There is a bright new dawn on the horizon for women's chess, with four young sensations eyeing Olympiad berths.
Fireworks are expected at the Botswana national team selection finals, which take place in Gaborone this weekend. The Botswana Chess Federation (BCW) will select a team of 10, with equal representation from both genders. The Olympiad takes place in Batumi, Georgia from September 23 to October 6.
Four players; two men and two women have already qualified through automatic qualifications.
International Master Providence Oathotse and FIDE Master Phemelo Kheto have made it from the men’s side, while Kgalalelo Bothole the Woman International Master (WIM) and Onkemetse Francis the Women International Master (WIM) have also earned automatic qualification.
A gigantic battle for the remaining spots in both categories is simmering. It will be a heated battle for the men’s, but an interesting battle lies in the woman’s section where a quartet of young prodigies is turning tables.
Besa Masaiti (16), Otisitswe Ruth (14), Naledi Marape (12) and Tamuhla Londani (19) are expected to have a say on who will represent the country in Georgia.
Last weekend a play-off was held amongst 17 players and the top seven players were selected for the national selection finals. Masaiti will add to the seven to make it eight players for the selections.
Masaiti did not take part in the playoffs. She had earned a wild card for the final selections after she won bronze at the National Championships. She is regarded as the strongest of the quartet. She is also the best ranked of the youngsters at 1798. The trio of Ruth, Marape and Londani launched their battle against senior women at the playoffs. Former national representatives at the past Olympiads, Woman FIDE Master (WFM) Thapelo Francis and Mabedi Mbo fell prey to the rising starlets at the playoffs. Francis faced the menacing trio and she lost to all of them.
Woman Candidate Masters (WCM) Mokhuzeli Koziba and Sethebe Susan were also some top women who were brushed aside by the new wave.
Ndachipiwa Kgomotso (24) topped the playoffs with five points after seven rounds. She met Ruth and Londani. She beat the former and drew with the latter.
Second place with 4.5 points went to Boitshepo Rebatenne
The trio also finished on 4.5 points with Ruth above them in position four, Naledi position five and Londani sixth.
The quartet has never played an Olympiad before, but the Botswana Chess Federation president, Mothokomedi Thabano is confident the youngsters will represent the nation at the coming Olympiad. “These girls are a great achievement of the local game, we have groomed them and they have responded very well. Their parents have been very instrumental in their development,” he said.
“I am confident we are going to have at least two new faces at the Olympiad and we are hoping for a category medal. All the four of them stand an equal chance, they are very strong players and they are definitely going to give their seniors a run for their money.”
Little can be said about rising stars in the men’s category. It has been hard for the youngsters to break into the national team with only Chess Master (CM) Otsile Mapini (22) being the youngest to make it to the selections.
Mapini and five others who will be battling the final selections have made the cut in the team that represented the country at the past Baku Olympiad in 2016.
These are veteran CM Ndawana Mosenya, CM Thuso Mosutha, Monnatsheko Keletshabile and Moakofi Notha. A seasoned campaigner and multiple National Championships winner CM Barileng Gaealafswe will join them. CM Thabo Gumpo and Gomolemo Rongwane complete the list of eight.
“These athletes are highly competitive and any three will be good enough for the team, with all but Rongwane having participated in the Olympiad before,” the chess president said.
Meanwhile the four players who have gained automatic qualification, Oathotse, Kheto and the two women Bothole and Francis will represent the nation at the Individual Chess Championship to be held in Livingstone, Zambia from May 11 till May 19, 2018.