A young boy’s sacrifice

Portia Mlilo

Mpene prepares for world champs

To be the best, sacrifices must be made.

For 11-year-old Thuto Mpene – the reigning Africa Schools U/11 Chess Champion – this involved leaving his parents’ home in Letlhkane and moving to Gaborone to stay with his coach.

Mpene was desperate to fine-tune his preparations ahead of the World Schools Individual Chess Championship, initially scheduled for Lima, Peru this month.

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Thus, when schools closed on 23 March, the Standard Six Letlhakane Primary School pupil took the difficult decision to leave his loved ones behind for the good of his game.

With the Championship’s now postponed until early next year, Mpene, under the careful guidance of his coach, Opelo Maswabi, is hard at work honing his craft online.

A young boy's sacrifice
AIMING HIGH: The African champ

Mpene, along with countless other chess players across the country, have been taking part in an online tournament ‘Covid 19 Lockdown Blitz Challenge’ set up by FIDE International, Vincent Masole.

The games take place every day from 8p to 10pm.

In an exclusive interview with Voice Sport, Maswabi said the tournament was providing his young charge with good practice.

“He is improving his skills and working on his mistakes,” said Maswabi, proudly adding that Mpene recently beat Lesotho’s Female Chess Champion, Malehoa Likhomo.

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“The good thing about online chess is that you can challenge opponents anywhere in the world. This is a great initiative because it keeps our players busy and Mpene is using it to prepare for the world champs,” continued Coach Maswabi, who admitted he actually ‘welcomed’ the global tournament’s postponement.

“I was supposed to be writing my final examination in May and I was not going to have enough time to coach him. Hopefully next year I will now be able to travel with him to Peru!”

For his part, Mpene, who qualified for Peru after winning eight and drawing one of his nine games at the African Schools Championships in Uganda last year, told Voice Sport it took him time to adapt to playing online.

A young boy's sacrifice
Thuto Mpene

“The online game is a bit tricky, at some point I finished on position 13!” revealed Mpene, who says that although he misses his parents, he is happy with the way his training is developing.

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