In a remarkable turn of events at the 2023 Kenyan Chess Open Tournament, Nigerian chess prodigy Titoluwanimi Rapheal, affectionately known as Tito, emerged as a formidable force by tying for the first position alongside Kenyan Mehul Gohil, Nigerian Magnus Ekpiken, and Ugandan Wagodo Abdul in the Under 2000 category.
From L-R: Chess Kenya President—FIDE Arbiter Benard Wanjala,With Prizes winners: Magnus Epkipen Etim, Gohil Mehul, Titoluwanimi Rapheal and Wagodo Abdul Shakuru
While the FIDE World Chess Championship was making headlines with Chinese Grandmaster Ding Liren claiming victory, Tito’s achievement deserves recognition for his exceptional skills and dedication to the game. BruvsChess Media had the privilege of interviewing this rising star, shedding light on his journey, his triumphs, and his plans for the future.
BruvsChess Media: Ladies and gentlemen, today we have the honor of speaking with Titoluwanimi Raphael, a rising star in the chess world who recently tied for first position in the 2023 Kenyan Chess Open Tournament. Welcome, Tito!
Tito: Thank you! It’s great to be here.
BruvsChess Media: Tito, can you share with us how you first discovered chess during your childhood?
Tito: Well, my mother is a chess player, so I was exposed to the game at a very early age. I remember watching her play with friends and accompanying her to chess competitions. By the time I was just 8 years old, I started competing in tournaments myself.
BruvsChess Media: It’s amazing to have such a dedicated mentor. How would you rate your mother’s coaching style?
Tito: I would say it’s incredibly productive and the best. She always emphasized allowing players to find their own pace and comfort in the game. Her training method was tailored to individual players, bringing out their best.
BruvsChess Media: Moving on to your recent achievement, tying for first in the Kenyan Chess Open Tournament is truly impressive. How did you come to know about the tournament, and how do you feel about your success?
Tito: I found out about the 2023 Kenyan Opens online. Interestingly, I hadn’t played competitive chess for almost a year before this tournament. The last time was at the South-South Opens in Nigeria. So, this victory came as quite a surprise. It’s a great feeling to achieve this after a period of being less active in the chess world.
BruvsChess Media: It’s certainly an extraordinary accomplishment. Can you reveal your secret? How did a Nigerian resident, not actively participating in chess, manage to travel to Kenya and tie for first position?
Tito: Well, it’s quite miraculous, to be honest. I attribute it to the grace of God. Although I did put in intensive self-training for about a month before the tournament, I ultimately left the rest to divine intervention.
BruvsChess Media: Among the challenges you faced, can you tell us about your toughest game during the tournament?
Tito: The toughest game was definitely the last round. Right from the start, my opening was disastrous, and my opponent took full advantage. I made a mess of things, but my opponent missed several winning chances. Eventually, my opponent slipped, and I found relief.
BruvsChess Media: That must have been quite a rollercoaster of emotions. How did you feel when you magically turned the tables and won the game?
Tito: I felt an overwhelming sense of joy. I could sense my opponent’s overconfidence by the speed at which they made their moves. So, I played along, appearing completely hopeless, until my opponent unknowingly pressured my king into a perfect position. At that moment, I couldn’t contain my excitement. I took my opponent’s hands, vigorously shook them, and repeated my thanks. That game secured my tie for first place.
BruvsChess Media: Did you have a support group, friends, or family you stayed in contact with during the tournament?
Tito: Not exactly, but there were other Nigerians at the tournament whom I connected with and shared my games. Later, I called my mother, even though she couldn’t accompany me to Kenya. Her support means the world to me.
BruvsChess Media: With this significant achievement in the Kenyan Opens, what are your future plans, Tito?
Tito: My goal is to earn a chess title and build my own chess brand called SPORTS64SQS. We aim to make chess more relatable to a wider audience, creating more chess enthusiasts from every walk of life, just as we see in other popular sports like football.
BruvsChess Media: That sounds fantastic, Tito! Thank you for sharing your inspiring journey with us. It has been a pleasure speaking with you.
Tito: The pleasure is mine. Thank you for having me!