It’s not every day that chess grandmasters are made but a 32-year-old man from Mitchell’s Plain in the Cape recently joined the ranks of chess greats like Garry Kasparov becoming South Africa’s first grandmaster.

Kenny Solomon, decided to take up the game of chess at age 13 after his older brother was flown to the Philippines to compete in the Chess Olympiad. Two years after making his first move, he won the South African National Championships in 1999. He managed to win the competition twice after that in 2005 and 2007. In 2004 he was awarded the Chess International Master Award.

Solomon said living in Mitchell’s Plain exposed him to gang culture from a young age. He realised that if he didn’t do something about his future, he would be sucked into that life. He decided to teach himself how to play chess and, according to his blog, he read any chess book he could get his hands on. Solomon was one of five South Africans who took part in the World Chess Olympiad in Istanbul, Turkey, in August where he was awarded the title of chess grandmaster. A player receives this rating if they constantly receive a rating of 2500 or above. Solomon’s rating was 2600.

South Africa’s first chess grandmaster, Kenny Solomon. Pic taken from:

Solomon now joins the ranks of some of the great chess grandmasters such as Kasparov, who holds the record for the highest rating of 2851, Anatoly Karpov, Levon Aronian, Bobby Fischer and Alexander Morozevich.

The title of chess grandmaster is awarded by the World Chess Federation (FIDE). According to Solomon, the FIDE’s requirements to becoming a grandmaster are somewhat complex, with the rating of 2500 only being one of three requirements.

olomon, who has now achieved his lifelong dream of becoming a grandmaster, said the reason South Africans have not excelled in chess is because of a lack of interest, as well as a shortage of funding. He said the only reason he was able to fulfil his dream was because of sponsorships he received.

Monique Sischy, a Wits alumnus and former student of Solomon, said Solomon became South Africa’s first grandmaster by moving his chess game to a “completely different plateau”.

“It’s a phenomenal achievement and he is a true inspiration to all South African players. Kenny is a humble chess player, a dynamic coach and above all an incredible friend and family man. It is an honour to know him and I look forward to watching him play from strength to strength.”