Its a Chess Game – the story of John Chibvuri and the Knights Chess Academy…! http://www.pachikoro.co.zw/…/its-a-chess-game-the-story-of…/ (here is the unedited story…)
By Tapiwa Marume
Thousands of years ago the wisest man to ever have walked the surface of the old earth once said “Train a child in the way he should go and when he is older he will not depart from it,” king Solomon. This priceless quote aptly describes the work of a man who has given his life fully to children, both young boys and girls with a passion to learn and play chess all over Harare. He has been an avid follower of chess for the last 23 years, investing his time and resources, and he has been coaching this game for over 5 years. He is driven by an unrelenting passion to see the game of chess becoming a success story among children at various schools, both at primary and secondary levels.
His mission statement is ‘To identify and nurture young talent all over the country’. He is the founder of a fruitful club that occupies a prominent position on the local chess scene the Knights Chess Academy (KCA) formerly known as the Glen Norah Knights Chess Academy (GNKCA) that has been producing highly competitive and well seasoned young chess players such as Zhemba Jemusse, Kudzai Mhandu and Collins Mabondongwa among others.
John Chibvuri is the 6th in a family of 9 children comprising of 8 boys and 1 girl and both his parents are still alive. He was born 35 years ago in Harare, He is married to Nobuhle Ndlovu and together they have two children a boy John (J r) doing grade 2 (7 years old) and the youngest a girl Nicole doing grade 0. Both children at this tender age have already been introduced to the game of chess. “There is no better time to mould and shape a person’s destiny than when they are young,” he stressed. He is down to earth, very principled, well focused and very good at explaining anything related to issues concerning chess, and his life. He currently resides in Glen Norah, Harare with his family.
His journey into the world of chess begun when he was only 11 years old in the 6th grade at Zuvarabuda primary school in the same high density suburb of Glen Norah around 1993. “I was taught to play chess by my brother Paul Chibvuri and in a period of about 6 months I had developed and progressed very well to the extent that I would beat people who were older than me,” said John Chibvuri. When others would go for sporting activities such as football or volleyball young John would spend his time on the chess board playing with friends or anyone who would join him. During his time away from the books he would be found wherever chess was being played.
At that tender age John had an unrelenting desire to participate in tournaments against students from other schools to test and prove his skills and abilities. However, regretfully, at Zuvarabuda Primary School chess was not recognized as a viable or significant sporting discipline, this was the same at many other schools in most high density suburbs. ‘’They could have a chess club at school, headed by a teacher interested in the game but when it comes to issues of financing it so that students enter high level chess tournaments the support isn’t there,’’ lamented John Chibvuri.
Between 1995 to 1998 he attended secondary school at Glen Norah 1 High School where he continued pursuing chess. Unfortunately as was the case before at his former primary school there also was no comprehensive support for the chess club at Glen Norah 1 High School. This meant lack of participation at high schools chess tournaments at local and national levels. This type of scenario stifles any form of experience acquisition and growth because the more one participates in tournaments means further honing of skills and it builds confidence in one to face any opponent next time. The relegation of chess to the bottom of the list of sports disciplines remains a negative perpetual element in most high density government run schools.
However, a major breakthrough came after he successfully completed his Ordinary Level studies and was enrolled for his Advanced Level Studies in 1999 at Harare High School located in Mbare one of the oldest suburbs in Harare. He juggled well his studies and chess so that each side was fully attended to. This is one area that most students involved in diverse sports seem to fail to balance. For his Advanced Level studies he chose to concentrate on commercial subjects because he aspired to become a chartered accountant, but scarce financial resources did not permit him to further his studies at university. At Harare High School chess was a well recognized sport/club that received full support and backing (funding). Harare High School at that time was in the Harare High Schools Chess League. That meant that young John was able to participate in schools tournaments and compete with various opponents and this honed and sharpened his skills on the chess board. This much sought after exposure lead him to win various prizes and medals in various categories he participated in as an individual and as well as in teams.
Besides chess competitions at school he also participated in various chess tournaments such as the Easter Open Chess tournament and the Zimbabwe Open Chess tournament hosted by the Zimbabwe Chess Federation yearly. These tournaments are open to all age groups and usually receive participants from other countries. He once won the best scholar award in the Zimbabwe Open Chess tournament during his school days at Harare High.
In 2011 another major turning point took place when he started to help his neighbor’s children with their homework and during breaks he would teach them chess to refresh their minds. As a result of his interest in helping children with their school work this actually spread around Glen Norah and more students came around who also got introduced to the game of chess. Many picked up genuine interest and that same year he founded the Glen Norah Knights Chess Academy (GNKCA).
He believes that chess and school go hand in hand as they are complimentary contrary to what many people may perceive. Chess teaches and nurtures with in students high levels of concentration, pattern recognition and critical thinking which are all important in learning. It is important to highlight here that most of his students and members of the GNKCA are actually doing well in their studies at school.
However, in the face of a declining economy, deteriorating working conditions and his burning passion for chess he quit his formal job and embarked on a career as a full time coach at GNKCA. He latter re-branded the name to Knights Chess Academy (KCA) after deciding to expand his focus beyond Glen Norah to include other students from other suburbs in and around Harare. Knights Chess Academy has a membership of over 30 students in Harare. He also offers sessions for individuals and groups were he is paid for his services. He supplements the income he gets from these charged sessions by supplying chess equipment to various clients. These include standard chess sets and chess clocks and so forth.
To date he has also worked with various schools where he does group sessions teaching young students chess theory as well as the practical side of it. Some of the schools include Twin Rivers Primary School, Gateway Primary School, Mazowe High, Churchill, Prince Edward and Mufakose 1 High School. He pointed out that most schools in high density areas did not offer salient support to young chess enthusiasts and this always leaves a negative impact on chess development and visibility to the general populace.
This is further accentuated by the fact that many students with great potential from high density suburbs come from under privileged families which do not afford to finance (extra curricula activities) sports/game related activities at the expense of school tuition, uniforms, books and fees for extra lessons. So most students are left in a situation where they have no access to basic chess equipment. Nevertheless, in 2012 just a year after its establishment Knights Chess Academy made its maiden appearance at the Gokomere Chess Festival where it competed against schools from across the nation for first place. The major highlight at the Gokomere Chess Festival was the KCA team which comprised of students who were the youngest at the tournament. For the 1st board they had Zhemba Jemussi who was doing form 2, on the 2nd board was Simba Chaendera who was in grade 7, the 3rd board was occupied by Kudzai Mhandu doing grade 5 and on the 4th board was Collins Mabondongwa who was in grade 4.
“ I remember how the other students from other schools laughed at the idea of actually playing against primary school students…they thought we would never survive the first round, but they were in for a major shocking surprise,” said John Chibvuri in reminiscence. The whole nation was stupefied when the young KCA team scooped the 1st prize after emerging the winner from the 29 schools that participated at the tournament. This made resounding head-lines in both the public and private media. The other school who made it into the top nine were Serima High, Zimuto High, Prince Edward, Churchil, Gokomere, Silveira and St Athony.
John Chibvuri revealed that the secret to his success was passion and patience coupled with hard work. He expounded that he can actually go for a week at a time teaching a student a single concept using various exercises until the student understands it and masters is. At times that means breaking a concept into smaller units that can be assimilated easily by the student.
The Knights Chess Academy under the leadership and guidance of John Chibvuri has produced well respected chess players since 2011 in Zimbabwe and in Africa. Zhambe Jemussi is a talented young man who has been part of the KCA since its inception. He was doing form 2 and the team leader in 2012 when KCA won the first prize at the Gokomere Chess Festival. He also represented Zimbabwe at a two week long Junior African Championships Under 20s held in Seychelles from December 2015 to January 2016. He made it also into the top 5 in the open category at the same tournament. He got an award, a shield for the fifth position. Currently Zhemba Jemussi is waiting to go to South Africa to study Information Technology at one of the universities there.
Kudzai Mhandu is doing form 2 at Gokomere High, he was part of the team that participated at the Gokomere Festival representing KCA in 2012. He has been participating at the African Schools Championships Chess Tournament held yearly and he is supported financially by his school. Last year he travelled to Zambia where the tournament was hosted, he took part in the under 14 category and he beat a FIDE Master (3rd rank in chess circles). He played ambitiously and had 6/9 and got the 3rd place. This was an excellent personal achievement. He did not get a medal or a title for this position because it was a joint 3rd position meaning he shared the same position with another student from another country who had the same points he had. On tie break he had lower points than his counter-part who therefore took the prize as well as the title. Besides prizes chess players are awarded with titles that depict their level of playing the world over. The first level or title is that of the Grand Master, followed by International Master, then FIDE Master and lastly Candidate Master.
Other talented individuals from KCA who are making a notable impression in the game of chess at local and international levels are Collins Mabondongwa and Panashe Edward. Collins Mabondongwa is currently doing form one. He represented Zimbabwe in the under 14 category in Zambia at the Africa Youth Championships last year and this was his first appearance at a tournament of such magnitude. He had 5/9 points which was rather a good attempt. John Chibvuri believes Collins would have done better if he had had the opportunity to participate before in other tournaments prior to this one. Panashe Edward is doing grade 7 at Shiriyedenga Primary School in Glen Norah. In 2015 he took part in the African Youth Chess Championships held in Zambia. He had 5 and a half points over 9 which was a good result though he didn’t get a prize or title.
“Chess is a process, with every game or tournament being a build up to the next game or tournament. After every tournament students should go and revise on how and where they lost it and try to prepare more for the next encounter,” said John. This makes it almost imperative for those who desire to play professional competitive chess at higher levels to invest in tournaments as much as possible.
A few non-governmental organizations, individuals and companies have stretched out their arms to offer financial assistance to enable KCA members to participate in various tournaments in and outside the country. For instance, Mr Madamombe a wellknown businessman in Chitungwiza and founder of the newly established Zimbabwe Chess Foundation (ZCF) made it possible for Zhambe Jemussi to travel to Seychelles for the African Junior Championships under 20s held from December 2015 January 2016. Moira Adler of Soul Trust foundation worked with KCA and helped them to raise funds for Collins Mabondongwa and Panashe Edwards to participate at the Africa Youth Championships in 2015. The Germany Embassy has also donated chess equipment which include standard chess sets and chess clocks.
The leadership at the Zimbabwe Chess Federation he recounted has failed or rather hasn’t offered any helpful support for chess at grass roots level. They have tried to engage this custodian of the game of chess in Zimbabwe many times to no avail. He believes that though chess is different from other sporting disciplines such as soccer or cricket its popularity could be increased by the active involvement of the Zimbabwe Chess Federation in efforts similar to his.
“Chess also lacks the publicity and coverage awarded to other sports in the main line media such as newspapers, radio and on television,” he observed. Coverage of chess events would put it on the sport light and help generate interest in it as well as the much needed
sponsorship. He gave the example of Refiole Mudondo who went to Greece and represented Zimbabwe at the World Youth Chess Championships in 2015. She never got significant media coverage before and after her trip. Media coverage will go a long way in helping to dispel the confusion some people over chess and the game of draft as well. Despite all these draw backs John Chibvuri is hopeful about the future of chess in Zimbabwe, at the moment we are doing well. Zimbabwe has produced internationally recognized players such as Rodwell Makoto based in South Arica, International Master Farai Mandizha based in the United States who also represented Zimbabwe at the just ended Baku Chess Olympiad in Azerbaijan. The Olympiad is the premium chess event in the world equivalent to the Olympics. Robert Gwaza is probably the best chess player to emerge from Zimbabwe, though he is now retired. He is an International Master, the first African player to achieve a gold medal at the Olympiads with a perfect score a 9/9 points. He coaches the Namibian National Chess Team.
Since chess is a game or rather a sport that demands high levels of energy, stamina and focused mental concentration where a game can last up to 24 hours physical exercise is important as well as good eating habits (players are required to play a single game per day). Physical exercises and good eating habits will help condition your body against fatigue and early exhaustion which lead to poor concentration, lapsing and sleeping which result in making costly mistakes during the game. John makes sure he keeps his health in check to avoid these pit falls, he jogs and eats healthy foods including greens which are hated by the young.
As part of their current and future plans John Chibvuri and Knights Chess Academy are working intensively towards ensuring that young talented young stars within their stable acquire internationally recognized titles such as Candidate Master and International Master among others. To achieve this goal means that they require more exposure and participation at African Youths Chess Championship events held every year. He also has plans underway to reach out to youths in other provinces and establish an effort similar to Knights Chess Academy in Harare. So far in Masvingo they have established the “Masvingo Knights” and training is already under way.
When he is not occupied with chess business John enjoys spending time with his family watching movies and reading bible stories to his young children. His number one activity besides these is taking a walk in the park with his children. Family is very important to him. He loves his sadza with roast spiced chicken. He makes use of popular social media such as Whatsapp and facebook to update chess followers on chess developments and events at Knights Academy and in the country. Chess is a mind game of strategy played by two individuals on a checkered game board with 64 squares arranged in an 8 by 8 grid. Each player begins the game with 16 pieces which move differently: a king, queen, 2 rooks, 2 knights, 2 bishops and 8 pawns. It is said to have originated in India around the 6th century. The most powerful piece is the queen and the least powerful piece is the pawn. The aim is to capture the opponent’s king by putting it under ‘checkmate’ (supposed inescapable threat of capture) to achieve this, a player’s pieces are used to attack and capture the opponent’s pieces while supporting their own.
Other ways of winning the game include: voluntary resignation by the opponent which occurs when a players looses too many pieces; an unavoidable checkmate; and when the game results in a draw.