Amon Simutowe: Enigma, Man, Conundrum

He just ‘vanished’ from the Zambian public eye, like a shadow thrown by a passing cloud. What remains now is ‘The legend of his name’. To this day, his chess accolades remain unrivaled; he continues being a chess player of incomparable effigy and following in his Southern African country of more than 17 million inhabitants. His chess voyage (should it still be continuing) is now cloaked in clandestine operation, not only in his native country but on the African continent as whole. Footprints of unanswered questions in its wake…

Will he ever captain the Zambia chess ship again? Is he still an active chess player? Has he foregone chess in preference for others life gears? These are the few looming questions that the Zambian chess society and Africa as whole have on this heroic figure whose name brings Africa on its feet, where the icon continues inspiring a godly adulation in some. Perhaps we should spool back on how this heavyweight of the game cemented his name as chess god of Africa to appreciate why his ‘absence’ from the chess scene leaves a void that demands filling.

Born Amon Simutowe in 1982 in Mbala town in the Northern region of Zambia, just like any kid in country where football is by far unmatched in terms of popularity, Amon’s first sport fascination was soccer. In fact, as his Wikipedia profile states, “he had originally set his dreams on being a striker for the Zambian national football team after playing at the youthful level”. Well one adage says ‘you can’t run from your calling’ and it seemed Amon was a son of the chess gods and the football ones. It was at age 10, his elder brother, Solomon would show Amon a ‘path of no return’, and that was it, it was bye to the dream of playing in the Chipolopolo team (Zambian National Soccer Team).

Just two years after being introduced to the game of chess, Amon won his first tournament, a superficial approval from the chess gods that he had made the right decision to switch lanes and join the chess family.

He announced himself on the national scene by winning the nation’s under 21 championships in 1995, the same year he took fifth place at the African Junior Championships. A year later (1996) Amon would send shivers on the big guns of Zambian chess by winning both the Zambian National Chess Championships and Zambian Junior Championships, a record that remains unbroken even to this day! He stretched his dominance by winning the African Junior Championships in 1997.

In 1998, he drew world attention by earning the IM title after his superb performance at the Zone 4.3. Gaining a reputation for winning tournaments in Fischer-like fashion, winning tournaments by big margins, Amon’s talent was irrefutable as he continued spellbinding those who followed his chess career including his historical second place tie at the 2000 World Junior Chess Championships in Armenia where he scored an astonishing 8.5/13.

In 2001, Amon attracted the political face of Zambia by being named ‘The Sportsman of the Year’. This was as a result of his glorious 2000 chess year where he represented Zambia at the 2000 chess Olympiad in Istanbul and scored 8/10 on board one. Subsequently, he earned a silver medal and another GM norm in addition to the one he got from his performance at the 2000 African Championships.

In 2002, Amon would move to the United States to pursue a degree in finance and economics after being awarded chess scholarship. After finishing this assignment with high honors, Amon would later embark on another chess expedition to complete his requirements for a final GM norm. This time, he travelled to the Netherlands to compete in the 2007 Euwe Stimulus Tournament. Well this was a successful outing as Amon became the third black Grand Master in the history of the game.

His name thus forth became a household name in Zambia and neighboring regions of the country. “How did a Zambian young man achieve this fate? This was a major question in mostly Sub-Saharan region where a GM title is deified. Now, when most looked up to him for inspiration, he simply ‘disappeared’ leaving a tongue waging battle mostly on social media as to what would have happened for him to ‘unfasten’ himself from Zambian chess affairs.

What really happened with this iconic being that left a trail of inspiration for many not only in his native Zambia but across the Sub-Saharan region where many utter his name when they meet pessimists who argue that the GM title is not an African man’s sack?

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