The Path To Olympic Gold – PART 1: A Chess Tale by IM Odion Aikhoje

IM Odion

According to the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu (Laozi); “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” In the case of my journey to Olympic Gold – the journey actually started with a ‘grudge bet’ at the Murtala Mohamed International Airport in Lagos.

To put this statement in perspective, I think I must mention the extremely intense rivalry that exists between just about all Chess players the world over, and particularly among players in the Nigerian Chess scene. In Nigeria, there is a palpable sense of pride in being able to declare to your friend(s) in Chess; “…na me be your oga!” This was the sort of background against which the minor bet between the then Chairman of the Nigeria Chess Federation – Arc T. Caiafas and myself was made at the airport on our way to the 33rd World Chess Olympiad, which was held in the Kalmyk Republic of Russia in 1998.

The previous year, I had played on second board at the African Team Championships in Cairo, Egypt – as a ‘sacrificial lamb’, in my opinion... The Cairo Team Tournament was my first official international event (outside Nigeria) and even though there were higher ranked players in the team, I was tossed in front of the sharks and placed on the second highest board! However; it was sweet victory for me as I beat the odds by putting in a Bronze Medal winning performance on Board 2 – including a crunch game in which I saved Nigeria from being whitewashed 4-0 by Algeria! Anyway, since I had now gone through my baptism of fire, I was hoping that I would be placed in my appropriate board position for the Olympiad – Board 3 or Board 4 in my view! But in usual Naija style, I was informed (at the airport…) that I would be playing on Board 2. Taking the decision with my usual philosophical aplomb and a dash of bravura; I immediately entered GM-killing mentalmode and declared there and then that I would put in a great performance on that second board!  Of course, the NCF Chairman was not impressed by my ‘loud mouth’ and he said he was going to wager me a minor bet that I would not make the grade. Well; anyone who is familiar with me knows l absolutely love a challenge! So; accepting the gauntlet, I said I would score at least 50% at the Olympiad.

Little did I know that fate had much, much more than I could ever have hoped for ready and waiting for me to receive!

And so, off the team went: Lagos – Bruxelles (Brussels) – Moscow – Elista. That was how we arrived at the Chess City of Elista. City Chess…

For now; I won’t digress and begin to talk about all my incredible experiences outside the Chess Tournament proper. I will try and restrict my story-telling to just my Chess games and the drama that led to the Gold Medal for now. Okay; maybe I’ll just mention one memory that has refused to go away. On our way to dinner one night during the Olympiad, an old woman stopped me and my friend Dapsay (International Master Adu Oladapo) by the roadside and gave each of us a metal badge. The badges depicted superhuman feats by heroes from Dzungar (Kalmyk) folklore. I particularly remember mine – the badge had an inscription of a warrior carrying a horse aloft! Talk about a good omen!

Anyway; after a couple of pre-tournament days – involving hardcore Vodka drinking sessions and marathon blitz with the local guru, it was finally time to play Chess! Round One was spectacular; the stuff movies are made of. The pairing: Czechoslovakia (now existing as the two countries of Slovakia and the Czech Republic…) vs Nigeria. Four highly-rated eastern European Chess Masters vs a bunch of ‘token participants’ from Nigeria – Africa even. Wow!

Easy result right?

Well; things somehow didn’t go according to script for the super powers. By halfway through the first round, it looked like the upstart Nigerians were about to make Olympiad history – we were apparently better (…winning, maybe?) on Boards 1, 3 and 4! Imagine the DRAMA! Olympus threatening to fall? Lol. Anyway – Olympus didn’t eventually fall…sadly…

In that memorable first game in Elista, I was up against the IM Sergei Movsesian (…about to become GM), rated 2640 and ranked among the top 20 Chess players in the world! Of course, in 1998, I was already a FIDE titled player (FIDE Master) – but a lowly rated FM (2285) from the unknown, primitive Chess world of Africa! With this in mind, can you contemplate the shock and horror all around the Chess City when after just 10 moves of a somewhat original opening; I went 0-0-0 and offered my opponent a draw!

Aikhoje (2285) vs Movsesian (2640)


Position after move 10: 0-0-0

movsesianWhen I made my draw offer, my opponent looked at me with puzzlement and said something in a foreign language. Not to be deterred, I repeated my draw offer. My opponent then called his team captain who was standing nearby and said something to him. They both looked at me with amazement, sure that the words of English they were hearing coming from me could not be correct. At this point an arbiter was called over as something of a stir had developed. When the arbiter came to the board, he asked me: yes, is there any problem sir? I explained to the arbiter that I had simply made a draw offer and was repeating the same. The arbiter then translated to a language my opponents were comfortable with, at which point the player and the captain looked at each other and shared a chuckle. The impertinence of this upstart Nigerian! To offer a draw to one of the highest rated IM’s (…soon to become GM) of Chess in the world! What an insult! Suffice to say, my offer was refused and the game continued with my dark skin having changed complexion to a shade of red. Angry, not embarrassed red.

Okay; it was game on! Guess what? Some 34 odd moves later, having performed a very creditable ‘da si ruff’ operation on the board, I was suddenly in a much better position on the chess board; possibly winning even! The next thing, my opponent did a long think, made a move and offered me a draw! Heh heh. If it was a scene from the movies, I would probably have jumped up and started yelling: “so who’s the man now? You thought you were tough hunh!? Who’s the man!?…”. Lol. But seeing as we were in the civilized (!) setting of the Chess scene, I decided to exact a more subtle revenge. I called my team captain over, as well as the arbiter and I asked the arbiter to please explain to me what my opponent was trying to say. Anyway, after letting him stew in the pot for a few minutes while I stood and contemplated his fate, I graciously accepted his gentle request for a draw (…who says I’m not a good guy?).

So; I was off to a flying start at the Olympiad – I had played my first game ever at the world stage and grabbed a share of the spoils from one of the best in the Chess world! Where was Kasparov? My trigger finger was itching for targets! J

Interestingly, the official recording of the above game in the FIDE database truncates on MY move, so the record indicates that the game ended when I made a draw offer. Strange. There is also a recording error on move 34 move that loses an officer for me a couple of moves later to a Knight fork. Ah well; MISTAKES happen every day – na so we see am!

Aikhoje (2285) vs Movsesian (2640)


Wrong Position after move 34: Bxc6 instead of Rxc6

Aikhoje (2285) vs Movsesian (2640)


Correct Position after move 34: Rxc6

Aikhoje (2285) vs Movsesian (2640)


Final Position after move 44: Nf6 – Black offered a draw

The full game can be replayed below

[Event “Elista ol (Men)”]
[Site “Elista”]
[Date “1998.09.29”]
[Round “1”]
[White “Aikhoje, Odion”]
[Black “Movsesian, Sergei”]
[Result “1/2-1/2”]
[ECO “A48”]
[WhiteElo “2285”]
[BlackElo “2640”]
[PlyCount “88”]
[EventDate “1998.09.29”]
[EventRounds “13”]
[EventCountry “RUS”]
[Source “ChessBase”]
[SourceDate “1998.11.06”]

1. Nf3 Nf6 2. d4 g6 3. Bg5 Bg7 4. Nbd2 O-O 5. e3 d6 6. Bd3 Nbd7 7. Qe2 e5 8. c3
h6 9. Bxf6 Qxf6 10. O-O-O exd4 11. exd4 Nb6 12. Rhe1 Be6 13. Kb1 Rae8 14. Ne4
Qd8 15. Qc2 Nd5 16. Qd2 c6 17. c4 Nb6 18. c5 dxc5 19. Nxc5 Bc8 20. h4 Bg4 21.
Nxb7 Qf6 22. Na5 Bxf3 23. gxf3 Qxd4 24. Re4 Rxe4 25. Bxe4 Qf6 26. Qc2 Na4 27.
Nc4 Rb8 28. Rd6 Nc3+ 29. Kc1 Qf4+ 30. Qd2 Nxa2+ 31. Kb1 Nc3+ 32. Kc2 Qxd2+ 33.
Kxd2 Na4 34. Rxc6 Nxb2 35. Ne3 Bd4 36. h5 Bxe3+ 37. fxe3 gxh5 38. Bd5 Na4 39.
Rxh6 Rb2+ 40. Kd3 Rh2 41. Rf6 Nc5+ 42. Kd4 Nd7 43. Bxf7+ Kg7 44. Rf5 Nf6

Okay y’all. The Path to Olympic Gold – Part 2 will be coming up soon. Don’t miss it!

4 thoughts on “The Path To Olympic Gold – PART 1: A Chess Tale by IM Odion Aikhoje

  1. Wow! These untold stories need to be aired! Thanks once again Bros for making us proud! Your unprecedented exploit is still fresh in mind! There can only be one Odion Aikhoje!

    1. Lovely story. I have always had a special personal respect for Odion , a friend and a chess mentor, knows a lot about chess techniques , tricks,tact and chess literature, from the days of Nelrose Asaba with his other pair Chuks Aloh. An outstanding player with good character both on-board and off board, reminds me of Emanuel Lasker. I think we should come up with Chronicles of Nigerian Chess – A Documentary : The Past, The Present and The Future. And get Chess players and Chess lovers to submit pictures and materials they have.

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