Chiletso Chipanga: Malawi’s First Chess Gold Medalist

It is 10pm, this squad wasn’t going, 11pm, still there! 12 midnight, still not going anywhere. Now the officials of Kamuzu International Airport were beginning to wonder: “With a Malawi  flag? Who could these people possibly be waiting for?” They silently went back to recheck their diaries, almost scrutinizing the name of each passenger of the coming planes, one by one, but they showed nobody important was flying in. Now 1am, as if giving a clue to the airport officials, the squad pulled out their chess boards and started blitzing on the airport restaurant tables, showing them what chess is about, speed, accuracy, tactics, strategy, etc. At 2:30am, Suddenly the man they were waiting for arrived, he descended from Nairobi Airways and they immediately left their games and started singing: “Hail Chess Gold Medalist!”, disturbing the placid atmosphere of the airport.

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L to R – Ellen Mpinganjira, Jayne, Chipanga and Susan Namangale

It was a medal gallantly fought for by Malawi’s Second highest rated player, National Champion, Candidate Master, Chiletso Chipanga at the 2017 Africa Amateurs Individual Chess Championship. Being the first ever gold medal for Malawi chess, It was worthwhile giving him such a warm welcome. A welcome only reserved to politicians and music stars.

It doesn’t just happen. Chipanga says, the moment he set his foot on the historic town of Livingstone, thinking about how tiresome a road journey he had, he felt his inner energies inspiring him to aim for the ultimate result.

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Unlike most of the players at the event, who were fully sponsored by their Federations, Chipanga was like the main actor, “The lover boy” in the movie “Titanic” who, when he was asked by one of the lords: “How did you find yourself in this exclusive ship?” he answered: “I won a lotto”. Of course, “Chilly”, as he is popularly known, did not win a lotto to get to Livingstone, but his presence at the event was equally miraculous, as he was only saved at the eleventh hour by some well-wishers, who kept sending money to his Airtel money account until he had enough for the trip. When he started off to Livingstone, they had not even reached 70% of the required amount. Sure, a person’s success should be measured by the obstacles they have defeated.

So, like the legendary prudent Tanzanian athlete who ran a 500 meter race alone, after he had encountered a misfortune that made it clear that he was the last at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico, Chiletso made sure he played prudent moves, scoring four (4) consecutive wins in the first two (2) days, with top seeds Dhemba Jemuse, the Zimbabwe National Champion, and Zambian Leslie Chikuse being some of his casualties.

Chiletso

As they went for break at the brink of the 6th round, at the mighty Victoria Falls, a place with a beauty that is a reflection of his artistic moves, Chipanga seemed to have gotten more inspiration as he included the formidable veteran Kiddy Makwaya of Zambia as part of the scalps he claimed. He then won the next three (3) rounds to tally his points to eight (8/8), which was enough to propel him to this historic continental title.

So, when he played his last round game against Andrew Sakala of Zambia, who had much lesser points, Chipanga was not in any danger whatsoever, as it was already known he had won the event. His controversial loss to Sakala only made him tie with another Zambian, Leslie Chikuse at eight (8) points, with the head to head rule crowning him king of the Under 2300 and pocketed $1000 for his achievement, booking himself a ticket to World Amateurs Individual Chess Championship in Italy in April.

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Zimbabwean Champion, Zhemba Jemuse ended in third (3rd) position with five (5) points, while Nakabo Peninah of Uganda won the ladies category after amassing seven (7) points out of nine (9).

News of Chiletso’s triumph spread like the gospel of Dr David Livingstone, the missionary after whose name the town of Livingstone was named. An inspired  Malawi Chess Federation, which has waited for close to 14 years to see an athlete win the gold medal, organized a heroes welcome for him, thanks to Chessam Executive Mrs Susan Namangale who sacrificed a great deal of personal resources for it to happen.

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Chiletso was made to cancel his bus ticket and book a flight to Malawi via Nairobi also efforts by Susan Namangale who partnered with CBR Tours and Travel.

After missing the flight, which was due to land at 14hrs in the afternoon, Chipanga had no option but to book a flight due to land at 2:30 AM. But still the Malawi Chess fraternity sacrificed their sleep to welcome the gold medalist and Chipanga thanked Malawians for the great support they gave him through their various social media channels.

As we went to press, the Malawi Chess Federation is organizing a cocktail this weekend for the player.

 

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