Botswana Chess Federation (BCF) has assembled a team of 15 youngsters to represent the country at the 2018 Africa Schools Individual Chess Championships scheduled for December 5-13 in Limpopo, South Africa. The team is made up of boys and girls under the age of 17 from various schools and clubs from across the country. The players were selected during Debswana Youth Championships which were held in June this year.
The team comprises Keaobaka Rankwane, Theo Mhate, Iphazha Masala, Atang Masaka, Botlhe Lekang, Desire Machinya and Ofile Masilo who makes up the boys squad. Orefile Moatshe, Laone Moshoboro, Atang Mosweu, Refilwe Gabatshware, Ruth Otisitse, Peoyame Moatshe, WFM Besa Masaiti and WFM Naledi Marape make the girls team. However WFM Marape will be competing in the boys under 13 category; a decision which has been agreed by the player’s parents and the federation.
The team will be banking on the experiences of the two WFMs Marape and Masaiti, who have vast experience in various international competitions. WFM Masaiti is just fresh from the World Chess Olympiad which was held in Batumi, Georgia where she did impressively well garnering six points from 11 rounds. WFM Marape (13) has also enjoyed a successful season having managed to attend the Zone 4.3 Chess Championships in Mozambique where she was crowned player of the tournament after finishing on position 10 out of 24 participants. She also managed to win a silver medal at the Francistown International Open last week while Masaiti managed only fourth spot at the same tournament. Therefore, the expectation is that the team is going to fly the nation’s flag high at the tournament.
According to the team coach International Master Providence Oatlhotse, the players are heading in the right direction. “So far I have met and watched games of many of these players at various events and the point was to get and feel their style of play such that we work on that going forward. The plan is to quickly adapt to professional practice in our preparation lines .So I want to offer them sustainable knowledge preparations such that they have the opportunity to build upon, not just to merely win once-off games,” said Oatlhotse.
The national youth team has performed well in the last edition of the tournament which was held in Zimbabwe in 2017 where they won nine medals (three gold, three silver and three bronze) to emerge the champions. In 2016, they also terrorised their African counterparts in Zambia where they also finished as champions after winning 9 medals with four gold, three silver and two bronze. Therefore, the team has won the championship for the last two consecutive years. However, during that era the team was under the leadership of Egyptian Grand Master Nikolai Chadaev who is not around this time.
Quizzed if he won’t be under any pressure to replicate the 2017 performance of the team and GM Chadaev, IM Oatlhotse said, “I value sustainable training and learning of chess ideas so I do not feel any pressure at this particular point. I’m not in competition with the previous coach; my aim is for players to perform to their level best during the tournament and understand that titles are important since they come to stay and are more respectable than ratings and medals though they are all good for motivation,” he said.
According to BCF Secretary General Mokwaledi Tingwane, the invitation for the tournament came very late, and this made it very difficult for them to organise a training camp. “The invitation came late to us so we used the Francistown Open event as a training exercise for the team. Seven players out of the 15 participated at the tournament. Moreover, we are looking at the Botswana Junior International Championship to be another perfect preparation for the team as there will be international players competing,” said Tingwane.
When asked why they ditched GM Chadaev who led the team to victory last year, Tingwane said, “We roped him last year but because of the time limit we looked locally and appointed IM Oatlhotse so that we empower and utilse him as the only International Master in our country. Besides the fact that he is the highest rated player and achiever locally, he is also a full time coach and trainer to a lot of young players so he is the perfect candidate,” said Tingwane.