South Africa gets its first chess grandmaster

In October 2012, GroundUp ran an interview with Kenny Solomon. At that time he had become a grandmaster-elect but still needed to jump through some technical hoops to become a full-fledged grandmaster.

On Sunday, the popular Chessbase website reported that by winning the 2014 Africa Chess Championship which ended a few days ago, he attained the grandmaster title. Solomon scored 7/9 and won the tournament on tie-break from Egyptian grandmaster, Ahmed Adly.

The Chessbase article carries an interview with Solomon, who is quoted saying,

“Eventually, I hope I can help in developing the chess scene in South Africa in some way, perhaps by being involved in a training centre. There are many chess players in South Africa and it does have its own chess culture. However, most tournaments are not FIDE-rated. In junior tournaments, emphasis is mainly on qualification to international junior events. South Africa needs more FIDE-rated events.”
Below is the 2012 interview in full:

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Mitchell’s Plain.

How old were you when you learnt to play chess?

I learned the moves at about seven but studied my first chess book at the age of twelve. I started my first tournament at the age of 13. I was pretty serious already at 13.

What do you do for a living?

I play chess professionally.

Did you do well at school and/or university?

I did ok at school and passed matric. I didn’t get to go to university.

Tell us a bit about your family life.

We are six brothers and two sisters. My mother’s name is Rose. My dad, William Charles Solomon, passed on last year May. I am now married to an Italian. Veronika is her name. My daughter is one year old and we live together in Venice, the mainland. I got married with an Italian and being based in Europe makes more sense as a chess professional.

Please explain to readers what you have to do to become a grandmaster.

To become a grandmaster you have to achieve three grandmaster norms. One grandmaster norm means playing a nine round tournament and facing at least three grandmasters. Over all one needs to have a performance rating of 2601 after 9 games to secure one grandmaster norm. There is a difference between performance rating and one’s actual rating. The second requirement of becoming a grandmaster is that one needs to have the actual rating of 2500. My actual rating right now is 2450. Hence I am called GM elect. I’m in need of another 50 rating points [to become a grandmaster].

Editor’s note: The higher your chess rating, the better you are. An average club player has a rating of 1600 to 2000. Above 2000 is an expert. The number one player in the world, Magnus Carlsen of Norway, has a rating of 2847.

You were a child prodigy by South African standards. How much effort did you put into the game as a child?

I was very dedicated since I started my first chess tournament. I put in a lot of effort. For example, I would analyse each and every game that I played in every tournament.

How hard do you work on your chess these days?

I can put in many hours a day, depending on my tournament schedule, but now I am also a family man. So I have to divide my time accordingly and be flexible. There are periods when I don’t do much and periods when I can put in many hours a day.

What does chess training consist of?

Chess training consists of studying the opening, middle-game and endgame.

What percentage of your time do you divide between opening, middle-game and endgame study?

I think I spend 70% of my time on the opening and middle-game and 30% on the endgame.

I’m a patzer [weak player – editor] but (when I used to play) I found that if I went over tactical problems before or during a tournament, I was sharper and more likely to find tactics in my games. Is this still relevant at your level? Do you try to solve tactical problems while you’re training?

Yes this is always good. I solve combinations to sharpen up just before the tournament.

How much use of computer software do you make in your preparation? Do you make effective use of large games databases and programmes like Chessbase?

Chessbase is a must for any chess player in our time and generation. I use chess software quite extensively.

What were the most important aspects in your chess development?

I think the development of my character played an important role. I continued to work on chess over the years until 2008 even when there were few opportunities. It was important not to give up, to be patient, to bide my time, to learn from defeats and recover quickly. What was lacking was experience! Then in 2009 SABT, a fuel company, sponsored me and with 100% support I could get the international exposure and play regularly in tournaments and face grandmasters consistently. This experience was necessary. Then in Istanbul [at the recent Chess Olympiad – editor] came the breakthrough where I achieved the double grandmaster norm.

Do you play a lot of blitz chess [short timed games where each player gets five minutes or less – editor]? Does it help or hinder your preparation for longer games?

As a junior I played lots and lots of blitz. Nowadays, I play on-line blitz but rarely. I think it can benefit chess-players but for some it has a negative affect. Before a tournament I play little blitz because I think it affects my play in long time control tournaments.
Beyond being a grandmaster

What are your chess plans and ambitions?

My goal now is to gain 50 rating points within the next six months and this means I will play many tournaments hunting rating points. After officially being awarded the grandmaster title, I would like to open a chess academy in South Africa and produce many more grandmasters.

Is it difficult to make a living as a chess player?

In South Africa it is definitely difficult to make a living in chess. In my quest to become a grandmaster I had to focus on playing chess regularly to remain match fit. I won many local tournaments, but I had to combine it with being a chess coach.

Full article here.

Chess Daily News from Susan Polgar
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