When the finalists for the Metropolitan National Chess Championship are announced on the Easter weekend, there will be quite a couple of notable ones absent on the register. Following a grueling two day semifinal this past weekend, a number of well known chess aficionados, including national team players, failed to make the cut. Among those who will not make the finals are three perennial Open finalists, namely FIDE Master (FM) and defending champion Phemelo Khetho, Candidate Masters (CM) Barileng Gaealafshwe and Oaitse Kokome.
While Khetho failed to attend the weekend qualifiers due to some personal engagements, the duo of Gaealafshwe and Kokome fell by the wayside during what was a weekend full of upsets in the Metropolitan National Championship semifinals. With Khetho not competing, it was expected that Gaealafshwe and Kokome will be among the contenders, but that was not to be. For Gaealafshwe in particular, it was a tough pill to swallow after his brilliant start to the weekend clashes. After winning his first two games, the going got tough for Gaealafshwe as he then lost his next game to Providence Oatlhotse who was having a stellar weekend at the boards. After the loss, it all went awry for the likeable player as he drew all his remaining four games. The draws saw Gaealafshwe end the weekend with four points, level with two other players, namely Abdul Kamara and Clifford Masole, leading to their fate being decided by a tie-breaker. However, with Kamara and Masole having registered four and three straight wins respectively to Gaealafshwe’s two victories, the duo advanced to the finals.
Kokome on the other hand had a mixed bag of results. After starting with a defeat to Oatlhotse, he won his second game against Gofaone Tlhwafalo before losing his third game to Abhiram Sasitharan. The Black Bishops Chess Club man then won his next two games only to draw his last game with Gaealafshwe, a draw which proved drastic for both players as it knocked them off the finals. The star of the weekend has to be Oatlhotse, who won six games and drew one, ending the weekend as the only player not to have lost a game. Among his casualties were the country’s highly rated players such as Gaealafshwe, Kokome, Sasitharan, Thabo Gumpo and former champion Abel Dzilani. Oatlhotse’s only draw came in his fifth game encounter with Moakofi Notha.
In the ladies section, Woman International Master (WIM) Tshepiso Lopang was the biggest casualty, coming thirteenth overall and failing to reach the semi final. Eyed as a potential finalist, Lopang only managed a paltry two wins during the weekend, while losing another two and drawing the other three. Despite starting with what seemed as easy opponents on paper, Lopang failed to get off the blocks early, drawing her first game against Thatayaone Seleka before losing her next game to the lowly ranked Koiba Mokhuzeni who was having a weekend to remember.
A literally unknown package of the weekend clashes, Mokhuzeni surprised many as she went on to finish second in the final standings and qualify for the finals at the expense of her highly rated compatriots. The teenager registered four straight wins, a draw and two losses to qualify for the finals. The Metropolitan National Chess championships will come to a close when the ten finalists in both the Ladies and the Open sections face off to decide the champions from the 3rd to the 6th of April this year. The winner of this year’s Open title will walk away with a P9 000 cash prize, while the runner up and third placed players will walk away with cash prizes of P7 000 and P5 000 respectively. The winner of the ladies’ section on the other hand will be awarded a P6 000 cash price while the second and third prizes will be P4 500 and P2 900 respectively. According to information from the BCF, there will also be cash prizes for all the top 10 finalists, the least of which is expected to be P1 250.