CHESS: Witsies buoy team South Africa to strong position

BATTLEFIELD: Evasan Chettiar, 2nd year BEng represented South Africa at the World Chess Championships held in Poland last week.  He is pictured taking on an opponent during the 4th round of the competition.  Photo: Provided

BATTLEFIELD: Evasan Chettiar, 2nd year BEng represented South Africa at the World University Chess Championships held in Poland last week. He is pictured taking on an opponent during the 4th round of the competition. Photo: Provided

A number of Witsies helped to land the South African chess team on the 13th spot overall at the World University Chess Championships in Katowice, Poland, last week.

Seadimo Tlale, 2nd year LLB,and 2nd year BEng student, Evasan Chettiar, were faced with tough competition, but helped to improve South Africa’s overall international ranking.

Tough competition

“The tournament was the toughest tournament I’ve played in my whole life.  I played World Juniors in 2008, but oh my word, it was nothing like that,” said Tlale, the only female in the team, said.  She started the tournament with the lowest rating of 0 but ended with a rating close to 1600.

THINKER: Seadimo Tlale, 2nd year LLb was the only female in a team of four students representing South Africa in the World University Chess Championships held in Poland last week.  She is pictured in the first round of the competition.  Photo: Provided

THINKER: Seadimo Tlale, 2nd year LLB was the only female in a team of four students representing South Africa in the World University Chess Championships held in Poland last week. She is pictured in the first round of the competition. Photo: Provided

“We discovered that South Africans were underrated and we performed well above our national ratings,” said Chettiar, who scored the highest in the men’s section, amongst his South African teammates.

His male teammates from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and North West University scored half a point below him.

Overall, team South Africa’s ratings were below 1800.  “Over there, our performances were above 2000, and that’s good in chess,” he said.

Tlale and Chettiar were exposed to competitors of different cultures, which added to the value of their experience.  Besides learning new techniques to aid their game, they also made new friends from Japan, Switzerland and France and learnt a bit of Polish.

Polished technique

“There’s a lot of stuff I changed about my personal play that  I think I can even  bring back home and start playing at that level and that style,” said Tlale.

“We learnt how to take advantage of opening mistakes and how to avoid making opening mistakes,” said Chettiar.

“If we could keep up to par internationally, maybe we will do better nationally and locally”

Wits Sports officer TebogoRabothata is looking forward to the contribution Tlale and Chettiar will make to the chess club.

“Their fellow players would also want to up their game,” and possibly “emulate them” which would help the club get more sponsorships in the near future.

“It will actually help the young players going forward,” he said.

Tlale and Chettiar hope to inspire their teammates by incorporating more online tournaments and touring.  They are both nominees for full Blue Cum Laude colours and Sportswoman and Sportsman of this year’s Sports Awards, respectively.

Given “home-ground advantage”, according to Tlale, Poland took the first place in the tournament, followed by Russia and Armenia.

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Chessed for success

Checkmate:  Evasan Chettiar (left) and Seadimo Tlale (right) will represent South Africa at the World University Chess Championships.                Photo: Lameez Omarjee

CHECKMATE: Evasan Chettiar (left) and Seadimo Tlale (right) will represent South Africa at the World University Chess Championships. Photo: Lameez Omarjee

Two Witsies will be competing in the World University Chess Championships in Katowice, Poland, which starts next week.
This is the first time players from the Wits Chess Club have qualified to participate in the international tournament and represent South Africa, says sports officer Tebogo Rabothata.

Teamed up
Seadimo Tlale, 2nd year LLB, is the only woman in a South African team of four. Tlale has played chess for 17 years, since the age of three. Evasan Chettiar, 2nd year BEng, chairperson of the club, whose been playing since grade eight, will also compete.
Both teammates top the University Sports South Africa chess rankings and the Wits team of 65 members. To prepare for the tournament, Chettiar says one can study the style and strategies of opponents provided on online databases. That way, “you can adapt your game based on their strengths and weaknesses”. Other than that, you can just reinforce your own tactics, he says.
Rabothata says he worked hard to find sponsorship for Chettiar and Tlale to go to Poland. The sports department only contributed 25% of the funds. “We’re going overseas and we’re going to represent the university, but they’re only sponsoring us 25%; it should be the whole [amount],” says Chettiar.

“It is the only sport where men and women, and people of different social classes, could compete equally.”

Chettiar and Tlale will both receive South African international colours and University international colours for qualifying. Competitors will play 11 rounds that will be judged for a score out of 11. These points will determine their ranking.

Socially strategic
Tlale founded a chess club to teach chess to primary school boys and girls from a township from her hometown in the Free State. “It was basically about affording them the opportunity to also be exposed to the kind of opportunities I get,” she said.
Both Chettiar and Tlale agree that chess has influenced strategic thinking in different aspects of their lives. “[It] gives you a lot of confidence in your own mental abilities,” says Tlale.
“Every time you make a move there’s a consequence. So it teaches you about how to look for potential consequences for your actions in everyday life,” says Chettiar. Tlale believes chess helps bridge social inequality gaps. She says it is the only sport where men and women, and people of different social classes, could compete equally. “It’s not about who you are or where you come from. It’s literally about what you know.”
Rabothata is proud of his players. He says the chess club will benefit from the experience the two players will gain. “They have won a battle; what is left for them is to go to Poland and win the war.”

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Chess master from the Cape

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: www.thechessdrum.net

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.”