Nakamura Proteges To Compete In Europe
GM Hikaru Nakamura played many people during his South Africa trip, but two stood out to him. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/SAJCC.

Nakamura Proteges To Compete In Europe

| 51 | Chess Players

If you win a game in a simul, sometimes your prize is an autograph. Or a book. Maybe even a picture with the master. One lucky South African won a summer chess tour of Europe.

Although not officially a prize, CM Khanya Mazibuko's victory against GM Hikaru Nakamura in a 101-board simul in January impressed the world-class GM. Nakamura decided he'd give back by announcing at the end of the South African Junior Chess Championship that he'd like to sponsor the 16-year-old. 

Nakamura also noticed another talented 16-year-old, and although he didn't score a win in the simul, the American similarly granted Keith Khumalo this honor.

Now we know the extent of what this sponsorship means.

Mazibuko Nakamura

Khanya Mazibuko, left, from Soweto, chats with GM Hikaru Nakamura after the South African's upset win in the simul. | Photo: Lennart Ootes.

With the additional assistance of Kasparov Chess Foundation Africa (KCFA), the two juniors are both bound for Europe for the first time in their lives. The duo will play in a trio of tournaments:

In other words, a dream summer. Indeed, the two South Africans will actually be escaping their winter during the events.

The choice of Italy and an island off the coast of Italy doesn't appear to be an accident. Nakamura has spent much time there and speaks Italian decently. Also, South Africa's lone grandmaster, GM Kenny Solomon, has been living In Italy for years.


Nakamura with Mazibuko (left) and Keith Khumalo (right). | Photo: Lennart Ootes.

The KCFA will handle the logistics of the trip, but Solomon will handle the coaching. He will also accompany the youngsters to all of the events, where he plans to play alongside them.

Here's what the two young men said back in January when they were told that Nakamura singled them out for extra training and overseas travel:

Khumalo: "Going to Europe has always been my dream."

Mazibuko: "I hope to live up to [Nakamura's] expectations."


One good way to stand out from the crowd: Beat the person giving the simul! Only two players managed it; Mazibuko was one. | Photo: Lennart Ootes.

Since Nakamura's Africa trip in January, both juniors have been quite active, with three events apiece. The duo continues to trend in the right direction. Khumalo has raised his rating from 1905 to 1951. Mazibuko has gone from 1846 to 1888.

Khumalo and Mazibuko will continue that activity with 24 more FIDE-rated games in their Meditteranean tour.

"[This] should give them incredible experience as they can expect to face stronger European-based opponents in almost every single game they play," KCFA said in a press release. The tournaments have many GMs planning to attend, whereas almost all of the duo's 2018 activity has come against 2200s and under.


Like some other famous grandmasters, the lure of Italy was too strong for South African GM Kenny Solomon. But he hasn't forgotten his roots. | Photo courtesy KCFA.

Solomon told that he's excited to be working with these two boys. He's already given them assignments to complete before they arrive in Europe.

"I will mainly focus on improving the weakest areas of the games," Solomon said. "I am keen to share my experience and show them how I work on chess as well. I think this insight will be most useful. Over the years I have learned things the hard way, which I will have them avoid."

When they aren't competing, the two players will be staying and traveling with Solomon, who lives in Venice. He said he will show them around the country and teach them some basic Italian too.

"Italian food they will like, I'm sure," Solomon said. They'll also be guests of Solomon's home chess club, in Mestre, central Venice.

The press release further stated: "We wish to thank Hikaru for his generosity and foresight and commend him on setting an outstanding example to his peers as he helps to develop promising talent on the African continent."

"Hikaru wants them to get international exposure," Solomon said. "This will definitely be the very first time I will be focusing 100 percent on the play and preparation on my students during the events."

FM Mike Klein

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Mike Klein began playing chess at the age of four in Charlotte, NC. In 1986, he lost to Josh Waitzkin at the National Championship featured in the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer." A year later, Mike became the youngest member of the very first All-America Chess Team, and was on the team a total of eight times. In 1988, he won the K-3 National Championship, and eventually became North Carolina's youngest-ever master. In 1996, he won clear first for under-2250 players in the top section of the World Open. Mike has taught chess full-time for a dozen years in New York City and Charlotte, with his students and teams winning many national championships. He now works at as a Senior Journalist and at as the Chief Chess Officer. In 2012, 2015, and 2018, he was awarded Chess Journalist of the Year by the Chess Journalists of America. He has also previously won other awards from the CJA such as Best Tournament Report, and also several writing awards for mainstream newspapers. His chess writing and personal travels have now brought him to more than 85 countries.

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