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When it comes to mastering the ancient game of chess, Fort Hare University’s star player Romeo Tokoyi is making all the right moves.

Where others his age might scroll TikTok or Instagram before going to bed, this 22-year-old can be found in the pages of a chess book learning a new strategy or pitting his skills against others online.

“One page a day is important,” the final-year computer science and biochemistry student said. “I won’t quit chess until I’am one of the top players in South Africa.”

Although Tokoyi first became interested in the game while a learner at Alice’s Phandulwazi Agricultural High School, it was Fort Hare’s excellent chess programme that put him on the path to becoming the university’s top men’s player.

Its policy of “everybody is welcome” has attracted more than 100 players, some 70 of whom are active at any given time. It has also allowed talented individuals like Tokoyi to compete against the best in the land.

Even defeats had value as many lessons were learnt, he said.

In last month’s prestigious University of Fort Hare Chess Open, it took a marathon match for the eventual champion in the advanced section, Brighton Mthunzi from Johannesburg, to subdue the Qonce native.

He had no regrets because of what he could take away from that game.

“You have to play the best if you want to be the best,” he said.

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Romeo Tokoyi’s methodical approach to his chess game is paying off handsomely. Photo: Supplied

The Open, which attracted almost a hundred participants across the A (33), B (55) and C sections (9), was certainly not short of star power as the line-up included several professionals players.

Tokoyi’s studious and methodical approach is certainly paying off for himself and others. Such is his love of the board that he also mentors his peers to become better players.

“I coach others so I must know what I’m talking about. Aside from my studies, there’s nothing else I do away from chess.”

He did, however, advise that a player should not do “too much” 10 days out from a big tournament as it was important to relax the mind. All he might do in this time was assess what opening plays he might use or test some strategies in online matches.

While he has not yet won a major tournament, the experience he is gaining from taking on players like Mthunzi and Keith Khumalo, a candidate master from Durban, is putting him in the perfect position to achieve that milestone.

He will be part of the Eastern Cape senior team taking part in an interprovincial tournament in July after finishing in the top five at a qualifying event in Komani last year.

And, of course, he will be focusing on his last year of studies, which he said benefited from chess in that he was “able to grasp things much quicker”.

Tokoyi added that his mother was very supportive of his chess and would often sponsor him to travel to tournaments.