By Gershom Ndhlovu
It is certainly not a spectator spot like football where you see 22 men chasing a piece of leather whose meat was eaten long ago, nor is it like boxing where to men or women like in the case of Esther Phiri, pummel each other to a bloody pulp and people cheer.
This is the game of chess in which two people facing each other, or with technology now between a person and a computer or on the internet, with someone anonymous halfway across the globe, try to mentally wear each other down by pushing pieces of different shapes across a board.
This is the game that is least understood in our townships where everyone is able to discuss English or Spanish football in addition to the local league, in great detail. I personally remember when I learnt to play chess after I completed Form Five in 1983 how, with a few of my friends like the late Charles Nzowa, we used to play the game in a local tavern in Kwacha while drinking Chibuku and people would ask “nga iyi draft muleteya ya shani (what sort of droughts are you playing)?”
Used to playing droughts, people were mesmerised how pieces like the Knight would jump over other pieces and Bishops would criss-cross the board. What equally mesmerised the people was how the opponent’s pieces were captured and the seriousness exhibited by the players. While others said those who played chess were intelligent or something to that effect, to many others it was just one of those not only boring games but also complicated and took too long to finish.
And yet this is the game through which Amon Simutowe has firmly put Zambia on the world map by reaching the lofty heights of Grandmaster which we could only dream about when we read chess books and came across names like the legendary Ruy Lopez and when names like Anatoly Karpov and Viktor Korchnoi dominated newspaper pages.
We never thought then that a Zambian, let alone a sub-Saharan African, would attain such a status. Many of us abandoned chess even as a leisurely game we played on occasion.
According to one website, www.ishipress.com, FIDE, the World Chess Federation, first awarded the Grandmaster title in 1950 and a few weeks ago there were 565 chess players who held the title and a few more were expected to be added to the list after some meetings like the one in which Simutowe took part in Europe.
The website says, in addition, there were 5 players with the honorary grandmaster title, 102 players with the woman grandmaster title and one player with the honorary woman grandmaster title. All 673 players were on this list.
There were in addition six players in the world who held both the GM title and the WGM title, so there were a total of 108 players with the WGM title.
I would like to urge Simutowe to use his newly acquired status to popularize chess especially in Zambian schools where I know that sports like football are all but dead. Obviously, this will need resources which have been denied to Simutowe himself who complained a few weeks ago that he had to use his own resources to compete in tournaments on behalf of the country.
What the authorities ought to remember is that with chess, you do not need expensive infrastructure to play the game. All you need is the interest among players and a few chess sets to go round. Who knows, we could produce another Grandmaster after failing to bring honours in more popular sports like football.
And talking about football, allow me to pass my condolences to Chaswe Nsofwa’s family, the Zambia National Team as well as the football fraternity in general on the death of the footballer in Israel. Nsofwa’s death followed so soon after the death of Sevilla defender Antonio Puerta from cardiac arrest in very similar circumstances.
Like many other professions, soccer has its own hazards.