South Africa's first Grandmaster

by Priyadarshan Banjan
1/4/2015 – With an Elo-rating of 2399 (January 2015) Kenny Solomon is South Africa's number three but a few days ago he became the country's first grandmaster. In the Africa Chess Championship 2014 he finished with 7.0/9 and had a better tie-break than tournament favorite GM Ahmed Adly, World Junior Champion from 2007. This tie-break win made Solomon Grandmaster.

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South Africa gets its first Grandmaster!

As IM Kenny Solomon of South Africa - starting at board four - made his first move of the 2014 African Individual Chess Championship, which took place in the town of Windhoek, Namibia, from 13. to 22. December, he had only one goal in mind: to become African Champion. He did not have to sweat much in the first round. Playing with white, he effortlessly broke open the centre and swept his opponent off the board. Things are often surprisingly easy when you do have a firm goal in mind.

Kenny Solomon (Elo: 2399)

For the top seeds the first round often seems easy because they usually play against much lower-rated opponents. Well, it is not that easy as GM Ahmed Adly - rated 2591 - found out to his dismay: he lost to a FM who had more than 350 less than him.

But back to Kenny Solomon: He remained focused throughout the tournament and after he had made his last move of the event, he was overjoyed. He won the tournament with 7.0/9 and in the end had a better tie-break than GM Ahmed Adly, who also finished with 7.0/9. Thus Solomon was the new African Champion and made history, becoming South Africa's first Grandmaster at the age of 35.

Grandmaster Kenny Solomon

Kenny started his chess career relatively late and was already 13 years of age when he began to play seriously. But under the new FIDE rule that awards the GM title directly to the winners of the continental chess championships he suddenly had a realistic chance of joining the elite club of grandmasters in a single - despite a rating of 2399, which usually is not enough to get the title. He seized the opportunity and in one tournament became South Africa's first Grandmaster.

Final Ranking after 9 Rounds

Rk.     Name FED RtgI Pts.  TB1   TB2 
IM Solomon Kenny RSA 2380 7.0 1.0 51.5
GM Adly Ahmed EGY 2591 7.0 0.0 44.0
IM Farahat Ali EGY 2386 6.5 0.0 46.0
IM Cawdery Daniel RSA 2430 6.0 0.0 50.0
CM Simoes Joao ANG 2232 6.0 0.0 45.5
FM Kayonde Andrew ZAM 2336 6.0 0.0 37.0
IM Jere Daniel ZAM 2370 5.5 1.0 49.0
CM Kigigha Bomo NGR 2291 5.5 0.0 40.5
FM Wanyama Harold UGA 2241 5.0 0.0 48.0
FM Phiri Richmond ZAM 2143 5.0 0.0 47.0
IM Ameir Moheb EGY 2316 5.0 0.0 42.5
IM Chumfwa Stanley ZAM 2356 5.0 0.0 39.0
FM Klaasen Calvin Jong RSA 2180 4.5 0.0 46.0
CM Abrantes Persson MOZ 1972 4.5 0.0 43.0
CM Fawole John Oyeyemi NGR 2214 4.5 0.0 41.0
IM Van Den Heever Donovan RSA 2286 4.5 0.0 40.0
CM Magana Ben KEN 2063 4.5 0.0 38.0
  Chimthere Alfred Charles MAW 2006 4.0 0.0 40.5
FM Degondo Simplice Armel CIV 2177 4.0 0.0 40.0
  Fumey Enyonam Sewa TOG 1780 4.0 0.0 34.5
  Anquandah Francis Eric GHA 1952 4.0 0.0 33.5
CM Handjaba Mclean NAM 2033 4.0 0.0 31.0
FM Olebile Thato BOT 2207 3.5 0.0 43.5
  Mwale Joseph MAW 2074 3.5 0.0 41.5
  Khoa Goodwill NAM 1990 3.5 0.0 33.5

An interview with the new African champion:

Priyadarshan Banjan: Please comment on how you feel about your win.

Kenny Solomon: I am of course happy to win the African Individual championships, qualifying for the African grand prix and obtaining the GM title. It means South Africa has its first grandmaster and I think this result will inspire and motivate many chess players, especially the juniors.

PB: Let us have a look at your most important game at this event – your win against GM Ahmed Adly. Your thoughts on this game?

Kenny: Before the game, seeking a complicated game was my strategy as Adly is an intuitive player and plays very quickly.



White had just played the strange looking 17.Qa3!?

PB: How important is role of psychology in chess? For example, here you played 17.Qa3 allowing your opponent to ruin your structure, and in return you had chances to attack on the g-file. However, White had better moves, e.g. 17.Qb6.

Kenny: In my opinion psychology plays an important role. When I played 17.Qa3 I was under time pressure already, and, knowing Adly, I was sure he would play quickly and keep queens on the board, as the endgame would be easier to play in time-trouble. Then came Rg5 followed by a more or less a forced sequence of moves. I knew 17. Qa3 wasn't the best move in that position but at the same time I would say it was a good move psychologically as I could predict his moves after that.

PB: He later allowed you to take his queen and pawn for two rooks. Were you confident of winning then?

Kenny: At least, I was confident I would survive the time trouble and draw. However, then he started making mistakes as well.



PB: You began playing chess relatively late - at the age of 13. Now you are a Grandmaster. What can you suggest to ambitious chess players?

Kenny: I played lots of blitz when I started. Of course, back then I was without a coach and that was indeed an issue. I studied the classics, mainly games by Capablanca, Alekhine , Steinitz, Tarrasch, Nimzowitsch, Botvinnik, etc.

"Futurewise, I have more goals to accomplish and one of them is to up my rating!"

PB: Your result will surely motivate many youngsters, especially in the Sub-Saharan region. How would you wish to contribute to the development of chess in South Africa? Apart from that, what can you say about South African chess culture?

Kenny: Futurewise, I have more goals to accomplish and one of them is to up my rating! Eventually, I hope I can help in developing the chess scene in South Africa in some way, perhaps by being involved in a training centre. There are many chess players in South Africa and it does have its own chess culture. However, most tournaments are not FIDE-rated. In junior tournaments, emphasis is mainly on qualification to international junior events. South Africa needs more FIDE-rated events.

PB: What can you recommend to improve the existing structure of grooming young talents in your country and the African region?

Kenny: When I was younger, I had won the South African U16-Championships and qualified for the U16 World Championship in Brazil, but there I ended up somewhere below the middle with just 5.0/11. This was an indication of the huge gap between South African chess standards and the standards of other countries . There are many young chess players in South Africa. We senior players can improve chess in our land by educating the younger lot i.e. by teaching chess on a long term basis. There are too many coaches out there only teaching opening lines etc. I feel there should be a better structure to educate chess players and they should be immediately exposed to the beauty and the history of the game e.g. by studying the classics!

GM Ahmed Adly of Egypt (left, with White) began the tournament as top seed but finished second on tie-break with 7.0/9.

Here is an example, in which GM Adly outplays his opponent by simply dominating the light squares on the queenside.




Chess everywhere

The young Egyptian WGM Wafa Shrook scored 7.5/9 to take clear first place
in the Women's section, one point ahead of the field.

Final Ranking after 9 Rounds

Rk.     Name FED RtgI Pts.  TB1   TB2 
WGM Wafa Shrook EGY 2061 7.5 0.0 42.5
WIM Solomons Anzel RSA 1858 6.5 1.0 48.0
WFM Tembo Epah ZAM 1889 6.5 1.0 47.0
WFM Du Toit Sune RSA 1689 6.5 1.0 47.0
  Rosalina Sonia ANG 1769 5.5 0.0 47.5
WIM Frick Denise RSA 1913 5.0 0.0 48.5
WCM Rabiu Olabisi NGR 1489 5.0 0.0 38.0
  Mentile Lishen NAM 1418 5.0 0.0 36.5
WIM Vilhete Vania Fausto Da T. MOZ 1812 4.5 0.0 49.0
WCM Fisher Michelle M RSA 1651 4.5 0.0 38.0
WCM Mbatha Constance ZAM 1809 4.0 1.5 43.0
  Tjatindi Kamutuua NAM 1431 4.0 1.5 36.0
WCM Nepando Jolly NAM 1667 4.0 -1.0 34.0
  Tjaronda Nicola NAM 1487 3.5 0.0 35.0
WCM Esse Akua Kosife TOG 0 3.0 0.0 32.5
  Gondwe Vitumbiko MAW 1523 2.0 0.0 33.5
  Eulentin Jessee SEY 0 1.0 0.0 36.0
WCM Hamoonga Linda Banti ZAM 1829 0.0 0.0 27.0
WIM Francis Onkemetse BOT 1780 0.0 0.0 27.0
  Ofowino Toritsemuwa NGR 0 0.0 0.0 27.0

WFM Sune Du Toit - thanks to the new K-factor rules she won 104 Elo-points.
Finishing third she also got the WIM-title.

IM Daniel Cawdery - South Africa's number one

WIM Anzel Solomons took second place in the women's tournament.

WCM Jolly Nepando

WIM Denise Frick

The playing hall

The tropical sky!

Chess Fever




Photos: Facebook page of the Namibia Chess Federation

Priyadarshan Banjan is a 23-year-old club player from India. He works as an editor for ChessBase News and ChessBase India. He is a chess fanatic and an avid fan of Vishy Anand. He also maintains a blog on a variety of topics.
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Dave Washington Dave Washington 1/8/2015 03:13

the requirements for GM title, barring special awards, is that you have been to 2500 and that you have 3 GM norms. A slump is not a factor. The mid 2550's who haven't finished high in enough strong tournaments are the typical guys that a Kenny Solomom beats or draws on his way to GM norms while they languish at low points in the standings. That's the difference between Solomon and a "2300-2400 that would get crushed"
ashperov ashperov 1/8/2015 09:56
I think Davey boy is personilizing it for some reason in a soapie! I was speaking about the sitiation in general... but lets look at your move...

If you need 2500 to be a GM but once upon a time you were a 2461.... well then thats okay now isnt it.

But then i start thinking "stupid" when he says it would be surprising for anyone to be surprised...
Now i made it clear i would not be surprised if he got into the 2500s at some point in his chess career...
Now from 2461 he hit a slump which took him into the 2300s and its not beyond the relm of possibility for someone to actually be surprised if he gets into 2500.

ok your final point was he is on a hot streek with 2600+ performances in 2 comps? Well i can be horny for 2 hours but that dont mean my girl friend would call me a dynamite in bed. Id need to prove it till the sun comes up.

So now i already know your arguing for the sake of arguing. Now i already know your thinking about that little witty comback to uncork... however... you forgot to press your clock...

Ill just repeat what i said before... this is a small issue... when compared to fides other problems. Back to work. Adios- and once again Well done Kenny. Be it by hook or crook or chance or luck or hard work or whatever, GM title is a GM title. If the International Chess Federation awards it, well they the Boss aint they :)
...Back to work now...
Banjan Banjan 1/8/2015 06:48
@Dave Washington made an accurate observation right there.
chessdrummer chessdrummer 1/8/2015 05:05

I'm not a fan of one-shot titles, but there are several who have earned the GM title without a 2500 rating. There are a few rare conditions where you can get an outright GM title... World Junior and World Senior are two of them. I know a GM who earned the title winning the World Senior. He has never been at 2500. It is my hope that they fix the consistency in which the GM, IM and FM titles are awarded. There is quite a bit of variability.
Dave Washington Dave Washington 1/8/2015 03:30

You call him a 2300-2400 and say there are mid 2500's with no GM title that would crush him. You might be his countryman, but you've got him pegged wrong.

1) If Kenny Solomon were to enter an Under 2400 section of a tournament, they would let him in because he's currently 2399. But he would be considered a total sandbagger because of his achievements and past ratings
2) A mid 2500's who doesn't have a GM title is someone consistent that for some reason has only been 'hot' in zero to 2 strong 9-game tournaments. By 'hot' I mean a performance rating of 2600+. Those are called GM norms LOL. You need 3 of them to get the title. Solomon is not quite as consistent as a mid 2500 IM, but he has been 'hot' in more strong tournaments; that's why he was a GM-elect and they aren't.
Dave Washington Dave Washington 1/8/2015 02:18

you wouldn't be surprised if he gets into the 2500's? He's been to 2461 and his current rating is what is unusual. It would be surprising for anyone to be surprised.
Dave Washington Dave Washington 1/8/2015 02:12
Example123. he said there are more than 6

This is lower standards and I'm against it, but in Kenny Solomon's case we're only arguing about 39 elo points. He's already been to 2461 and this is his 4th GM norm. Maybe we should save the soap box speeches for the time when someone wins the African Championship who isn't already a GM or close to it. It took a performance rating of 2550 to win this one and in previous years the field was even stronger.
Example123 Example123 1/7/2015 03:26
If there are 6, how come you list 10, chessdrummer?
chessdrummer chessdrummer 1/6/2015 04:33
There are more than six GMs in all of Africa, Banjan.

The first was Hichem Hamdouchi of Morocco (now playing for France). You have Amon Simutowe, Slim Bouaziz, Slim Belkhodja, Aimen Rizouk, Bassem Amin, Ahmed Adly, Essam El-Gindy, Samy Shoker and Mohamed Haddouche.

Kenny is the second is the southern part of Africa.
Example123 Example123 1/6/2015 01:02
What Asperov says makes a lot of sense and ties in with what one of my college lecturers back in the 90's said-"I'd never excuse myself for applying high standards!"
ashperov ashperov 1/6/2015 11:22
This is a drop in the ocean compared to fides real problems anyway. Just know there are mid 2500s out ther wihthout the GM title who would crush a 2300-2400. I know in south africa BELIEVE IT OR NOT the pass rate for our highschools was dropped to 33%... now because of high failure rates its dropped to 30%... failure rate now is still high... what do they do next? drop it to 25%?
No offense to Kenny well done GM Kenny (can i hear a hoorah!), dropping standards around the world for people to make quotas bellittles the title a little.
Again just to be sure Im really happy for fellow countryman, i have no doubt Kenny will be motivated to get his rating into the 2500s and would not be surprised if he accomplishes it! The argument im making is lowering of standards via loopholes or whatever really diminishes the achievment of GM and disrespects a 2500 somthing who cant afford to (or not sponsored enough) to travel to get their norms or benifit from any funny rule.
Example123 Example123 1/6/2015 11:18
Not only the 1st South African GM, but also the 1st ever GM to get the title without reaching 2500 or being a truly world class player, like Rubenstein, Tartakover or Levenvish)!
Banjan Banjan 1/6/2015 10:06
@Chessfish: It is indeed hurting to see some people show a lack of respect. I personally can't really argue much, as sometimes the rules do appear illogical. However, as you aptly put it, the awarding of titles is a subjective procedure - one that in no way belittles the performance of the players who have benefited. Kenny already has 3 GM norms and what more, he is a deserving winner of the tournament which decides upon the best player in his continent - of which there are only six. That is obviously an achievement which deserves recognition, especially when the winner is a person who has persevered for more years than many prodigies' age number!
ChessFish ChessFish 1/6/2015 03:25
@hpaul, your phrase "needy continent" is rather poorly chosen.

The word "needy" appears to have disparaging connotations as is often used for Africa and its reception of western aid. However I'll assume you meant it chess terms which still wouldn't make any sense as the continent of Africa already has several GMs and isn't desperately in 'need' of one. Even if it were, this rule was set by FIDE just like the same subjective rules that benefitted the female European chess players that became GMs before Susan Polgar. FIDE is also known to have awarded IM titles to certain individuals who met other requirements that it created and ratified.

In fact, the title of grandmaster is - in itself - a subjective one whose requirements have varied through history. But that is a debate for another day. For now, deal with the reality that Kenneth Solomon who already has three GM norms benefitted from some FIDE rule, played strong chess, won his continental tournament, and became a GM. Numerically, the difference between a 2800 GM and a 2500 GM is larger than that between a 2600 GM and a 2400 IM. Over the board however, those titles and numbers can turn out meaningless. We all saw recent photos of Kramnik just before the start of a round in an open tournament leaning over in his chair to find out his 2500+ GM opponent's name and rating (as if to say "wait, who am I playing against?") but could only draw the game.
Alfred Machingam Alfred Machingam 1/5/2015 12:40
Well done GM Kenny as you are the first Grand Master in South Africa. l am absolutely, abundantly proud of you. l was really waiting for this moment since 2 years ago. l am convinced that Africa is also proud of you. Great job! Keep on rising.
ashperov ashperov 1/5/2015 10:21
Just so im clear- qualify for the African championships- win it and Ill be a GM? haha awesome.
ashperov ashperov 1/5/2015 10:19
Congratulations to fellow countrymen! Very happy that fide has ignored the 2500 requirment. If i recieve 3 norms and not yet close to 2500, i trust fide will be kind to me too and furnish me with a GM title!
Kudus for fide for creating the #KennyPrecedent #notreally #badfide #naughtyfide
Llew Adamson Llew Adamson 1/5/2015 10:14
Well done Kenny!
Psiquis Psiquis 1/5/2015 03:42
Any problem with it? We can't defeat Solomon talking about life situations. We have to demonstrate on the board. We have to respect others. I feel very proud about Solomon.
Banjan Banjan 1/5/2015 02:54
@hpaul: Not only that, it is an issue with most games provided. You may have understood pretty quickly that finding most of the material for this report was tough anyways, because of the apparent 'invisibility' of such a tournament.
Of course, the recent rule changes as regards the k-factors for juniors and the titles is illogical in the world of gens una sumus. That is something to which FIDE stands responsible to answer.
Nevertheless, it is a proud moment for South African and Sub-Saharan chess in general. We should probably just respect that. Besides, Kenny already has 3 GM norms. :)
hpaul hpaul 1/5/2015 12:27
In the Klaasen-Adly game it seems that Black's 24th move must have been Kf7, not Kh7 as given. That would make sense in the position, and 30...Ke8 would then be Black's correct last move, as notated by the player.

KevinC, I may join you in Antarctica. But don't tell anyone else ... that way one of us will be guaranteed a GM title next year. (I'm not impressed with the FIDE logic that awards titles to needy continents.)
Banjan Banjan 1/4/2015 10:52
@kevin: That 1-0 thing, a honest mistake. It should be corrected soon. I'll make sure to make it better next time! :)
KevinC KevinC 1/4/2015 10:21
In related news, I will be moving to Antarctica. :)

On another note, this new trend of breaking up annotated games with diagrams in the middle stinks. After Ba6 is says 1-0...but then the game continues.