If you were following chess in the early 2000s, there is a chance you may have heard of Zambia’s Amon Simutowe. I read about this rising talent on kasparovchess.com after coming across an article by South Africa’s Mark Rubery. After continuing to dig I realized I was already late in realizing that a prodigious talent was developing in Africa.
GM Amon Simutowe
Photo © Fred Lucas, https://www.fredlucas.eu
Africa is a massive continent and Sub-Saharan countries are fraught with all types of logistical challenges. Decades ago, the flight routes often went through Europe, even when traveling to another African country! Expense is another major hurdle. Traveling by road to get to tournaments in a neighboring country could be very treacherous. When you take that into consideration Simutowe’s accomplishment becomes much more impressive.
Amon Simutowe playing rising Indian star Humpy Koneru at the 2001 Goodricke International in Calcutta, India (1-0). Photo by goodrickechess.com.
Simutowe landed in the U.S. in 2001, playing four tournaments including the Wilbert Paige Memorial. He had mixed results but ultimately got a scholarship to attend the University of Texas – Dallas. In my essay, “The GM Journey of Amon Simutowe,” I wrote:
After this disappointing run of tournaments, and losing 2-0 against Ilya Smirin in the 2001 FIDE Knockout Championships, Simutowe rating had tumbled from 2470 to 2368! He talked about the importance of getting a trainer. However, after enrolling in the University of Texas-Dallas on an academic scholarship, he was fortunate to be in an environment where chess received support. He became an integral part of the UTD chess powerhouse.
During his four years, he helped UTD win two national collegiate titles and became known for dominating local tournaments and working in the community with children. However, the GM norm remained an elusive goal. After a 6-3 performance at Maurice Ashley’s HB Global Chess Challenge in 2005, he gave an interview to The Chess Drum and stated how much he was focused on his studies. However, he vowed to round back into form.
After a mediocre New Jersey Futurity event, Simutowe stated that he needed a break. The opportunity came for him to travel to the tropical island of Trinidad & Tobago to play in the CMMB Caribbean Championships. He would come in joint 1st and the tournament would provide him with a tune-up for the Euwe Stimulans tournament in the Netherlands.
Armed with one piece of heavy luggage and his laptops, Simutowe then flew from Trinidad to Barbados, transferred in London and then on to the Netherlands for the Euwe tournament. Playing against three legendary figures and several hungry lions, Simutowe prepared for tough road.
At the Euwe Stimulans tournament, he secured his last GM norm beating Georgian legend Nona Gaprindashvili and winning the tournament in the process.
Simutowe was in form at the Euwe Stimulans
with a 7½-1½ score and a 2687 performance rating.
Photo by Fred Lucas
Simutowe receives his 1st place trophy at the Euwe Stimulans tourney.
Photo by Ben Schulte
Simutowe receives his certificate for the GM result.
Photo by Ben Schulte
In Simutowe’s “Last Mile,” it did take him another two years to get his title conferred. He traveled in search of Elo points, but I told him he should continue as if he still needed the GM norms. He had about six GM norms and got the 2500 Elo during a tournament in Zagreb.
For the most part, Simutowe has taken a hiatus from chess and is working in the finance field after earning his Master’s at Oxford University. He still follows chess and the last time I saw him was at the Carlsen-Karjakin World Chess Championship in New York in 2016.
Simutowe’s journey was not an easy one and the process was certainly not one he would repeat. No trainer and few resources, he traveled to some 30 countries for chess glory. Despite this tortuous journey, his feat still resonates as an inspiration to those in the African Diaspora who have aspirations to claim the highest chess title.
Daaim Shabazz, “The Talking Drum: Amon Simutowe,” The Chess Drum, 23 July 2001.
Daaim Shabazz, “Simutowe wins Euwe Tourney… earns final GM Norm!!” The Chess Drum, 25 August 2007.
Daaim Shabazz, “The GM Journey of Amon Simutowe,” The Chess Drum, 2 September 2007.
Daaim Shabazz, “Simutowe’s Last Mile,” The Chess Drum, 31 July 2009.