Kwa-Zulu Natal Open 2007

Report by Peter Dankelmann, with photos by Shaun Savy

Peter Dankelmann with tournament winner Cyril Danisa
(on the right) and Bheki Ngcongo (on the left)

This weekend saw the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the Durban Chess Club join forces in an unusual alliance to determine the strongest chess player in the province and to enhance disadvantaged students' learning skills. A field of 64 of the strongest players in KZN as well as selected students from the university's UNITE programme competed for the title of chess champion of KwaZulu-Natal.

On offer was also prize money of over R10.000, sponsored by the UNITE Programme (University of KwaZulu-Natal Intensive Tuition of Engineers) and the Durban Chess Club. The UNITE Programme supports disadvantaged students who want to study engineering. In a most remarkable initiative, the programme aims to take advantage of the benefits of the game.

The unlikely move of awakening their students' interest in a game is the brainchild of Rudi Kimmie, Deputy Director of the programme, which gives support to UKZN engineering students from a disadvantaged background which have demonstrated great potential. Kimmie, no stranger to unconventional ideas to expose his students to intellectual stimulus, was emphatic that chess is the right game to enhance the strategic thinking and problem solving abilities of future engineers as well as most professions. Chess players learn thinking ahead, careful analysis of situations, patience, persistence, and mental discipline. 'Chess players tend to be achievers' he adds.

Rudi Kimmie preparing to take some photos

The potential of chess as a medium to enhance the performance of learners is increasingly accepted among decision makers. Scotland's former Minister of Education, Peter Peacock, stated that 'chess is a wonderful game, ...research has shown that pupils who play chess perform well at school.' And indeed, researchers from the University of Aberdeen came to a similar conclusion when they investigated the benefits of chess programmes at Aberdeen (mainly primary) schools. Most significantly, they found that chess made a difference to the social adjustment, and it improved comprehension and arithmetic skills. A chess programme in New York showed similarly positive benefits. Peter Dankelmann, chairman of the Durban Chess Club and Professor in the School of Mathematical Sciences at UKZN is convinced that there is a strong link between chess and mathematical abilities. 'In our UKZN School of Mathematical Sciences we have three former KZN chess champions and, until recently, a former SA under 18 chess champion as well. This is certainly no coincidence. I also see that most junior members of the chess club perform far above average in mathematics and science at school and at university.'

An anxious moment as Ashley Lewis and Keith Rust
check the pairings on the computer

That chess is not only beneficial but also very exciting was evident this weekend at the UKZN Howard College Campus, where the chess tournament was held. Cyril Danisa and defending champion Keith Rust were among a small group of players that took the lead from the beginning. In the penultimate round, Danisa dashed former champion Peter Dankelmann's hopes by declining to take a rook offered to him and going straight for his opponents king. With Danisa and Rust both having a final score of 7 out of 8, the Buchholz tie break system was applied to determine the winner. Cyril Danisa won the tournament and the title of KZN chess champion. Among the younger players, the fairer sex refuted the prejudice that female players lack prowess in chess by claiming 3 of the 4 prizes in the different age categories. The players of the UNITE Programme, after receiving special chess coaching by former Durban Chess Club Captain of Play Shaun Savy, did very well. The best player Lazarus Mashedi scored a most respectable 2 out of 8 in a field in which the average hobby player would struggle to score even one point.

Lazarus Mashedi at the chessboard

The tournament is traditionally organised by the Durban Chess Club, at the ripe old age of 113 one of the oldest chess clubs in the country, and for the past decade the University Chess Club was involved as co-organiser. Since 2002 the tournament has taken place on the Howard College Campus, naturally a good place for intellectual activity. So perhaps Kimmie's initiative should not come as such a big surprise.

The UNITE Programme's innovative approach looks indeed like a good move.

Tournament director "JR" Mthembu

Finally, here is a copy of the results.

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