Big-name chess players check in for lucrative UFH Open

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Fort Hare’s star chess player Romeo Tokoyi, who was appointed assistant coach of the club, will hope for a big performance from his charges at the upcoming UFH Open. 

 

Participants in the 2024 UFH Open chess tournament will compete for a R20 000 total prize purse – the biggest in its decade-long history.

Vodacom has also moved onto the board with 80GB of data for the Open’s top performers, who will do battle at University of Fort Hare’s East London campus from April 13 to 14.

The stature of the tournament has been further bolstered by confirmation that two of the country’s leading players, International Chess Federation (FIDE) Master Banele Mhango and Candidate Master Keith Khumalo, will be in Buffalo City next week.

Mhango was recently selected for Team South Africa to compete at the 45th Chess Olympiad in Hungary later this year while Khumalo only just missed making the final squad.

Fort Hare head coach Xanthi Mafongosi said having the likes of the two on board was a blessing.

The club had become known for hosting the most prestigious tournaments in the province and led other South African universities when it came to staging marquee events, he said.

“Last year we offered prize money of R12 500 and about 50GB of data but this year we increased the amounts to get a much bigger pool of players,” he said.

“We are aiming to get about 200. But even if we get 150, we will be happy.”

The 2023 tournament was won by Johannesburg’s Brighton Mthunzi, whose clash with Fort Hare’s own Romeo Tokoyi will live long in the memory.

For three hours they tried to find weaknesses in the other’s game before the Gauteng player landed the winning check mate.

Mthunzi was moved to say that it had “been a while” since he had attended such a well-organised event.

Mafongosi hoped that Mthunzi, who had been appointed assistant coach of club this year, would be back to defend his title.

The mentor is focusing on developing players in East London while his protégé is teaching the game to up-and-coming Alice-based players, which gives Mafongosi the space he needs to do his job.

“We want to be a hub for chess to local players. We want to target these players in the hope they come to UFH,” he said.

On the back of the club’s successes and as the profile of the code has grown, the university has stepped up its support.

“After last year’s tournament a need was seen. We bought 50 new chessboards. Now we have 60 boards that can support 120 players,” Mafongosi said.

“We are also the only club in the Eastern Cape to have two smartboards.”

These devices allow players to record games, play online and even stream matches. That UFH had acquired these boards spoke to the popularity of the sport at the institution, he said.

Competitors in the UFH Open will compete in four sections that cater for prestige, intermediate, junior and developing players.

All sections are recognised by Chess South Africa and FIDE, meaning that ranking points will be on offer.

Registration takes place at the campus’s ABC Hall on Friday, April 12.

 

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