Chess whizz wants to teach kids to think

2011-07-22 00:00

DURBAN engineering student Mbongeni Sithole discovered a passion for chess that has transformed his life.

As a schoolboy he and his friend were always competing with one another in sports but his friend would always boast: “You will never beat me at chess!”

Fourteen-year-old Sithole developed a burning curiosity about the game and wanted to learn all about it, but very few people at Embizweni High School could help him. By chance a friend left his bag with Sithole for the weekend and in it was a coveted chess board. That was the day Sithole got his friend, Khulekani Khanyile, to teach him how to play the game.

“Of course, I lost a few games, but it was not for long because I quickly developed a way of understanding the moves and soon I was beating my friend at chess. He was not very happy with me,” laughed Sithole.

He decided to try to find other competitors who played the game at the high school in Umlazi in Durban.

Eventually there were six pupils who developed a rudimentary knowledge of chess. They would gather to play against each other and formed a club. None of the teachers knew how to play and the club was an enigma in a school where football and athletics were very popular.

Sithole found a mentor in the township in the form of Cyril Danisa, who was thrilled with the young boy’s initiative. He gave Sithole some chess books and taught him how to understand the lingo. He also tutored the boy in how to play games against the computer. Sithole would learn and then go and teach his friends at school. Danisa eventually gave the chess club the money to enter a local high school chess competition.

As there were many schools in the Glenwood Open competition, the small chess team was nervous. They decided they would probably fare badly but it would be a learning curve; however, to their great amazement they came second. It was a great boost for the club’s morale. Many teachers came over to the players to ask who their coach was and they only smiled at each other.

In 2002 when he was in matric, Sithole and the chess club members entered and won the LoveLife Games that were held at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. When he went to UKZN the following year to study chemical engineering he joined the chess team and they participated in the world student games.

Since those early days, Sithole’s chess career has grown in leaps and bounds, and he has been chosen for the KwaZulu Natal regional team many times. He has recently competed in the Commonwealth Chess games in Johannesburg.

He staunchly believes that his interest in chess has given him so many benefits. He has visited Russia and Uganda to compete in competitions, and he believes he achieved good matric results due to his ability to concentrate.

This is what spurs him on to spread the game to others in less fortunate communities. He has noticed that when they choose the KZN regional chess team, there are many players from Durban and surrounds but very few players from the midlands.

Sithole has decided to offer free coaching and lessons to children in Pietermaritzburg at the Methodist Metro Church on Friday afternoons. “I would like to offer young children the chance to learn the game and perhaps teach them how to develop a passion for it. In the townships boys are mad for football and the girls think chess is for boys.

“But chess can help in many areas. It helps with concentration. You have to think about your game all the time. You are always wondering what your opponent will do. It helps to develop your memory as you have to remember the chess moves and also remember how your opponent plays so you can outwit him or her.

“In chess you are on your own. You cannot blame a team-mate, so you have to develop confidence in your own skills. It also helps to teach you patience as you wait for your turn to make a move. I believe it helps you develop logical thinking which will help in maths and science-related subjects.”

Sithole says the youngest age that chess is taught is six years old, but it depends on the child. He says if a child can grasp the concept behind the game then he or she can play.

Sithole would love to get into the top chess rankings in the world and to play world chess legend Garry Kasparov, but he says his passion to pass on the game is his priority right now. He has been trained as a chess instructor and he hopes that he will be able to earn money to finish his engineering degree, which he had to stop due to lack of finances.


• If you are interested in joining his classes at the Metro Methodist Church in Peter Kerchoff Street, Pietermaritzburg, they begin today. Phone Mbongeni Sithole at 076 763 2328.

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