Chess' golden boy conquers Africa

Ten-year old Mpene has conquered Africa
Ten-year old Mpene has conquered Africa

Botswana’s 10-year-old chess sensation, Thuto Mpene beat the odds to emerge with gold at the Africa Schools Individual Chess Championships that ended in Kampala, Uganda on Wednesday.

The Standard Four pupil at Letlhakeng Primary School got the nod to compete at the championships from the International Chess Federation (FIDE).

When Thuto arrived in Kampala on June 26, 2019 he was ranked third behind his agemates Tandeka Shiloh of Uganda and Zimbabwe’s Mawire Tawananyasha.

His mother, Kelebogile Mpene said they had set their eyes on the top position when they left the country and the player displayed great confidence in his games to overcome all his competitors, especially the two who were ranked ahead of him. Kelebogile said competition was very tough.

“Every game was a gruelling one hour 30 minutes and it tested his mental strength, but I am glad he showed he is a very strong and focussed player,” she said from Uganda. “This would go down as one of the best tournaments I have watched him play.

At some point in one of the games, I thought he was losing and he amazingly shocked me, he turned around the game brilliantly. I am truly over the moon with this achievement,” the emotional mother added.

In the opening round at Board Three, the youngster started the competition against Mukundi Shepherd Muzikwa of Zimbabwe and registered his first win.

He beat Ugandan’s Kirabo Samuel, Atubet William, before advancing to Board Two. On Board Two, Thuto beat another Ugandan, Aariz Khan before he elevated to Board One for two testing rounds against second and first ranked Mawire and Shiloh.

Thuto overpowered Mawire, who was 105 points superior to him on rating points at 1,433, to set a tough match against the tournament’s top-ranked Shiloh. Thuto then met his match in Shiloh, but he managed to keep his cool on defence and earned half a point against the toughest cookie.

He held on to the Board One seat since the fourth round and disposed of all the opponents who visited the top table. The youngster earned a near clean 8.5 out of the nine points that were on the table. Zimbabwean Mawire finished runner-up with 7.5 points and Shiloh settled for third with seven points.

Botswana Chess Federation president, Mooketsi Tlhabano was hugely impressed with Thuto’s “out of the world achievement”.

He applauded his sponsor, Desai Law Firm, for continued support to the player. The law firm has been behind Thuto’s development since 2017. He has raked in different accolades locally and put a stellar performance in Spain at the World Cadets Championships. “It appears his ability to play in so many events outside the country has given him great exposure, and he is getting more experienced.

This record is out of this world. Thuto is simply a grandmaster in the making,” the president said. He noted it was also a great achievement for the federation that was recently named the best in the country at the Botswana National Sport Commission awards.   Tlhabano said Thuto is a great example of the talent at the country’s disposal and if they could get support from corporate Botswana, they would have the potential to hoist the national flag.

“Thuto is a soldier. He went on a solo mission and made everyone proud. We have talent that we are failing to support because of finances, and we could not even support this mission that we are so much proud of,” Tlhabano said.

“This is a statement to everyone who can render support to our young players. These youngsters are amazing.”

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