In 2020, Covid-19 affected sports globally with all activities suffering indefinite suspensions whilemany lives were lost.
However, the pandemic was a blessing in disguise to the chess fraternity with the emergence of online chess competitions, including the African Individual Championship that saw Malawi’s South Africa-based Fide Master (FM) Joseph Mwale becoming the inaugural winner.
It was a rare feat for the chess gladiator as he outclassed a strong field of 1 377 contestants, including highly-rated Nigerian International Master (IM) Odion Aikhonje.
With 64 points from 21 games, the 27-year-old tied with South African Candidate Master (CM) Keith Khumalo, who played 29 games. However, Mwale, whose standard International Chess Federation (Fide) rating is 2 159, took the ultimate glory on better performance rating of 2 479 against Khumalo’s 2 442.
His win-rate was 76 percent against Khumalo’s 62. Aikhonje finished third on 60 points from 20 games.
This was the first time that Mwale conquered Africa and the second time that a Malawian won a continental chess title after CM Chiletso Chipanga triumphed in the Africa Amateur Chess Championship two years ago.
“It feels great to win the first ever Africa Online Chess Tournament at the expense of some of the best players on the continent,” Mwale said.
His glory in the continental event, which the Africa Chess Federation (ACF) organised as a trial online contest in the wake of Covid-19, came barely two weeks after his triumph in the inaugural MyBucks Bank Online National Blitz Tournament.
Inspite of that, the individual glory was all the country could show on the international virtual chess platform as Team Malawi performed poorly at the 2020 Online World Chess Olympiad, where they failed to be among the top-three teams that made it from their 10-team group into the next round.
“It feels bad to be eliminated from the competition this early,” Mwale complained after they were booted out.
Chessam spokesperson Alfred Chimthere said some of Malawi players complained about internet hitches in some of the games, “but we do not take that as an excuse for the team’s overall performance”.
More than 1,500 participants and 163 teams from all over the world took part.