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First African World Checker
Champion Baba Sy

African board game players enjoy both checkers and chess, as they are counterparts of one another in many African countries but with different challenges and outcomes.

“Chess and checkers are often thought of a “twin cousins” in the board sport arena. Millions of people have enjoyed checkers at a basic level and of those, many also enjoy chess. The relationship between these two games will always be inextricably linked. It is for this reason that we can appreciate the excellence of its participants.”

In the history of Africa, the late World Checkers Champion, Grandmaster, Baba Sy from Senegal, has been recorded as the greatest checkers player of their culture. Sy’s checkerboard techniques, developed by playing the game in a checkers community during his youth and young adulthood as well as in his many International tournament matches in Europe paved the way for other talented African players that appeared on the checkers game scene during and after his reign on the International circuit.

World checkers champion Baba Sy was born in Senegal, West Africa, in 1935 and was one of the first Africans to play in European tournament championships. As with many young skilled checkers enthusiasts, he played the game locally to hone his skills, but branched out overseas to test the waters with European opponents.

According to a written account by French master player, Emile Biscons, it discussed how he discovered this young Senegalese checkers/draughts player and encouraged Baba Sy to try his checkers skills in the European checkers circuit.

Biscons, a civil servant within the French Administration in Senegal, had been in West Africa for several years and both his passion for the Continent and his love of their culture was supreme. However, in 1959 he found himself in Dakar and during his sojourn in this city, he loved to visit with the checkers players who gathered together on a regular basis. Biscons truly appreciated the checkers game of these Africans because they had a natural instinct to their board play and a distinct sense of spontaneity. As a result, Emile developed a friendly association within the African checkers circle, and became a well liked and respected spectator.

During one of his visits to the checkers assemblage, Biscons noticed the arrival of a young African man. This fellow was very poorly dressed and walked barefoot. The twenty-three year old was none other than Baba Sy. Observing him play in numerous checkers games, Biscons quickly realized that Baba Sy was a naturally talented and skilled checkerboard player. By 1959, Baba Sy was already known as the unchallenged champion of draughts (checkers), though football and martial arts were the national games of Senegal. Baba Sy was young and strong, but applied his inherent skills to the mind sport of checkers instead. As a result of Baba’s game ingenuity and quick mind, he readily developed a solid reputation in Dakar and the surrounding area within his home community.

Biscons felt that Baba Sy's ability on the checkerboard was too great to allow it only to be viewed in his native Senegal and it was important that he show the rest of the checkers world his natural capabilities and offer the challenge to existing masters in the checkers circuit.

Emile discussed his observations with Baba Sy and suggested that this great African checkers player should present himself in the French National Draughts (Checkers) Championship of 1959 in Châtellerault, France. This was a first time event in Europe. Baba Sy accepted Biscons’ advice and traveled to France to enter in this championship match, and amazingly, he won the French Championship. This was a true statement of his exceptional talent, considering the fact that he had never before played in such an expansive field of checkers masters.

World Champion Baba Sy

World Checkers Champion Baba Sy then took Europe by storm and followed his initial checkers championship success with a string of match victories.

Baba Intent on Checkers  1960 Amsterdam World Championships Reception

GM Baba Sy, Senegal, intent on checkers play;
reception with Kuperman, Kaplan, Deslauriers, Dukel, and Sen A. Kaw during 1960 World Championships in Amsterdam.

But Baba Sy’s true colors as an exceptional checkerboard talent were displayed in 1960, when he finished second in the World Championship just behind the Russian Grandmaster, V. Sjtsjogoljev, and ahead of Russian Grandmaster, Iser Kuperman, who was the previous World Champion. This tournament placement became the start of a truly dazzling, though relatively short checkers career in comparison to other world checkers masters.

Baba Sy observing the game between Aeilkema 1960  Baba Sy observing the game between Aeilkema and Geert van Dijk

1960 World Checkers Championship:
Slawa Sjtsjogoljev, Baba Sy, and Iser Kuperman

In 1961, Champion Baba Sy continued his International checkers career and entered the International Tournament in Yalta, USSR. He once again displayed his mastery of the checkerboard by winning first place in the match.

During one of the games in the tournament between the Frenchmen, Michel Hisard and Henri Chiland, Hisard played 28-22, and Chiland responded to this move with 5-10. Directly after the game, champion Baba Sy approached Chiland and showed him how he could have won the game by using the Coup Napoleon move. This trait was part of who Baba Sy was always interested in improving the game, even if it was the game of another checkers player.

Baba Sy observing the game between Aeilkema and Geert van Dijk

Baba Sy observing the game between Aeilkema and Geert van Dijk
in the 1st Round game at the Lucas Bols Tournament in 1961

The following year, Baba Sy and A.M. Kouate traveled from Senegal to play in the Hague world checkers tournament match. Beyond regular tournament matches, the Senegal checkers player also became a true specialist in simultaneous games. In the pre match play, Baba Sy showed clearly how disciplined his game indeed was as he played simultaneous games against numerous international opponents. The other masters saw the mastery of his great art: how quickly he adapted his game play, his easy victories, and his astonishing checkers skill with varied combinations against an unsurpassed amount of opponents for that time period.

Baba Sy at The Hague
Baba Sy at The Hague
January 27, 1962

The above photo shows the Senegalese checkers master improving the world record in Simultaneous Play to an astounding 150 games. In order to achieve such a feat, the player must have an alert and observant mind as well as strong checker-board skills. World checkers champion Baba Sy certainly possessed that and more.

In the Pulchri studio simultaneous games ‘match’, Baba Sy’s final score ended with an amazing 112 wins, five losses, and thirty-three draws, which resulted in an impressive wins to losses of 85.6%.

The International World of Checkers 1962.

Baba Sy as spectator to checkers
Baba Sy as spectator to checkers
game between
Lekkerkerker vs Jonkhart Amsterdam.
Baba Sy in a game with Geert van Dijk
Baba Sy in a game with Geert van Dijk
in Suiker Tournament, Ton Sijbrands
as spectator.

Gournier vs Sy

Gournier vs Sy

Checkers Champions Bakhuizen vs Sy

Bakhuizen vs Sy

In each of the three above checkers games in the Suiker World Checkers Tournament in 1962 held in Amsterdam, young 12-year-old Ton Sijbrands observes the games and writes for the Senegalese master checkers player, Baba Sy. Years later, Ton will face his ‘mentor’ as a challenging checkers opponent.

Baba Sy 1962 interview in Leiden
Baba Sy 1962 interview in Leiden

Baba gets A hug from an adoring young
A hug from an adoring young
checkers fan

Champions Baba Sy and A.M. Kouaté at the
Baba Sy and A.M. Kouaté at the
tournament dinner in Leiden
At Schiphol Airport heading home
At Schiphol Airport heading home
to Dakar, 1962

When Baba Sy won the Challenge Mondial held in France in 1962, it earned the checkers master from Senegal the right to challenge the reigning checkers World Champion, Iser Kuperman, for a world championship match and the world title.
Unfortunately, the 1963 Championship Match between Baba Sy and Iser Kuperman never materialized for hitherto undisclosed reasons. Before the checkers match took place, there was supposedly some dispute between Sy and Kuperman, and the Russian Federation cancelled the match. The result was that Iser Kuperman never appeared and the checkers competition between these two great players was never realized. No one in the checkers arena has full disclosure on the reasons for the cancellation or any knowledge of the cause for the dispute. It certainly was a major disappointment for the Senegalese master. According to former World Champion and Grandmaster player, Ton Sijbrands, who observed many of Baba Sy’s tournament games as a boy and later played against Baba Sy on numerous occasions during International matches, the master checkers player from Senegal did not challenge again for the World Championship title after this debacle in 1963.

However, this incident did not deter the Senegalese checkers master from continuing to play his favorite board game on the International checkers scene, and he continued to amaze his opponents with his checkerboard prowess and quick analytical mind.

Baba 1967 Tournament

Above, checkers champion Baba Sy is seen depicted in 1967 at the Brinta Tournament during a speech ~ checkers wasn't always a challenging matter, especially during ‘down time’.

In 1970, Sy played Kuperman for the first time after the debacle and won the match with a score of twelve wins to ten. Viewing this result has given thought to the possibility that Baba Sy may just have had the edge to beat Iser Kuperman if the World Championship match had taken place in 1963, and Baba would have become the first African checkers master to hold the checkers World Champion title. Of course, this is only speculation, and the games could have gone either way.

Baba Tournament 1970

Baba Sy concentrating on a move
in the Suikers Tournament, 1970.

See More African Checkers Game Players Below

World Checker Champion Baba Sy Checkers Tournament Flaubert Ndonzi Checkers Game Ndiaga Samb
African Checkers Championship Champions of Northern Africa Champion Baba Sy

DeerLake Online Store Items

Wonder Mugs Play checkers online, and enjoy drinking from this cool wonder mug.
When adding hot liquid, the colors of the mug will change, checkers cool.

Checkers is a two-player game, where one player is assigned white-chip checkers and the other red. The aim is to play checkers online, capture all of the other player's checkers or make them impossible to move.

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