Chess wizards return to the chequered board, over the weekend, after a lengthy domestic break since November, as they face off in the Airfficiency Year Opener in Mogoditshane.
The 11th edition takes place over two days at Mogoditshane Senior Secondary School. Defending champions, Barileng Gaealafshwe (men) and Onkemetse Francis (women) will be the notable absentees.
However, that would not take the sting out of the tough tournament as the crème-la-de-creme of local players return from much-needed rest.
Other top players from countries such as Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique and South Africa will be amongst the participants. In the absence of Gaealafshwe, last year’s runner up, Phemelo Khetho, a four-time winner of the competition, will start as favourite. Khetho lost by a tiebreaker after finishing equal on points with Gaealafshwe last year. Khetho concluded the year superbly after an impressive performance at the Batumi Chess Olympiad where he scored 6.5/10.
He clinched the Francistown International Chess open in November from under the noses of Providence Oatlhotse and Mosenya Ndawana to wrap up a successful year. The year opener will not be a walk in the park for Khetho.
The usual suspects, Oatlhotse, Ndawana, Notha Moakofi, Thabo Gumpo and Monnatsheko Ketshabile, amongst others are expected to play a prominent role in deciding the destination of the title. Khetho said he is well rested after the festive season and is looking forward to resuming the year. He reckons a number of players have taken a much-needed break and as thus, expects tough competition.
“It is going to be tough. It is the beginning of the year and everyone wants to set themselves up for the national championships and the year ahead,” he said.
“It will be great to win especially after missing out on a tiebreak last year. I enjoyed a good break, got back to training and I am ready. I am never worried about my opponents.
I am always focussed on making one good move at a time, and hopefully a good game and a win.”
The usual interesting battle of the young crop against the wisdom of age, will take effect on the women’s section. Besa Masaiti, Naledi Marape, Ruth Otisitswe, will lock brains with Kgalalelo Bothole, Ndachipiwa Kgomotso, Boitumelo Radikoro and Boikhutso Mudongo.
Masaiti has not competed since her historic Olympiad appearance last year where she became the youngest local player at 17 to represent the country. She also became the joint top scorer with Bothole, both managing six out of 11 points. The country’s youngest Women FIDE Master Marape was active at the beginning of the year.
She was the sole representative of the country at the Africa Juniors Championships held in Uganda in the first week of January, where she won a bronze medal.
Veterans Ndachipiwa and Mbo Mabedi were in action at the African Amateur Championships during the festive break, and they will be expected to be in great shape at the Airfficiency showpiece.
Chess president, Mooketsi Thabano said they expect exciting battles, particularly in the women’s section. “Our women’s section has improved greatly and the development of younger players has been good. We always look forward to seeing how things pan out in this section, the young players are very challenging,” he said.
The FIDE rated tournament is sponsored by Airffieciency (Pty) Ltd to the tune of P20, 000. The winner in the open section walks away with P3, 000, while in the women’s champion takes P2,500.