A record number of entries have been received for the University of Fort Hare Heritage Open chess tournament taking place at the institution’s East London campus this weekend.
By the start of the week, a total of 49 players, among them some of South Africa’s best, have already registered in the Open A-division. Another 48 have put their names forward in the Open B-division.
The C-division, which is contested by those born in or after 2005 and whose rating is below 1099, is also expected to draw a high number of participants.
Matches will be played on Saturday and Sunday.
The tournament, held for the first time in 2018, continues to go from strength to strength. Increasing the prize money to R12 000 and Vodacom sponsoring data packages for the top places have raised its profile considerably this year.
Fort Hare chess coach and Open organiser Xhanti Mafongosi said the turnout spoke to the university’s prowess in hosting major competitions.
“This is an event that is recognised by both the International Chess Federation and Chess South Africa. International rankings are at stake, so it shows that we can stage events of this stature.”
Its scale was being noticed by high-school players wanting to attend the Eastern Cape university after matriculating, he added.
Two learners from East London who hold national U18 titles are hoping to enrol and hosting the “biggest and best” chess tournament in the province no doubt serves as the perfect sweetener.
“It’s good for us as an institution to attract players of this calibre,” Mafongosi said.
The participation of the country’s top players in the Heritage Open also encouraged others to enter as it provided an opportunity to test themselves against the best, he said.
“Even if they know their chances of winning are slim.”
Among the favourites is Joburg-based Brighton Mthunzi, who is returning to the EC following his victory in the UFH Chess Open in March.
More than 30 Fort Hare players will compete across the divisions and the coach is expecting “big things” from them.
“They will showcase what we’ve been working on this year. Nationals are coming up in December and this is one of our last chances to see where we are as a club.”
The coach is particularly keen to see how Fort Hare’s women fare.
“For our players, the Heritage Open is basically also a trial for nationals so if you’re not performing, you could miss out. I don’t apply pressure but, if we are honest, there is a lot of it.”
He quipped that his players did not want the prize money leaving the province.
Support from Fort Hare’s management committee at previous events this year motivated the team no end and Mafongosi hoped to see them out in full force this weekend.
The decision to host the tournament in East London had been deliberate, Mafongosi said.
Given that it is an institutional club that included members from Buffalo City, it is important to “share the love” between the two campuses.