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Kenneth Boiktuswane, "Khetho and Lopang retain Botswana chess titles," 12 April 2007 (Gaborone, Botswana).

FIDE Master (FM) Phemelo Khetho and Tshepiso Lopang have retained their titles as Botswana national championships open and ladies champions respectively. The tournament was sponsored to the tune of P40, 000 (U$7, 000) by Metropolitan Botswana. The event took place at Yarona Country Lodge in Mogoditshane, a village on the outskirts of Gaborone, and ran from April 6th to 9th. Both Khetho and Lopang dropped only half a point in what must count as one of the most hard-fought chess finals in recent times.

In the under 21 boys championships,
Thabo Gumpo of Naledi Secondary School was on the rampage losing just one game to finish tops, while Otshepo Seidisa of Maun Secondary School (MSS) won the inaugural ladies under 21 contest. Khetho received P3,000 (U$500) for his efforts while Lopang got P1,500 (U$250). Gumpo and Seidisa were rewarded with P1, 000 (U$167) and P800 (U$134) respectively. All the winners received gold medals and trophies for keeps.

Not so easy for Khetho in open section

In the very competitive open championship section, contested by seven men after Jona Chaka withdrew to visit his home country Zimbabwe, the spectators were treated to chess of a high quality never before seen at this level. Perhaps the reduction in the number of rounds to two per day, which had been advocated for by the players in previous championships, played a role. With just two rounds a day, the contestants had plenty of time to rest in the evening and their play looked fresh throughout.

FM Khetho (pictured right), winning the tournament for an unprecedented third successive season, did not have it easy though and at the halfway stage trailed
Baone Kealeboga by half a point. At that stage, it looked like Kealeboga, the oldest participant at 29, would scoop the title as he had amassed four wins from as many games.

Khetho had drawn a hard-fought ending against
Providence Oatlhotse in the third round. However defeats first to Khetho and then to Tebogo Pitlagano on Sunday put an end to Kealeboga's dream of lifting the crown. Khetho then took sole lead after Oatlhotse drew again against Barileng Gaealafshwe.

FM Phemelo Khetho. Photo by Kenneth Boikhtuswane.

FM Phemelo Khetho
(Photo by Kenneth Boikhtuswane)

Going into the last round FM Khetho, due to play tail ender Tunde Akande, was half a point ahead of Oatlhotse who was due to play Kealeboga. With not much expected from Akande against Khetho, the fight was for second place. With his win over Oatlhotse, Kealeboga joined his opponent on the podium, both players finishing joint second with four points. The two received P1, 500 (U$250) each with the tie break awarding the silver medal to Kealeboga. The two trailed FM Khetho by 1.5 points.

The tournament revealed interesting statistics. Nigerian-born Akande, studying for his masters at the University of Botswana (UB), failed to register a point and was clearly devastated. The only other player to have achieved such a feat is
Chilipi Mogasha (now retired) in the tough 1996 finals that featured the likes of John Hutcheson, Nedjo Stevanovic, John Toscano, Ignatius Njobvu and Mosenya Ndawana. His result is not a true reflection of what he could have achieved as in many games he had his opponents on the ropes, but poor decision making let him down more often than not.

Pitlagano, playing in his 7th consecutive finals, could only manage one win from his first four games, that being against Akande, a game than should not have gone his way. He is one of the players who would like to forget about these finals as soon as possible. His only consolation is that his win against Kealeboga in round five was awarded the best game prize. On a more positive note, with his third successive crown, FM Khetho takes his unbeaten run in Botswana championships finals to 28 games stretching all the way back to 2004. A magnificent statistic!

Lopang silences critics with win over WGM Sabure
Tshepiso Lopang won her second consecutive title and laid rest to those who doubted her ability to win in the strongest possible field. Photo by Kenneth Boikhtuswane.

Tshepiso Lopang won her second consecutive title and laid rest to those who doubted her ability to win in the strongest possible field. Photo by Kenneth Boikhtuswane.

The ladies championships provided a perfect opportunity for Lopang to prove her doubters wrong after they had speculated how it would have turned out last year had Woman Grandmaster (WGM) Tuduetso Sabure played. The first round pairing had WGM Sabure against her sister Ontiretse and the solid Caro Kann opening was employed. WGM Sabure could not break her young sister's defence and had to accept a draw late in the game. Although the first round was not decisive, it was a crucial game for the WGM, due to play defending champion Lopang in the third round.

When the much-awaited game took place, Lopang was half a point ahead of the WGM, and with Sabure not believing that any other player could stop Lopang, she was forced to adopt an all or nothing approach. A draw offer by Lopang in the middle-game was turned down though at that moment it was clear that the WGM's game was going downhill.

Lopang played with extreme caution, often choosing to take pawns instead of engaging in clearly winning King hunt. Afterwards she said she did not want to give her adversary any chances of counterattack. She exchanged into a simple two-pawn advantage ending and Sabure extended her hand in resignation. It looks like finally Botswana has in Lopang, a player who can match Sabure pound for pound. 

The WGM did manage to come back and win all her remaining games to finish on 2nd place, and received P800 (U$134). Her play seemed hesitant throughout the tournament and her final result could have been worse had
Onkabetse Ditsebe not thrown away a theoretically drawn rook and knight versus rook ending. Perhaps her school commitments are taking their toll, as she is due to write her final year Nursing degree examinations in two weeks time. Keenese Katisenge, also of the University of Botswana completed the winners' list on third and received P600 (U$100).

"They played better in the opening stage but when the game became difficult they collapsed. I'm delighted to have won as I practiced hard for this event."

~ Thabo Gumpo, on winning his title~

Gumpo arrives with a bang in Under 21 boys

The under 21 boys was smooth sailing for Gumpo as none of the other competitors seemed not to have answers to his accurate play. Established juniors like Kagiso Molosiwa and Desmond Seweu, who have featured for Botswana in recent Africa Junior teams, were clearly taken by surprise.

Afterwards Gumpo said that his opponents lacked stamina as they started games correctly but faded as time went on. "They played better in the opening stage but when the game became difficult they collapsed. I'm delighted to have won as I practiced hard for this event," said Gumpo. Gumpo lost only one game to
Puso Mabetu of MSS and finished one point clear of the pair of Sesweu and Molosiwa. The two finished level with five points and each received P500 (U$84). Sesweu scooped silver medal.

Thabo Gumpo and Otshepo Seidisa show their under-21 trophies. Photo by Kenneth Boikhtuswane.

Thabo Gumpo and Otshepo Seidisa show their under-21 trophies. Photo by Kenneth Boikhtuswane.

The inaugural girls under 21 had only six players after two players from Matshekge Hill School failed to make it. Seidisa was simply unstoppable drawing just once in the five-rounds event to finish a full point ahead of second placed Oleboge Ngande of MSS. Bame Masaba got bronze after accumulating three points. The level of play in this section was clearly very low but this being a developmental championship, Botswana Chess Federation is taking a step in the right direction by engaging these players when still young.

Speaking at the prize giving,
Choice Pitso of Metropolitan Botswana said they were honoured to have staged the championships with Botswana Chess Federation. " This is part of our social responsibility programme and it was deliberate on our part that it takes place at this risky time of long holidays. Through chess we have managed to keep you away from the risks out there," said Pitso. She went on to say that she was impressed that many of the participants looked younger than 30, as her company was particularly interested in development. She added that as a life insurer, Metropolitan Botswana was particularly keen that people should have a prolonged life, as their business thrives when people live longer. She concluded by promising that they will continue their association with chess in future.

Final Standings

Boys' (under-21)
Girls' (under-21)

Posted by The Chess Drum: 15 April 2007