Okeke: Youngster who wants to be Nigeria’s first Grandmaster

Isaac Okeke, an 18-year-old Lagos-based chess star, was beaming after he became the country’s latest International Master on Sunday, PUNCH Sports Extra reports.

Okeke won all five matches, increasing his chess rating up to 2223, the Danhypro Chess Academy tournament in Lagos on October 31.

He was the overall champion of the DanhyPro Junior Chess Tour, a multi-million naira chess tournament for teenagers, which took place in four different cities in Nigeria — Port Harcourt, Abuja, Asaba and Lagos.

Okeke is one of the very few players in Nigeria close to achieving the highest title in chess, Grandmaster – and he believes he can attain that feat if he wins more titles.

He is currently Nigeria’s 13th best player, according to the International Chess Federation ranking list, and is one of the five players in Nigeria that holds the record rating range of 2100+ ELO rating at age 18.

“I owe my feats to good parental support and the kind assistance from some individuals,” Okeke told PUNCH Sports Extra.

“My dream has always been to be the best in my category and the best in Nigeria. Being a Grandmaster will make me fulfilled.”

The General Secretary, Chess Players’ Association of Nigeria, Fasinu Tolulope, said Okeke needed corporate sponsorship to realise his dreams of becoming a Grandmaster.

“Becoming a Grandmaster in chess is no mean feat,” Tolulope said.

“He needs a lot of support and the corporate world needs to understand that with chess, youths can channel their minds, thoughts and reasoning to positive things unlike what we see today in our society.

“This way he will be able to afford even more quality training and play in the right tourneys. He has achieved many feats, including a continental championship.

“Okeke is one of the 10 players who will compete in the Nigeria National Chess Championship in Lagos.

“He has demonstrated and proven his talent, and hard work in his consistent performance, I am very sure his career holds beyond being a Grandmaster but been an international contender.”

Our correspondent gathered that the youngster was given a Wild Card entry as the 10th male player for the national chess tourney billed for November 8 to 14th at the Orchid Hotel, Lekki, Lagos.

“I’m looking forward to the tournament with a great zeal,” Okeke said.

“I know if I win more points, my rating will increase and it will boost my chances of becoming a Grandmaster.

On how he began playing chess, Okeke said,” I watched my friend’s senior colleagues play and I imbibed the moves. I learnt it and gradually I’m on the path of where I want to be.

“Hopefully, I will record wins over some of my senior players and get more points to increase my ranking before the end of the year.

“I have won several titles, I want to keep winning until I achieve my goal. My coach always tells me I have the capabilities to achieve that before.”

Becoming a Grandmaster is no mean feat, judging by the small number on the African continent of over one billion people.