Family transforming Africa’s Chess landscape

Olamide Alhassan

In the war of chess, where strategic brilliance meets mental agility, lies a remarkable tale of triumph from the unlikeliest of places. What started out as a retirement plan has taken a different turn to become a tale of African ingenuity and resilience that is challenging stereotypes and changing the narrative of a continent.

At the heart of this narrative are Clement Urieto and his family, whose journey through the world of chess is not just about mastering a game, but about rewriting Africa’s story of brilliance and innovation. This is the story of the Urietos family, who are using the power of chess to defy expectations and inspire a continent.

Chess is played at all ages, in all countries, without any attention to religion or ethnic background, from the quaint streets of a small town here in Nigeria emerges the Urietos family, a trio of chess wizards guided by a dedicated father and his two young daughters, aged 9 and 6.

Clement in his journey aspires to cultivate a new generation of chess champions poised to revolutionize the world through their profound impact on the chess realm, echoing the strides already set in motion by his daughters.

How It Began…

Interview with Clement Urieto

Meeting Clement Urieto, one would likely mistake him for just a simple father, but in-depth, he is a game-changer raising the next generation of young grandmasters from a small place. We had a conversation to learn about how he started the vision to reach the world through chess with his daughters at the forefront of this change.

He stated that the talent of chess was something he acquired as a young boy living in Benin City. He mainly partook in chess to elude hunger after school back in his days in his neighbor’s house. While he never considered himself an agent of change, he decided he would teach it to his children to have them play with him when he is old and grey. That retirement plan has today taken a different leap with his first daughter, Ivieto Urieto, 9, making waves in the world of chess and participating in different tournaments, having 14 different medals to her name, and teaching other young children the power of chess.

Clement Urieto teaching his daughters the game of Chess

Clement started teaching Ivie to play chess at the age of 4 during the COVID-19 pandemic, and she has since then blossomed into a chess champion gunning to be a grandmaster at age 15.

“The day you beat me in the game of chess is the day I stop being your coach,” Clement Urieto told her first daughter Ivie.

Journey to the World…

Clement Urieto recounted the initial challenge of introducing Ivie, then 4 years old, to the intricacies of chess. To pique her interest, he devised a creative approach: upon returning home from work, he would present her with treats, attributing them to various chess characters. Whether it was a gift from the King, a token from the Queen, or a surprise from the knight, these imaginative gestures gradually sparked Ivie’s curiosity and engagement with the game.

Clement stated that Ivie gradually developed an interest in the game, and they soon became partners in the game even as he coached her.

Clement and Ivie Urieto playing the game of Chess

However, he told her that the day she wins playing against him, he would cease to be her coach, and that translated to the day he began the quest for a coach for her which inversely channeled the revolution in the game of chess for Urietos.

He went online and began the quest for a chess coach to nurse his daughter and found her very first tutor John Fowley, who began working with her from a distance, and gradually she transitioned to a chess academy during the summer break from school that year and gradually learned alongside others. She also got to learn under other chess experts from across the country.

Seeing her progress with her tutors, her wits were tested at age 7 during the summer break in 2022. She participated in her first tournament where she came 2nd place. It was an encouragement and the training was intensified. She partook in another tournament meant for adults categorized as the rated players. She lost all her games, but we learned that she had not learned to play her games with timing. It was difficult to defeat her, but we learned timing.

Ivie Urieto being handed her first medal

She partook in another tournament at the Moshood Abiola National Stadium that was the deal-breaker; she came 1st and got her first medal presented to her by the President of Nigeria’s Chess Federation, Rtd. DIG of Police, Sani Mohammed. The story of her success was shared on X, and it sparked lots of interest. The Gift of Chess also reached out as well as others to be a part of her story and growth process. She started getting invites as well to train other children and to partake in other tournaments. She started visiting schools and educating other children on the importance of the game of chess to build good mental capacity and resilience to tackle life’s challenges.

L-R Ivie Urieto giving the gift of Chess and  teaching the game of Chess

She became the youth ambassador for the Gift of Chess in Nigeria and has since then been moving from schools, prisons, markets, internally displaced persons camps, and other gatherings to teach both young and old to play chess and hand them chess mats raising generations of chess lovers who will build mental resilience through life’s hurdles.

He talked about his motivation of the Williams sisters Venus and Serena. He’s also coaching his youngest daughter Adesua to play chess, and she has started competing against Ivie.

Challenges…

Despite the fact that chess is a game of critical thinking with so many academic benefits to students, it has not been incorporated into their academic calendar. To ensure that Ivie and Adesuwa’s academics don’t suffer, a timetable had to be created to streamline chess time and school time for balancing which they are making efforts to get used to.

Another challenge he shared with us was financial challenge. The chess stars are greatness springing from a very small place. Most of the time when invitations come, they are barely able to meet up and have to always rally round for supports to travel.

There was also a time she was denied Visa to travel to the United States. She is a member of the United States Chess Federation but couldn’t secure a visa to partake in the tournament dedicated to her.

He also spoke about the challenge of work and availability to take her to the places she needs to be per time to partake in her games since she’s still a minor and must be accompanied.

As a member of international chess bodies like the United States Chess Federation and the French Chess Federation, another challenge Ivie has had is time zone difference which keeps her up at night while trying to partake in tournaments outside Nigeria.

Ivie Urieto

“Chess helps me to see the bigger picture,” Ivie Urieto.

Ivie Urieto adorned with her 14 medals

The nine-year-old lover of chess motivated and first coached by her father talked about her love for chess emanating from the beauty of chess with her favorite piece as the knight because it has no obstacle. She started playing at the age of four with her role model being Susan Polgar; a famous chess player.

Ivie has participated in several tournaments and has earned 14 medals by the age of 9. She aspires to become a grandmaster by age 15, which motivates her to compete in chess competitions with the DMV every weekend to improve her USCF online rating. Ivie Urieto is not only a chess player but also a game-changer. She serves as a chess instructor, influencer, role model, and youth ambassador for the Gift of Chess. Through her online platform designed by Chessable, she coaches up to 99 players simultaneously, demonstrating that age is no barrier to pursuing one’s passion and emphasizing that chess is for everyone.

Ivie believes that chess helps her see the bigger picture, aiding in critical thinking, discipline, and focus. It teaches her not to despair when facing challenges. Ivie asserts that chess players have better chances of overcoming life’s obstacles due to improved critical thinking, strategic skills, and cognitive abilities.

Challenges

Despite her dedication to chess, Ivie faces challenges in managing her busy schedule, balancing school, extracurricular activities like chess tournaments and training sessions, and pursuing interests like language learning during her international coaching. Additionally, coping with different time zones for training sessions poses a challenge. Ivie is a member of the US and Nigeria Chess Federations, holds honorary memberships in Alex Echecs, France, and C.D. Ajedrez Alfil Invidente Chess Club Cadiz, Spain, and is also a member of The Greater Cleveland Chess Club, Ohio, where she has her chess coach.

She also encounters challenges in adapting her teaching strategies to accommodate different learning styles as an instructor.

Adesua Urieto

2024-04-16 14:49:10.992000

Adesuwa Urieto on the path to her first medal

Adesua Urieto, the younger sibling of Ivie, is an up-and-coming chess player under the guidance of her father. Although she’s yet to win medals, she has begun her journey in tournaments and is closely following her sister’s footsteps in the game. Clement Urieto, their father, predicts that Adesua will make a significant impact in the world of chess, alongside her sister, as they promote cognitive and critical thinking.

Expert Opinions

“Ivie’s brilliance is remarkable. The feats she achieves at her age and the remarkable endeavors she pursues are truly astounding. She serves as an inspiration not only to me but to countless others. Ivie has undoubtedly earned my admiration, reinforcing the belief in the potential for greatness regardless of one’s origins. It is possible to do great things from a small place.”

– Tunde Onakoya, Founder, Chess in Slums Africa Initiative

“Ivie has used her passion and talents for chess to build a platform that has inspired countless others across the globe. She is willing to travel to forgotten places and shine a light on often forgotten people, with a radiant smile and a simple chess set. Ivie is setting an example that regardless of your age, you truly can have a profound impact.”

– Russell Makosfsky, Founder, Gift of Chess, New York

“Having had the experience of creating a film spotlighting the genius of children who play chess, especially in marginalized communities, meeting Ivie unveiled an even more compelling narrative, surpassing the scope of my movie ‘Critical Thinking.’ At 9, Ivie has already earned a level of respect that she may not fully comprehend.”

– Carla Berkowitz, Executive Producer of The Movie Critical Thinking, Florida

Clinical Psychologist highlights the Benefits of Chess on Children’s Mental Well-being

Mental health experts have expressed opinions on the benefits of Chess to mental development especially in children.

In an interview with Abiodun Emmanuel Arogundade who is a clinical psychologist, behavioural expert and lecturer, he opined that Mental strengthening is what chess playing does to children. Playing chess offers mental and psychological benefits to children, including improved problem-solving, critical thinking, attention, focus, and decision-making skills. It also fosters emotional regulation, teaching children to handle wins and losses. Coaching and training further enhance these skills by providing guidance and teaching relaxation techniques, leading to improved resilience and emotional intelligence in children.

The benefit of Chess in the development of children cannot be over emphasized.

Africa Change Stories platform is established to tell African stories which are empowering and are at variant to stereotypical views of wars, famine, diseases. At African Change Stories, we believe narrative and angle matters. So we responsibly tell stories ethically. The platform therefore pushes forward great and energizing stories which will propel its people to consciously strive to do more. You have a story? Info@africanchangestories.org

One thought on “Family transforming Africa’s Chess landscape

  1. It excites me when I see barriers broken beyond expectations. This kind of endeavor is not only a success story for the individual child but it can also foster peace and togetherness around the world.

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