Simutowe in Nigeria!

My Trip to Nigeria
by IM Amon Simutowe

IM Amon Simutowe

I have developed great interest in what really makes chess players perform well. Our Chess Program is headed by Dr. Tim Redman. He insists on good diet and physical exercise as the best factors to improve our performance. He has gone to great lengths to buy all the chess players books that contain food types which are suitable for chess players and other sportsmen.

Prior to the All-Africa Games (Abuja, Nigeria), one of the renowned coaches in USA, Larry Gardner was hired by our University (University of Texas at Dallas) to head the Sports Department. He has worked with the Miami Dolphins and Stanford Swimming Team (the best college team in USA). Dr. Redman could not wait to invite him so he could talk about diet and other factors that make sports men outperform their opponents.

Prior to the All-Africa Games (Abuja, Nigeria), one of the renowned coaches in USA, Larry Gardner was hired by our University (University of Texas at Dallas) to head the Sports Department. He has worked with the Miami Dolphins and Stanford Swimming Team (the best college team in USA). Dr. Redman could not wait to invite him so he could talk about diet and other factors that make sports men outperform their opponents.

A Chess Diet?

Mr. Gardner insists that a player facing an opponent of similar abilities is likely to outsmart the opponent if he is in better physical shape by any significant difference because it leads to loss of concentration for the disadvantaged player at one stage. I wondered as I heard him speak. I also sometimes lose concentration and blunder, but in my case, this usually happens when so much is going on my personal life. The only thing I wonder about then is why there is always something negative going on in my life at times of tournaments (though I have managed to excel in some tournaments despite this).

I decided to work on my physical shape, but the diet routine was a problem. I could not imagine myself counting the amount of calories or carbohydrates I would take. I said to myself, “This is nonsense!” The best I could do was to eat the recommended food types without paying attention to the amounts.

The African Team and Individual Championships were very important to me. Instead of training, I spent more than a week trying to figure out the best strategy. My only form of training I undertook for the championship was a few blitz games on ICC before bedtime. I have used the word training, but it’s probably not the best word. Training in chess is probably preparing a new idea before a tournament.

In this period, so much was going on in my private life, and I had exams to take care of as well. I thought of friends to contact so I could share chess ideas with them but they were busy. GM Lev Aronian was going to be of much help, but he had a tournament against Karpov, Polgar, and Sokolov scheduled at the same dates as the African Individual Championships. The only friend I managed to schedule an appointment with was IM Rade Milovanovic.

IM Amon Simutowe is pictured (left) with IM Rade Milovanovic in the recent Texas Class Championship. Milovanovic helped Simutowe prepare for the African Championships. (Photo by Texas Chess Association)

IM Amon Simutowe is pictured (left) with IM Rade Milovanovic in the recent Texas Class Championship. Milovanovic helped Simutowe prepare for the African Championships. (Photo by Texas Chess Association)

Getting into Shape

My roommate was the only close guy around to chat to about several issues. We have had minor differences before, just like most people who share the same roof but he is always a great guy to turn to.

The tournament was getting closer and the problems were far from over as new ones had come on board. I had spent 3400 minutes on the phone talking to people I share primary and secondary relationships in three weeks as I was to discover when I got back from Nigeria. That’s close to 57 hours… when I showed my friend Greg the bill, he quipped, “Imagine if you spent that time studying chess.”

To avoid getting despondent, I increased the numbers of hours I spent at the gym before I left for Nigeria. I also became very attached to the kids I teach chess every afternoon of the week. They helped me increase levels of patience and tolerance and I overcame several pounds of stress whenever I am with them. I hope that, one day, one of them will make me proud if they improve.

I met Rade three days before departing for Nigeria. There was nothing much we could do, but just talking to a chess player before a tournament is usually a good idea. His view was that I lose most games because I get tired in the middle of tournaments. This was true, and I was amazed at his uncanny observation. I was not worried about this as I had done my homework at the gym.

“The team members were in good spirits. They were analyzing positions and seemed to have already adapted to the environment. I went to my room and worried about the approach to use as the games were hours away. The first question that came to my mind, was, “How was I going to play chess without new preparation in this computer era?”

Off to Nigeria

By the departure day, time had run out for me to spend on personal issues as I had to focus on chess. I first read the Art of War to see how much it’s related with chess as I thought of several approaches to use for the tournament.

I arrived in London at Gatwick Airport in the early hours of October 3rd. The connecting flight was 10pm from Heathrow Airport. I booked a lounge inside the airport terminal. I asked for a much quieter room where I could rest uninterrupted.

I arrived in Nigeria the following day. The team members were in good spirits. They were analyzing positions and seemed to have already adapted to the environment. I went to my room and worried about the approach to use as the games were hours away. The first question that came to my mind, was, “How was I going to play chess without new preparation in this computer era?”

Plan “A”

IM Fouad El-Taher
(Africa’s 2nd highest rated)

I looked in my preparation database and all I found was unfinished analysis in almost all the openings. I jumped from opening to opening and I ended up finishing nothing! I decided I would rest the first game (as I was expecting us to play a less heralded team) and start in the second round. To my surprise, the first game was against Egypt. There was no way I was going to rest for the sake of peace. My teammates would accuse me of ducking opponents if I rested when the opponent I was scheduled to play was strong in their eyes.

I played an expected variation. Even though I had managed to get a good position, I eventually lost against IM Fouad El-Taher after an oversight. The first thing I said loudly to myself was, “The tournament is too long for Amon to waste energy on getting upset.” After losing to El-Taher, I resorted to my other occupation as a semi-business man. I sold the items I had planned to sell on the free day and was very happy at the end of the day as the business went perfect. The demand was more than supply.

The next game was against John Cochrane (Zimbabwe). I did not want to play the Sicilian because I was tired of playing it. The second question I asked myself was, “what other opening is there for me to play?” I know the ideas about all the openings, but choosing the right opening is always a problem. I chose the Pirc Defense, an opening which was fresh in my mind because I used to give a few ideas to one of my friends who liked it. Having missed a win, I was only able to draw.

After the disappointing second round draw, I won the remaining games including a miniature against the Libyan number one to mint a Silver medal. After winning a Silver medal and contributing to the team’s Bronze medal, it was time to focus on the individual championship. I had received a few good wishes in the first half from friends and I must say, I read them at the moments when I needed them.

Individual Championships

I came up with the strategy below for the individual championships.

  • When playing with White pieces I must play for win against any seed.
  • Play for a win against anyone below 2400 when playing with Black pieces.
  • Play to get an equal position as soon as possible and save energy against anyone above 2400.

This was a realistic goal, but I left an allowance for disappointment.

The first game in the individual championships was against Cochrane. I managed to draw even though I was a piece down. Even though, the game is a million miles away from beauty, I admire the character I exhibited after I blundered. I stayed calm till Cochrane panicked and made my day slightly unpleasant by letting me escape with a draw.

The strategy for the individual worked for the four of the first five rounds.

Before I write about the sixth round, let me briefly examine the round five game against IM Aikhoje Odion (Nigeria). He came thirty minutes late, a move which usually upsets me in tournaments.

Simutowe – Aikhoje


Page 2 … My Trip to Nigeria (IM Amon Simutowe)

The next game I played against IM Essam El-Gindy. It’s a paragon of greediness and loss of concentration.

El-Gindy – Simutowe

Plan “B”

After this disappointing loss, I realized I had to find a plan B. I found email messages of encouragement from friends and this helped me put the loss behind quicker.

Before retiring to my room, I stopped by Pedro Aderito’s room for a chat. He challenged me to play for $10 per each three minutes game. The time was around 8pm. I don’t like playing blitz but Pedro challenged me at the wrong time. I was having a bad day. By the time I left his room around 2am I had taken a few hundred dollars from him and was in a better mood.

The next game, I played Nigeria’s Fola Akintola. I took no risks and beat him in a technical ending.

Round 8 was another big day. I had lost to El-Taher in the team championship and I needed revenge. I like revenge but only on the chessboard. He offered me a draw as soon as the pairing was posted. Drawing was not an option for me as playing for a win with black pieces in the last round was too risky. I won against El-Taher in a technical game which most spectators called a Masterpiece.

The game follows below.

Simutowe – El-Taher

The Art of War

The night before round nine was another interesting moment. The evening before the game, an official from the Sports Ministry added the pressure on me when he told me the amount I was going to get from the sports ministry if I won a medal in the individual as well.

As a chess player, my focus was not to lose. A draw was going to guarantee me second or third place. I looked at my opponent’s games and noticed that he had a weakness on the white side of the Kings Indian. The weakness was not grand but it would make me at least comfortable. The same night, it came to my attention that the organizers of the event had increased the prizes. This motivated me to avoid a loss at all cost. I then planned to offer my opponent a draw in the first ten moves or rock him if he declined. If he played the line I had prepared, my plan was to play for a win.

El-Gindy was on board one and he drew his game in five moves or so against a player 200 ELO points below him to secure himself first place.

My opponent played the first moves as I had wished. When I was pondering whether to play for a win, I suddenly realized the game was worth a significant amount of money, counting the pledge from the sports ministry, the prize money, and the FIDE World Championship qualification. On the other hand, I thought a win would place me clear second. I asked myself another question, “What if my opponent has repaired his weakness? What should I do? Play for a win and risk the money I have smelt? In certain circumstances I have done it with success, should I try it again?

Well, I forgot there was money to win in the championship that was now possible to win when I left for Nigeria as my focus was on chess. Instead of thinking about the moves or variations I should play, this is what was going on in my mind.

“When I watched his last round game, I did not pay attention to 17.Nxf7! but to the beautiful endgame technique he displayed. He also seemed very determined in the last rounds. I have never seen him that determined before. I hope we will see more of this in him in the near future.”

~ Amon Simutowe on Kenny Solomon’s title-clinching win

A Pleasant Ending

Adlane offered me a draw whilst I was occupied with these thoughts. When I looked at him, I realized I had lost the chess mood and accepted the draw without much pause. Adlane is very talented, but I wondered if I had made a good decision after the game. The reason why I like to play to the end is to get the results I deserve but, is it a good idea to do it in every game? Was risking what was at stake (to get clear second place) a bad idea? How will I know my true abilities if I can make decisions based on that?

I concluded that the reason I accepted a draw was the feeling that I was not prepared when I went to the tournament. I had looked at chess over the summer but I only used the lines I looked at in five games out of the twenty seven games I played. I also did not know whether instructing my students how to checkmate in one to five moves would affect me. The other reason I was not sure was due to the things that were going on in my life. The only things I remember that kept me from cracking during the tournament was the positive messages from friends and the words I used to tell myself (Come on Amon! don’t crack like in the past! Make the time you took off from varsity worthy!) whenever negative things came to my mind.

Kenny Solomon uncorks, 17.Nxf7! after which he collected the point, the IM title and a FIDE qualification. See game.

The night after the games ended, I was invited to the Hilton Hotel club by the Continental Chess President for Africa, Mr. Nizar. I decided to invite Stanley Chumfwa. I would have liked to invite Kenny Solomonto come, so that I could congratulate him on his last round victory but his team left earlier. He helped Southern Africa contribute two places for the next FIDE Knockout. He had a slow start but his performance in the last rounds was laudable. When I watched his last round game, I did not pay attention to 17.Nxf7! (diagram) but to the beautiful endgame technique he displayed. He also seemed very determined in the last rounds. I have never seen him that determined before. I hope we will see more of this in him in the near future.

In the morning of the scheduled Hilton Club invitation, I played blitz with a few players and made just above a hundred dollars. IM Aikhoje is very fast in blitz, so I avoided taking him one on one and opted for players who are slower.

Late that evening, we headed for our invitation. The evening was much more pleasant and special than we had expected due to the presence of boxing legend Evander Holyfield and the FIDE dignitaries.

Lessons Learned

That was the end of the Nigerian mission. However, I am still wondering what made me get acceptable results despite my situation. I ask myself this because I know that at least most if not all the other participants were better prepared. I also realized that, Larry Gardner’s view may be true, but to what extent? Ironically, most Chess players don’t pay attention to the reason why they blunder. After a typical game players simply say, da*n! “I blundered” and life goes on. It is this perception by chess players that blunders are normal that worries me. My conclusion is that one plays at his full potential if they lose by being outplayed; in contrast, they are playing below their potential if they lose by blunders. Thus, people should work to find out the reason why they blunder.

This has been my first step towards trying to improve my chess over the last few months. Besides this, the most positive thing in the recent past that has happened to me is managing to control my emotions. Sometime back, I used to be crushed in most cases whenever I lost games by blunders. Here is a list of a few ways that I currently use to help me stay in shape whenever I lose a game:

Step 1) Pretend your opponent played like Garry Kasparov
What if you can’t?

Step 2) Pretend as if losing is not a big deal
What if this attitude does not work?

Step 3) Remind yourself that you also sometimes win by luck. So why don’t you call it your opponent’s day?
What if you wish to be the only one who wins by luck in some games?

Step 4) Remember the verse; do unto others as you would like them to do unto you!
What if the first four steps are not working? You are probably in deep trouble.

Step 5) Shout loudly, before the next game, “my next opponent is in trouble!” to release tension.

The Struggle Continues

Nowadays, I generally don’t think much about chess tournaments because I don’t get good invitations when I need them. My University recently asked me if I would like to participate in any tournaments of my liking which they would pay; incidentally, I received an invitation from Mexico. Three of my friends also gave me more than twenty new chess books as my presents for what they called “a good performance from Africa”. Among the books, was My Great Predecessors by Kasparov and Anand’s Best Games which have become my bedtime books.

I head to Mexico in December for a strong Knockout Tournament. Of the 34 participants who have confirmed, I am seeded 20th. I expect to play a GM above 2550 in the first round. Boris Gelfand, Alexey Dreev, Dieter Nisipeanu and Valerij Filipov have already been seeded to the last sixteen.

In the quest for factors that would make me perform well in chess, I am also pondering about taking a Neuroscience course and Psychology next semester for my future tournaments. Will this make a difference? I don’t know. Other ideas that come to my mind is learning all I can next year, finishing all the remaining economic courses, taking the courses to fulfill my degree requirements, and relaxing.

My semester ends in less than a week but I am a little stressed. I am still bored with most of the openings I play now, so I need to try out a few new openings and get back to my old ones a few months later. I don’t have enough time to work on new openings before the event.

Can the Nigerian situation occur again in Mexico? All I am thinking about now is the beautiful seaside venue the organizers have sent me than the actual chess to save energy.

In the meantime the quest for the physical or mental conditions that would make me get the results I need still goes on.

~IM Amon Simutowe~ (Written: 28 November 2003)

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Daaim Shabazz

Dr. Daaim Shabazz is the creator and webmaster of The Chess Drum. He serves as a tenured faculty member of Global Business & Marketing at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida, USA. He holds an MBA in Marketing and a doctorate in International Affairs & Development. He has served the journalist community for more than 30 years and still competes in tournaments occasionally.

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