Ugandan teen who played chess for food becomes global chess prodigy

CHESS PRODIGY: Phiona Mutesi

CHESS PRODIGY: Phiona Mutesi

PHIONA MUTESI grew up in the slums of Kampala, Uganda, but her life changed when she walked into a local chess club which was offering free meals.

Potential players were enticed with a free cup of porridge, and Mutesi began organising her days around her visits to the church.

Phiona, now 19, developed a talent for chess, which was introduced in Uganda in the 1970s by foreign doctors and is still seen as a game predominantly played by the rich.

Ten years on she is one of the best young female chess players in Africa and the Ugandan national ladies’ captain. She has competed in two Olympiads and the World University Games.

“I like chess because it involves planning,” she told IPS News.

“The life I’ve been living, it also involved planning. When you’re living in a slum you also have to plan ahead: how am I going to get food tomorrow?”

Her story is being turned into a Hollywood film by Disney with Oscar-winning Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o tipped to play her mother and One US school has even started a tournament in her name.


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