The University of Fort Hare players who excelled at the recent Heritage Open will look to carry their red-hot form into the Eastern Cape Chess Championship in Jeffreys Bay from tomorrow (Thursday).
Fifteen UFH students will make the trip down the coast and coach Xhanti Mafongosi expected several of them to be awarded provincial colours for the first time at the tournament’s conclusion on Sunday.
The Fort Hare club is the only one in the Amathole region sending a legion of players to the event, which will see them do battle in the U20 men, U20 women and senior categories.
“We are expecting to perform well, especially our women who always tend to do well at big tournaments,” said Mafongosi, who also chairs the Amathole Chess Union.
“At Fort Hare we don’t separate our men and women [in practice]. Men’s chess is generally stronger because of the high level of competition, so when our women play against other women they perform well.”
The Alice-based university already sported seven representatives in the provincial ranks, but the coach was quietly confident that more of his charges would be asked to join the fray.
UFH’s performances at last month’s Heritage Open prove that they are fast becoming a powerhouse in the sport of strategy.
Romeo Tokoyi placed third overall in the A-section’s round-robin phase and Olwethu Mzizi and Lindokuhle Gaga first and second respectively in the B-section.
As a marker of progress being made, Tokoyi’s effort dwarfed his seventh place at the UFH Chess Open earlier this season.
Mafongosi noted that Mzizi and Gaga, who tied with 4,5 out of 5 points in the round robin, had “won” a section that comprised a record 80 players.
“There were a lot of strong players there and ours saw how competitive things can get. So they are all set [for Jeffreys Bay].”
With the first matches starting at 8am, the Fort Hare armada will leave for J-Bay in the early hours of tomorrow morning.
Apart from the national championships, Mafongosi also expected the provincial team to pit their skills against clubs in Lesotho in the near future.
The competition for a seat at the Fort Hare chess table is pushing the sport to heights never before seen at the university.
“Everyone is trying to make the team now and everyone is performing. It’s a headache for the coaches but it’s a nice headache to have,” Mafongosi said with a hint of pride in his voice.
“There’s also a bit of pressure now because Fort Hare’s other sports codes are doing well at national competitions, which means we must as well.”