Ghana chess has been on the rise in recent years, with each generation of chess heads the country produces, teeming with more potential than the last. This exciting rise can be traced back to the reign of former Ghana Chess Association (GCA) President, George Arko-Dadzie, and continued by current President Philip Ameku. So I thought it would be interesting to look at one of the biggest talents the country had to offer early on in the Arko-Dadzie era, that is Candidate Master (CM) Lionel Adu Jnr.
Born in 1984, young Lionel was introduced to the game of chess by his father around the age of 10, teaching him the basics along with something that would remain with him throughout his career.
“He taught us the basics and I think the first-move I learned in chess was as the white player you play g3 which has been my signature move, everybody knows I like to fianchetto.”
Lionel would continue his development in the game in secondary school playing with fellow chess enthusiast Ricky Rogers, before moving to the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) where Lionel would show his love for the game becoming one of the founding members of the popular KNUST Chess Club.
“In the university, chess at the time wasn’t really anything of note, but I remember in my final year or so a group of us came together, Giovanni, Vitaly [Coleman], among others decided to form a chess club in KNUST, and I believe that was the birth of chess in KNUST”
The then up-and-coming chess head would begin his competitive career around 2009 immediately after earning his degree in Chemistry from KNUST. He would go on to compete in a number of competitions over the years, his most significant performance coming during the 2011 Unity Games in which he led a team of promising chess heads to victory.
“Frankly we were nobodies, I think I was the most relatively experienced player amongst them and I believe they were still in the University of Ghana (UG) at the time. So we just put our efforts together and somehow, somewhat with a few tactical plays we managed to win gold”
The future CM would later disappear from the Ghana chess scene for a couple of years due issues he had with the GCA.“After the Unity Games, I was hailed as the star of the tournament so I remember at the time there was a promise of taking me to the All Africa Games but for some reason that did not come on.”
“I don’t know what the story was, but I had been involved in tournaments for a while and I felt that this wasn’t going anywhere. If you give it your all and you can’t see a reward at the end of the tunnel it doesn’t make sense. So I quit chess for about 2 years.”
Lionel would return to the chess scene following his Unity Games’ teammate Joseph Jamena Mensah earning his CM title following his participation at the 2014 Chess Olympiad in Tromsø, Norway.
“I had just been added to the Ghana Chess group and I read on the page that Jamena Mensah whom I had sort of mentored during the Unity Games had somehow managed to get a title from the Chess Olympiad”
“So for that reason, I decided if he is able to do it then it looks like there were avenues being opened up for the younger guys, so I decided to come back”
Lionel would come back strong earning his CM title after only 2 years at the 2016 Zone 4.4 Individual Chess Championships held on the shores of Ghana in Accra. That wouldn’t be his only achievement of 2016 as the Candidate Master (CM) would also earn the title of National Champion beating out regular favourites FIDE Master (FM) John Kojo Hasford and Ghana’s only International Master (IM) Eric Anquandah to the title.
“I have to say the biggest highlight [of my career so far] was winning the 2016 National Championships, it’s the biggest prize on the land and I think that was the first time I beat Hasford.”
CM Lionel would also claim victory in the maiden edition of the Tema Classics as well as titles with his club-side the Osu Chess Club, who recently claimed victory in the maiden edition of the Ghana Chess League last year.
Now aged 36, it could be said that CM Lionel may never reach the potential he showed early in his career, but I believe that with the right support and push CM Lionel…no every chess head in the country will reach heights that seem impossible right now. The talent in the country is nothing to scoff at and the story of Lionel Adu Jnr. is proof of that.