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The Dream of a Gambian Chess Prodigy

Sira plays with her father Ebrima Jallow

As a child, Sira Jallow watched her father and brother play chess. The more they played in front of her, the more her curiosity about the game grew. Each time she asked them to teach her how to play, her father would tell her to just watch and figure it out by herself.

“It was frustrating at first. I’d watch for hours as they moved their pieces,” Sira tells The Chronicle. “I tried to separate the patterns acceptable for each piece and the rules of the game that would guide the process to the favorite checkmate.”

It wouldn’t take long before Sira absorbed the basics and her mastery of chess soared. By the age of six, she was already known within her community as a chess prodigy. At ten, she started winning local chess tournaments, and she never stopped since.

“I grew up in a chess family. My father would encourage me all the time to join him whenever he was playing.”

Sira at the Olympiad Games in Georgia in 2018

Sira had her first international gig in 2018 when she played at the Chess Olympiad in Georgia at the age of 14. She became the first female Gambian chess player to win two matches at a Chess Olympiad.

“Travelling to the Olympiad in Georgia at my age really impacted on my game tactics. It has boosted my confidence and experience for big events.”

She maintains a reputation as a lightning fast player. She is always a favorite to win any competition at a fast time control.

Currently a grade eight student at Bakoteh Upper Basic School, Sira works hard to stay focused and think deeper in her pursuit to become a chess grandmaster. “Whenever I close from school, I pick the chess board to practice and I feel like I’m getting closer to becoming a FIDE Grandmaster.”

“Sometimes I wait for my father to come home and challenge him to play. He gives me a fierce battle and I like that. Over the years, we had epic battles on that chess board and had important life conversations over it. He is helping me to realise my dreams both academically and in chess.”

Sira Jallow

For her father, Sira has proven that when kids want something as a career, they should be supported.

“She wanted to become a chess player and I had to respect that. I remember when she lost her first game at the Olympiad in Georgia she called me on the phone crying. I was so touched by her emotion. I advised her to calculate her next opponents’ tactics,” says Ebrima, her father.

Thanks to that, Sira realised she must quickly forget about the defeats or risk distraction in the next game. She won the next two games.

Sira Jallow

While Sira is pushing hard to fulfill her dream, Ebrima has no doubt that what she wants to achieve is achievable. “If she continues training and following instructions, I see no reason why she wouldn’t be a grandmaster. She’s talented and hardworking. She has a long way to go.”

Sira is hoping that her story will inspire Gambia’s young women and spur an increase in interest in chess.

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