Nelson Mandela University student Charlize van Zyl emerged from a challenging Online Chess Olympiad tournament with fresh determination to improve her status in the sport.
The third-year BA media, communications and culture student was a member of the South African team which competed in the virtual international competition last month.
They did not qualify for the knockout stages, but Van Zyl said it was a fantastic experience to compare themselves against some of the best players in the world.
“It really was a great opportunity to play against these opponents as we usually don’t get such chances,” she said.
“Personally, this event has made me excited to keep working hard to reach the level of my opponents.
“There were some really great and memorable games played and I learnt from every game and every mistake.”
The tough nature of the competition, she added, was reflected by the fact that most of their opponents were higher ranked.
“I would have liked to have done better, but the quality of my games was good and almost all my opponents were Woman Grandmasters.
“The highlight of the tournament was my draw against a Grandmaster and one of the top female players in the world from Azerbaijan.
“After an exciting game where I had a winning position, I faced time pressure which led me to accept the draw.”
Van Zyl said the online format made for extremely intense competition.
“The biggest challenge was time as we only had 15 minutes, with an added five seconds per move.
“This goes by incredibly quickly as one minute you are calculating a variation and the next you realise that you have already lost three to five minutes!
“Additionally, it was fast-paced because of the playing schedule too. We had three rounds a day in a three-hour period, where each round started on the hour.
“This accommodated the various pools and teams to fit into the day, but it also meant we had very little time to prepare between rounds as we had to be on the Zoom call 15 minutes prior to starting.
“So you can just imagine the rush in-between games.”
Van Zyl said she had several objectives looking ahead, the top priority being the Olympiad which takes place in Russia next year in July.
“This tournament is a lot bigger, with no divided pools, which gives South Africa the chance to be the best performing African country.
“Therefore next year will revolve around working hard and preparing for this event, while I also want to substantially increase my rating and work towards attaining the title of Woman Grandmaster.
She is also a chess coach for students from around the world and their success and growth is a priority.
“Other than that, I will be doing my honours next year and studies are very important to me, so I will be balancing all of these things going forward.”
Van Zyl said there was a fascinating finale to the online tournament.
“The final saw a clash between Russia and India, two incredibly strong teams consisting of former world champions in different chess formats and some of the top male, female and junior players in the world.
“After a dramatic contest, where two of the Indian players lost their games on time due to a global internet outage, the president of FIDE (the international chess body) decided that India and Russia would be co-winners and both received gold.
“This was seen as controversial by fans and players, but was considered to be the only solution.”