The moment the great Zambian footballer, Kalusha Bwalya stepped up to take the free- kick, somebody in the TV room confidently shouted “Zambia’s first goal!”. He skillfully curved the ball, but it hit the cross bar.
Years later, I wished I also shouted like this confident guy right in the playing hall when CM Prince Daniel Mulenga achieved a great position against grandmaster Grover at the 2019 Zambia Open. The Knights and the passed pawn were clearly a thorn in the grandmaster’s position.
I thought the worst that would happen to Mulenga was a draw, after which the grandmaster would have all the reasons to sing: “Jesus you love me too muchOoooh!!” as per the hit by Zambia’s leading gospel artist of the day, Mercy Chinwo. As the grandmaster kept changing his posture in search for the best response, my mind raced back to the day I arrived in Zambia for the Zambia Open.
I had arrived on a chilly Wednesday evening at the Intercity Bus Depot where I boarded a taxi with my 2 Malawian friends, Xavier and Jailosi. For me, what was important was that the taxi was taking us to Olympic Youth Development Center, the venue of the tournament and our lodging place.
The conversations that my 2 buddies were engaging with the driver didn’t shake me at all, except once when the driver asked them about the political situation back home after the elections. Tired as they were, I didn’t think they had the energy to answer such a complex question. We arrived at OYDC and were welcomed by Zambia Chess Official Chanda Nsakanya who briefly left us with somebody he just introduced as an important official.
“So who is this Grandmaster?”, I asked while extending my right hand to this important Zambian official. Unlike Chanda, the cool hardworking gentleman from Ndola, this one never gave short word answers. He looked ready to take on lengthy conversations with us.
“Mmmh grandmaster?”, he responded while touching my hand, “I’m International Arbiter Aaron Banda, welcome to Lusaka.”
Though he waited for me to introduce myself, I could tell from the light in his eyes that he already knew me.
Banda kept us entertained by telling us how prepared the Zambians were to parry away the 4 grandmasters aggression on Zambia soil, but he was pessimistic that the trophy would be won by a Zambian. He thought, grandmasters Grover Sahaj(India), Petr Kiriakov(Russia), Heshan Alexander(Russia), and Alexander Raesky(Russia), all with a combined average rating of 2450 will make the furnace too hot for Zambians and the foreign players.
“Just confuse them with some cute Lozi ladies”, I commented , causing the trio to laugh.
Then Chanda came by to tell us that we should go to eat at a mall across the road. As we walked to the shopping mall, to the far right, the giant Heroes stadium captivated my eyes. Being dwarfed by the Heroes stadium was the once mighty Independence Stadium.
“So you no longer use the Independence Stadium, we were told Zambia doesn’t lose at the Independence stadium”, I cleverly chirped in and paused, knowing fully well I had introduced an interesting topic.
“These days we use the Hero’s stadium. The independence stadium was one great record that Zambians kept for close to 40 years,” responded Chanda in a soft baritone.
From football talent in Zambia, we talked of chess talent in Zambia, and we talked about how strong the Zambia open was, and how the grandmasters would make the field interesting in the Championship section. As we ate at the Hungry Lion Food Shop, Chanda confessed that he and the committee were still under pressure making sure that things are perfect for the start day.
I was particularly interested in the number of countries participating, but he answered that some are still yet to confirm. But he was sure that Mozambique, Uganda, Botswana, Malawi were participating.
He told me that there were some changes on the list I had published on my advert of the tournament because IM David Silva of Angola had not confirmed yet, and also that IM Providence Oatlhotse of Botswana had excused himself as he would be participating in the Commonwealth games in India. I commented that, despite the changes, it still looked a strong field.
We started off back to OYDC where he gave us rooms to put up.
The following morning the ever helpful Aaron Banda gave me a SIM card to use. As the day progressed, players from several parts of Zambia were arriving at the OYDC. When each player arrived, I imagined him as a soldier of the Mukubulo forces, ready to protect mother Zambia from foreign chess aggression.
I was pleased to learn that Chipata based prophet Shankanga was also there, we had a wonderful time when he came to Malawi Open in 2018. I was surprised that chess trainer Musatwe Simutowe was also at the venue. He had come all the way from South Africa. Though he mispronounced my name, we easily reconnected after such a long while-since Baku 2016. As his former pupil, he had problems understanding that I had come solely for journalism purposes.
Another one, Livingstone based Bright Muyenga arrived much later in the day with someone he introduced as his boy, Chola Musonda. Interacting with him only on social media, I had a misconception that he is a talkative guy, only to find out that he is a rather placid guy, but I gave him a benefit of doubt as I thought, he could have been too tired to talk too much after a long journey from Livingstone.
I was lost in the introductions, but almost half of the people I was introduced to shouted “Wow…So it’s you Khisho?” when I told them that I’m Khisho.
Another one Daniel Mwanza Snr , who is a good fan of my writings was very happy to meet me in person. As though welcoming a prodigal son, he shouted: “Welcome back home”. He cracked a few jokes before asking about my book “The Chess Injection”.
The following morning as I went for breakfast I was glad to learn that IM Aurther Ssegwanyi and 2 other top Ugandan players: FM Haruna Nsabunga and IM Patrick Kauma had also arrived for the tournament. In my mind I was like “friend s of Mukubulo forces”.
Having met him 10 years earlier at the Juniors tournament at Kamuzu Academy in Malawi, I was particularly interested in Aurther Ssegwanyi.
I thought he had forgotten me, but I was shocked when he repeated the very conversation we had 10 years earlier, causing me to admire his memory power.’’ No wonder he drew with Anish Giri at the 2015 World Cup. He’s got a powerful memory”, I thought. I really thought, he and the other Ugandans would beef up the “Zambian forces’’, as I put it in my commentaries.
After breakfast, I quickly went to my room, dressed up and went for my camera before heading to the playing hall. The hall was neatly decorated with good banners, including the imposing one at the front written “Zambia Open Chess Championship”. Though it wasn’t very clear, I thought the guy featured playing chess with a white man on the banner was IM Gillian Bwalya. The arbitration crew and the ZFC officials were busy making arrangements for the event to happen.
This one, Linus Katebe was very easy to spot. I was told he is always the tallest. Surprisingly, when I mentioned his name, he responded by mentioning my name. After a few jokes we went for selfies. As we were having the third selfie, somebody shouted from my back “Khisho! You are here!!” He sounded like a movie actor. “I’m Andrew Zimba”, he said. Immediately I interrupted him “No! You are Andrew Andinyoze Zimba”, stressing his middle name. He laughed loudly before turning to the Mozambican lady he was with. “Take good pictures with my brother Khisho young lady”, he told the beautiful Mozambician lady.
The cyborg Nase Lungu gave me a long stare before shouting “You are here?”. He touched his friend on the shoulder and said, “This guy was my entertainment when I came to Malawi”. I knew he was going to mention how he beat me 15 -1 at blitz, so I cut him by asking him about how ready he was for the tournament.
Walking across the room, I was impressed with the professional way of dressing of players like Prince Daniel Mulenga, Douglas Munenga and Andrew Kayonde. I made sure I complimented each one of them for putting on suits. I thought Championship section players must be exemplary by putting on the best presentable attires possible that will up the image of the game, both to the corporate world and the audience at large.
I was glad to see Lorita Mwango as well. Over the years, she had grown to be a powerful chess force in Zambia and, alongside Zambia’s male top player, IM Andrew Kayonde, has enjoyed the sole right to represent Zambia in various tournaments.
I greeted Lorita. The ring she was putting on her finger was a clear give away-she is now Mrs somebody. So my task was to find out if she were married to a chess player or not. Well unlike other Zambian top female players who are married to chess players like Kapamba Mulwale who is married to IM Richmond Phiri, Epa Tembo to IM Daniel Jere, Lorita is not married to a chess player, at least one that plays in tournaments. But I did see signs that we could have a lot more chess weddings in Zambia. Phylis Mwilolo, too, is not married to a chess player.
Another one, Mary Mashone remembered me from our meeting at the Zimbabwe Open. She was one of the arbiters, together with Peter Jailos, and Tedius Lungu.
The presence of the dancing cultural troop caught my eye. I was told they were going to perform for the opening ceremony. Their dance and gear was more less similar to gule wankulu of my country-save that gule wankulu is more male dominated and the dressing up is just too much.
After a descent opening ceremony, which was followed by a vigorous speech by the Zambia chess Federation President Mukubulo Chilufya, the first round pairing was out. Everybody was curious about who gets paired with any of the four grandmasters, especially Sahaj Grover who was said to be in top form .The lot fell on Livingstone based Bright Muyenga who got black pieces against GM Sahaj Grover.
Anyway there were no major upsets in the first 2 rounds save for Grandmaster Raetskys draw with some lower rated player.
“I think we are capable of stopping these grandmasters . How could he draw that game ?” commented one guy.
Third day was full of fireworks. Especially one Zambian national team player Prince Daniel Mulenga was on fire. Playing an innocent line of the Tromposky against his nemesis Andrew Kayonde, he fired “a Shirov like” Bishop sacrifice that shook Kayonde to the foundations. And the Rook Sacrifice that followed was like the last nail of the coffin.
PDM, as Mulenga is popularly called by his admirers, repeated this brilliance in the 4th round against tournament favorites GM Sahaj Grover when he made his Knights gallop right in the grandmaster’s bedroom. In my humble opinion the grandmaster was lucky to have limped away with a draw.
I was also particularly impressed with the concentration levels of IMs Stanley Chumfwa and Richmond Phiri. These 2 guys, with their heads tilted, are deeply engrossed in the activities of the board when they are playing. You can actually sense the tense combative atmosphere when they are on the other side of the chess board.
Walking through the ladies section, I could sense the ladies, too, were in a war of some kind. However, I must confess what was paramount to me was photographing the beautiful ladies other than the action. With no WGM Taduetse Sabure to repel her, Lorita Mwango was the sole leader of the pack, almost annihilating the entire pack with an impressive 8.5 out 9.
The junior section action, which kicks started on the second day was very impressive. Angel Zulu, young Kennedy Shane and Samuel Mkandawire were very impressive. What I liked about the junior section was that parents were very supportive of their kids. One of them escorted his kid all the way from Ndola. I just remember him as the guy that spoke Russian with the Russian grandmasters.
The mix of both Asian and Zambian kids made me think chess indeed has the power to unite. I was impressed that a whole school from Kitwe with over 10 kids was participating. The kids seemed to like their coach Freddie, a very friendly guy.
I discussed a lot about Zambia chess in schools when I met Jeff Kays, the guy who took me to East Park Mall and University of Zambia for a tour. Zambia Chess Federation has set up good stuctures for chess in schools to flourish. As he peddled his car along the Great East Road he said, “To select a team, it starts from the provinces where the cream is selected to compete again”.
Then walking around the room, I was also surprised to see a Somalian playing the open section. I was not told that a Somali had registered. The open section had players from Botswana, Somalia, South Africa. It also had Zambia chess Federation President Mukubulo Chilufya as one of the participants. He impressed me when he said he was participating to motivate youngsters and other players.
The old-timers like Leslie Chikuse and Nase Lungu were also impressive. Just like the younger generation they too, off the tournament boards, were locked in the world of blitz, especially Nase. But I’m not sure if he was also betting money in his games.
More likely “yes” as it seems money betting in blitz has taken root in Zambia .When you find the blitzers, everything is money. You even have to pay for using their board.
After the tournament, as I embarked on a trip to Livingstone to see the mighty Victoria Falls, I agreed that chess in Zambia is live and well, and I will not be surprised if they produce another grandmaster soon, after Amon Simutowe. I didn’t find chance to watch the Lusaka Chess league games.
…AND THANKS FOR THE TROPHY OF HONOR ZED CHESS FEDERATION.