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WCM Phiona Mutesi

Phiona Mutesi
Photo (2014) courtesy Phiona Mutesi.
Full name
Phiona Mutesi
Born
Apr 21, 1996 (age 26)‎
Place of birth
Katwe, Kampala, Uganda
Federation
Uganda
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Bio

Phiona Mutesi is a Ugandan woman candidate master who is best known for the telling of her story in the 2016 Disney film The Queen of Katwe. Mutesi came from humble beginnings to represent her country at five Chess Olympiads during 2010-18.

Life And Career

Mutesi was first introduced to a global audience in 2011 in the ESPN article "Game of Her Life" by Tim Crothers. She was born in 1996 in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, in one of its poorest neighborhoods, Katwe. Mutesi lost her father and her sister when she was only three and became extremely sick herself, probably with malaria, when she was eight.

WCM Phiona Mutesi, GM Irina Krush, Robert Katende
Mutesi, left, with GM Irina Krush and her coach Robert Katende at the 2012 Chess Olympiad. Photo courtesy Phiona Mutesi.

Mutesi learned chess before learning to read by visiting Agape Church, where an engineer and soccer player named Robert Katende ran a chess program. Mutesi would recall to Crothers that she watched how the kids would play "and get happy and excited, and I wanted a chance to be that happy." After about a year, she was even better than Katende. During 2007-09, she won Uganda's women's junior championship. When FIDE paid for a Ugandan delegation to the 2010 Chess Olympiad, Mutesi was on the team. Her first opponent, WIM Dina Kagramanov, came away very impressed, saying: "She's a sponge. She picks up on whatever information you give her, and she uses it against you."

After the ESPN article appeared, Mutesi would continue to play in Olympiads in 2012, 2014, and 2016. By scoring 50 percent in 2012, she earned the title of Woman Candidate Master.

Film

Crothers eventually published a book about Mutesi and an excerpt at his Crothers' personal website (here). 

Phiona Mutesi
Mutesi, her mother, and her brother outside the home Phiona bought for her mother. Photo courtesy Phiona Mutesi.

That book would be turned into a 2016 Disney film of the same name, directed by Mira Nair and featuring Madina Nalwanga as Phiona. Nalwanga herself was, like Mutesi, born in Katwe. In the movie, Lupita Nyong'o played Phiona's mother Harriet and David Oyelowo was her coach Robert. The film was a critical success.

Recent Years

Mutesi was offered a college scholarship at the premiere of The Queen of Katwe, and she began attending Northwest University outside of Seattle, Washington, in 2017. She's also been a motivational speaker for several years.

Although she has not played competitive chess since the 2018 Olympiad, Mutesi remains connected to the game. She spoke with WGM Jennifer Shahade and the U.S. Chess Federation in 2021.

You will also soon be able to play against the Phiona Mutesi Chess.com bot.

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