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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