CH: Good morning Rotimi Lapite.
RL: Good morning Mr Tolu Ogunwobi.
CH: Okay, we know your name is Rotimi Lapite and that you are one of Nigeria’s strongest chess players. In your own words who is Rotimi Lapite? Include details not widely known.
RL: Well, I am not really sure how I would be able to describe myself in that manner, ….but I am last of three children with two girls. I was introduced to chess when I was in primary six, when I was about to leave my primary school. I think we had finished our junior WAEC, we had some time and we started to play chess and a teacher taught us chess. I am a friendly person, neighbor, someone who you can see on the street and talk to…I don’t know how to describe myself.
CH: What are your earliest recollections of life in this world?
RL: Earliest recollections of life? Em.. running with my neighbours you know, playing tank , wanting to go out with my mum, and crying at home but not allowing me to go out with her. Me in a brown suit, a favorite brown suit of mine that my parent bought for me, me playing football with some friends.
CH: Oh! You used to play football when you were young?
CH: Okay, we are okay with that. Thanks very much. What is your educational story, primary, secondary and university? The name of the schools and little details of your primary, secondary, and university education.
RL: Em….I did my primary school, at a school near my house in Mushin..Iit was Santa Maria. It is not a catholic but it is owned by a catholic owner. There were lots of things we did there, major celebration in the catholic church and they always do Christmas carol. So I finished primary school, primary six there and we did an examination and I got into to International School of Lagos, ISL. I was there from my JSS 1 till SSS3 and I made a lot of friends there and some teachers who I remain in contact with too once in a while. One of my favourite teachers, Mr Owoaje, he is like my guy now. We used to play chess together then. I did my WAEC, I did my JAMB and I found myself in the University of Lagos doing engineering, something I really liked from my childhood. Electrical Engineering, Electrical and Electronics Engineering to be precise. I was there for 5 years. Learnt a few things and made very useful friends there. I started to have my own image as….how would I put…as a man, who I wanted to be. Those were my days in the university, so yeah.
RL: So that’s the extent of my formal education, after that I went for my NYSC which I did in Okedo, Oyo State, amazing place Okedo in Kajola Local Government, so..Yeah
CH: Okay…Can you…wait sorry…how did you get to know chess? from the very beginning.
RL: Em… Like I mentioned earlier, my primary school…I think primary six if I could remember correctly, one of the teachers just introduced us to chess. He made a convincing argument that if we ever wanted to fight, we should not fight physically, we should fight on the chess board and that appealed to me. I don’t think I am much of a physical fighter so that appealed. We learnt the rules and from then I became very interested in the game and I even had a small chess book in my house. It wasn’t a lot, it has some openings, and from there I was very interested.
CH: Okay…okay let me go into the next question because you are delving into the next question too. The next question is, can you narrate your journey to this point as a chess player. From the point that you learnt to this point as a chess player. A summary of your journey.
RL: I think there are some important moments I can recollect from the beginning when I learnt, and then, from my first chess journey. I played some few games with my cousins and I think they already knew the rules. They defeated me a couple of times but I kept on getting better. When I got in secondary school, in my JSS one, I met a player whose name was Chijindu and we became great rivals. We started to play a lot of games. I think he was much better but I started to catch up slowly and I became really fascinated. I then borrowed books, I think I borrowed two books from my friend then, Bolarinwa and I think the books really helped me and I started to know few things about strategy, you know… develop your pieces towards the center, castle early, all those important things you learn. I didn’t learn any tactics then, I was just developing my pieces and capturing. You capture a free piece and then you try to checkmate your opponent. And slowly, slowly, I became much better. Then I met Mr Owoaje,…there was a chess club, kind of, in ISL which was started when they made the secondary school chess league. There was a league which we used to go for. Around that time, I stopped playing football for some reason. Without football any free time I had was fully devoted to chess. I started to play a lot of games, Mr Owoaje being the agric teacher in school was also the chess coach and he was taking us to the competition which was good exposure, I made a lot of friends in chess, Praises, Abimbola and Olotu. We were the four best chess players in ISL then. I think we won the chess league that year. I became really, really interested, I got the chess program: Kasparov Chess Mate on my sisters’ laptop then and we started playing a lot. Then I got a chess.com account,… then there was no internet in my house, I used to go to the cybercafé, I will get money from my dad, go to the cybercafé. The guy there was always looking at me. You know…I always came and I wasn’t checking any mail. People used to go there to check their mails, do a lot of things erm…
CH: And you weren’t looking at porn? (Laughs)….
RL: (Laughs) No, I wasn’t. (Laughs) Idon’t know where that came from.
CH:…that’s what they used to do in the cyber cafes now (Laughs)
RL: oh I never knew…
CH: or do Yahoo Yahoo*
RL: Yes exactly all those people that do internet fraud but I wasn’t in that. I just login to chess.com and then play on chess.com, watch some videos and play and play and come the next day. Slowly I became better, and once I got into University of Lagos, I started to meet really, really, strong players. I met Tosin Akinwamide, I met Abimbola Osunfuyi. They were far ahead of me in terms of chess knowledge and understanding, you know, they were ahead of me by far, then around this time I started playing Chess Heights. I had my first outing where I drew against Nonso Oragwu who was a very, very, strong player already by then. So you know that really encouraged me. I had a game against Dapo Adu and I think I still have the recording of that game. He played one Bxh3 against me, I remember the game very well, he played a Bxh3 sacrificing his bishop for two pawns, Bxh3 gxh3 and then Qxh3. I kind of defended well for a while but in some time trouble I think I lost the game. Those were my first memories of playing really, really, strong players. I played Ola Binder, I played Abel Soyoye. I think Abel was..Abel was the one that showed me…, He had this book like a diary were he used to record games, so it was from Abel I learned to record my games. So I started to learn from my mistakes and become a strong player and em.. yeah
CH: Talk about Millionaire Chess, your earlier squabbles with Femi Balogun and recent successes.
RL: Around year four, when I was doing my IT, I was relatively unknown in the Chess world. I came I think third or joint third in MTN Festac tournament in December 2014 I think. So when it was…i think it was March we played Millionaire Chess, I was relatively unknown but I had started to read some books, I was working on some Dvoretsky, some prophylaxis, some calculation so I was decent as a player. Definitely very much unknown and then you know suddenly when I had the chance during the Millionaire Chess, I was just winning game after game and then people were really surprised and then in the final round I beat a very popular player then Uwanna Eugene. And everybody was like, “oh ny goodness, who is he?” It was one of my outing with the Caro-Kahn which became my lifelong opening. I played the Caro-Kahn against him, got a good position and won. Suddenly my name became very popular in the chess world. After that I was joint first with IM Olape and he won on tie breaks. We played a rapid tie break, I drew the first game and lost the second. He won. It shot my name into popularity. People were always very aware of me after that. After that, I didn’t really play so well for like maybe a year and then suddenly I started to play very well again, without as much success. My chess was much more stronger but I wasn’t as successful over the board. That was an interesting thing. Recently, I have been working with Abdulrahman Abdulraheem Akintoye, my very good friend. We discuss on chess, we work together, we learn from each other and we challenge each other to get better. Its been interesting. He won the National Friends of Chess in January and I took his cue. I was winning a lot of other tournaments after that. I won a lot of rapid events, Chess Heights. I won some blitz tournaments, I did well in the Capa-Citi Classical Tournament which is a brain child of NCF vice president, Yinka Adewole. I think having a good friend with you and working on chess generally, being disciplined on all the boards, I think really helps your chess.
CH: At what point did you decide to make chess your career and how was this decision reached?
RL: Strangely, I still do not really consider chess my career, it’s a strange way. I remember after service I said okay I am going to be just very active, like devote my time to chess for one or two years but…then I still somehow for a bit consider myself an electrical engineer but more recently, this year, I have fully devoted to chess. If not playing then coaching. I am really happy because I have been training a lot of young chess players and when they win and even when they lose, it is always nice to see their learning process and seeing them improve and become a better player. So I can say this year 2023, I have been more or less…erm it has been chess more or less all through. In previous years, sometimes chess and engineering, chess and some programming. You know something technical, this 2023 the quote unquote is professional chess year for me.
CH: Okay what is your assessment of the Nigerian chess landscape?
RL: Well…in terms of..what is it called, is it organization, I don’t really have too much to say about that. I am not really involved in that, I don’t pay attention but in terms of chess itself. I am happy first of all, because of the people coming up like I always feel the most important thing is that the generation that comes after you is better than the current generation. In that regards I am happy with what I’m seeing, with strong chess players coming up. Chess in Nigeria, it could be better in terms of playing, we could be doing better in African tournaments. We could be doing better in world tournaments, you know. So one of my goals is to push chess and chess players in Nigeria so that we can get to compete internationally at a reasonably high level where we would be proud of our performance. We are not just getting outplayed completely but we are proud of the moves we made and we come back home with some medals. The chess landscape is improving. It is really improving. There are a lot of really great young stars coming up and the current strong players I think they are pushing. Abimbola, Daniel, Abdulrahman Abdulraheem, we have had the like of Femi Balogun who played against the world champion in the World Cup. So yeah, we are definitely pushing and making some progress.
CH: Okay, I heard you say that you have a goal to improve the strength of Nigerian chess players. Do you have any plans? Have you formed any plan to achieve that vision? What plans do you have to achieve that vision? What are you working on?
RL: Well…my own chess. I am personally trying to put a lot of effort to become better as a player. I also know for instance someone like FM Abdulraheem Abdulrahman is also putting in a lot of effort. I also feel that people seeing that, you know, if you suddenly see me and Abdulrahman just winning tournaments, somehow you would be inspired also to work harder you know but apart from that, we also have Rahman and I we also have the Moving Train Chess Academy where we train younger players and if you see their playing you start to be inspired because it definitely show that they have potential. At that age I was not that strength at all. They are almost getting to our strength and they are you know, so much younger than us and we are like times two their age at that age I was definitely not that strong. That means there is a lot of potential for them to even become stronger than us, you know, by far. That will definitely push the playing strength of Nigerian chess players going into the future.
CH: What value can chess add to Nigerians?
RL: From a personal point of view, I can say for instance, in terms of planning and maybe even more important than that, in terms of taking responsibility for your own decisions. On the chess board you are the one who makes the moves so if you make a bad move or a good move its really dependent on you. It makes you take responsibility for your own decisions in a way that is very nice. You are more measured, you are more critical about the things that you do. You are not just acting out or dashing out, you are making better judgment in decision making. After all, that’s what chess is. It is decision making, you can practice making good decisions on the board. It is a transferable skill, I cannot speak for everyone but for me it has been a transferable skill. I generally consider that I am a measured and level headed human, I can attribute a chunk of it to chess.
CH: Okay. What value can a chess champion like you add to people? What values can one being a chess champion add to other people?
RL: The thing I can say is there is some inspiration coming from when you see someone you know personally and you are observing achieve some great things. Maybe I see my good friend for example FM Abdulraheem Abdulrahman. I see him winning tournaments I say “Oh wow! That’s amazing!” Well it inspires me. The onus is on the people watching to be inspired. I am hoping that being a chess champion as you say I am not really sure, I can maybe bring chess to a lot more people. Make it more visible and then increase the popularity of chess.
CH: Okay. The next few questions will be about Chess Heights Lagos Monthly, a tournament you just won three months in a row and have even previously dominated. What will you ascribe to as the factor that enabled you to win three Chess Heights Lagos Monthly in a row?
RL: (Laughs) Luck a good reason or is it not?
CH: Luck is not. There is what is call probability, chance, three times is no longer luck.
RL: Okay. I guess if you want lightning to strike three times in a row, maybe it is a good idea to leave the metal object in a very high place.
CH: That’s not luck then.
RL: Yes that’s what I am trying to say. Maybe, like I told someone I believe my discipline off the board has increased this year and maybe my discipline on the board has also increased. I am getting into time trouble less often and at critical moment I am always outplaying my opponents. Maybe that’s all I can say, some discipline and some elevating of your own game.
CH: Okay! What has that achievement taught you about chess and life?
RL: Really it’s interesting. I have always considered that (laughs). This one sounds like I am being proud. That I am talented in a way, I am generally smart yet I have always struggled with the day to day working that is putting in effort. I always feel like my smartness quote unquote will carry me through but having tried to be disciplined in the last three, four months and trying to put in some work. It turns out that genius maybe is great but I feel like the person who puts in the work, he is toiling, would beat a genius nine times out of ten. The only thing I can say is discipline and putting in the work, I don’t think there’s any substitution for that.
CH: Okay, what further achievement have you set your eyes on?
RL: I am currently focusing on the national championship, I want to qualify. I am hoping to get my rating high enough to be able to qualify for tha event. We will see how it goes in the tournaments coming up. I am setting my sights on qualifying for the national championship and we will see from there.
CH: We would get technical in the next few questions. What advice can you give a young player who wants to be a national master to go about his chess training?
RL: (laughs) How do I put it? The roadmap for improving in chess has been laid out for a long time, You work on tactics, you work on strategy and you play a lot of games and you analyze those games with a stronger player maybe not an engine because an engine will not explain to you why the moves are this, You analyze with a stronger player and then you get better. I am not sure I can add anything. This question has been answered by a lot of people, a lot of strong player over the years. So I am not sure I can really add anything unique to the whole story, I can only maybe just repeat. Work on tactics, work on endgames, play a lot of games with long time control and meet stronger players. That advice I don’t think it can ever fail.
CH: How can a player rise from a mediocre great?
RL: (laughs) I don’t know what greatness implies in this question but depending on how much you want to rise in chess that affects how much time you put in.For example the Indian kids and some people, they are not as involved in formal school like when you are getting formal education. They are not as involved because they are focused on improving at chess and being world champions. I guess it depends on how much you want to get in chess before you know how much time you put in without neglecting other things.
CH: Okay. Who is your all time chess hero and what about the person?
RL: If you’re talking about globally, I’ve always admired Anatoly Karpov’s chess. I grew up on him. There were some videos made by Roman Dzindzichashvili, you know, a Russian grandmaster. And there he used to talk a lot about a lot of Karpov’s games. So I ended up looking at a lot of Karpv’s games and getting interested in his style of play. And then much later, I became a huge fan of Vladimir Kramnik from Russia. More recently, I’m more in tune with Peter Leko and Fabiano Caruana. Peter Leko, I like his commentary and, you know, I absolutely adore his commentary. And then Fabiano Caruana, you know is just amazing. He’s just amazing. I like his chess. I’m one of the people rooting for him to become world champion one day.
CH: When you stop pushing pawns, what do you want to be your legacy?
RL: Like I said, one of my greatest aspirations is for the people that are coming after us to be much, much stronger than we are. And yeah, so it’ll be, it’ll be nice for me maybe when I officially stop playing chess as actively. I’ll probably continue to play chess for as long as I live. But when I stop playing, maybe I’m involved in other things, I would like that I look at the people playing currently, you know, and see that they are improved, like they are so much better than we are. And then I can say, “Oh yeah, yeah. I was a part of that. I was a part of that change”. I was a part of that, you know, that process and that would make me really happy.
CH: Okay your last words for our readers.
RL: Play chess.