Friday, June 2, 2023

Francis and Botlhole roll back the years as they take on men at Gaborone Open

When the annals of the 2015 Gaborone International Open chess tournament are opened, two Batswana young ladies will be remembered for their bravery of competing against their male counterparts in a competitive chess tournament.

In what was a first for Botswana chess in over a decade, two ladies- Women International Masters (WIM) Kgalalelo Botlhole and Onkemetse Francis-went head to head with male players in the tournament’s Prestige section. The two young ladies followed in the footsteps of the country’s only Women Grandmaster (WGM), Tuduetso Sabure, who is renowned for having competed against men before she was crowned the country’s highest ranking female player.

In what was an eventful Prestige section, which was ultimately won by FIDE Master Thato Olebile, both Botlhole and Francis not only went against the male players but competed successfully. After losing their first rounds in the competition, both Botlhole and Francis bounced back in the second round to register their first wins against Lesego Keebakile and Marthu Meghaj respectively before both lost their third round matches.

Undeterred, the two ladies came back strongly in the next rounds, with Botlhole winning her next three consecutive rounds and losing her seventh and final round while Francis drew one game in-between her fourth and sixth round before also losing her seventh and last round. Of the 53 competitors in the Prestige section, Kgalalelo finished 20th overall with four points while Francis finished 29th having accumulated 3.5 points. Despite the two ladies finishing outside the top positions, their brazen attempt has been lauded as a positive step for ladies’ chess development.

According to Botswana Chess Federation (BCF) Public Relations Officer, Neoyame Katisenge, the fact that the two ladies not only participated, but strongly competed, suggests that they are on the right way in their development. “Before WGM Sabure got her title, she used to compete against men in the open section and this made her very strong in the women sections and paved way for her to be crowned Women Grandmaster. We are hopeful this will also make these two ladies competitive enough and build them,” the BCF PRO said. She added that with the two ladies being part of the national team set up, competing against men will give them confidence when on national team duty.

Meanwhile, FM Olebile won the Prestige section at a canter, winning all of his seven rounds to end the tournament unbeaten. Olebile beat among others the tournament’s defending champion Candidate Master (CM) Barileng Gaealafshwe, CM Oaitse Kokome and Thabo Gumpo to win the section. Gaealafshwe had to be content with second position while Gumpo came third. The ladies section went to WGM Sabure, with WIM Tshepiso Lopang and Gorata Leso coming second and third respectively. In the Open section, Boenyane Moagi was crowned winner having garnered 6.5 points out of 7. He was closely followed by Tlhokojane Bagomotsi and Silent Tjituka, who were both separated by tie breaks after ending the competition with 6 points each.


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