The referee blew the final whistle. I stood in the terraces of Kamuzu Stadium in disbelief. The Brave Warriors of Namibia had beaten us at our own backyard for the second time in a row. Eliphas Shivute and Muhammad Auseb were some of the talents that kept troubling us.
Unbeknownst to the chanting Namibian supporters in the stadium, was the fact that, the Namibian talent on the football pitch was eclipsing another talent that was developing in the solitude of the hills of Windhoek. CM Charles Eichab, the indomitable lion of Namibian Chess, was by then busy making strides toward becoming the greatest Namibian chess player of his generation, a journey so well taken, that when I asked him a decade and a half years later, in 2018: “Do people recognize you in the streets of Namibia?”, he confidently answered, “Why not? I am nine (9) times Namibia Chess Champion”.
Charles Eichab’s romance with chess started at age thirteen (13), in 1992, after being introduced to the royal game by a family member, who read the rules of the game from an encyclopedia. According to his account, they read the encyclopedia together but, humble as he is, he did not want to make the most popular ‘genius’ claim, that he is self-taught in the mental sport. But he was quick to mention that, that encyclopedia was the only chess literature at his disposal for a long while; some two (2) pages of a five hundred (500) paged encyclopedia.
After learning and mastering the mysteries of the knights and the other chess men, the undisputed “Lion” of Namibia Chess did not go for any tournament hunt until two (2) years later in 1994, with a rather unsuccessful but encouraging hunt. It was The Windhoek Optics, a tournament sponsored by a leading Namibian Optometrist.
He says, unlike these days where they enjoy a cornucopia of chess sponsorship, chess in Namibia was still in its cradle, and the Optics was the only major event of Namibia, which held once a year.
However, the then junior lion, could only roar loudest five (5) years later, in 1999, when he won the Super Junior Chess Championship, which gave him the license to represent Namibia at the world juniors in Armenia. But what was interesting was the drama that ensued before he qualified to play in the Super Juniors event.
In a prior selection for the event, the organizers had accidentally skipped his name, but lucky enough, one of the organizers, a certain Dr Beukes (late), realized the mistake. So the organizers put together the Super Eight (8) Juniors for his sake, where he demonstrated that the error was indeed worthy of correction, by winning the Super Eight (8) convincingly.
After playing in several local competitions, the “Lion” hunted down his first big prey in 2001, when he won the Namibian National Championship.
A fan of jazz music, Eichab must have stepped up to the podium dressed like some jazz legend. After a hiatus, he won the event again in 2007, 2009, 2012, 2015, 2016 and 2018 – more than any other Namibian, hence giving him the license to be called the Lion of Namibia Chess. What is even more interesting is that he conquered most of these amidst heavy academic and professional pressures.
Indeed there are some hunts you remember most. As he narrated his National Chess Championship achievements, the lion remembered that he forgot to mention, that he actually first qualified for the Namibia National Chess team in 1998, when he qualified for the Elista Olympiad, the Olympiad which is by many Africans remembered for Nigerian Odion Aikhoje’s board two (2) Gold Medal.
Eichab has been in the National team ever since, and the 2018 Olympiad in Batumi, Georgia, will be his 10th. He says of the nine (9) Olympiad appearances, he has been entrusted with board one at five (5) Olympiads. He singles out the 2012 Olympiad in Norway, as his best ever where he only lost a single game to an Australian.
“If not for the blunder in my 10th round game, I would have earned myself a straight FM title”, he said in painful memories. “And in the other game, I completely out played my opponent from Palestine, until my opponent forced a silly perpetual check”, he continued.
Despite this lustrous chess career, Eichab recalls his win over Zambian International Master Daniel Jere with black pieces, at the 2006 Olympiad in Turin, Italy as one of his best wins ever.
“I felt accomplished after the game”, he said.
In 2010, he wreaked havoc on another great Zambian Master Stanley Chumfwa, at the Russia Olympiad. “That was when Stanley was in beast mode”, he proudly said, sounding like some playful student joker, who was sometimes relied upon in the school soccer team.
He also said the 2007 All Africa Games, was one of his best tournaments. He also spoke highly about finishing in the top ten (10), at the tough 2006 South Africa Open. At the 2007 South Africa Open he was voted Africa’s best player.
At the moment, Eichab runs the biggest chess academy in Namibia, the Royal Minds Chess Academy where he coaches an incredible nine hundred (900) students per week. He had to employ full time coaches, who he rewards handsomely on a monthly basis. He boasts to have invented chess coaching as a profession in Namibia.
“Ï founded the formula that can make chess coaching possible as a profession”, he said, sounding like some Isaac Newton, boasting about having invented some useful formula in Science.
The selfless Eichab, who became a Certified Fide Chess Instructor in 2010, also helps out at the Zendel Chess Academy started by former Namibia Chess Federation President, Otto Nakapunda.
Apart from chess coaching at the mighty Royal Minds Chess Academy, Eichab also held high positions in the Namibia Chess Federation board since 1995, the highest being the Vice President of the Namibia Chess Federation, a position he held from 2012 to 2017.
Outside of chess, Eichab is teacher by profession and is studying towards his Masters in Applied Mathematics. He also did jazz piano as a subject in college with a bias in Jazz.