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Africa Chess Greats: The Time Slovenia Bled

by pawnwonder

We are starting a new series here at Africa Chess Media. We will celebrate great past performances by Africans.

For the first edition, we walk through the period when a twenty-year-old IM Robert Gwaze from Zimbabwe, shocked and changed the chess world. A time where he scored a perfect 9/9 on the top board at the 2002 Chess Olympiad in Bled, Slovenia. He achieved gold with this feat, at expense of many grandmasters, including the great Garry Kasparov!

The story of Gwaze’s achievement is well-known in the African chess community. This feat has inspired many young players to see possibilities for greatness in Africa.

Zimbabwe Men’s 2002 Olympiad Team: (front row, from left to right), IM Robert Gwaze (Bd. 1), Takaedza Chipanga (Bd. 2), Michael Luberto (Bd. 3), and Charles Chakanyuka (Bd. 4); (in the rear, from left to right), Wisdom Chikwanda (Bd. 5), Rangariral Karumazondo (Bd. 6), and Charles Kuwaza, (captain).
Image and Information Credit: Thechessdrum

Gwaze defeated every opponent that was put in front of him to achieve a perfect score that only World Champion Alexander Alekhine had managed before him!

However, the pressure of having scored 9/9 did not deter the young IM, as he continued to work hard to reach new and higher heights. He has won many strong tournaments, most notably the Africa Chess Championships in 2007.

With these feats, many felt he would become the next Sub-Saharan African grandmaster, after GM Amon Simutowe from Zambia.

Young International Master Robert Gwaze | Image Credit: Jerry Bibuld

Fans were left puzzled when Gwaze suddenly left the public chess scene in 2013 and has not played competitively since then. Although, in the past few weeks, he resurfaced and smashed the author of these lines, in an exhibition match, which is covered here.

It was exciting for all the fans of African Chess to see Gwaze back in action. Whether he will return to professional chess; is yet to be seen, but for now, we can celebrate his past achievements.

Games Here:

Game 1:

Round one of the 35th Chess Olympiad in Bled, Slovenia. Twenty (20) year old International Master Robert Gwaze was leading Zimbabwe against a very strong Finnish line-up.

He was paired on top board, against 17 year old International Master Tomi Nyback. A match between two youngsters leading their nations was always going to be an exciting battle. Let’s see how it turned out:

Although the team lost to Finland in the first round, Gwaze ensured that the Finnish team never forgot the young, African chap from Zimbabwe 🇿🇼

Game 2:

In the second round, Gwaze was paired against International Master John Rodgaard from the Faroe Islands. The IM played a standard French opening line, while Gwaze locked his own pieces up in the opening stages. He was let loose, and the rest was ideas from a great coach! See the game below!

Game 3:

Zimbabwe was paired against the IPCA (International Physically Disabled Chess Association) in the third round and Gwaze played against IM Andrei Obodchuk from Russia. The Zimbabwean maestro was ready to sacrifice a pawn in the opening stages, just to ensure underdevelopment for his opponent! See how the game went:

Game 4:

FM Abdul Hassan was Robert’s next opponent as Zimbabwe faced the UAE. A battle of center vs flank pawns, amidst interesting maneuvers. Enjoy!

Game 5:

The fifth round was a local derby between Zimbabwe and South Africa. The board one clash was between IM Gwaze and IM Gluckman. The South African was the favorite going into the match, but what happened? Let us take a look and see:

The Derby match ended in a draw. A draw that saw serious fire on board 1, with attacks, sacrifice, and ultimately, a queen bow, which ended the game!

Game 6:

Malaysia was up next. FM Zi Jing Wong was tasked with stopping Zimbabwe’s number one player.

It looked as though he was going down, however, Gwaze was that resourceful player. You find his best when he seems losing, and the pressure is on you to finish what you started!

Game 7:

Up to this point, Gwaze and Zimbabwe have only played against teams higher rated than them, but here against Suriname we could say that they were favourites.

Being favorites, Gwaze ensured a devastating victory that showed the attacking side of the Petrov defense! Helping to claim their second team win of the tournament

Game 8:

Leading up to the 11th round, the Zimbabwean captain had decided to rest Gwaze so that he could have the best chance of winning a medal. Gwaze missed the previous 3 rounds as Zimbabwe faltered without their number one against Bolivia, ICSC (International Committee of Silent Chess) and Andorra. However, the young IM is back on board, to face Edwin Borigas of Hong Kong!

A Fischer-like victory in the penultimate round ensured that Gwaze was very well placed for the gold medal and what a wrap it was!

Game 9:

Gwaze’s last game in the 2002 Olympiad. The question on everyone’s mind was, “Is he going to do it?” The man assigned as the spoiler was Dafi Ibrahim Almannai from Bahrain. Would he finally be the one to stop IM Robert Gwaze? Your guess is as good as mine. Check the pulchritude of a game!

I hope everyone enjoyed and learned from the games of this legendary African performance. One thing that stood out for me was that Robert Gwaze was not at his peak when he achieved a 2690 performance rating and a gold medal on Board ONE, at the Olympiad!

He was still learning his trade and was not the beast that we know him as today, and I believe that makes his achievement even more impressive.

What do you think? Let us know down in the comments, whose performance we should cover next.

Until next time!

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