From left to right: Minister of Sports, Youth and Child Development Hon. Moses Mawere, 2019 Zambia Open International Chess Championship Champion IM Richmond Phiri, Chess Federation of Zambia Patron Minister of Health Hon Dr. Chitalu Chilufya and Acting General Sectretary National Sports Council of Zambia Mr. Raphael Mulenga. Photo Credit: Chess Federation of Zambia website.

Whilst football aficionados were glued to their Televisions watching Nikita Paris and Megan Rapinoe dazzling for their countries at the 2019 FIFA Women World Championships in Paris, France, it was a magical and awe filled five days for the chess world in the city of Lusaka, which hosted the 2019 Zambia Open Chess Championships.

The beginning of an era for the Zambian chess society, the tournament ran from the 28th of June up to 2nd July, 2019. A historical 297 participants from at least 7 Federations irradiated the Olympic Youth Development Centre (OYDC) making it perhaps the biggest chess event on Zambian soil.

Four foreign Grandmasters in persons of Kiriakov Petr (Russia), Grover Sahaj (India), Hesham Abdelrahman (Egypt) and Raetsky Alexander (Russia) were the positively the showpiece’s center of attention, at least from the eyes of the chess world. And who would question the chess universe’s ‘cockup’ of judgment as these mentioned chess gods were the only GMs at this event.

But chess is game of fickleness and what is blue today may as well turn red the following day, and this is exactly what happened at the 2019 edition of Zambia Open Chess Tournament. Synonymous of the infamous ‘Valley of Kings’ in Cairo, Egypt which is renowned for the outlandish and unexplainable occurrences, at least from a mythological standpoint, Zambia Open will be remembered for having tons and tons of sacks filled with bombshells.

A tournament that has now taken an image of being greater than others of its kind, this year’s Zambia Open will never be forgotten especially for the foreign GMs that may not have expected its final outcome. At this international spectacle, it was not the seemingly MIGHTY eagles that won the race to the mountain top for reawakening! The vanquisher was a relatively soundless eagle that had carefully practiced and waited for its time to seize the moment and attain the immortality status.

International Master Richmond Phiri! Yes! That is the name of this year’s Zambia Open Chess Tournament winner. Let us follow the journey of this Zambian IM at this tournament and how he scripted history with a memorable win that has electrified a nation.

Ranked 12th when the curtains opened to an expected hot-blooded tourney, IM Richy’s opponents in the first three rounds were relatively unheralded; all of them Zambians and rated under 2100. Richmond thus forth started his triumphant campaign almost stress free by edging past Mulenga Titus, Chiswela Eric and Tembo Osward in the first, second and third round respectively.

But going in the fourth round, it had seemed ‘lucky’ had abandoned Richy as he found himself paired with the young Egyptian GM, Hesham Abdelrahman who is no newbie to the Zambian chess playing style. But when it is your time it yours! Richmond who has now a wealthy of experience in playing international chess stars was the one adorned in the breastplate of victory after the end of the fourth round.

As if that was not enough, IM Richy would be paired against the two top seeds of the tournament (GMs Kiriakov and Grover) consecutively in the fifth and sixth round. But again Richy remained stanch and rather than get dazed by his opponents’ punches, he opted to play carefully and settle for draws in both games.

In the seventh round, it seemed, fluky had not yet returned to IM Phiri as he had another headache to attend to. Richy was meeting the defending Zambian Open Championships (IM Stanley Chumfwa) who is an immortalized chess player in the country and the region at large. And so it was that two great Zambian chess players sat there opposite each other not sure of who whose armor would be cracked. The players tried hard to scratch each other’s armor but both failed to penetrate; a logjam was the end result.

In the eighth round, Richmond was again paired against another local outfit in FM Douglas Munenga who many in the country now regard as the future heartbeat of Zambian chess after he crossed the 2300 ELO barrier. In the attention-grabbing game that ensued, Richy again walked tall by beating Douglas.

In the last round, Richmond was paired against another highflyer of the tournament, Zambian Prince Daniel Mulenga dotingly referred to as PDM in the regional chess purview. PDM was all fired up going in this tournament and both players knew how a single mistake would prove fatal. The game was drawn to gift IM Richmond his maiden Zambia Open trophy and a cool 43.8 Elo points.

The soft spoken IM accumulated 7 points alongside, the GM trio of Kiriakov Petr, Hesham Abdelrahman and Raetsky Alexander, and Prince Daniel Mulenga. Tiebreaks decided the fate of the five chess stars.

And so it was that this chess tale had twists and turns, but at last the pendulum swung in Richy’s favor. Indeed this chess tale will never be forgotten for a long time to come and it may still be a surprise to many. In this chess tale, the GMs sat back, only touching the trophy with their glances whilst a victorious IM Richmond Phiri walked to the podium with a majestic smile accompanied by the walk of a conqueror to lift it high to a rapturous hall of fellow country men and women who may as well have been vindicated on their assertion that they are a force to reckon with in the region.


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