All the right moves

2014-02-25 00:00

HE’S a slick mover, thinking hard before making a decision. He backs himself and invariably, others are left admiring what he has achieved.

Pinetown Boys’ High School Grade 9 pupil Duncan Podmore is no dancefloor king or crafty boxer leaving a trail of knock-out victims in his wake.

No. He is quite the opposite. What gets his adrenaline going is chess, a game he has been playing since he was in Grade 3 and he has made mighty progress since then.

“My stepdad taught me and I started playing for fun. When I was in Grade 6, I took it up seriously and entered competitions,” said Duncan.

He uncovered a talent for the game that has seen him progress in leaps and bounds in the past few years.

“Last June, I was awarded my KZN colours. I attended the KZN trials and against all expectations, won the U16 section,” said Duncan.

“My goal for the year was to get my KZN honours and winning my age group was a huge bonus.”

While most youngsters his age were throwing, hitting and kicking balls, Duncan was interested only in his chess board and playing online.

Last December, he played in the SA Junior Chess Championships at the ICC in Durban, winning five out of seven games. “I was 11th in the U16 age group and qualified for the SA Junior Chess Champs Closed in Stellenbosch in April, a five-day event where I have to play 11 rounds,” he said.

This is a massive tournament.

“If I finish in the top five or six of my age group, I could qualify for the World Junior Chess Championships in Durban later this year. It’s one step at a time though and I must not think too far ahead of things,” he said.

This is a game where there is little room for mistakes and as the young man explains, it can be mentally draining. “A game can last up to four hours and you have to plan ahead and know what you are going to do. Once a move has been made, there is no turning back and I have often made a move only to realise I should have done something else,” he said.

Duncan practises every day, either playing online or with his stepdad, although he admits he has mastered his game against the latter. “I belong to Durban Chess Club and we meet and play once a week. It’s great experience as anyone can play and we learn as we go along,” he said.

To date in his chess career, Duncan has won a host of medals and is a firm believer that chess has added value to his life. “It definitely gets you to think strategically in life when it comes to major decisions. It makes it easier to decide what you can and cannot do and asks questions on what you decide to do,” he said.

Even his schoolwork benefits. “It stimulates the mind and gets me to think faster,” he said. “Maths is my strongest subject and thanks to chess, I can work things out quickly. My mom even calls me a calculator sometimes.”

As his school’s top chess player, Duncan varies his strategy and game depending on who he comes up against.

“You get aggressive and passive players, the aggressive style calling for more risks and sacrifice of pieces. It depends what level of opponent is being played but I tend to be more defensive, starting carefully before launching an attack or two,” he said.

With no retirement age as such in chess, Duncan has a clear ambition. “To become South Africa’s first ever chess grandmaster,” he said.

“It’s all based on points depending on how a player does in various tournaments. A total of 2 500 points makes grandmaster status and I currently have around the 1 400 mark.

“It may sound easy but it’s hard graft. Currently, I am the fourth best U16 player in the KZN and am in the top 1 000 players in the country. As long as I keep heading up the ladder, my dream remains a possibility.”

Duncan Podmore at a glance

Enjoys debating and is the researcher for his team.

Plays volleyball and does first aid.

Follows cricket and rugby.

Supports Juventus when it comes to soccer.

Geography (mapwork) is a favourite subject.

Loves finding out about space and has his own telescope.

Favourite food is a meaty pizza.

Is a hip-hop and reggae fan but likes rock (Nickleback) to get the adrenaline going.

Reads mainly non-fiction and journals.

Likes movies — Lord of the Rings is one of his favourites.

Advice to others

Be patient in what you aim for. Work at it bit by bit and get past the beginning when it always appears to be so tough. Once that step has been taken, grow and learn as you progress.

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