Phiona Mutesi

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Phiona Mutesi
Phiona Mutesi 2013.jpg
Phiona Mutesi at the Women in the World Conference
Country Uganda
Born 1996 (age 20–21)
Kampala, Uganda
Title Woman Candidate Master
FIDE rating 1628

Phiona Mutesi (born c. 1996) is a Ugandan chess player.[1][2] She was born in Katwe, the largest of Kampala's eight slums. Mutesi has won the Ugandan Girls' championship three times, has represented Uganda at four chess olympiads, and is one of the first titled female players in Ugandan chess history. She is the subject of a 2012 book and the 2016 film Queen of Katwe.


Mutesi grew up in the Ugandan neighbourhood of Katwe. When she was roughly three years old, her father died of AIDS.[1] Her older sister, Julia, subsequently died of unknown causes. At age nine, Mutesi dropped out of school because her family could no longer afford to send her.[1]

Living day to day, Mutesi sold maize in the Katwe street market, following her brother one day and discovering a project run by Sports Outreach Institute, a Christian and sports mission.[3] In an after-school program run by Robert Katende, Mutesi began playing chess.[4]

Mutesi later returned to school, sitting in 2010 for her primary exam and studying at a Universal Junior school in Makindye, Kampala.[5] She continued her secondary education at St. Mbuga vocational school.

Chess career[edit]

In 2010, Mutesi played six rounds on board 2 and one round on board 1 for Uganda at the 39th Chess Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia. She earned 1.5 points from the seven games she played.[6] At this event, she attracted the attention of journalist Tim Crothers, who wrote a substantial piece on her for ESPN The Magazine.[4]

As of 2012, she was a three-time winner of the junior girls' chess championship of Uganda.[7]

In 2012, Mutesi and Ivy Amoko were accorded Woman Candidate Master titles after scoring the required 50% from 9 games at the 40th Chess Olympiad in Istanbul, Turkey. This made them the first titled female players in Ugandan chess history.[8][9][10] The same year she became the first female player to win the Open Category of the National Junior Chess Championship in Uganda.[11]

In 2013, she again played in the National Junior Chess Championship in Uganda and reached the finals against Lutaaya Shafiq of Makerere University. She won the Under 20 Girls Category but not the Open Category.[12]

Mutesi represented Uganda at the 2014 41st Chess Olympiad and the 2016 42nd Chess Olympiad.[13][14]

Playing strength[edit]

Several chess players have pointed out that her Elo rating is unremarkable and typical of an average club player. Commenting on one of her games from the 2010 Olympiad, British chess journalist John Saunders wrote that "Phiona's present playing standard is that of a modest but competent club player but, placed in the context of her environmental and educational deprivation, her achievement in reaching such a level has been awe-inspiring."[15] During her visit to the Marshall Chess Club in New York, local master Asa Hoffmann told The New Yorker "It’s an inspirational thing, but she’s not a real player... There’s a couple of young girls here that could beat her for sure."[2] Asked for comment by the Daily Caller, British Grandmaster Nigel Short said "(I have) absolutely no desire whatsoever to belittle Phiona’s accomplishments. I am very much looking forward to seeing this film, I think it is a very uplifting story. She grew up in very difficult circumstances. However, the fact of the matter is that there are 91,050 players in front of her on the world ranking list... perhaps some perspective is required."[16]


In 2010, Silent Images made a short documentary film about her.[17][18] Sports Outreach used this documentary to interest The Walt Disney Company in making a film about Mutesi's story, which came out in 2016.[17]

In 2012, a book was published about Mutesi entitled The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess, and One Extraordinary Girl's Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster and authored by Tim Crothers.[19]

Walt Disney Pictures optioned the rights to the book and began work on the film in 2012.[18]

The 2016 film, Queen of Katwe, stars Lupita Nyong'o and David Oyelowo. Mutesi is portrayed by Madina Nalwanga. Mutesi attended premieres of the film in Toronto, Canada (September 10),[20] Hollywood, California (September 20),[21] and Kampala, Uganda (October 1).[22]


  1. ^ a b c Tim Crothers (28 August 2016). "Chess queen of Africa". The Guardian.
  2. ^ a b Reeves Wiedeman (7 January 2013). "The Talk of the Town: Up Life's Ladder: Prodigy". The New Yorker. 88 (42): 20–21. 
  3. ^ "Sports Outreach - Restoring Hope. Transforming Lives.". Sports Outreach. Retrieved 4 May 2017. 
  4. ^ a b Tim Crothers (4 January 2011). "Game of her life". ESPN. 
  5. ^ "Uganda’s ‘Queen of Katwe’ got her start at this slum chess school". Washington Post, Julian Hattem October 6, 2016.
  6. ^ Herzog, Heinz (9 October 2010). "39th Olympiad Khanty-Mansiysk 2010 Women tournament". Tournament Database. Chess-Tournament-Results-Server. Retrieved 16 January 2014. 
  7. ^ "Phiona Mutesi To Speak at Philly All-Girls Chess Workshop". United States Chess Federation. 29 November 2012.
  8. ^ Corry, Phillip (2012-09-09). "Uganda gets first titled lady players". Kawowo Sports News. 
  9. ^ Corry, Phillip (10 September 2012). "Wanyama becomes Uganda’s sixth FIDE Master at World Chess OIympiad". Kawowo Sports News. 
  10. ^ "Mutesi, Amoko set to become Candidate Masters". Retrieved 4 May 2017. 
  11. ^ Stephen Kisuze. "Mutesi Wins 2012 National Junior Chess Championship". 
  12. ^ Corry, Phillip (2013). "Martin Musiime wins City Tyres National Junior Chess Championship". Kawowo Sports. 
  13. ^ Phillip Corry. "Uganda beats Puerto Rico at World Chess Olympiad". 
  14. ^ McGourty, Colin (Sep 1, 2016). "42nd Chess Olympiad opens in Baku". Retrieved 4 May 2017. 
  15. ^ Xan Rice, Ugandan girl, Phiona Mutesi leads chess revolution from the slums, The Guardian, 18 February 2011
  16. ^ The Media’s Female African Chess ‘Prodigy’ Is Actually Nothing Of The Sort, Daily Caller, 22 September 2016
  17. ^ a b Minchin, Marty (24 October 2016). "‘Queen of Katwe’ based on 2010 film shot by Matthews nonprofit.". The Charlotte Observer. 
  18. ^ a b Josh Levs, CNN (10 December 2012). "From slum life to Disney film: Ugandan teen chess star 'the ultimate underdog'". CNN. 
  19. ^ Tim Crothers (6 September 2016). The Queen of Katwe: One Girl's Triumphant Path to Becoming a Chess Champion. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-1-5011-2718-2. 
  20. ^ "Phiona Mutesi". Tribute Entertainment Media Group. 10 September 2016. Retrieved 17 October 2016. 
  21. ^ Hattem, Julian (6 October 2016). "Uganda’s ‘Queen of Katwe’ got her start at this slum chess school". The Washington Post. Retrieved 17 October 2016. 
  22. ^ O'Hagan, Michael (1 October 2016). "Ugandan premiere of girl's slum-to-chess-champ story". Modern Ghana. Retrieved 17 October 2016. 

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