Congo’s Mashala Kabamwanishi shines at Olympiad

The Chess Olympiad is chock full of inspirational stories that become part of the event’s history. The Olympiad in Batumi had more than 180 nations participating so there was no shortage of them. In fact, ChessBase India did the best job in capturing the essence of wide experiences among the players. The story of Dr. Saba Al-Qamachi of Iraq comes to mind. However, there was a bright light coming out of Africa in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Mashala Kabamwanishi
Photo by Daaim Shabazz

At the end of the Olympiad proceedings one player amassed the win highest percentage among all players. Playing in his first international event, Congolese Mashala Kabamwanishi scored a sterling 9.5/10 and while he did not earn a medal, he honored his nation proudly.

Back in 2010, The Chess Drum ran an article about the DRC and collaborative efforts with the Spanish Chess Federation and its Embassy in Kinshasha (link). The Congelese national team first suited up in 2016 in Baku, Azerbaijan. It was a break though since in 2012 and 2014, the federation registered, but was unable to send a team.

Congo sent a team to Batumi, Georgia with the modest ambitions of a fairly new federation. They sent three players to Baku and were led by Willy Kutesa Mimbasa who got 7/10 and was awarded the FM title. In that tournament, they scored draws with Bermuda and Togo, and closed out the tournament with a win over Swaziland. Of course these were the highlights of the tournament.

In Batumi, Mimbasa was on the top board, but the star performer was Kabamwanishi. Congo brought four players to improve on their team record. After missing the first round due to delays, they earned draws with Djibouti, Somalia, Tanzania and the Gambia. They handed the Bahamas a surprising 4-0 thrashing. While they lost the other matches, they never gave up a 3½-½ or 4-0 score.

Mr. Mashala Kabamwanishi
(Democratic Republic of the Congo)
# Player ELO Nation
2 Ntagasigumwami, Deo 1720 Burundi
3 Theko, Khanyapa 1644 Lesotho
4 Mohamed Ali, Dima 1576 Djibouti
5 Abdikani Nor, Mohamed 1517 Somalia
6 Small, Byron 1721 Bahamas
7 Diaz, Brian 1737 Aruba
8 Diaz Montes, Edwin 2034 Puerto Rico
9 Lobe Belhe, Prosper 0 Cameroon
10 Hassuji, Nurdin 1766 Tanzania
11 Jallow, Jalamang 0 Gambia
Score: 9½-½

Here are the games of Marshala Kabamwanishi.

In essence, Kabamwanishi’s performance may appear to pale compared to professional players, but his performance was far above his expectations as an unrated player. Ding Liren of China who won the individual gold medal on board one, got a 2873 performance while toting a rating of 2804. Kabamwanishi ended with a performance of 2043 which is wonderful for a player in his first international event. His performance will help to build the DRC chess culture and provide grounds for continued sponsorship and investment in the country.

In honor of Mashala Kabamwanishi, the Congolese National Anthem…

One Comment

  1. There was an interesting article by Makhisho Makhosi at Africa Chess Media titled, “Is getting the Board 3 board prize asking too much from African players?” Written after round five of the Batumi Olympiad, this intriguing question is posed. I have written on this here and here, but I will address the question.

    Since the criteria changed for earning individual board medals, all but two of the medals were earned by GMs from top tier countries. In essence, it is impossible for a player from a lower tier nation to earn an individual board medal. Impossible. In fact, you come to the Olympiad knowing that you cannot win an individual medal even if you score 11/11. Why?

    If performance rating is the only criteria used, your performance is tied to the rating of your opponents. The highest TPR presumes that you are playing on strong enough team to play higher-rated players round after round. Only the top 20 teams can do this. Egypt’s Bassem Amin, the strongest player in Africa, was only good enough for 7th in TPR for board one players.

    Garry Kasparov was one many players who objected to the percentage criteria after IM Robert Gwaze won an individual gold after scoring 9/9 with 2690 total performance rating (TPR) in the 2002 Bled Olympiad. The criteria had been used since 1928, but as time went on, smaller nations increasingly took lower board medals… then a few higher board medals. However, Gwaze’s perfect performance on board one superceded Kasparov’s highest TPR.

    Bear in mind that the board one gold medalist of this year was Ding Liren who got 5.5/8 (+3) and a 2873 performance rating. While this is a normal result for a 2800-rated player, Ding played strong competition so he did not require a huge score. TPR provides top teams and its players with an automatic advantage even without a top score. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov of Azerbaijan (2820) scored 5.5/9 (+2) was 11 points from earning a bronze medal with 2803 TPR… lower than his own rating!

    Between the 2006 Olympiad in Turin, Italy and the 2008 Olympiad in Dresden, Germany, a decision was made to change the criteria to Total Performance Rating (TPR) instead of win percentage. I have not been able to find the minutes of the meeting in which it was changed, the rationale and the persons responsible. I am checking.

    In my view, there should be a combination of criteria to determine medals. To make Olympiad medals the domain of professional players does not seem to be what the Olympiad is about. However, using percentage (only) may also be insufficient. There has to be a more inclusive method. In this least, there should be additional medals for points scored and/or highest percentage. Nevertheless, we say “Felicitations, Monsieur Mashala Kabamwanishi!”

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