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Who will be the next Black Grandmaster?
by Daaim Shabazz, Ph.D.

Looking across the chess landscape of Black players, there are many who may have the desire to become Grandmasters… the most coveted title in chess. Several players of African descent have expressed an interest in earning the coveted title. The purpose of this essay is to examine some of the players who may have the desire (and a reasonable chance) at earning the GM title given their strength at this time. These players listed below (all rated near 2400 FIDE) have shown that they can play at GM level. (Note: These entries are in alphabetical order.)

First let us look at the requirements for the GM title. Below are the requirements taken from the FIDE handbook.

* * *

IM Pontus Carlsson (Sweden)
GM Norms earned: 2  (2005 European Team Ch., 2006 Open de Tarragona)
ELO Rating: 2461

Commentary: Columbian-born Carlsson has a lot of upside. He has earned many of his norms (both IM and GM) in a short period of time which shows that he is improving his game. Carlsson is known as a blitz specialist and has a very enterprising style (including the Dragon). He plays with a lot of confidence against strong players and trains with GM Evgeny Agrest, one of Sweden's top players.

The fact that he plays a lot of chess in Spain means that he has boundless opportunities to earn norms in a number of strong tournaments. He participates in the Europe Team tournaments and has been instrumental in his team's success. He made his debut for the 2006 Sweden Olympiad team. Carlsson has the momentum to earn his 3rd GM norm.

Upside: age (23), momentum, drive, access to training partners, location, multilingual (includes Spanish and English)
Challenges:  predictable repertoire

IM Pontus Carlsson. Copyright  2006, Daaim Shabazz.

IM Pontus Carlsson
(Photo by Daaim Shabazz)


IM Robert Gwaze (Zimbabwe)
GM Norms earned: None
ELO Rating: 2413

Commentary: Gwaze is perhaps known best for his bold, attacking play and was a rising African junior along with Amon Simutowe of Zambia. This talented player famously made an impression at the 2002 Olympiad in Bled, Slovenia with a 9-0 score and 2690 performance. Since then his activity has languished a bit and will need reinvigoration if he is to compete at GM level.

Until recently Gwaze was resident in England, but (according to FIDE official, Ignatius Leong) has now settled in Singapore as a professional trainer. Perhaps his move to Asia may provide him with different opportunities, but it is unclear how many GM tournaments he will find in the region. Both he and Simutowe (both at 24) remain two of the brightest young talents out of Africa.

Upside: age (24), dynamic style, humility, FIDE contacts
Challenges: location, inconsistent activity, focus

IM Robert Gwaze. Photo by Cathy Rogers.

IM Robert Gwaze
(Photo by Cathy Rogers)


IM Watu Kobese (South Africa)
GM Norms earned: One (2001 African Ch.)
ELO Rating: 2389

Commentary: Has benefited from having studied in Germany with the legendary Ludek Pachman and GMs Miroslav Filip and Lothar Vogt. Has a very mature style of play, but has been stifled by lack of opportunity. If not for the apartheid years and internal conflict in South Africa, Kobese may already be a Grandmaster. As a talented 8-year old, he once challenged (then World Champion) Anatoly Karpov to a match!

Watu has capability to play strongly against top competition because of his solid style. He has beaten top GMs like Peter Leko and Judit Polgar and possesses a deep understanding of positional play. He is quite versatile and also likes the attack. Provided with opportunities to earn GM norms, he would have a good chance at earning the GM title.

Upside: stable but flexible style, determination, willing to travel, international reputation
Challenges: chess temperament, location, finding sponsorships

IM Watu Kobese. Photo by Jackie Ngubeni.
IM Watu Kobese
(Photo by Jackie Ngubeni)

IM-elect Stephen Muhammad (USA)
GM Norms earned: None
ELO Rating:  2394

Commentary: Muhammad has been a U.S. Senior Master for a long time, but has blossomed the past five years. He has already earned a bushel full of IM norms with impressive results and has his eyes fixed on the GM title. The biggest upside of Muhammad is his intense focus and strong work ethic. Muhammad has qualified for the U.S. Championship thrice and is capable of putting up big scores in strong tournaments.

While Muhammad has good board discipline and does not walk around during his games, he seems to be at his best when he is relaxed and not under pressure. If he starts fast, he gains momentum and is tough to beat; if he loses a couple of games early, he tends to struggle in getting his rhythm. Muhammad may have to branch out on the international scene if he is to increase his chances at earning the requisite norms for the title.

Upside: focus, work ethic,  solid style
Challenges:  predictable repertoire, location, finding sponsorships, tendency to work alone

IM-elect Stephen Muhammad. Copyright  2003, Jerry Bibuld.
IM-elect Stephen Muhammad
(Photo by Jerry Bibuld)

IM Amon Simutowe ( Zambia)
GM Norms earned: 2 (2000 Chess Olympiad, 2000 African Championships)
ELO Rating: 2409

Commentary: Amon Simutowe burst onto the world scene in 2000 after destroying African competition as a teen star. He placed joint 2nd in the 2000 World Junior and gained more than 200 ELO points in just over one year! He has a good aptitude for the game and is a raw talent in need of refining his opening play and perhaps some advice on chess psychology at the top level.

Simutowe will complete his studies (after 3½ years) in December and will make a run for his last GM norm.  His play during the last 3½ years has been below standard and he is now a shade over 2400 after approaching 2500. He hopes to schedule a number of competitive tournaments in months succeeding graduation. This will be good since his attention will no longer be divided between his studies and chess.

Upside: age (24), tremendous talent, humility, international experience & reputation, federation support
Challenges: focus, seeks trainer, location, inconsistent activity

IM Amon Simutowe at 2005 HB Global Chess Tournament. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.
IM Amon Simutowe
(Photo by Daaim Shabazz)

IM-elect Emory Tate (USA)
GM Norms earned: None (unconfirmed)
ELO Rating: 2413

Commentary: Tate is arguably the world's most popular player of African descent. He has reached a worldwide cult 'superhero' status with his bold, attacking style. He has torched a long list of Grandmasters in spectacular style and has an attacking mindset that is among the most creative in the world.  His analysis sessions are legendary and his passion for the sport of chess is infectious.

One tendency is that he may not be as motivated against weaker competition and in the American Swiss system, it becomes difficult to achieve consistent norm results. Since earning his 3rd IM norm, Tate will receive more invitations and perhaps we will begin to see how far he can go. Many believe that he is deserving of the GM title given his many scalps and contributions to the game. He even has even has an Alekhine variation named for him.

Upside: tactical ingenuity, confidence, widely-respected, international reputation, passionate, multilingual (includes Russian)
Challenges: age (48), consistency, relies too heavily on tactical skill, finding sponsorships

Emory Tate earned his 3rd IM norm at the 2006 World Open. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

IM-elect Emory Tate
(Photo by Daaim Shabazz)

Composed: 17 October 2006

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