It’s Saturday, May 18th, and I’ve surprised myself by deciding to attend the Arnold Classic Africa in Sandton. I tend to make such unplanned decisions habitually from time to time and this was no different. I just have to see the chess.
Halfway to the station, I realize that I am going into Africa’s richest square mile, dressed as a hobo! I mean, I have my bulky hobo jacket on, torn jeans, sordid military knapsack and dirty sneakers. At least I smell of Intense Oud. I smell good I console myself.
As usual I am a walking paradox, a messy contradiction.
I pull out my phone after I board the train:
“The Arnold Sport Festival hosts multi-sport festivals on six-continents each year, including the Arnold Classic Africa, which takes place in Johannesburg, Gauteng, each May. The Arnold Sports Festival USA is held in Columbus, Ohio in March, followed by events in Melbourne, Australia, Brazil, Hong Kong and Spain. All events feature professional bodybuilding and related contests, amateur bodybuilding, strength and combat sports, a large health and fitness expo and youth events that vary from continent to continent.
“The Arnold Classic Worldwide brand is now the largest series of multi-sport festivals in the world and we look forward to making each of our Arnold Classic weekends better than our previous best,” said James J. Lorimer, CEO of Classic Productions, Inc., who co-founded the Arnold Classic in Columbus with Governor Schwarzenegger.”
That’s what the website tells me.
I have arrived. My face soaks in the weak winter sunshine, as I exit the subway facing the Radisson Blu. I had entered the underground rail network on one side of the poverty line and exited at the rich end in less than 2 minutes.
As usual, Sandton is beautiful. I can’t stand the forced snotty posh accents around me so I push in my earphones a little deeper into my ear canal and the sounds of Talib Kweli and Mos Def’s Brown Skin Lady come flooding through and drown them out.
A half block away and it is already Arnold town. Posters and street pole banners of the former California Governor, line the street and adorn the Sandton Convention Centre building. Security is tight. I don’t have accreditation, so I try and sneak in with Mashabela’s (the comedian) entourage but I fail. Fail being another word for learn. Too many lessons today.
The entrance is cordoned off and I have to pay too much to enter. Definitely not for penurious pockets, I should have enrolled as a participant. Another lesson.
As soon as I get in, I look for the chess venue.
How do I find it when for the 2019 installment, the Arnold Classic Africa has expanded to include 28 new Sporting Codes, and these include Pole Fitness, Tenpin Bowling, Swimming and Ring Tennis to mention just a few. Over 80+ sporting codes.
The growth of the multisport festival has also necessitated the need to host the activities in more venues this year, and while the Sandton Convention Centre remains the main venue, Crawford College, The Johannesburg Country Club as well as the Northcliff Bowl, have all come on board to host the various sporting codes.
The Trade Expo segment of the Arnold Classic Africa has also grown this year. For this segment, the organizers expect to host a whopping 300 exhibition stands from local and international fitness and lifestyle brands, products and services that are key in supporting the theme of healthy lifestyles.
I make my way past and around the many muscular and athletic ladies and soon I’m in Geek-town. Residents belong to the Rubik’s cube wielding speed cube competition entrants, the school team chess games, the chess open section and the Prestige chess section. Brain gymnasts.
Prestige Chess Section Rapid
The room where the Prestige section is being held is a war zone that is invisible to a non chess player. Someone, maybe it was Edwin Korir, once posted up a meme that showed a calm ocean and the caption: “Submarine war below the surface“. That’s how it felt. Multiple wars are waged in total silence over the chessboards, looks exchange that would drop you down dead in milliseconds, if only looks could kill; the only sounds being made are by the chess clocks being pressed and the occasional “checkmate” pronouncement.
6 countries are being represented. South Africa, Malawi, India, Zambia, Botswana and Bangladesh. Also in attendance is the emerging stronghold, the Chess Powerhouse coach/players from Primrose.
GM Sahaj Grover is mercilessly beating down all opposition and comers. Chess grandmasters are not what most picture. He is a young, 23 year old chap. In African culture, he’s disrespecting his elders by mercilessly meting out punishment on them one after the other. The person who came closest to beating him was IM Johannes Mabusela in the game below:
It’s easy for an amateur like myself to lament in the comfort of my armchair that it was -2.3 in his favor, but it’s surely a very different ball game when you’re sitting on the hot chair.
They play on for a few more moves. GM Grover looks deeply into the position then stretched his lips in a smile, tilted his head from side to side while his open hand is making a motion as if he’s buttering toast, then proceeded to extend his hand over his chess army. Peace offer. Mabusela accepts. Draw! Unbelievable.
Prestige Chess Section Blitz
The next day in the blitz FM Bhawoodien detonates a home prepared variation of the Scotch that was, according to him, especially prepared for his opponent, IM Daniel Cawdery who stepped right into it :
Not without controversy, IM Cawdery complains that his opponent is banging on the clock a little too hard. FM Bhawoodien has his man, right where he wants him and he triumphantly taps on the clock confidently with each move. This exasperates Cawdery even more and he storms off without even resigning hissing, “If this is how you want to win…”
There’s nothing like a healthy dose of controversy. I won’t mention two other equally controversial incidents.
All in all, this was the best 2 days of chess I’ve experienced in a while. A very big thank you to the organizers, SASCOC, Kasparov Chess Foundation Africa, SWVG attorneys and Graham Jurgensen. Hopefully more high quality events of this nature will be organized in future. The phrase that stuck with me is the revelation by the former Carlifornia Governor and Terminator when he came and played a demo game against young Pranae Govendor.
“I’LL BE BACK” “I used to play chess in the gym.”
I guess the phrase has changed.