There is a lovely road that runs from green Zomba City up to the flat top of Zomba mountain. When you reach the top of this mountain, which is called Chawe, you will agree with me, it is lovely beyond any singing of it. The breeze I felt as Guntu, our boy guide took us around the natural artwork of this place was registered in my mind as one of the best feelings I have ever had. We were at the mysterious bottomless Chingwe hole, which is a great tourist attraction, when Guntu said: “From here you can see the whole Zomba city, the city of vegetation. Killing birds with stones in the trees is one of our favorite hobbies”. Years later the same words were to echo in my mind when I met Zomba grown chess player, CM Chiletso Chipanga on the chess board, as he grabbed my pawns in the Lab Enterprise Tournament Finals.
My free advice: When you are playing him, do not sleep, and do not be so confident as to let him be in the driving seat, you will die on the board sooner than you thought, because attack is his area of specialty. Even blitz too, he is quite deadly with speed. On Malawi soil, the only one that can equal his level of attack is South Africa based Joseph Mwale, even though Mwale is a bit more ruthless – but there isn’t much of a difference.
How a teen boy growing up in the city of Zomba, like Guntu, our guide could divert from the city’s most popular teenage hobbies like football and killing birds in the evergreen trees to fall for the game of chess still remains a mystery. It is not surprising that as well as Chiletso plays chess, he is also an adept football striker, and plays for some small Club in Zomba, with the same attacking aggression being demonstrated on the football pitch, as he shows on the chess board.
After being introduced to chess by his brother, Givemore, at the age of 11, in his home-base of Zomba, being a city with no reputation of hosting chess tournaments, it meant for Chiletso’s chess to sprout, he needed to put in a lot of sacrifices to travel to tournaments in the nearby commercial city of Blantyre, an hour drive away, which was then the hub of chess in Malawi.
Following the footsteps of Zomba based senior chess players like Richard Chiona, Fraser Mkwaila, Francis Banda, Richard Mbedza – all of Zomba Chess Club, who were also making similar sacrifices, Chiletso made his debut appearance at a tournament in Blantyre in 2004. Although his performance was not that good, according to some account, he showed a learning heart. “After every loss, he could reset the position to find out where he went wrong”, recounts one of the participants.
The boy Chiletso went on sacrificing his resources to attend tournaments in Blantyre the whole of 2004 and 2005, until one day in 2006 he won the Malawi Junior Chess Championship, where he qualified for Africa Junior Chess Championship in Botswana. This was an eye opener for the lad, as he replicated the same achievement in 2007 and qualified for the Africa Junior event hosted by Malawi, at Kamuzu Academy. It was this time that he got the privilege of being coached by an experienced trainer, Zambian Musatwe Simutowe. Other notable players at this event were Rodwell Makoto, Karim Wageith, Andrew Kayonde and Mellisa Greef.
In 2007, with a new chess sponsor, Lab Enterprise, on the block, Chiletso found good chance to showcase his skill at the quarterly Lab Enterprises Chess Championship in Blantyre, building a good opening repertoire that gave pressure to Malawi top players like Kajani Kaunda and James Kamowa. In the maiden lab enterprise edition, the picture of Chiletso wearing his trademark frowning face, playing against former National Champion James Kamowa remains impressed on my mind. The national champion, having refused Chiletso’s draw offer earlier on, was later forced to offer the draw himself as he ran out of minutes on his clock. He kept shouting “Draw!” “Draw!”. It was obvious he was aware of the formidable blitz force he was up against.
Chiletso was to later win a Lab Enterprise Chess Championship event, which many remembered for his champions speech: “A lot of players are good at being accurate, but I tried to add creativity to my play, that was why I won’’, and was either runners up or 3rd in most of the Lab events that followed, but nobody was to take him that seriously, after all Joseph Mwale’s historic triumph as the 2007 Malawi National Champion at 13 years had eclipsed every other chess achievement in the land. Chiletso was not officially labeled a chess giant until 2008, when he qualified for the World Chess Olympiad in Germany, after emerging runners up in the National Championship, an event which he is usually remembered, for his famous win over fellow Zomba chess player Richard Chiona with black pieces. In the same year he qualified for the Africa Junior Chess Championship in Angola.
Travelling to Europe for the first time, Chiletso made an impact in Germany by earning the Candidate Master title, after winning 50 percent of his games at the Olympiad. According to the account of the then Malawi’s team leader, Mark Chikoko, Chiletso had cultivated a unique blend of chess, “his pieces were always scattered, but he seemed to be managing them properly”, commented Chikoko.
He later went on to qualify to the same event in 2010 at Khanty Mansiysk, Russia, 2012 at Istanbul, Turkey, 2014 at Tromso, Norway, and 2016 at Baku, Azerbaijan, making him Malawi’s most capped player till date. He is also Malawi’s Olympiad all-time top scorer at the event.
Apart from qualifying to the Olympiad, Chipanga was National Champion in 2014 and 2018, while in 2012, he won the prestigious Mdina Open, after finishing atop over eighty (80) other major participants. In 2013, he won the Paul Mike National Championship Match after defeating top player Candidate Master Alfred Chimthere. In 2015, he emphasized his dominance in Malawi chess by beating the famous Razorblade in the Paul Mike match to win the prestigious championship.
But the best of the moments came when he won the Africa Amateurs Individual Chess Championship in 2018, an achievement that would make the Malawi Chess fraternity to give him a hero’s welcome at Lilongwe International Airport even though he arrived at 2AM in the morning.
Chiletso still lives and make a living from Zomba city, where he travels to tournaments from, while the Malawi chess fraternity expects greater news from this lad as he participates in the World Amateur Individual Chess Championship.