The story of Phiona Mutesi- Chess Queen of Africa


Her favourite piece in Chess is the “queen” because she says it moves many many lines which give her a sense of power.

Phiona Mutesi’s story is nothing short of an Inspiration. From living in streets in the slums of Katwe and selling a bowl of boiled maize for daily survival to becoming Uganda’s most successful chess champion, Mutesi has come a long way.

She never in her wildest dream thought of doing well in her life let alone becoming one of the most respectful women in her country.

Born in an extremely humble family in Ugandan neighbourhood of Katwe, life was not as bad when Mutesi’s father was alive. They were not devoid of basic facilities like food, cloths, water and a house. Everything however changed for worse when her father died of AIDS. Phiona was just 3 year old then. This is perhaps the only memory she has of her father.  Soon after, her older sister too succumbed to unknown causes. Phiona too had two close encounters with death in her early days.

Her mother had never been to school hence making it almost impossible for her to work anywhere and soon, Phiona and her family were living on streets.  At the age of 6, she dropped out of school and began selling Maize in the Katwe Street for day to day living.  But her earnings were just not enough to support to her family. Phiona spent many nights without been eaten anything whole day.

Having been hungry for almost three days, She one afternoon followed her brother in hope of getting some food and found something else… an afterschool chess Program run by Robert Katende where people used to get a bowl of Porridge for playing chess. Phiona began playing the game. Taking inspirations from her struggles and finding ways to survive, Phiona learnt chess in just one day.  In a land of no money, fortune or future, Phiona Mutesi found hope and a chance to make things right for herself and her family.

Chess made her happy and injected interest into her. Soon, she realized that this is what she wants to do on daily basis. So she was doing it and as they say –REST IS HISTORY. While attending the class, very soon she beat a boy…Something that was not common in Katwe as women were always seen as second sex and their job was to produce kids and nothing else. Phiona was different from other girls in her slum. She was full of courage and determination. She walked almost 6 km daily to play chess and learned very quickly that that this 64 squares game was not always about playing aggressive. One should learn how to survive and be defensive, much like Phiona’s own life.

Beginning of a new era-

She participated in her first tournament in 2006 and won. Wondering what she got for prize – MONEY…That brought a huge smile to her and her mother’s face who was a reckoning force behind Mutesi all though her life.

In 2010, she competed in Chess Olympiad, where she earned 1.5 points from seven games she played. She is also a proud three time winner of the junior Girl’s Championship of Uganda.

In 2012, Phiona was accorded Woman Candidate Masters title after competing in the 40th chess Olympiad in Turkey. Since then, she has won many awards and travelled all across the world, a dream she never thought would become a reality.

Phiona Mutesi’s next aim is to be a grandmaster for which her journey continues.


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