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Kenyan man ejected from chess tourney after disguising himself as a woman

Is there a gender advantage in the game of chess?

Kenyan player Stanley Omondi certainly thought so.

The 25-year-old disguised himself as a woman to compete in his country’s female open chess tournament, reported the BBC, and almost got away with it after donning a burka from head to toe, and wearing spectacles.

Omondi had registered himself as Millicent Awour.

But his plot was foiled after organisers got suspicious by the unknown player’s success, and after opponents noticed his sneakers.

“One of the red flags we also noticed (was) the shoes, he was wearing more masculine shoes, than feminine,” Chess Kenya president Bernard Wanjala told BBC Sport Africa.

“We also noticed he was not talking, even when he came to collect his tag, he couldn’t speak, ordinarily, when you are playing, you speak to your opponent... because playing a chess game is not war its friendship.”

Organisers did not have any suspicion at first, said Wanjala, as “wearing a hijab is normal” but started having their doubts after Omondi breezed past strong women players.

“It will be unlikely to have a new person who has never played a tournament (to be very strong),” said Wanjala.

Omondi, who is a known male player in Kenya, was eventually called out in the fourth round and ejected him.

Wanjala believes he thought his odds would be better in the women’s category given the higher standard of play in the men’s part of the tournament.

In his defence, Omondi later wrote in an apologetic letter that he had “financial needs” and also said that he was “ready to accept all consequences”.

Wanjala said that while he was likely to get a ban of “several years”, he would not be excluded from chess forever. The case will also be referred to the International Chess Federation, or Fide, he said.

The Kenya Open, which was held last week, is an annual competition based in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

This year’s edition attracted over 400 players from 22 countries. Ninety-nine were registered in the women’s category where the winner would take home over 500,000 Kenyan shillings (S$4,941).

That would amount to more than half of the average annual gross income in the country, reported in 2021 to be about 827,000 shillings.