Chess in UIMSA

You saw it last September. Drs. Ughagwu and Iyawe sat across from each other, pondering on an equal chess position. It harked back to the November 2022 Louis Vuitton campaign featuring Ronaldo and Messi, right before the World Cup that Lionel Messi’s Argentina won. Louis Vuitton’s campaign sampled a game between Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura, the most prominent chess stars on the planet. The game selected from Norway Chess, Stavanger, June 2017 ended in a draw by three-fold repetition after some feisty play. The message was clear: two GOATs locked in combat, inseparable at the end. Multiple Ballon d’Ors, multiple distinctions. Using chess as a reference was a special way to commemorate the first set of Co-Best Graduating Students in the history of COMUI, and given the vibrant chess culture at Alexander Brown Hall, it just made sense.

They say chess is an intellectual game so it makes sense for Ibadan medical students to be good at it, right? After all, it’s the most competitive undergraduate program in the country. UIMSA has long been an integral part of the UI Chess Club, boasting several members. In fact, it is tradition that an End-of-the-Year Chess Vigil is held at Alexander Brown Hall, The Jungle. Participants spar through the night, the banter and gameplay always a great spectacle. It presents a great opportunity for UIMSAites to have fun, and interact with other students from the UI main campus. A pilgrimage to this munus is a must for any UIMSAite, the camaraderie of it all is amazing to witness.

Many great chess players have walked the hallowed grounds of University College Hospital, Ibadan. One particularly special moment for me was when the now-retired Professor Fasanmade, Professor of Physiology and Medicine, and member of the MBBS 1980 graduating class, COMUI mentioned to our class in 200 level that he’d represented UI at national level during his schooling days in a tone so casual, it seemed like just a side quest (which I guess it was actually). His remarkable story of success in medicine and chess proves that nothing is beyond reach. Garry Kasparov, regarded by most as the greatest chess player of all time, once said, ‘It’s not all about winning and losing. But at the end of the day, of course it’s about winning and losing.’ That resonated with me in that, while we do take pride in the journey, at the end of the day, all anyone really wants to do is win. So yes it’d be nice to appear at a NUGA games and become a Professor later on, who doesn’t want that? And now, this writer has perhaps taken one step towards that dream, having been selected for the UI Chess NUGA team. Just the professorship remains, easy right?

And yet there’s more to this story than that. The 2024 NUGA team indeed has three Medicine and Surgery undergraduates, a historic feat by any stretch of the imagination. The UI Chess Captain, Oguntona Abraham, the UI Chess Vice-captain, Akporherhe Blessing and the UCH Chess Captain, Okojie Simeon. One would argue the three strongest UI Chess players going into the next session are medical students. So today, great chess players still walk the grounds of UCH, bags strung across their shoulders as they hurry to lectures. One such strategist was in the 2023 cohort, Dr Olaniran Oluwatosin, a python over the board. A highly positional player, he strangled opponents and watched them bend to his will. One anecdote I loved to tell anyone within earshot was that Tosin once crushed me so badly in the Grünfeld Defence, I never played that opening again. At the time, I was enamoured with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave’s aggressive playing style and took to using his Grünfeld Defence in response to 1. d4. When paired against Tosin in the 2021 UIMSA Carlsen Chess Tournament, the manner in which I lost convinced me to finally give up on the opening. Granted, I had struggled with the opening prior to then as I wasn’t quite at the level where I could break chess principles and abandon the centre but I daresay, that was the killing blow. Naturally, Tosin has much greater achievements than stomping on a patzer like me. Before coming to the University of Ibadan, he won the 2014 Nigeria U-18 Chess Championship at the age of 16! Impressive feat, given that he had only played chess for three years at that point. In an interview with Channels Television after that victory, he had also boldly declared that his ambition was to become a neurosurgeon, playing chess because he still had a passion for it but primarily focused on neurosurgery. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it, the Fasanmade Pathway. He’s had many other chess tournament wins since and having been inducted into the medical profession, he appears well on his way to his dreams.

Olaniran appears on Channels TV’s Sports Tonight segment after winning the 2014 Nigeria U-18 Chess Championship. Source: Youtube- Channels Television

Dr Maduka Millicent of the 2022 MBBS Graduating Class was also someone I was fortunate to meet and play against on occasion. She’s been ranked just outside the top 50 of Nigerian female players! At the 2022 NUGA, she brought home two medals for her individual and team chess performances. Millicent was also a three-time COG gold medallist and a won a host of gold medals at Inter-faculty and Inter-hall games during her time at the University of Ibadan, the woman with The Midas touch. In her time here, she cemented her spot as the strongest woman in the University of Ibadan, felling many unsuspecting men too, with fierce performances in open tournaments.

And then there was the mad doctor, Adeyinka Adesina, class of 2007. Medical Doctor and FIDE Master, myth and legend he was, he represented Nigeria internationally and defeated the highly-rated GM Pontus Carlson of Sweden in the 2012 Chess Olympiad hosted in Istanbul, Turkey in a David vs Goliath story for the ages. One would imagine perhaps it’d be difficult to top that.

However, UIMSA chess is as strong as it’s ever been, there remain a host of club-level players enrolled here. The future is bright, and Blessing Akporherhe of the 2k25 class seems set to hold down the fort for some time. A star on the National Circuit, he’s won a slew of events within UI and the Ibadan metropolis at large. And yet, that hardly scratches the surface as Blessing, or Mattace as he’s commonly known scored an incredible 7/9 to secure 2nd place at the 2023 National Chess Championship Opens hosted in Lagos. Blessing is a two-time winner of the UI Chess Ladder Games and, a two-time UI Chess Classical champion. His honours also include multiple BKGC MRCT wins, gold in the COG IV Chess Competition, and Inter-Hall Team Gold as part of an Nnamdi Azikiwe hall team that included two other UIMSAites: Abraham Oguntona and this not-so-humble writer. Abraham Oguntona who had captained that Zik team is a legend in his own right, he was a NUGA medallist in 2022, the only male chess player from UI to win a medal at that event. At the 2024 NSTCC hosted in Lagos, he again excelled, securing a joint-third place finish on Board 1 while leading the UI team. He’s also a BKGC winner and a runner-up in previous editions of the Christopher Osunbote Games. This writer in truth won a UI Chess Classical Invitational in 2023, rebounding with seven straight wins after a first round loss. However, Clinical Sciences had previously struggled in UI Inter-faculty chess tournaments with the UCH-UI divide coming into play, players showing up late for games or not at all. That duck was however broken in emphatic fashion in the March 2024 edition with the Faculty of Clinical Sciences storming to victory fielding a team of only preclinical MB;BS students. 

There remain several other strong players within UIMSA, Michael Paul, the ABH Chess Coordinator has made great effort to reinvigorate the ABH chess scene, and on every other day now, you can see giddy pawn-pushers huddled around boards at the quadrangle, laughing, learning. Sign ‘O’ the Times. Naturally, the graduating pair of Elijah Fagbohun and Bankole Adegboye, torch-bearers for many years would be sorely missed but upcoming talents such as Ifeoluwa Osisanwo of Imperium are bound to fill any such vacuums. These are encouraging times for UIMSA Chess and a dominant showing in the August 2024 NIMSA games could really put things in focus. At the end of the day, of course it’s about winning and losing.

Okojie Osakwe Simeon.


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