It was hunger that drove Phiona Mutesi to chess. And it was chess that drove the 17-year-old Ugandan everywhere else.
Mutesi, a rising female chess star, was in town Thursday, sharing with students at three area schools her story of overcoming poverty with perseverance.
Mutesi grew up in the slums of Kampala. She was 3 when her father died of AIDS. A few years later, she dropped out of school to help her mother. She saw her first chess game while following her brother in pursuit of something to eat.
She started playing the game and slowly began to beat the boys. In 2010, she competed in the World Chess Olympiad in Russia. She has also won the Women’s Junior Chess Championship of Uganda multiple times.
The mouths of several Booker T. Washington students hung open in amazement when Mutesi told them how young she was.
“Dang,” said a girl sitting near the chess champion.
During her visit, Mutesi rarely talked chess strategy. The high school students, some of whom play on the school’s chess team, got wide-eyed when she told them she played Garry Kasparov, one of the greatest players of all time.
“Were you scared?” a student asked her about the hourlong match she ultimately lost.
“No,” Mutesi said, smiling. “I wasn’t scared. I was so happy.”
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