Bright minds in the land of fire : South Africa beats Austria !!!!!
Today 5 September 2016 will go down in history as one of the greatest days if not the greatest day in South African chess. The women’s team beat Malawi 4-0 but the biggest story for the day was the win by the South African men against Austria.
It was truly an emotional experience for me as captain. Last night we celebrated Grandmaster Kenny Solomon playing 100 games for South Africa at an Olympiad and now we were paired against Austria. Let me take you through the games as it happened.
The first aspect I realised when I checked the pairing was that we were outrated on each board by close to 100 points and on others by much more. Watu pointed out to Kenny that he must hold board one and allow play on the other boards. Not an easy task as Kenny is rated at 2379 and his opponent at 2697! Grandmaster Marcus Ragger won the Vienna Open last week and is reaching the dizzy heights of 2700 on the next rating list.
But let me take you through the match. The match started auspiciously when Daniel and his opponent had a disagreement. The disagreement was soon settled and play got underway. I settled in with my customary book and would be watching all the games because this was a huge game.
Then I noticed on Daniels board that he had played Na7 and his opponent had castled queenside in a Grunfeld. I was not familiar with this ultra sharp line. Daniel then sacrificed a pawn on pawn on b5 with Nb5 and after an exchange on that square he played Bd7 to offer to exchange the bishop. His opponent took the Bishop and then Daniel surprised the team by not recapturing but playing Nc4. His opponent was now under attack and retreated the queen to c1. Daniel could now play queen takes bishop but decided to play queen b4. This meant he was now a piece down and would have to mate or go down. By now all attention was focussed on this board. A win for either side would place pressure on the other team. The moves came out quickly for Daniel as he had the white king on the run. Daniel now proceeded to invade along the a file and his opponent was forced to give up his queen. Daniel wrapped up the game in tremendous fashion.
Thee next game to finish was Watu Kobese. The team members call Watu the Lion of Africa because with all his accomplishments he is indeed a lion on the chessboard. His opponent tried to steal a pawn in broad daylight but Watu was having none of it and was placing his pieces actively. Watu was then able to simplify into a neat endgame where only he had winning chances. Watu and his opponent now agreed to a draw as both of them could see that they would not be able to make progress.
As captain I was immensely proud because this meant that in his 96th Olympiad game he was able to hold his higher rated opponent and now stands on 3/4. I now realised that another draw on the last two boards would secure the team a nice draw and would be something we could be proud of.
Donovan was now in some serious time trouble. His opponent had more time and Donovan offered a draw. His opponent realising that Donovan had active piece play now consulted his captain GM Zoltan Ribli who told him to play on. Ribli was a top ten player in his day and was captain of Austria. They played on. The initiative had now however shifted as his opponent sacrificed the exchange . Donovan dominated the d file and came crashing through. His opponent resigned and with this victory South Africa secured a victory against the mighty Austria.
The pressure was now on between Kenny and Grandmaster Marcus Ragger. Ragger reminded me a little of Radnor Lothbrook the Viking king in the television series. I have had the privilege of playing against Kenny many times and also travelling with him. He was comfortable. Kenny was squeezing the position. Now remember his opponent was 2700 strength grandmaster and here we have our grandmaster Kenny. I realised however that Kenny couldn’t lose the position. The position was tight and as I was watching I noticed Kenny executing the Mitchell’s Plain shuffle. He showed Bg7 and then placed his bishop on c7 rather, it had previously stood on e5. Pieces were exchanged and now Kenny’s opponent offered a draw. Kenny after assessing the position accepted the draw thus securing a win of 3-1 against Austria. Kenny the Centurion from South Africa had stood firm and ensured a superlative result became even better.
Many grandmasters had walked past the board and noted the surprising result. All of us were very emotional. Kenny and I shared an embrace as we walked to the bus. The team done it for South Africa and Africa.
In my research I discovered the last time we beat a European team was in 2004 when we beat Italy who at that time had only one grandmaster. This on the world stage was a fantastic victory.
I salute all the Protea team today. The women won emphatically four nil and the now the men had won against a team featuring two grandmasters ( one a super grandmaster to boot) and was outrated on each board. To the players South Africa salutes you. May you go from strength to strength.
Reporting live from Baku, Azerbaijan
Dr lyndon Bouah