Nakamura's South African trainees begin European tour
Khanya Mazibuko closes in on his win against Nakamura, which proved to be worth much more than a single game. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/SAJCC.

Nakamura's South African trainees begin European tour

Alessandro_Parodi
Alessandro_Parodi
Jun 29, 2018, 5:01 AM |
55 | Chess Players

The South African chess talents Vusimuzi Mlahleki (17) and CM Khanya Mazibuko (17) embarked on a chess tour of Europe. The two players were chosen by GM Hikaru Nakamura, who visited South Africa last year, for some specific training in preparation for the tour.

Nakamura sponsored the trip for the two boys with the help of the Kasparov Chess Foundation for Africa. The world's number 10 had also selected Keith Khumalo, who could not set off to Europe because of an unfortunate bureaucratic hiccup.

Vusi and Khanya quickly got acquainted with Italy, where fellow South African GM Kenny Solomon hosted them in the city of Martellago, near Venice. One of Africa's few grandmasters, Solomon lives in Italy and will be the two young players' mentor and tour guide for the length of their stay, while Nakamura is occupied with other international events.

Vusi, Khanya and GM Kenny Solomon at the beginning of their journey.

Vusi, Khanya and GM Kenny Solomon at the beginning of their journey. | Photo courtesy of Kenny Solomon.

The three players participated in the "ad Gredine" chess festival in Ortisei, Italy between June 15 and 24. If coaching took its toll on Kenny, who stumbled a couple of times against lower-rated opponents, it sure had the expected effect on his two pupils. They performed way over their rating and gained more than 60 rating points each.

Sleepless nights at the board are producing the expected results

Sleepless nights at the board were producing the expected results. | Photo courtesy of Kenny Solomon.

Incidentally, the same tournament saw India's next superstar, Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa, conquer the title of grandmaster. Praggnanandhaa, the second-youngest player in history to become GM, led the tournament but was surpassed by GM Ivan Saric, who had a higher Buchholtz score.

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The "ad Gredine" international chess festival had over 160 players, including 10 GMs. | Photo: official website.

"Most of all, they gained experience," Solomon points out. "After a few draws with higher-rated opponents, I asked Khanya to always push for a win. He will not regret a couple of losses."

The tournament was a new experience for the two players.

Solomon: "They are used to playing rapid tournaments in South Africa, and hardly ever prepare for a game. Here we are working very hard outside the playing venue. Our preparation consists on theoretical aspects as well as psychological and physical training. Sure, the guys are very fit and Vusi is an experienced rugby player, but their chess stamina is low."

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GM Kenny Solomon. | Photo: official website.

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CM Khanya Mazibuko. | Photo: official website.

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Vusimuzi Mlahleki. | Photo: official website.

Beside the rigid preparation and extensive post-mortem analysis of their games, Vusi and Khanya had just enough time to visit the natural wonders of the Val Gardena, in the UNESCO site of the Dolomites Mountains, and taste some of Italy's trademark delicacies.

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Tournament preparation includes fitness and some relaxation. | Photos courtesy of Kenny Solomon.

After raveling back to the city of Venice, they will not have much time to indulge in sightseeing in the Italian jewel, as another intense, full immersion awaits them. Objective: fixing their weaknesses ahead of the Porticcio Open in Corsica (France), between June 30 and July 7. 

"I realized I need to work on my openings," said Vusi. "Most opponents I faced were very theoretical and I often got out of the opening with no advantage or a worse position." In South Africa, even players of an international caliber intentionally refrain from playing main lines and strive to reach unclear and extremely sharp positions.

"Europeans are hard," adds Khanya. "They don't want to lose and so they are very conservative and precise. Every game I played in Italy was an intense battle. Working with Kenny, I am learning a totally different approach to chess, which is crazy! It is helping me a lot."

After playing in Corsica, the three players will be back to Italy where they will participate in the Bergamo Open between July 13 and 15. After traveling back to South Africa, they will treasure a unique formative experience, which is likely to give a huge boost to their chess career.

"It is fundamental for our players to have more opportunities like this," emphasizes Solomon. "The guys are facing a completely new pool of opponents. They are playing no more than two games a day [in South Africa, regular tournaments schedule up to five rounds daily! -AP], with an appropriate time control and the opportunity to prepare.

"They are also in touch with Nakamura, which is quite an unusual luxury. Hopefully this experiment will leave room for more projects in future and also boost international events in Africa. I am very excited for Vusi and Khanya, because when I was their age I didn't have such opportunities. With their talent and so much support, they can go very far!" said Solomon.

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