In a startling turn of events at the 2023 Kenya Open Chess Championship, Stanley Omondi, a male chess player, was discovered to have posed as a woman in order to compete in the women’s section of the event. This unprecedented incident has left the local and international chess community in disbelief and could lead to a significant ban for Omondi.
Victor Ng’ani, a member of the Chess Kenya Disciplinary Committee, has stated that once a formal complaint is filed with the Bernard Wanjala-led federation’s Executive Committee, the disciplinary process will commence. Although Ng’ani dismissed the possibility of a lifetime ban, he emphasized that the severity of the offense merits a considerable suspension from the sport.
Omondi’s deception involved wearing a hijab to conceal his identity as he participated in the championship, held at Nairobi’s Sarit Expo Centre from April 5 to 10. The event attracted 444 players from 22 countries. Notably reticent, Omondi barely interacted with fellow players throughout the tournament.
Registering under the alias Millicent Awuor, Omondi’s scheme began to unravel after he scored convincing victories against former Kenyan National Chess Championship Women’s section winner Gloria Jumba and Ugandan top player Ampaira Shakira. His impressive performance aroused suspicion among local chess players who questioned “her” absence from prior national tournaments.
Omondi eventually confessed to his deception when confronted by tournament arbiters in a private room. He cited financial difficulties at university as the motivation behind his subterfuge, hoping to secure the 500,000 shilling cash prize awarded to the women’s section winner. He explained that he had opted against participating in the Open Section, with its 1 million shilling prize, due to intense competition from highly skilled players.
Currently awaiting an opportunity to defend himself before the Chess Kenya Disciplinary Committee, Omondi declined to comment further on the incident. However, he did acknowledge his skills as a chess player, having started at a young age. A top university in the Kenya National Chess Premier League reportedly lists Omondi, with an estimated rating of around 1200, on its roster.
Gloria Jumba, one of Omondi’s opponents during the championship, expressed surprise at the revelation of his true identity, stating that she had not noticed anything unusual during their match. She commended his chess abilities, praising the effective placement of his pieces on the board and his ability to capitalize on her mistakes.