Queen of chess

Portia Mlilo

Woman International Master (WIM) and Vice President for Africa Chess Commission, Tshepiso Lopang has been appointed an official in a World Chess tournament.

Lopang is Deputy Chief Arbiter for the first World Online University Chess Championships 2021.

The event is organised by FIDE in conjunction with Texas Rio Grand Valley.

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She is one of the only three arbiters selected from Africa, with two counterparts from Kenya and Uganda respectively.

The 41-year-old Mechatronics Engineer started playing chess at the tender age of 13 and her first Olympiad was in 2000 in Turkey until 2014 in Norway.

With over 20 years of experience as a national team player in which she earned herself a WIM title, Lopang decided to stop playing and train to be an arbiter.

Our reporter PORTIA MLILO caught up with this international chess referee to discuss the new appointment and her journey in sport.

Q. Congratulations on your appointment as Deputy Chief Arbiter for the first World Online University Chess Championships. What does this appointment mean to you?

A. I am so excited and humbled to represent Botswana chess in such a prestigious event, especially during a time where our participation in world events is so few due to the outbreak of Covid-19.

Thanks to the International Chess Federation for the opportunity, it can only be God.

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The appointment means growth in the field of arbitration and international management.

High-velocity decision-making during the games will play a part in my sports endeavours and beyond.

Q. I understand you are part of the only three chosen from Africa, what was the criterion used for your selection?

A. For one to be a deputy you need to have an International arbiter title, be computer literate, and have high-velocity decision-making skills (subjective), be conversant with online chess playing platforms and have experience in online arbitration.

Q. How do you qualify to be an international referee?

A. For you to be accredited as an international referee, you needed to write examinations during the 2014 Norway Olympiad, which I passed.

I went to different countries like Greece, Uganda, and Seychelles to be an arbiter.

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Q. What made you choose to play chess over other sports?

A. I played table tennis, badminton, softball, and chess.

The former Botswana Chess Federation (BCF) Secretary-General made me love chess.

He was so passionate and patient with us when we were learners.

Q. What has been your memorable game since you started playing?

A. It was in 2007 in Russia when I was playing against a team from the Czech Republic.

I was confident that I will win the game, unfortunately, I lost it.

I was so hurt.

Q. What are the benefits of playing chess?

A. Our game elevates creativity; it deepens focus and improves planning skills.

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I am very good at Multi-tasking.

It helps in developing problem-solving skills, developing patience, and recognizing patterns that may be used in other areas such as fashion designing, analytical thinking among other benefits.

Chess also helps with the prevention of certain medical conditions such as autism and dementia.

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It has been proved that people who play chess have fewer chances of developing dementia at the age of 75 compared to their counterparts who have not played chess.

Q. You are the first Motswana to be the Vice President for Africa Chess Commission, what does your role entail?

A. This role gave me an opportunity to be appointed International Chess President’s assistant where I am accountable to the commission for the development of Africa.

I lead the development and guide in the execution of the short-term African chess strategies.

Q. It is always hard for women to participate in sport, how did you make it to this level?

A. Playing the game afforded me an opportunity for self-discovery.

It unlocked a pathway for my inner growth and I decided to bite the bullet and join chess politics.

It is more challenging and exciting to be a referee than a player.

Q. What do you do to empower other women in sport, be it players or administrators to do well in sport?

A. I am a casual mentor and life coach of the girl child.

I coach chess players like Chandapiwa and Mbo.

I offer flexible engagement sessions.

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Q. When did you develop an interest in officiating the game?

A. The journey started in 2016 but I had been building a foundation by attending seminars during my athlete days.

I decided to be a referee so that I can give the young and up-and-coming athletes a chance to play chess.

We had a grandmaster coming for the youth development and a lot of them showed interest.

Q. What are some of the challenges you face as an arbiter?

A. Battling cheating in chess is very expensive.

Since the outbreak of Covid-19 and most tournaments have done online, there have been cases of cheating.

Offenses included using chess engines to play matches, rating manipulation, sandbagging (deliberately losing games to lower one’s rating and become eligible for lower-rated tournaments with prize money).

You have to take time to investigate and analyze the game

Q. What are some of your greatest achievements as a Chess player and an arbiter?

A. As a player, I was a national champion many times back to back.

Another achievement was being part of the national team from 1999 to 2015.

I was a medalist in the 2003 and 2007 Africa games.

As a referee, I was a match arbiter at the Chess Olympiad in 2018, Fair play member World teams’ championships in 2019.

This year I was appointed Chief arbiter Online World women’s candidate championships.

This week I am Deputy Chief First Online World University Championships.

Q. What has been some of your lowlights when officiating the game?

A. When a certain team member decides to address the technical meeting in a language I do not understand and expect me to address deviations of the previous round.

Q. What makes a great chess arbiter?

A. Integrity and Patience.

You have to know and judge every aspect of the game and the overall conduct of the players.

It takes a lot of training and learning to have a thorough knowledge of the chess laws and regulations.

You do not have to be a chess player to be an arbiter.

You must be passionate, know the rules and be able to stay impartial when making rulings during matches.

Q. Who is your inspiration?

A. Debswana Jwaneng General Manager Koolatotse Koolatotse.

His intellectual humility lessons during engagements never cease to amaze.

He once said, “Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human disorder.”

In sport is Grandmaster Nijel Short so I looked up to him when I started playing chess.

I used to follow him and read articles about him.

Q. Thank God it’s Friday what are your plans for the weekend?

A. The games are on and they will end on the 28th of March so I will be busy officiating.

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