Phiona Mutesi On Chess, Life and More!
Phiona Mutesi is a teen chess prodigy born in Katwe, a slum of Uganda. She doesn't know her own birthday and has fought for survival her whole life, even as her incredible chess skills are being recognized around the world.
Phiona recently answered some questions for us in an exclusive interview about her discovery of chess and the important role it has played in her life.
She told us that she discovered chess while out looking for something to eat. Her pursuit led her to a project run by a Christian mission called the Sports Outreach Institute, where she was first exposed to chess.
Over time, her mentor, Robert Katende, realized that Phiona was extremely quick to pick up the game and had a unique talent for it. Those skills would eventually earn her the title of prodigy.
Phiona told us that her ability to play chess comes from the life skills she uses every day.
"I love the game because it has made me what I am," she said. "It involves day to day life. It involves calculation and planning in life."
Despite her skills and achievements, Phiona remains incredibly humble.
"I am not that good but I always focus when I am playing," she told us.
Phiona won the Ugana women's junior championship 3 years in a row, and earned the title of Woman Candidate Master at the 40th Chess Olympiad in Istandbul.
Phiona's story is detailed in the novel The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess, and One Extraordinary Girl's Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster. Now, Disney is developing a film about Phiona.
"At first I could not believe it," Phiona said about the film. "At first I was a person without hope, but now I am an inspiration even to others."
One of Phiona's dreams was to meet chess legend and grandmaster Garry Kasparov. Grandmaster is the highest title a chess play can earn besides World Champion.
Earlier this year, she had the chance to travel to New York not just to meet Kasparov, but also to play a game of chess against him.
"I couldn't believe that one of my dreams has become true," she said. "I was very happy because he is one of my heroes and he is grandmaster and I also want to be a grandmaster. That was one of my happier moments in my life."
She also participated at the Chess Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia, where she saw ice for the first time.
"My experience was too much because I have never travelled out from our continent," she said. "I was very happy though. I didn't perform well because it was snowing. But I got at least an experience on big tournaments."
Phiona's favorite chess piece is the queen.
"It moves in many lines on the chess board," she explained. "I also want to travel in many countries like the queen piece."
Since Phiona has taken up chess, her life has changed in a few crucial ways.
"I managed to go to school and now I can speak English," Phiona said. "It brought back hope to me. It has made what I am today. It has made me to know God."
We absolutely cannot wait to see Phiona's story on the big screen, and hope for her continued success with chess!