We Are Millennial Culture

ONCE A PAWN A TIME: 8-year old, a chessboard and a dream.

It is morning. Precisely, 29 minutes after 10am and 8-year-old Dave Quansah Acheampong has just finished a chess game with one of his new tutors. He lost, but he still wanted more. He had woken up 5 hours earlier and had grabbed his electronic tablet to practice a few moves he had learnt the day before. Yesterday’s lesson, the Sicilian defence.

The little man’s young life is centered around the magnificent board game that sets many minds on fire. His new tutor agreed to another game and an hour in, he had tipped his king over as a sign that he had resigned. Dave had played him into a corner where nothing seemed possible. While they played, the television in the living room had Chess grandmaster, Abhijit Kunte on teaching moves. Dave’s 4-year-old brother, Jedidiah was looking on, with divided attention though, as he simultaneously schemed through a book of chess he had on his lap, “Checkmate for Beginners”. 

Days before this one, Dave had surmounted hurdles in the Africa under 9 Online Individual School Chess Championships and won. He went past 104 other participants from different countries on the continent. Countries with better players, grandmasters and a majority of the populace with a proper understanding of the game. Dave was unfazed though “Everybody played very well. It was difficult at some point but it was a good tournament” he recalled. His answers were short. His taciturn nature seems a bit too mature for an 8-year-old – almost as though he is saving his thoughts for another chess game. 

Chess is a high level mental game. It requires a lot of thinking. Maybe more than usual and in grandmaster Pravin Thipsay’s words, “The game of chess is very similar to life. Life is never predictable. Life is very complex”. These words may sound a bit too outlandish for Dave but, his ability to think up 10 moves ahead of his opponent on the chessboard gives credence to the fact that he might not have the archetypal brain for an 8-year-old. “Chess is a mind game. It makes me think and I also like the tactics that people use to win. So I watch every move closely and try to attack or defend in a way that will help my game”. He said. 

On a dry December morning in 2020, one of the competition days, Dave had to face off with South African, Eugene Boheim. It was one of the games many chess players from here particularly enjoyed – mainly for the unconventional moves Dave pulled to win. It was a combination of moves which included sacrificing his queen at the very end and leaving his bishop in enemy territory. Boheim had to resign the game and he won. “I think that was a heavy game for him. I do not know how he thought up those moves. I teach kids his age and I have never quite seen a kid who can pull that off. I am proud of him” his father, David who teaches young chess players recounted. 

Dave’s final game was against Kenyan, Gideon Masati on the 15th of December. It is a game that has been reviewed countless times by many chess masters across the continent. The interest has stemmed from how two boys below age ten could pull masterful candidate moves all through the hour long chess game. It is not shocking for Dave’s dad though; neither is it for his tutor. In one of his expert moves, Dave threatened to fork Masati’s King and rook by sacrificing his bishop to free up spaces on the board for his next attack. Many analysts have called that move risky but, Dave is not just any chess player. At his age, he is extraordinary.

He played his first tournament when he was six – at the African Juniors U-20 Chess Championship. In that tournament, he was bludgeoned. Way too young at the time, reckless, starry-eyed and played with players who were much, much older and from countries far and near. He had just been learning the game for two years then but his dad wanted to put him at the frontline of a battle to see how well he fares. “I wasn’t too shocked that he did not do too well then. I was trying to ease him into competitive games and he showed me that he had the courage to match anyone.” He said looking closely at his younger son Jedidiah who had now gotten up to grab a glass of water and pick another book off the orderly arranged shelf. 

Dave’s win is a big deal. Ghana has never won anything at any level in the game ever – so this win is a momentous one. 8 years old, unrated Chess player flying the flag of the country in continental events. “He shocked me. I can tell the strength of other players when I look at the closely. I knew he will go far. Maybe the top 5. What we didn’t know was that he could win so he shocked me with that” Dave’s dad said. 

Wins come with shiny metals and opportunities. What it has done for Dave though is a chance to prove himself at the world level. He is set to play in Greece in May this year against some of the very best in the world – from the United States where the legendary Bobby Fischer hails, India, Canada, Singapore and many others. “I think he has a chance. He is still very young and this will be huge for him. A big challenge” his dad said. 

Dave’s father started playing the game of chess when he was 12. He now runs the Mentors Chess club in Accra and says playing with his son is one thing he dreads so much these days because his offspring mostly wins. Dave may have it easy in his home now but he knows there’s a big future ahead of him. A future of untapped opportunities. “I want to become a grandmaster and also increase my rating in everything I do in Chess.” Dave told me as he focused on another game he had just started on his tablet. 

It is a long, long road to reaching grandmaster status or winning the imminent world championship but from their first floor apartment in Kotobabi, Dave and his father, David are looking to the future with optimism, practicing and hoping to take it one game at a time. 

By Yaw Ofosu-Larbi

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