Still king despite hard road

Jean Huisman

HEIN Richter is as capable as any other professional chess player, with one exception – he is blind. The 48-year-old Richter of the Western Cape is taking part in the Commonwealth Chess Championship at the Boardwalk Hotel and Convention Centre.

More than 800 players are playing in the tournament that ends this week in Port Elizabeth.

“I am really enjoying being part of the tournament and I am very excited to go up against overseas players,” he said.

Richter plays on a separate custom-designed board from his sighted opponent.

Each move made on his opponent’s board is reproduced on Richer’s board by an arbiter.

He finds his way around the board by feeling for raised black squares. The pieces are then fitted into slots on each square when a move is made.

Richter then marks down his moves on a braille block on the table next to him.

His sister and biggest supporter, Lucia, said their family was proud of him.

“He’s an inspiration. His independence and determination makes us realise how grateful we should be to have our sight,” she said.

Richter was diagnosed with Stickler Syndrome at an early age. It has given him a lifetime of joint problems and left him with only 40% of his hearing.

He has had replacement surgery in both knees and hips, while spending four years in a wheelchair.

“I kept loving chess after I went blind. It was not difficult for me to adapt,” he said.

But he defied the odds by walking again after rehabilitation.

Richter started playing chess at the age of 12, while he was still partially sighted. He began playing braille chess in 1995 and started his professional chess career two years later.

Since then he has won one gold and two silver medals in the SA Braille Chess Championships.

Richter’s other passion includes composing music by ear.

He plays the keyboard to raise money to travel around the country so he can compete in chess tournaments.

Richter said he hoped to find sponsors so he could take part in a chess tournament overseas.

“My main goal is to learn new chess techniques and perform my music overseas,” he said.

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