South African Open Chess Championship

  • 1984 SA Open

    The 1984 event was held at UKZN in Durban. GM Michael Stean won the event. Spectators could follow the top games on the display boards on the wall, as each move was made by a skilled operator! Oude Meester sponsored quite a lot of chess events in South Africa in the 1970's and 80's.

  • On Stage

    Charles de Villiers vs Michael Henning (drawn)
    (both photos from the album of Keith Rust)

South African Open Championships

(article and photos by Keith Rust)

The South African Open was first held in 1962 in Wilderness. Two well known overseas masters, Alberic O'Kelly de Galway and Harry Golombek, were invited to play, and they shared first place. First prize was R400 and second prize was R200, which was a lot of money 55 years ago! The masters toured South Africa, giving lectures and simultaneous displays in all the major cities. Amongst the entrants to the first South African open was a young Eric Churton, whose scrapbook contained these news clippings:

Full page article from the local newspaper, and a letter
about the masters visit to Durban

It became customary for the SA Open to be held in even years, with the South African Closed being held in odd years. The event returned to the Wilderness in 1964, before moving to Durban for the first time in 1966. The entry fee was R5.00 and only 64 players could enter, due to the size of the playing venue. I recently discovered the detailed pairing charts for 1966 and got quite a surprise when I recaptured all the pairings. As you can see, in the first round all of the higher rated players got the Black pieces! Normally the odd numbered seeds get a different colour from the even numbered seeds, but the pairing system used meant some winners got a second Black in round 2. The poor top seed, David Friedgood, actually started with 3 consecutive Blacks. The 1966 open was won by the 10th seed, Bob Griffiths, who defeated the Durban champion, Gerald Boulle, in the last round, to the dismay of local chess fans. A total of R900 in prize money was awarded at a closing cocktail party at the Edward Hotel.

The prize fund of R900 doesn't sound like much, but it would be worth about R67,000 in 2017 after taking inflation into account. Incidentally, when I was paging through some old chess magazines, I found an entry form for the 1972 open, which was held in Port Elizabeth. You could enter the tournament for R10.00 and get a hotel room for less than that per night!

The next SA open to be held in Durban was in 1974. I was still at school and had no transport, but I was able to watch one of the weekend rounds. About half of the 146 contestants were from Natal. Top seed was Nigel Bloch, rated 2230, but none of the other members of the SA Olympiad team played. They were probably still traumatised from the Nice Olympiad held the month before, where both South Africa and Rhodesia were expelled from FIDE.

The South African team decided to forfeit their last 3 matches at the Olympiad in protest at being expelled from FIDE, and had their score in final group C annulled because of this. The Olimpbase website contains an interesting extract from Keene & Levy's book on Nice 1974.

Despite the expulsion from FIDE, South Africa was still able to host some visiting masters. Cape Town 1976 saw the event dominated by visiting GM's Miguel Najdorf and Michael Stean. The same thing happened in Durban 1978, when we hosted IM's Craig Pritchett and Raul Sanguineti. This was my first SA open and I lost to Pritchett in round 4 after cheekily playing the Scheveningen against him (he had just written a book on this opening) and to Sanguineti in the last round, to end up on 7.5 points, tied for 8th place. Durban's Peter Abbott was the best South African player, finishing in 3rd place.

When Mervyn Millar moved in early 2006, he came across a steel trunk of chess stuff in his garage. He very kindly gave these materials to myself, and they included most of the scoresheets from the 1978 SA Open. The following file contains all of the games played by the 64 players who scored 6 out of 11 or more (except for round 1 games, which were missing from the trunk). I have checked the file for accuracy against the official results, and have also entered the South African ratings:
RSA Open Durban 1978 (incomplete, 472 games).

The next SA Open in Durban was in 1984. I had a disappointing tournament, scoring the same as in 1978, and did not get to play against GM Stean. There are some pictures from 1984 above. No game scores are available for the 1984 event, other than those already published in the Durban Chess Club Bulletin.

After meandering from Johannesburg in 1986 to Port Elizabeth in 1988 and back to Johannesburg in 1990, there was no event in 1992. Chess in South Africa was in considerable turmoil in 1992, with several competing bodies attempting to form a unified structure. These talks resulted in South Africa being readmitted to FIDE, but the SA Open had to be held over until 1993.

The 1993 event happily co-incided with the celebrations for the centenary year of the Durban Chess Club. Overseas visitors in 1993 included IM's Malcolm Pein, Johan van Mil, Gerard Welling and Erika Sziva, but it was Cape Town's George Michelakis who won the event on tiebreak from Pein, and shortly thereafter became an IM himself. Again I scored 7.5 points, as I lost to Michelakis in the last round. I also lost to Pein, in round 5, who liked our game so much that he published it in his English newspaper column!

I captured all the games from the Centenary Event and published these many years ago for the first time:
RSA Open Durban 1993 (complete, 919 games).

The Open returned to Durban in 1995, and again in 1996. On both those occasions I scored a creditable 8 points from my 11 games. Here are some games from those years:
RSA Open Durban 1995 (complete, 797 games).
RSA Open Durban 1996 (incomplete, 509 games).

After 1996, the SA Open was held on an annual basis, mainly in Cape Town or Johannesburg, with the occasional trip to other centres. Now in 2017, the event is coming back to Durban after a 21 year break. This time I will be present as an arbiter, not as a player! The table below summarises its history and its past winners:

2016 Cape Town Aleksa Strikovic Watu Kobese
2015 Cape Town Nigel Short, Aleksa Strikovic & Abhijit Kunte Kenny Solomon
2014 Bloemfontein Merab Gagunashvili Johannes Mabusela
2013 Port Elizabeth Abhijit Gupta, Sergey Fedorchuk & Sergei Tiviakov Watu Kobese
2012 Cape Town Rodwell Makoto, Johannes Mabusela, Ahmed Adly & Daniel Cawdery Johannes Mabusela
2011 Johannesburg Gawain Jones & Nigel Short Nicholas van der Nat
2010 Johannesburg Robert Gwaze, Kgaugelo Mosetlhe, Dion Moyo & Rodwell Makoto Kgaugelo Mosetlhe
2009 Cape Town Amon Simutowe Nicholas van der Nat
2008 Centurion Watu Kobese Watu Kobese
2007 Cape Town Kenny Solomon Kenny Solomon
2006 Port Elizabeth Gawain Jones Watu Kobese
2005 Bloemfontein Kenny Solomon & Watu Kobese Kenny Solomon
2004 Cape Town Watu Kobese & Jacques Ophoff Watu Kobese
2003 Centurion Stanley Chumfwa Kenny Solomon
2002 Port Elizabeth Ronnie van Tonder & Jonathan Gluckman Ronnie van Tonder
2001 Cape Town Mark Levitt & Jonathan Gluckman Mark Levitt
2000 Alberton Amon Simutowe Andre Nel
1999 Cape Town Kenny Solomon Kenny Solomon
1998 Pretoria Amon Simutowe Mark Rubery
1997 Cape Town Gordon Meyer Gordon Meyer
1996 Durban Mark Levitt & Solly Mauba Mark Levitt
1995 Durban Gavin Wall & Mark Levitt Mark Levitt
1993 Durban George Michelakis & Malcolm Pein George Michelakis
1990 Johannesburg James Plaskett Shabier Bhawoodien
1988 Port Elizabeth David Gluckman David Gluckman
1986 Johannesburg Mark Levitt Mark Levitt
1984 Durban Michael Stean Mark Rubery
1982 Johannesburg David Sprenkle & Albert Ponelis Albert Ponelis
1980 Port Elizabeth Yair Kraidman & Charles de Villiers Charles de Villiers
1978 Durban Craig Pritchett Peter Abbott
1976 Cape Town Miguel Najdorf & Michael Stean David Friedgood
1974 Durban Albert Ponelis & Eddie Price Albert Ponelis
1972 Port Elizabeth Bob Griffiths Bob Griffiths
1970 East London Brian Donnelly Brian Donnelly
1968 Cape Town Kurt Dreyer Kurt Dreyer
1966 Durban Bob Griffiths Bob Griffiths
1964 Wilderness Lothar Schmid Melvin Hope
1962 Wilderness Harry Golombek & Alberic O'Kelly JJ Leicher