Promotional tour of women chess in Botswana

by Anastasiya Karlovich
2/18/2014 – In their ongoing efforts to promote women chess abroad, WOM (FIDE Women Commission) sent WGM Anastasiya Karlovich from her frozen home in Ukraine (-15 C) to a toasty Botswana (+35 C). There she met the Botswana Federation officials, who showed their commitment to developing women chess by being the first nation to create its own Women Commission. A beautiful illustrated report.

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Botswana is located in Southern Africa and if one can imagine a map of African Continent like chess board it’s easy to find Botswana on the second rank near to South Africa.  

The population of the country is about two millions but the territory is so huge that the density is 3.4 people/km2 (in comparison density in India is 376 people/km2), what makes Botswana one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world.

Botswana is becoming one of the fastest-growing economies in the world with a GDP (purchasing power parity) per capita of about $14,000 per year, and a high gross national income, possibly the fourth-largest in Africa, giving the country a modest standard of living. It is also the world's largest producer of diamonds and the trade has transformed it into a middle-income nation. Botswana is a very attractive destination for tourists and considered the safest country to visit in Africa and I can confirm it without doubt! Here you can see wild nature and enjoy hunting and photographic safaris in many national parks.

Susan Polgar, Chairman of WOM former Women World Chess Champion and Martha Fierro, the secretary of the FIDE Women Commission (“WOM”) kindly proposed me to take part in promotional tour of women chess in Botswana. WOM plays very active role in promoting chess for young women around the world and I was glad to have a chance to work with them.

I was lucky to appear in Botswana during the summer time and after quite a long trip the temperature around me changed from Ukraine's -15 C to +35 C. There was a warm welcome at the airport of Gaborone and my promotional tour started.

It was interesting to learn that women chess in Botswana has enjoyed steady growth over the years. Botswana is the first country in Sub-Saharan Africa to have a Woman Grandmaster (Tuduetso Sabure). The Botswana team has consistently taken part in the Chess Olympiad since 1982 and has shown great potential over the years. The new elected President of the Botswana Chess Federation, Tshenola Maruatona, tries to use achievements of the previous government and has more ambitious goals for future.

The chess federation is well organized and the Botswana Chess Calendar is arguably one of the busiest calendars in Africa. The Botswana federation organizes women national championships every year and it’s interesting that the first prize is $1000 (compared to $1500 for the open championship). Women in Botswana are very active and openly fight for the right to have the same prizes and I have a feeling they will manage to suceed in the near future.

The federation enjoys good support from the government but also gets support from private sponsors. I met many people who are not getting paid, but work because they love chess and try to support the federation and players.

A fruitful meeting with the Botswana Sports Council Senior Management and Botswana
Chess Federation. The Botswana Sports Council is the mother body that oversees
the activities of all the sporting codes in the country. Botswana Chess Federation
is funded by the National Sports Council and they are affiliated to it.

The meeting discussed key issues on the development of sports for women and the senior management pledged their support to the federation. The federation was applauded for leading the initiative in developing women sports as this is in line with the strategy for the sports council. From the Sports Council, the team was led by Mrs Game Mothibi and Mr Steven Bothasitse.

“We have numerous events targeted at school students and these are organised and run by the federation with the help of the school’s committee. The country also has set up some chess clubs which have very keen members who take part in open tournaments,” explains Tshenola Maruatona.

Tshenola Maruatona, the president of the Botswana Chess Federation

As one of the main steps to help women chess, the Botswana Chess Federation has created the BCF Women Commission. The main aim of the Commission is to increase the number of girl players in Botswana.

A chess player in the past, he clearly understands the problems and perspectives of women chess in Botswana: “Our strongest women have an average rating of 1800 and there is a need to give them fuller exposure to players of higher ratings and finding a coach will help them improve in their overall chess.” The President of the Federation doesn’t want players from Botswana to go to the Olympiad and be there as tourists, but wants them to take place in the overall team position within the category and improve their individual ratings. He believes that the strength of the women team can also be enhanced by playing in the men’s section and he constantly tries to find ways to encourage them to play there.

The girls enjoy the game as much as the boys...

... and at all ages, but lack of incentive has led them to drop it after leaving school.

The president is also looking for a chess coach to focus on both men and women teams and this comes from his opinion that performance at the Olympiad can improve with some guidance.

We were trying together to figure out ways to support women players in Botswana, how to encourage them to devote their life to chess, and to show options to make a living out of chess.

People who do their best to develop chess in Botswana. From left to right:
Motlhokomed Thabana (Botswana Chess federation Development Director),
Roger Tiroyamodimo (Botswana Chess Federation Vice President), the President
of BCF Tshenola Maruatona and Mr. Thuto Molebatsi (Sports Development Admin
from Botswana National Sports Council responsible for Chess).

Tshenola Maruatona worries that the Botswana team consists of the same women players dominating the chess scene for many years. Chess in primary schools is supposed to increase the chances to find new talents among the younger generation.  Recently the federation embarked on a country-wide campaign to introduce chess at the primary school level. The federation signed a memorandum of agreement with the Primary Schools Sports’ Association and has already distributed chess sets and study materials to over 30 primary schools.

Metsimotlhabe Primary School, where chess lessons were introduced four months ago. Boys and girls have chess lessons several times per week and already learned the basic rules. They played quite well for beginners! The schools have to solve the problem of a lack of chess coaches and I met some mathematics teachers who had to learn chess from the beginning to give classes shortly thereafter.  They are doing their best to help their students and constantly try to increase their level by reading books and studying lessons from the Internet.  The federation encourages chess players to give lessons at schools (Botswana boasts of relatively strong male players with an average rating of 2200) and also grants the winner of the National Championship not only a financial award but an obligation to teach chess in one of the primary schools for one month as well.

A small simul with students at a primary school

Showing  pictures of the Women World Champions, strongest players and teams
of women chess. Girls had only heard about the Polgar sisters but on the next
day they could easily pronounce the name of current World Champion Hou Yifan
and recognize other champions. 

Students, teachers and members of the federation

As one of the main steps to help women chess, the Federation of Botswana has created the BCF women Commission. The main aim of the Commission is to increase the number of girl players in Botswana.

Therefore, Botswana became the first country to create a Women Commission
similar to the FIDE Women Commission and I was honored to inaugurate it
during the press conference on the second day of my visit.

The BCF women Commission consists of the following members:

Tshepiso Lopang (WIM) - Chairperson
Gayathri Sriram (active member of the Federation and mother of 2 talented chess playes) - Secretary General
Boikhutso Modongo (WIM) - Committee member
Kutlwano Tatolo - Committee Member
Keenese Katisenge (Press officer of the federation, who makes fantastic job to promote chess in Botswana and informs local media about every step of the federation) - Ex-Officio

The mission behind the Women Commission is as follows

1) Bring up talent among young girls. Over the years members of the commission have seen a drain in talent with regards to girls. We have seen the domination of the same faces over the past years and new talents have not emerged.

2) There has not been any talent continuity with chess for girls. We continue to see girls abandoning chess immediately after school and this affects the level of our senior teams.

3) Train the young and selected girls to achieve a higher level in the game and compete with the world.

When it was my turn to answer questions by local journalists, who were trying to figure out the difference between women and men chess, I had an opportunity to share with them my experience and explain the main ideas on this topic, expressed by the Chairman of the Women Commission and former world champion Susan Polgar.

The real test was on the third day when I had to face 30 players, most of them
girls. There were a few very young participants, who had just recently learned
to play chess and others who had quite a good level, around 1900-2100.

I made three draws and in one game my opponent was kind enough not to
punish me for my overly optimistic play in the middlegame.

Participants and organizers of the simul

Visit to Bothe University, former NIIT University (Botswana branch of NIIT, one of
Anand’s supporters). In 2009 NIIT sponsored the visit of Vishwanathan Anand to
promote chess in college and Botswana. The University has 19 sport clubs, including
chess club for students.

In 2009 the former World Champion inaugurated the Botho chess square with a huge
chess board. Students of Botho University enjoy playing chess between lessons every day.

We also “checked” the board by playing a few moves with the Director of Botho
College, Ravi Srinivasan.

During my free day I decided to leave Gaborone and flew to Kazane, following the steps of Judit Polgar, who visited the country a few years earlier and said, in the interview to Rádio Xadrez, that in Botswana she had the nicest memories and experience with nature. I went for the boating safari on the Chobe River known for its concentration and variety of wildlife, and that cannot be compared with any other place in the world.  There had been no rain for three days and many animals came to the river to drink water and swim, so I got a chance to get up close and personal not only with hippos, crocodiles, and water birds, but also elephants, buffalos and giraffes. To complete my experience with nature I met quite a huge (for my experience) spider in my room and spent an unforgettable sleepless night.

Boating safari on the Chobe River

A mother with her young

The sight of elephants in the wild is mesmerizing

Unconcerned they enjoy a bath in the river

A mother elephant brings her infant

National Geographic up close

Those few days in Botswana passed very quickly but from the first moment of my arrival I felt I'm among friends! I’m very grateful to everyone, whom I met during this trip and I wish one day Botswana will have chess stars at a world class level because the federation and chess lovers work hard to find the talents and help them as much as possible.

Pictures by Anastasiya Karlovich and Thuto Molebatsi


Anastasiya Karlovich has been a Women Grandmaster since 2003. She started her journalist career as freelance journalist in 2006 by publishing reports on and since then worked as a press officer for a variety of FIDE events.


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