Reflections by Dr. Lyndon Bouah: Highlights from the 2024 SA Closed Chess Championship and Closing Ceremony

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Dr. CM Lyndon Bouah at the 2024 SA Closed Chess Championship

The SA Closed Chess Championship, a prestigious event held at the Newlands Cricket Ground ended on the 2nd of April, 2024. Dr. Lyndon wrote, mentioning that for nine days, from March 25th to April 2nd, he made the daily journey from his office in Cape Town central to Newlands, nestled in the Northern suburbs of the city.

In his words, “My route to the tournament was a familiar one. From town, I followed the M3, passing by Newlands Rugby Stadium before reaching the cricket ground. Alternatively, when traveling from home, the N1 and M5 led me to Campground Road and eventually to Newlands.”

At the Newlands Cricket Ground, participants and spectators were welcomed by Gate Ten to the SA Closed Chess Championship. A chequered poster on a tall pole hinted at the strategic battles ahead, adding charm to the cricket venue’s setting. Inside the Presidents Pavilion Suite, players competed in three sections: Open, Women, and Senior. The scenic view of Table Mountain added to the tournament’s appeal.

Newlands has hosted significant chess events before, starting in 2005 down to 2009, 2022, and now 2024. It all began with a simple request to the CEO of WP Cricket, Professor Andre Odendaal, who graciously provided the media room for the inaugural SA Closed in 2005. According to him, the year saw remarkable achievements by players like Nick Van der Nat and WIM Denise Bouah.

Dr. Lyndon mentioned one of his memorable encounter, which was was facing Justin Wilken, a fellow player he has known since his younger days in the chess circuit. He gave a view of their previous draw in the SA Open 2022 which hinted at a tough match ahead, given Justin’s expertise as a professional coach. The game played against him that evening ultimately ended in a draw after hours of strategic gameplay.

Justin Wilken. Photo: Dr. Lyndon Bouah

The Exciting Showdown in the Open Section

The Open Section of the SA Closed Chess Championship was a melting pot of talent and diversity, showcasing the dynamic nature of the chess scene. Among the players, one name stood out as a rising star—FM Caleb Levitan, a 13-year-old prodigy who made history as one of the youngest competitors in this section. As the experienced players reflected on past prodigies, Caleb‘s performance captivated everyone, proving that age is no barrier to skill and determination.

FM Caleb Levitan. Photo: Dr. Lyndon Bouah

However, it was FM Daniel Barrish who claimed the spotlight, emerging as the victor in a field of formidable opponents. FM Daniel‘s journey in chess began at a remarkably young age, and his accomplishments, including drawing with former World Champion Gary Kasparov, highlights his exceptional talent and dedication. His victory marked a personal triumph and also a milestone as the first SA Closed champion born in this millennium.

IM Jan Karsten also left a lasting impression with his distinctive performance, showcasing his skills on the board and adding another achievement to his growing list. Meanwhile, Charlton Mnyasta from Elsies River displayed maturity beyond his years, earning accolades for his strategic play and contributing significantly to his team’s success in previous championships.

The tournament celebrated individual achievements and also looked into the social fabric of the chess community. Shaheed Tobias, a respected figure and former Chairperson of the University of the Western Cape Chess Club, offered valuable insights into the cultural and transformative power of chess. His thesis highlighted the inclusivity of the sport, its potential for personal growth, and its role as a catalyst for positive change within communities.

Indeed, chess in South Africa is a collection of stories, talents, and aspirations. Players like Caleb Levitan, Jan Karsten, Charlton Mnyasta, and FM Banele Mhango captures the essence of perseverance and outstanding achievement, paving the way for future generations of chess enthusiasts. As the chess community continues to thrive and evolve, embracing diversity and nurturing talent, we can anticipate even greater accomplishments both on and off the chessboard.

The recent SA Closed Chess Championship stirred considerable speculation among chess enthusiasts, prompting inquiries about a potential changing of the guard in the Open Section.

In response to these queries, Dr. Lyndon Bouah offered insights into the tournament’s dynamics. Acknowledging the noteworthy performances of emerging talents like FM Caleb Levitan and experienced players such as FM Daniel Barrish, the author cautioned against hasty conclusions about a generational shift in chess skill. Drawing parallels to past champions and highlighting the strength of current titleholders like IM Daniel Cawdrey, the article emphasized the enduring presence of established players within the competitive chess circuit.

Furthermore, the reflection addressed the absence of notable figures like IM Watu Kobese and GM Kenny Solomon, attributing their non-participation to various factors such as financial considerations and tournament logistics. This raised pertinent questions about the tournament’s prize structure and the broader support mechanisms required to sustain professional chess careers.

FM Daniel Barrish, FM Caleb Levitan, IM Jan Karsten, Charlton Mnyasta in the Open Section. Photo: Dr. Lyndon Bouah

Open Section

The Women Section

Continuing with the remarkable achievements at the SA Closed Chess Championship, in the Women’s Section, WIM Jesse February displayed her exceptional skills, securing victory with an impressive 10.5/11 score. Her strategic gameplay and toughness were evident, especially in challenging moments like her encounter with Davida Strong, where WIM Jesse turned the tide in her favor. With three SA Closed titles under her belt and a recent triumph at the African Championship, Jesse’s skills is undeniable, hinting at a forthcoming WGM title.

Following closely behind, WIM Charlize van Zyl demonstrated her abilities with a solid 9/11 score. Her consistent performance and swift moves on the board were commendable, further solidifying her position as a formidable player in the chess community.

Defending champion WFM Chloe Badenhorst delivered an impressive performance with 7 victories, showcasing her strategic acumen and dedication to the game. WFM Chloe‘s journey from winning African Youth titles to representing South Africa in various international tournaments reflects her growing influence in the chess arena.

Robyn Klaasen, a grade 1 teacher with a passion for chess, displayed measured gameplay and secured fourth place with a balanced record of 4 victories and 5 draws. Her versatile interests, including a fondness for Turkish telenovelas, add a unique dimension to her chess persona.

Rounding up the top performers, Hayley Nel‘s 5 victories and 2 draws highight her steady progress and dedication to the game since starting at the age of ten. Her achievements, including winning the Moja ladies Section and the U-18 Girls section at the SA Junior Closed, underscores her potential as a rising star in South African chess.

Overall, the dominance of the top players and the arrival of newcomers in the championship signals positive prospects. for the future of South African chess. The event celebrated individual talents and also highlighted the depth and diversity within the chess community, paving the way for continued growth and excellence in the sport.

Hayley Nel, Robyn Klaasen, WIM Jesse February, WFM Chloe Badenhorst in the Women’s Section. Photo: Dr. Lyndon Bouah

Women Section

The Senior Section

In the Senior Section of the SA Closed Chess Championship where Dr. Lyndon Bouah participated, the experienced players displayed their strategic abiliities and enduring passion for the game. Dr. Bhawoodien and Lyndon Bouah engaged in a captivating duel, each securing 6 victories and 5 draws against the same opponents. Their balanced performance concluded in a draw between themselves, highlighting their evenly matched skills and experience. Dr. Bhawoodien, a previous SA Closed champion, demonstrated his enduring proficiency, while Dr. Lyndon Bouah’s return after thirty years added a nostalgic touch to the competition.

In a nutshell, Justin Wilken performed well in the championship, securing third place with a four-game winning streak. His ability to adapt and stay tough against formidable opponents was evident throughout. Allister Metcalfe‘s calm and strategic gameplay made a mark, showcasing his composure under pressure and strong defensive skills. Despite initial setbacks, defending champion Mark Lewis showed resilience and finished in fifth place, highlighting his experience and influence in senior chess.

The Senior Section was competitive, with tight games and determined players like Andre Schutte and Cyril Danisa.

Chessa’s announcement of the over fifty team and the over 65 team, including players like Dr. Andrew Southey, Stephen Gallied, and Allister Metcalfe, added excitement to the event. The qualification of the Senior Team for the upcoming event in Krakow, Poland, signifies the depth and talent within the senior chess community, paving the way for continued success and oneness among seasoned players. The overall competition in the Senior Section was characterized by tight games and hard-fought victories.

PM Mark Lewis, CM Lyndon Bouah, FM Shabir Bhawoodien, Justin Wilken, Allister Metcalfe in the Senior Section. Photo: Dr. Lyndon Bouah

Senior Section

In conclusion, at the Closing Ceremony of the SA Closed Chess Championship, Minister Anroux Marais from the Western Cape Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport delivered an inspiring speech, acknowledging the key figures and contributors to the event. She recognized notable players like WIM Jesse February and IM Watu Kobese for their contributions and commended Dr. Lyndon Bouah for promoting sports and recreation in the Western Cape and acknowledged his latest book on the Moja Chess Extravaganza.

Minister Marais recognized Mr. Andre Lewaks from Chessa and his team, along with the presidents of various chess organizations and the Chief Arbiter, Mr. Ricardo Minnaar, for their roles in making the championship a success. Reflecting on the history and importance of chess in the Western Cape, Minister Marais shared her experiences attending chess events over the years and expressed her commitment to supporting the development of chess in the region.

Minister Anroux Marais. Photo: Dr. Lyndon Bouah

Minister Marais congratulated the winners of the championship and wished success to those representing South Africa in international competitions. She urged all participants to represent the country with pride and dignity, thanking everyone involved in organizing the event and looking forward to future editions of the SA Closed Chess Championship.

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