look that since we had a medal, a gold medal that they must give because we had such a big achievement. Again this is where the problem of Nigeria comes in so what happened, what I heard was that the ministry people said look, this your game we don’t even recognize it, it’s not even football. So I don’t, this was them saying that they don’t even think that the medal is even so important in fact we should keep the medal. So again from what I heard maybe this needs to be confirmed, so what now happened was a situation whereby the chairman now had the medal with no money from the ministry. You see because the ministry had said look since we have been able to give you this amount and it couldn’t cover your trip, in the first place we didn’t even approve the trip. That was what the ministry now even went further to say, because what happened was that before we travelled the then Director General of the Sports Commission in the ministry what’s his name, ehm Adamu, that went to FIFA he was then DG so he approved the trip, he said that we could go for the trip but it was verbally, it was not written so the ministry people said look the approval is not even on paper so for all intent and purpose you did not officially go for this trip which is why till today the medal is not recorded in the Nigerian Sports Commission list of medals won for Nigeria. So if you go and look at the archives, there is no 1998 trip in Nigeria although it is recorded at the international level in FIDE. So when all of this happened I now met the chairman afterwards and said look since this people are not forthcoming can I have my medal? And he felt that the medal was the only leverage he had to be able to collect his money from the ministry so he refused to give it to me and I said look that if I had stayed behind and collected my medal, we wouldn’t even be in the situation but you know that’s what happened, that’s the story of how the medal got to where it got to.
TO: The next question is actually proper, so what will you like to see done about it?
OA: Well, again unfortunately over the years, around, in the 2000 we were attempting to, after a lot of, after a fall out between the chairman and myself, then chairman, Architect Caiafas and myself and a lot of acrimony over the fact that I couldn’t get my medal. Mr Omuku who was just about leaving FIDE came to Nigeria and tried to broker an arrangement whereby the minister of sport, another minister of sport, would book a petition and then give an approval. Unfortunately the minister perished in a plane crash. After that things went into a lull and somehow or the other everything just vanished so some years ago Kunle Elegbede took up the fight, tried to get the medal and he spoke to some important people, they spoke to the chairman who had now retired but he now said look unless he got his funds which he lost back in 1998,he would not release the medal however after a lot of discussion he said he would release it but it was not released and then Kunle Elegbede then tried to present a replica to me in 2010 at the Olympiad but I was not able to go to Germany for that Olympiad. Sorry in 2008 in Germany, the Olympiad was in Germany that year but I was not able to go. Then in 2013 when I came on board the NCF I wrote a letter to FIDE through the president of the federation Mr. Adeyemi detailing the case and requesting the president of FIDE to kindly procure a replica so that we could present it in Nigeria and get it done but I don’t know, I never heard anything from that so I think the way forward is that if
TO: FIDE has not given you your medal now, till now?
OA: No, I have nothing
TO: Kirsan Ilhyumzhinov has not given you the medal he promised to give you?
OA: No, he didn’t promise a medal
TO: He didn’t promise to give you a medal?
OA: No he didn’t.
TO: He said he would start a foundation
OA:I know but that was not a medal. The medal issue did not come up. When His Excellency Ilhyumzhinov came to Nigeria before the FIDE elections, it was a case of, I had the option of, I had the option of discussing, I discussed with him…