THE 2013 Commonwealth and South African Open Chess Championships ended in a stalemate for President Jacob Zuma in Port Elizabeth yesterday when he drew his match against a five-year-old East London boy.
Zuma, who was the guest of honour for the closing ceremony of the largest ever Commonwealth Chess Championship, earlier played a 20-minute game with Keagan Rowe, a pupil at Sterling Primary School, who was the youngest competitor at the tournament.
Addressing competitors, organisers, supporters and dignitaries at the Boardwalk Hotel and International Conference Centre where the event was staged, Zuma directed some humorous opening remarks at his young opponent.
He justified the draw by saying: “I wanted to balance the game so I sacrificed some pieces.”
Zuma also jokingly chided the chess masters present, saying: “They could have told us [to stop playing after reaching the stalemate].”
The president again drew laughs when – while talking about a group of children from his home area Nkandla, who were competing at the tournament – he said: “I am happy to see people here from Nkandla, you know, that famous Nkandla!”
Zuma also drew wry smiles when he presented the overall winner’s trophy and the gold medal to a young competitor from India, Abhijit Gupta.
Second and third place overall were awarded to Ukraine’s Sergii Fedorchuk and Sergei Tiviakov of the Netherlands.
Having started on July 5, more than 900 participants from 29 different countries competed for the R300000 prize-money, making it the largest Commonwealth chess contest to date.
Among the dignitaries present for the closing ceremony and prize-giving were Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Ben Fihla, Western Cape Cultural Affairs and Sport MEC Dr Ivan Meyer, the president of Chess South Africa, Emelia Ellappen, the executive director and treasurer of the World Chess Federation (Fide), Nigel Freeman, and former world chess champion and grandmaster Garry Kasparov.
Speaking on a more serious note, Zuma said the Grahamstown and Port Elizabeth chess clubs were among the first to be established in the country.
“South Africa is proud to be a member of the Commonwealth and we are extremely proud that the World Chess Federation has bestowed the honour on South Africa to host this event for the second time in two years.”
He said sport was a significant part of any nation’s culture, leisure, health, economy and education.
In addition to extolling the virtues and benefits of chess for the youth and adults, Zuma commented on the game’s value during the struggle against apartheid.
“On Robben Island chess provided a solace to us that we needed in those conditions of isolation and deprivation. It propelled our minds beyond the confines of the prison walls and allowed us to reflect and to position our thoughts strategically to fight the regime.
“Many comrades made chess sets out of soap and driftwood that allowed us to continue to play this noble and great game. We improvised with makeshift chess boards and we enjoyed the fullness of the game,” he said.
Zuma singled out Collegiate Girls’ High School pupil and Port Elizabeth chess whiz Charlize van Zyl, 13, who became the country’s youngest person to win a Fide title.
A delighted Van Zyl, who scooped three trophies at the tournament, said after the ceremony that Zuma’s mention of her was “totally unexpected”.
“I am thrilled about it. It was such a surprise, everyone suddenly looked at me. A little boy came up to me soon afterwards and asked me for an autograph. It was so cute,” she said.