Malawi has a lot of unique chess players that bring a special touch to the chess community, and one of such talents is Hubert Nanthambwe. Born and raised in the capital city of Lilongwe, Hubert Nanthambwe is the only chess player that brings the Rastafarian touch to the game. The 23 year old shining star is an Economics graduate from the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR). Currently based in Phalombe, the Southern Region of Malawi, he is the defending chess champion of the district, which has earned him the nickname “Phalombe’s Number One’’. In this interview our contributor Desiderata Nkhoma (DN) caught up with Hubert Nanthambwe (HN) so as to learn more about his chess journey and how he rose to stardom with the beautiful game.
DN: How did you learn how to play chess?
HN: I learnt how to play chess in quite an interesting way. I was oriented to the game in 2006 by a certain soldier who I used to like playing checkers with in the neighborhood. At the time he was teaching me, we had no chess board or pieces, just a checkers board. He just told me the names of the chess pieces, their location on the board and how they move, as well as how they capture. From then on, I went straight home and opened my father’s desktop which I knew has the Titans Chess Application and played the engine. On every illegal move the engine could warn and instruct me, that’s how I learnt chess.
DN: Wow, what an interesting way to learn the game. So, when did you play your first game against a human being?
HN: I played my first game against a human in January 2007, when I was in secondary school against Mr Sidira who was my boarding Master. I lost miserably, as he defeated me mercilessly. I then started developing my game from there and made my first debut tournament appearance at the Malawi chess in 2013.
DN: You stayed 6 years in hibernation before coming out to the world through Malawi, and now, you recently won the Phalombe district chess championship, What does it mean to you to be Phalombe’s number 1 chess player?
HN: Honestly the feeling is extremely great and I feel so honored. I walk in the streets of Phalombe district with people pointing fingers at me saying I am an extreme genius. I am now the pride of the District Council Sports Officer who usually takes me to secondary schools during sports activities to inspire and teach the noble game to students. It is awesome.
DN: It must really feel good to get to inspire the younger generation. Aside winning the Phalombe Championship, What has been some of your greatest achievements in chess?
HN: I have quite a number of achievements. Firstly my debut tournament in 2013 where I emerged in third (3rd) place with five (5) points after seven (7) rounds, will always be one of my greatest success stories. It was a tournament where some of the elite chess players in Malawi were present including Alfred Chimthere also known as the Great Finisher (GF), the current Champion of Central Region Masters Plate, Dave Mawango, Petros Mfune popularly known as the Chess Razorblade and Russian based Misheck Nyirenda. Where, apart from the third place finish, I was also awarded a medal for Best Upcoming Player.
Secondly emerging in the top three to represent Central Region Chess League (CRCL) in the 2013 at the Mdina Malawi Open Championship at Victoria Hotel in Blantyre is also one of my high moments. At the tournament I had a splendid performance and was awarded a bronze medal after finishing in top ten plus another medal for becoming the best upcoming player of the year.
Another achievement that means so much to me is earning a silver medal in 2015 at the Mayeso Mphande Malawi Open Championship that was held at Simama Hotels in Lilongwe, after finishing in top 6. Even though I suffered defeat to players like Richard Chiona, who will be part of the men’s squad at the 2018 Olympiad and Chiletso Chipanga, winner of 2017 Africa Amateurs Individual Chess Championship, I managed to outplay some good players such as George Mwale brother to “the fear”, Frank Khonje, Ronald Chimkute and a few other top players in classical styles, that I wish to have in such level of performance in every tournament.
DN: Do you think you will ever conquer Malawi chess and become National Champion?
HN: Absolutely yes. I have at several times defeated most of the deadly chess players in Malawi, therefore, I believe that with consistent participatory and consultative training, I should be able to claim the National Chess Championship in a few years time.
DN: What do you want to achieve in the next five years. What is your plan?
HN: In the short run I plan to raise my ratting to at least 2200+ by the end of 2019. During which time, I plan to be in the process of attaining the Fide Master (FM) title and qualify to represent Malawi at the next Olympiad two (2) years from now. I am confident this will materialize as I have already started engaging in serious training.
DN: Which players do you admire in the Malawi chess cycle and why?
HN: To be honest, I admire the most Chiletso Chipanga, Joseph Mwale and Alfred Chimthere. I have always been interested to acquire the knowledge of sharp tactical openings in Chiletso’s play. On the other hand, I eager to understand the tactical middle game understanding of Joseph that keeps opponents shivering, no wonder he is known as ‘The Fear’ and finally I keenly wait to behold the wisdom of taking players to the no-way-out endgames of Alfred Chimthere, indeed if you’re his opponent two plus two in the end game never adds up to four, as Mikhail Tal once said.
DN: Which foreign player would you associate your playing style with and why?
HN: Mikhail Tal. He is one of the greatest chess players that I know, who had the potential to offer sacrifices and win games. I follow his footsteps and offer sacrifices where I can just to win.
DN: Anything else you would like to share to the world.
HN: I would like to encourage all upcoming players to believe in their abilities. You see, just like on the board, every life is a project with many targets. So find yours today, master it to the extent that you become the best at it, and you will surely become a unique master. Everyone of us have a story to tell, such that we are all special in our own way, enjoy your achievements.
DN: Thank you for your time
HN: You are most welcome.