Les Grands damistes africains
(Source : checkerschest.com)
Checkers Master in the game
Grandmaster Baba Sy played International checkers for almost twenty years and was loved for his modesty and gentleness by spectators and competitors alike. He never forgot those people who helped him to realise the dream of his life, which was to play International championship checkers. Many noticed how flexible Baba was and how easily Sy adapted to new and challenging circumstances. Baba’s easy charm and warm personality ensured that he made many friends during the numerous tournaments and simultaneous plays he was involved with over the years. He could certainly be seen as a mentor for young Ton Sijbrands and encouraged many fellow checkers players during their games. Sy was always willing to share his observations after a game had been completed.
Baba Sy was killed in a car accident in Dakar in 1978, almost twenty years after his amazing rise to checkers ‘stardom’, and his tragic demise came as a blow for all within the international checkers scene.
Throughout his checkers career, Baba Sy was not fortunate enough to win a World Championship and never held the title of World Champion while he was alive. Since the one championship checkers game that he was scheduled to play against Iser Kuperman never took place, this left a question mark as to who should become the World Champion for that year. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until 1986, eight years after the death of the African player, that the General Assembly World Draughts Federation in the Netherlands decided to honour Baba Sy by declaring him the victor of the checkers match and thus awarding him with the World title for the year 1963. Posthumously, the Senegalese master became the first African World Champion in International checkers.
Although the Championship Title was indeed an honour to Baba Sy, it is such a shame that it took the Federation almost eight years to recognize his talent in this fashion. He was ready and willing to play the match against Kuperman, but it was the Russian Federation that cancelled the match and Iser Kuperman who did not show, regardless. Even in forfeit, Baba Sy should have been awarded the title of World Champion for 1963-4.
The great checkers talent of Baba Sy may now be gone, but his image and skill lives on in the memory of many friends and competitors from the checkers arena. He was indeed a pioneer in the mind sport in West Africa and his legacy to the world of checkers is that he set the for a contingent of strong African players that exist today.
Upon his death in Dakar in 1978, Baba Sy left the checkers/draughts world a legendary reputation and a wealth of games. In the past, a lot of valuable material has been lost for posterity, but in the memory of Baba Sy, Emile Biscons and Ton Sijbrands have ensured that Sy’s legacy lives on through their writings.
What Woldouby could not accomplish with his dazzling performance in Paris in 1910, Baba Sy’s tremendous checkers talent and skill certainly did accomplish, for he opened short-sighted eyes of the International checkers world to the hitherto undreamed of African checkers talents alive and playing on the continent of Africa.
A further legacy left by Baba Sy was the development of the draughts/checkers arena in Africa after his death. The African Draughts Confederation was created and became part of the FMJD, so that the African continent had a governing body to both promote and control the quality of the mind sport in various African nations. Further developments led to the creation of the International Tournament of Bamako, Mali, in 1980, which was won by Ton Sijbrands, and the World Championship of 1980 held in Bamako, as well. Then in 1984, the World Championship was held in Dakar, Senegal, and some years later, in 1996, Abidjan, Ivory Coast, sponsored the checkers World Championship.
Since then there have been numerous tournaments held in some of the African countries. Le Championnat d’Afrique/Africa Championship has displayed the talents of some notable African checkers players such as Léopold Kouogueu, Ndiaga Samb, Jean-Marc Ndjofang, Souleymane Ba, Bassirou Ba, Flaubert Ndonzi, Léopold Sekongo, Camara Cisse, and numerous others.
Dakar has also sponsored several checkers matches, the most recent was in 2007. During April 2008, the Coupe d’Afrique des Nations will be hosted in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, and African checkers masters look to the future for more opportunities to share their board skills and talents on the International checkers circuit, as well as in the African checkers arena. Fifty years ago, a talented young checkers player, Baba Sy, opened the door to these many exciting opportunities.
According to Emile Biscons, Baba Sy was “The first and greatest African player of his generation, whose great talent allowed him to become the equal of the best draughts (checkers) players of the world.”