IM norm for Zimbabwe’s Zhemba Jemusse!

Zhemba Jemusse, an untitled player, was competing in his first Olympiad in Chennai, India and was excited to experience the world’s biggest stage. Team Zimbabwe was looking smart in their suits and matching accessories with “Zimbabwe Chess” proudly displayed. 

Left to Right: IM Rodwell Makoto, Tapiwa Gora (ZCF Technical Director), Erik Takawira, Zhemba Jemusse, Thabo Elisha.


Left to Right: IM Rodwell Makoto, Tapiwa Gora (ZCF Technical Director),
Erik Takawira (captain), Zhemba Jemusse, Thabo Elisha (ZCF Media Director)

Photos by Zimbabwe Chess Federation

African Medals at Olympiad

Zimbabwe has had an interesting history at the Olympiad having won a gold medal on the top board after International Master Robert Gwaze electrified the 2002 Bled Olympiad with 9/9 and 2690 performance. It was a performance far above his rating. This is unlike the current situation where players can win medals playing at or below their rating. Before the 2008 Dresden Olympiad, medals were awarded based on points and percentage, and Gwaze’s accomplishment was celebrated by all except professional players.

One very famous player quipped that “Africans have come to take our medals.” IM Odion Aikhoje of Nigeria won a gold medal (board two) at the 1998 Elista Olympiad. Dawit Wondimu of Ethiopia earned a silver medal (reserve) at the 2000 Istanbul Olympiad. Africans have won other medals over the years. Women’s International Master Boikhutso Mudongo of Botswana also won a bronze at 2002 Bled Olympiad.

However, since 2008, medals are based on performance ratings which mean players outside of the top 20 have little chance of winning individual medals since their team is not strong enough to be paired with players with higher ratings. Well, Africans may not be able to win individual medals, but there are still scalps, titles, and norms to get.

Zhemba Jemusse on a Mission!

FM Zhemba Jemusse. Photo by Lennart Ootes

FM Zhemba Jemusse
Photo by Lennart Ootes

Zhemba Jemusse knows of the stories of his Olympiad predecessors. More importantly, he remembers the story of Gwaze, who became an international sensation. His historic moments are captured in an autobiography he released earlier this year. So the Zimbabwean side had this historic memory, was highly motivated, and looked as if they meant business! With only one titled player, they sought to defend the flag. In the first round, they had host India 1. Zhemba played white against veteran Krishnan Sasikiran in a sharp Richter-Rauzer and this would be his only loss.

Notes from

Very interesting game, but Zhemba needed to work on his theoretical preparation against the Sicilian. Moves like 9.Nb3 and 10.Qe1 will certainly allow black to equalize comfortably. However, he played energetically throughout and conceded only one loss against the strong Indian Grandmaster. Entering the tournament untitled, he finished with 7.5/10 and a 2421 performance. With this he earns the FIDE Master title and IM norm.

Jemusse after winning against South Africa to earn a 2-2 tie

Thrilling game against Mexico!

Can Black win?

Capo Vidal Uriel (Mexico) – Zhemba Jemusse (Zimbabwe)
after (49…g6-g5)

All Olympiad Games of Zhemba Jemusse

Where Does the Road Lead?

Zimbabwe Chess Federation posted a Twitter message announcing the norm-earning performance by implying that this was the first step to the Grandmaster title. We will remember Gwaze’s golden performance and his attempts to capitalize on his Olympiad success. However, it wasn’t easy to find travel funds to GM norms tournaments and there were few such events in Africa. Even the tournaments in Africa had their own challenges.

Gwaze wrote a book about his life and games and his time in England, Singapore and Malaysia. He ended up back in Zimbabwe after which he told the harrowing story of how he rode in the back of a truck to get to Namibia for the 2007 African Individual Championship…. which he won! He also made this admission to The Chess Drum highlighted in the story, “Will Gwaze be next African GM?“:

I get a fair number of tournament invitations every year. And very often I’m offered free entry plus accommodation. It is getting to the tournaments which is my main obstacle as I can’t afford to fly myself to Europe. So instead I end up settling for events within my reach even though they don’t add up that much to my chess. Thanks for putting up my name to Lazslo. He indeed invited me to the three GM events coming up soon. It’s such a wonderful and great opportunity four me to get my 3rd and final gm norm. Unfortunately I have to let this chance pass due to the same reason, I can’t afford the air ticket to go there.
~Robert Gwaze on pursuing the GM title

Any African player with Grandmaster aspirations can also learn from the journey of Zambia’s Amon Simutowe. It was a tremendous struggle full of challenges. Zhemba will have to chart a path for his aspiration as earning the GM title will require sponsorship and perhaps trips to Europe and other international locations. It could also entail organizing and attracting international players to Africa.

Perhaps the new African Chess Confederation President Tshepiso Lopang can devise a strategy with her team to enlist companies to support players. It is common to see players wearing jackets with endorsement logos all over. Why not in Africa? Perhaps there is a sponsor willing to invest in the future of Zimbabwe. Let’s see what the future holds for Zhemba Jemusse.

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