Mdina Malawi Open has really uplifted chess standards in Malawi

After nine years, Mdina Malawi Open chess championship has reaped its fruits by producing an African Amateurs champion in the name of Chiletso Chipanga and galvanised by this achievement,  sponsor Tione Mdina has pledged a cool MK1 million to celebrate the 10th anniversary in next year’s edition. 

The news was received with a huge applause at the prize presentation ceremony at College of Medicine in Blantyre at the end of the 9th edition in which Malawian Joseph Mwale carried the flag high ahead of compatriots and players from Mozambique and Zambia.

In the nine years, six were first participated for at local level and in 2016 it turned professional by attracting players from Zambia who dominated it until this year when Malawian maestro, South Africa-based Joseph Mwale made sure it stays here, winning eight of his nine matches and drawing one.

But the highlight of the nine years of partnership with Mdina, in which Tione offers fabulous cash prizes, Chiletso’s achievement stands out following his excellent performance when he won the African Amateurs title as well as matching the world’s best at the World Amateurs.

At the African Amateurs, Chiletso won the title  with a game to spare while at the World Amateurs held in Cagliari, Italy he finished an impressive 6th position out of 49 participants and out of the nine rounds played there, won six and lost three to garner six points, just one point behind eventual winner, Singh Arvider Preet of India, who had 7 points tieing with Galavato Miguel Angel of Colombia, who came second.

This is not a mean achievement and it is all thanks to the exposure from the Mdina Open. This can be attested to the fact that more players are putting their best effort in the game because once Chiletso returned from the two tournaments, the local players had also practised hard in order to outwit the African champion.

In a warm up to the Mdina Open, he came third in the day-long Masterplate Chess tournament that  took place at Country Club Limbe in Blantyre and in the following tournament he came third in the Sempha Investment tournament that took place at Kamuzu Institute for Sports in Lilongwe in which he scored 5.5 points from a possible seven.

In the Mdina Open, Chipanga — who won it in 2012 when it was for local players — came third with 5.5 points.

He represented the country well taking into consideration that Mwale is a top-notch player, whose rating before the competition was 2178 as the highest rated player while Chipanga’s was at 2162.

Other top Malawian players included  Fide Master (FM) Gerald Mphungu,  Petros Mfune, George Mwale, Joseph Nyambalo and Alfred Chimthere.

All this is to say the Mdina Open had everyone well prepared for it and after the promise of the MK1 million prize money  for the winner, the players have already gone back to the practice board, ready for war of wits at whatever tournament that comes their way.

This is the way forward for such an individual sport — the promise for better prizes and if possible for more platforms to showcase their skills.

Chipanga made us proud following his achievements in Zambia and Italy. There are many of the calibre of Chipanga out there who just need more exposure through lots of tournaments.

And there is need to accord local players the chance to participate at international tournaments just like the Zambians and Mozambicans have done.

On his return from Italy, Chiletso had said Malawian  players can emulate his achievements only if they are accorded more tournaments both at local and international level.

He had said they “need a lot of exposure starting at local level which will be giving us the strong confidence ahead of any international tournament”.

And I agree. I was very impressed that Malawi National Council of Sports graced the prize giving ceremony with the presence of its board member Kanjedza Kamwendo, himself a celebrated footballer,  who was accompanied by Sports Council manager Ruth Mzengo (also a celebrated athlete  during her college days.

We need to nurture this sport. As a developing sport, it has made tremendous strides throughout the years especially since mid 90s when sponsors started to support the sport well.

Yes, there is  need to double the effort and compete to make the sport strong so that Malawi can produce its own Grandmaster, just like what Fide Arbiter and former Chess Association of Malawi (Chessam) publicity secretary Gilton Mkumbwa aspires to assist by sponsoring a schools tournament called Finesse.

Also supporting grassroots level chess is Chessam executive member Susan Musa Namangale in conjunction with renowned Malawian writer Stanley Onjezani Kenani and Member of Parliament  Ralph Mhone.

Namangale was the chairperson of the Mdina Open organising committee and her team did not disappoint because they created so much hype ahead of this edition.

Well done, Tione Mdina, for all the support throughout the nine years and we look forward to next edition.

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