The Southern African Junior Chess Championships (SAJCC) in 2018 was a big success, as there were huge number of chess players in attendance, and the event also saw super Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura from the United States visiting the event to officially open the event, take part in a simultaneous chess exhibition and also play his Chess.com Speedchess final against World Chess Champion, Magnus Carlsen. History was made in South Africa in January, as one of the largest chess tournaments on the continent, the SAJCC was followed by the largest simultaneous chess exhibition. Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura took part in the largest simultaneous exhibition ever to be held in South Africa and definitely one of the biggest simultaneous chess exhibitions to ever be held in Africa.
Africa Chess Media found time to catch up with Judie-Marie Steenkamp International Organiser and convener of the SAJCC. We spoke to Judy-Marie who is a member of the Local Organising Committee (LOC) for the event to get her impressions of the past event. Naturally we were also curious about the future plans for SAJCC. This is an event that has grown significantly in stature over the years and now, also attracts players from other parts of the continent. Here is the short interview we had below.
What are your overall impressions of the SAJCC this year?
We were very happy with this year’s edition of the Tournament. I think we were able to achieve a lot with all the support and the families. The visit from Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura was definitely the highlight of the event and he definitely blew our minds away! Visiting journalist, Mike Klein from Chess.com and Lennart Ootes, the photographer from the Netherlands, who took some beautiful pictures during the tournament, added another dimension to the tournament.
Some of the articles by Mike Klein definitely added grace, the visit by GM Nakamura, the Hyenas Chess club playing in Joubert Park, and downtown Johannesburg was also a very big hit. Lennart took the most awesome photos, while Mike Klein posted some cool videos on chess.com.
The biggest surprise to us all, was the sponsor to Khanya Mazibuko and Keith Khumalo, who both played the Grandmaster in the simultaneous exhibition. We are currently busy trying to sort out the details for their trip, hopefully, everything should be ready in June, 2018.
By most accounts this seems to be best SAJCC held to date. I have heard so many positive reviews of this tournament? How did you pull this off?
We are a great team and we have the same goals for this Tournament. It also helps to do the Tournament a few years in a row, resulting in being able to sort out the problems of previous years. Previously Regions would do the Tournament on short notice and it also helps to reinvent the wheel year in and year out, as this takes out the bad experiences and replaces them with new ideas and inventions.
The added Blitz and Doubles Championships were a great hit. The players enjoyed playing Doubles. This added a fun element to the Tournament and that is exactly what we wanted to achieve. I believe that chess should always be fun and must be enjoyed no matter how serious the level.
Could you tell us a bit about the championships for players with disabilities
The Championships for players with disabilities was a first in South Africa and a very successful start. The children and teachers were so grateful for the opportunity to participate at this level. They enjoyed it tremendously, and we hope to grow this aspect of the tournament to include all Provinces in South Africa. We would also like to be able to send a team to the World Chess Championships for players with disabilities in future.
Grandmaster Nakamura was a very big help with the chess players. He is an idol for many chess players. You may want to ask how we managed to get such a high profile player to come to South Africa?
It was simple really, GM Hikaru Nakamura wanted to visit South Africa for a holiday, and Kasparov Chess Foundation negotiated with him to attend the SAJCC during his visit, and he was happy to oblige, considering his love for chess and chess development.
Who are the sponsors behind the SAJCC? Accolades should go to them for their role in making this event a great success.
We are very grateful to Birchwood Hotel and Conference Centre, who gave us the whole Hotel at a very reasonable rate, in order to make it more affordable for our players. Birchwood together with 4-Knights, co-sponsored all the accommodation for the Players with disabilities, which made it possible for us to host the event.
The Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences of the North-West University sponsored all the water bottles, pens and lanyards. And of course, the Kasparov Chess Foundation, Africa, for their role in getting GM Hikaru Nakamura to our event.
Can we now expect a grandmaster to give a simultaneous exhibition at every SAJCC?
We hope so! We will definitely try our best to make sure this happens in some of our events.
What was the participation like from other countries at the SAJCC?
There were a few players from Botswana and Namibia. We believe it is a start and that we will have more countries participating in the 2018 edition of the tournament!
If you are able to share, what are the future plans regarding SAJCC. Any plans for expanding or changes that might be of interest.
We are looking to grow the Inter Region and are looking at various options to assist players with their accommodation at the venue. We are hoping to attract more teams from the neighbouring countries and hopefully partner with some southern country federations, to give best participation and experiences to kids all over the Southern region of the continent.
Thank you very much for the interview Judie-Marie. We look forward to an even bigger event next year.
Thank you for the interview too, we hope to work harder to develop the minds of children in Africa.